Hollywood looks to be awoken from its box office slumber when Avatar: The Way of Water surfaces on December 16th. After plenty of delays in the release date, James Cameron’s sequel to his 2009 record breaking phenomenon comes with a reported budget in the neighborhood of $400 million. Clocking in at 3 hours and 12 minutes, the 3D sci-fi epic is the only newcomer on the pre-Christmas weekend and it should dominate the marketplace. Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana, Stephen Lang, Joel David Moore, CCH Pounder, Giovanni Ribisi, Dileep Rao, and Matt Gerald reprise their roles from part 1. Joining the Pandora universe for the first time are Kate Winslet, Cliff Curtis, Edie Falco, Jermaine Clement, and Brandon Cowell. Sigourney Weaver appears in a different part from 13 years ago.
It’s dangerous to underestimate Cameron. This is only his third feature in a quarter century. 1997’s Titanic withstood shaky buzz during its filming and became the highest grossing film of all time. That record stood for 12 years until it was broken by (you guessed it) Avatar, which also had troubling word-of-mouth until it didn’t. With $785 million domestically (which includes a September re-release which did impressive business), Avatar still ranks fourth all-time stateside behind Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Avengers: Endgame, and Spider-Man: No Way Home. The international tally is $2.1 billion and that ranks as #1.
There are legitimate questions as to the sequel’s potency. 13 years is a long time between entries. Are younger viewers excited for a trip back to the planet with all the blue people? Disney and 20th Century Studios need this to make a splash as a third Avatar arrives in two years with fourth and fifth (and possibly more) editions planned.
One number is easy to know. The Way of Water will have no problem dwarfing the $77 million that Avatar made for its debut before it became the must-see picture for months. It was #1 for 7 weeks. The sequel is expected to take in double that figure with $160 million generally being considered the floor. The ceiling could be $200 million (and perhaps higher) though its length could hinder that possibility. There’s also some older moviegoers who may not feel the need to rush out opening weekend to view it.
I believe $175-185 million is likely for the Sully family as they land in theaters once again. My projection gives it the 14th biggest domestic premiere of all time between Iron Man 3 and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2. That’s also the 3rd largest opening haul of 2022 behind Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness and Black Panther: Wakanda Forever.
Avatar: The Way of Water opening weekend prediction: $173.1 million