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‘Avatar: The Way of Water’ Continues Surge, Most Other New Titles Swoon as Holiday Nears End

The momentum for James Cameron's long-awaited sequel refuses to get soggy after passing $1 billion at the box office ahead of ringing in 2023, but overall it's just a lackluster end to a December of treading water in theatrical releases.

AVATAR: THE WAY OF WATER, (aka AVATAR 2), Tuk (voice: Trinity Jo-Li Bliss), 2022. © Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures / Courtesy Everett Collection

“Avatar: The Way of Water”

Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures / Courtesy Everett Collection

Avatar: The Way of Water” (Disney) continues to stay afloat at the box office. Its enduring strength, with signs of momentum that could carry it over $600 million domestic, is the sole standout figure this holiday.

Its domestic gross of $63 million for three days (the same as last weekend) and worldwide $250 million puts it at $421 million domestic and $1.378 billion total through its third weekend. Next weekend (along with a domestic Monday holiday and school vacation in many places still) will tell more about whether it exceeds $2 billion worldwide. At this point, chances are good.

However, the impressive performance of “Avatar: The Way of Water” is not by itself anything historic. Though essential and impressive, it is not a record compared to some other blockbusters during this period. The initial “Avatar” did $68 million its third weekend, which at today’s higher ticket prices would have been about $100 million. The third weekend of “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” six years ago did even better. The difference is that both fell from their previous weekends, which does reinforce the fact that estimates for “The Way of Water” need to remain fluid.

After last weekend when wintry issues hurt numbers, grosses for all titles increased slightly. The total (initial estimate: $99 million) is a smaller increase than similar times when Christmas and New Years fell on Sunday. Generally, it has been substantially better, even as much as 50 percent (1993). The main reason for that is in previous years new films opened Christmas Day, and unlike this year, they were usually decent or better.

Here is the grim reality, obscured by the strong numbers for James Cameron’s triumph: though the weekend might reach $100 million, in what normally one of the best of the year, that’s not anything to brag about. In 2019, when tickets cost 20 percent less than today, only four weekend’s took in less than that the whole year. And only one had a lower attendance.

The $99 million total is half of the same weekend three years ago. That brings down our rolling four-week comparison to 2019 t0 45 percent, nearly close to the low mark. That’s a sad end to a disappointing year where recovery was supposed to be better.

"Puss in Boots: The Last Wish"

“Puss in Boots: The Last Wish”

©Universal/Courtesy Everett Collection

The complaint, to some extent valid, is that there aren’t enough films released. But three new wide ones did open for Christmas. “Puss in Boots: The Last Wish” (Universal) is best in class among these, #2 this weekend at $16.3 million, nearly $61 million in. But most years that gross would have placed it at best as #5. “Sing” in 2016 its second weekend, with New Years also on Sunday, grossed $42 million unadjusted. Give “Puss” credit though for a jump of 31 percent this weekend.

The others were so weak that “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” (Disney) actually came in #3. But its $4.8 million gross would in some years on this date been at the lower end of the Top Ten, if it even made it.

“Wakanda” improved 38 percent, while the second weekends of #4 “Whitney Houston: I Wanna Dance with Somebody” (Sony) and #5 “Babylon” (Paramount) went from bad to worse.

Among wider releases there are some minor signs of normal older audience growth post-Christmas Day. “The Fabelmans” (Universal) at #8 (+53 percent) and “The Menu” (Searchlight) #9 (+ 58 percent) led the way. Steven Spielberg’s film earlier looked like it might not surpass a $15 million total. Now, even though it can be seen at home for $19.99, it is over $12 million, with potential for an awards boost ahead. Still, with “The Menu” now at $36 million, the shortfall for “The Fabelmans” remains clear.

The Whale” (A24) at #7 and in fewer theaters than those two titles and by Monday at $6 million is capitalizing on the usual surge in specialized interest and lesser competition this year. It looks like one of the few titles among the initially platformed releases with a chance to gross over $10 million. If so, that is much lower than normal for top awards contenders.

