Cinema operators all across the globe are dreaming of a blue Christmas. Filmmaker James Cameron is the unlikely high-tech Santa, who they hope will make all their box office wishes come true. The early signs for “Avatar: The Way of Water,” which opened this week/end are auspicious.
Indeed, the Avatar sequel was the top grossing film in the 53 territories in which it opened, bringing in USD $435 million. It’s worth noting this is the second highest global opening in 2022 behind “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” which debuted to USD $442 million back in May. And that was without 3D potentially inflating the gross. RealD is reporting 3D ticket sales represented 66% to the opening weekend of “Aavatar: The Way of Water” worldwide, or USD $287 million. That likely includes the 11%, or USD $48.8 million, earned from 1,543 IMAX screens in 80 markets, including China.
Very early on some territories were reporting advance sales, with China, Korea and India all reporting numbers that were amongst the strongest for any film this year, if not all time. That proved to be a tad optimistic, though not by much. In China tickets were being sold for up to CNY 300 (USD $43) or more, as dynamic pricing kicked in and box office could hit USD $350 million in that country. Significantly, under the government’s u-turn on their Zero Covid strategy, the opening rate of cinemas in China is now over 80%. Indian numbers may be hit by chains in the south of the country refusing to play the film on account of the alleged 70-30 revenue share split.
Even if Avatar 2 outperforms all expectations for the duration of December, it will not be enough to lift the annual global box office to close to pre-pandemic levels (plural – not just 2019) according the the final 2022 by Gower Street Analytics (see below or the full story), even if all the numbers are moving in the right direction. “Gower Street’s first Global Box Office prediction for 2023 suggests further improvement. The USD $29 billion projection would represent a 12% gain over the current year if 2022 remains on course for an approximate USD $25.8 billion global box office.” At the current rate, recovery to the three-year pre pandemic average will have to wait until 2024.
If you’ve been attending our CJ Cinema Summit sessions this year, you’ve heard more than one studio executive predict 2024 will see the market return to pre-pandemic levels.
It would be unfair to expect any one film to “save” the global box office, whether Bond, Maverick, Minions or Avatar -with Scrooge-like bah humbug analysts saying as much this week. However, the success of one film can shape the narrative around the fortunes of cinema, even as some customers remain reluctant to return, as shown in the German YouGov poll this week.
Avatar is a film that should be enjoyed with the best possible presentation, whether IMAX 3D, Dolby Vision (more on that from our sponsor below), CINITY (which has three sites in Europe and many more in China), ScreenX, RealD, 4DX, PLF or any other premium format. There is no denying that the film has pushed the technical envelope on multiple fronts and in the opinion of yours truly, makes high/variable frame rate (HFR/VFR) work in a way that eluded previous films. We also wish more sites did as good a job as breaking down which formats are available in which cinema just like Japan’s AV Watch.
“Avatar: the Way of Water” currently enjoys a Rotten Tomatoes audience score of 94% and critics score of 78%, making it certified “Fresh.” However, the least impressed viewers seem to be UK film critics, many of whom are giving the film one or two stars and seem to treat the film’s release as a personal affront. This will only serve to increase the already wide gap between critics and audiences, though it should be added that critics in both the United States and France seem much more enthusiastic about the film.
One audience that will ignore not just negative reviews but also international copyright laws are certain cinema operators in Russia, which are openly talking about playing the film in violation of current economic sanctions as soon as there is a quality copy made. This will of course not count towards the official global box office, but if the film falls short of significant international box office milestones, it could be yet another thing we can blame Russia’s leader Valdimir Putin for destroying this year.
So let us hope that enough cinema goers will want to make the trip back to Pandora for “Avatar: The Way of Water” not just to have a big opening box office weekend, but that it demonstrates staying power and continues playing to full cinemas well into the new year. It is of course not the only film opening as 2022 winds down (oh hello “Babylon”) but it is one we can all agree is hugely important to our industry, so in addition to JC (in addition to the we usually celebrate during the holidays) a thank you also to the countless and nameless crew, technicians, VFX artists, distributor, cinema staff and everyone else involved in bringing the Na’avi to our screens. You all make the magic happen – not just at Christmas.
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Celluloid Junkie is the leading online resource dedicated to the global film and cinema business. The Marquee is our newsletter focused on motion picture exhibition; keeping industry professionals informed of important news, the latest trends and insightful analysis