Nolte: ‘Avatar: The Way of Water’ Is Underperforming… For Now


Director James Cameron’s Avatar: The Way of Water is underperforming at home and worldwide, at least for right now.

Expectations of a $150 to $175 million domestic opening fell short with just $135 million.

Expectations of a $500 million worldwide opening fell short at $400 million.

This movie is in 4,202 theaters and every premium screen in the country.

This movie has no real competition now that Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is all played out.

This is a highly-anticipated sequel to a record-breaking (domestic and worldwide) phenom.


These early numbers are not good, especially for a movie with a reported production budget of $460 million. That doesn’t include promotion costs. We’re probably looking at a total investment of $700 here, which means it will have to clear $1.5 to $2 billion before it breaks even.

The hope is legs.

The hope is that people want to see Avatar 2 again and again.

The hope is that people — a whole lot of people — are waiting until they can reserve a premium screen in the center of the premium theater.

The hope is that with no competition through the holidays, Avatar 2 can keep packing them in.

The hope is that the magic that kept 2009’s original Avatar afloat, week after week, will happen again.

The hope is that Avatar 2 becomes Top Gun: Maverick, which opened to $127 million and was so popular, it ended up grossing $719 million domestic.

There is already some evidence that might happen: According to the surveys, people are exiting Avatar 2 and loving it. That means word-of-mouth business and repeat business.

Also, and this is the most important thing, this weekend’s drop in traffic between Friday and Sunday was only 15 percent. That’s pretty amazing.

First of all, the exits for Avatar 2 are excellent (A CinemaScore, 91% and 5 stars on ComScore/Screen Engine PostTrak), and provide confidence that the film will hold. In fact, it already is. Avatar 2‘s Friday to Saturday decline is only -15%. That’s the best Friday-to-Saturday hold for a year-end tentpole release of late beating Rise of Skywalker (-47%), Force Awakens (-43%), Spider-Man: No Way Home (-39%), The Last Jedi (-39%), and Rogue One (-35%).

So, yes, for right now, Avatar 2 is not performing up to expectations that were pretty low (for this kind of event movie) to begin with.

But it’s important to caveat that with “for right now.”

We’ll know more next weekend.

Follow John Nolte on Twitter @NolteNC. Follow his Facebook Page here.



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