"A Man Called Otto"

“A Man Called Otto”

©Sony Pictures/Courtesy Everett Collection

Three new limited titles opened, unusually late in the year. Though “A Man Called Otto” (Sony) was best, with $61,000 in four theaters, its $15,125 per theater average is much below what a film of this potential should be doing. It was originally set as a wide release during this time. The Tom Hanks-starring film now goes wide on January 13.

Also opening were Hirokazu Kore-eda’s “Broker” (Neon), which opened earlier in the week, now playing in four theaters for a total through Sunday of $53,507. The documentary “Turn Every Page” (Sony Pictures Classics) took in $12,204 in two theaters.

The Top 10 (3-day estimates)

1. Avatar: The Way of Water (Disney) Week 3; Last weekend #1

$63,444,000 (+.0%) in 4,202 (no change) theaters; PTA (per theater average): $15,099; Cumulative: $421,562,000

2. Puss in Boots: The Last Wish (Universal) Week 2; Last weekend #2

$16,310,000 (+31%) in 4,121  (+22) theaters; PTA: $3,943; Cumulative: $60,657,000

3. Black Panther: Wakanda Forever (Disney) Week 8; Last weekend #6

$4,830,000 (+38%) in 2,310 (+60) theaters; PTA: $2,091; Cumulative: $437,976,000

4. Whitney Houston: I Wanna Dance with Somebody (Sony) Week 2; Last weekend #3

$4,250,000 (-11%) in 3,625 (no change) theaters; PTA: $1,172; Cumulative: $14,870,000

5. Babylon (Paramount) Week 2; Last weekend #4

$2,730,000 (-24%) in 3,351 (+8) theaters; PTA: $815; Cumulative: $10,139,000

6. Violent Night (Universal) Week 5; Last weekend #5; also on PVOD

$2,120,000 (-40%) in 2,563 (+1) theaters; PTA: $827; Cumulative: $47,510,000

7. The Whale (A24) Week 4; Last weekend #7

$1,331,000 (+28%) in 623 (+20) theaters; PTA: $2,136; Cumulative: $5,778,000

8. The Fabelmans (Universal) Week 7; Last weekend #8; also on PVOD

$1,140,000 (+53%) in 1,149 (+27) theaters; PTA: $992; Cumulative: $12,215,000

9. The Menu (Searchlight) Week 7; Last weekend #9

$1,070,000 (+58%) in 860 (+20) theaters; PTA: $1,244; Cumulative: $36,128,000

10. Strange World (Disney) Week 6; Last weekend #10; also on PVOD and Disney+

$538,000 (+30%) in 1,240 (-250) theaters; PTA: $434; Cumulative: $37,029,000


Specialized titles

Films (limited, expansions of limited, as well as awards-oriented releases) are listed by week in release, starting with those opened this week; after the first two weeks, only films with grosses over $5,000 are tracked.

A Man Called Otto (Sony) NEW – Metacritic: 48

$61,000 in 4 theaters; PTA: $15,250

Turn Every Page (Sony Pictures Classics) NEW – Metacritic: 82; Festivals include: Tribeca 2022

$12,024 in 2 theaters; PTA: $6,012

Broker (Neon) NEW – Metacritic: 76; Festivals include: Cannes, Telluride, Toronto 2022

$28,236 in 3 theaters; PTA: $; Cumulative: $28,236

Women Talking (United Artists) Week 2

$41,000 in 8 (no change) theaters;  PTA: $5,125; Cumulative: $148,000

Living (Sony Pictures Classics) Week 2

$24,107 in 3 (no change) theaters; PTA: $8,036; Cumulative: $68,293

Corsage (IFC) Week 2

$30,000 in 3 (+1) theaters; PTA: $10,000; Cumulative: $80,364

No Bears (Janus) Week 2

$6,650 in 1 (no change); PTA: $6,650; Cumulative: $22,105

Empire of Light (Searchlight) Week 4

$130,000 in 300 (-50) theaters;  Cumulative: $965,567

EO (Janus) Week 7

$60,713 in 44 (+8) theaters; PTA: $445,152

The Banshees of Inisherin (Searchlight) Week 12; also on HBO Max and PVOD

$71,000 in 75 (-5) theaters; Cumulative: $

TÁR (Focus) Week 13; also on PVOD

$ in 45 (+9) theaters; Cumulative: $

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