Avatar: The Way Of Water makes waves on opening weekend

The James Cameron film tied with The Batman as the fourth highest domestic debut of the year.

Avatar: The Way Of Water did not make quite as big a splash as many expected but James Cameron’s big-budget spectacle still helped breathe life into the box office this weekend.

The sequel earned 134 million dollars from North American cinemas and 300.5 million dollars internationally, according to studio estimates on Sunday.

It tied with The Batman as the fourth highest domestic debut of the year, behind Doctor Strange In The Multiverse Of Madness (187.4 million in May), Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, (181 million in November) and Thor: Love And Thunder (144.2 million in July).

Expectations were enormous for Avatar 2, which carried a reported price tag of over 350 million dollars and the pressure of following up the highest grossing film of all time – thanks in part to various re-releases – over a decade later.

U.S. Premiere of “Avatar: The Way of Water”
Bailey Bass is among the stars of the film (Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP)

Going into the weekend many were expecting a domestic debut of at least 150 million. Some even said 175 million or higher but tracking has also not been as reliable a metric during the pandemic.

“We’ve got a terrific movie that is playing across all demographics and (has) terrific word of mouth,” said Tony Chambers, the Walt Disney Company’s executive vice president for theatrical distribution. “We’ve got the screens and we’ve got a clear run. This isn’t about the opening day or the opening weekend. This is about the entire run.”

The film began its international rollout on Wednesday and debuted in North America on Thursday evening.

Domestically, Avatar: The Way Of Water was released in 4,202 cinemas on over 12,000 screens, 400 of which were Imax 3D. The studio and filmmakers bet big on the draw, and higher prices, of the 3D format and premium large screens.

By the end of Friday, the film had already earned 53 million dollars in the US and Canada and 180.1 million globally, aided by a China release — the first major Hollywood release in the country since Minions: The Rise Of Gru in August.

An estimated 66% of the 435 million opening weekend revenue came from worldwide 3D ticket sales.

Travis Reid, CEO at 3D company RealD, said the film set a “new benchmark for the current 3D marketplace”.

“As excited as we are about these early results, we anticipate a long and successful run for Avatar: The Way Of Water,” said Rich Gelfond, CEO of Imax, in a statement.

As with many ambitious Cameron projects, from Titanic to the first Avatar, nerves were high for the costly sequel, one of the most expensive of all time, which began production five years ago.

It faced repeated delays and weathered The Walt Disney Company’s acquisition of 21st Century Fox in 2019.

It is also one of four Avatar sequels Cameron had in mind. Filming on the third movie, which shot simultaneously with The Way Of Water, is done, with an expected release in December 2024.

“Historically James Cameron’s movies are about the long haul, not the opening weekend,” said Paul Dergarabedian, the senior media analyst for Comscore. “’Avatar’ is going to develop its box office over time. It’s about where it will end up months from now.”