James Cameron’s sci-fi sequel “Avatar: The Way of Water” dominated the Christmas box office even as a severe winter storm kept audiences indoors.
Extreme weather conditions are plaguing a large part of the United States with freezing temperatures, high winds and blankets of snow, contributing to absentee voting at the movies. For theater owners, it’s a particularly disappointing coda to 2022 as they depend on the holiday season for busy attendance. Hollywood was already worried that grosses would be depressed because Christmas Eve falls on a Saturday and Christmas falls on a Sunday, cutting off the number of weekends. With bad weather, as well as increased concerns about Covid, RSV virus and flu, a trio of new releases failed to resonate at the box office.
Three major new releases — Paramount’s glitzy showbiz epic “Babylon,” Universal and Illumination’s animated “Puss in Boots: The Last Wish” and Sony’s Whitney Houston biopic “I Wanna Dance With Somebody” — as well as the “Avatar” sequel will try to hit the ground running next week. to do Many Americans travel between Christmas and New Year’s, making it a popular time to go to the movies.
Even under adverse conditions, “Avatar: The Way of Water” managed to bring in decent numbers, earning $56 million from 4,202 theaters in North America over the traditional weekend. It looks set to collect $82 million between Friday and Monday, bringing its domestic tally to $278 million. The first “Avatar” faced similar adverse weather when it opened in December 2009, but that didn’t stop it from smashing records over time to $760 million in North America and $2.92 billion worldwide.
With promising business for the week, the “Avatar” sequel has grossed $601 million internationally and $855.4 million worldwide, making it the fifth-highest-grossing film of 2022 after just 10 days in theaters. By the end of the year, the $350 million budget tentpole aims to hit the $1 billion mark. Only two other movies, “Top Gun: Maverick” and “Jurassic World: Dominion,” managed to hit that benchmark this year.
Far from Pandora, the R-rated “Babylon,” directed by Damien Chazelle and starring Margot Robbie and Brad Pitt, bombed to $3.5 million from 3,343 venues over the weekend and an estimated $5.3 million through Monday. The film’s particularly dire opening, as well as its “C+” CinemaScore from audiences, suggest that even with the winter blues, “Babylon” may not resonate on the big screen.
That’s a problem because the movie cost about $80 million to make and several million more to market, meaning Oscar-hopeful money will turn into a loss unless business picks up in the coming days. Barring a change of fortune, “Babylon” may be Paramount’s only blemish at the box office in an otherwise unexpectedly great year, featuring hits from “Top Gun: Maverick” to the horror thriller “Smile.”
David A. Gross, who runs movie consulting firm Franchise Entertainment Research, suggests there’s still room for optimism about “Babylon” being an over-the-top romp for Hollywood. “The film will get a boost if it gets big award nominations,” he says.
“Puss in Boots: The Last Wish,” a sequel set in the “Shrek” universe, landed in second place with $11.3 million from 4,099 locations over the weekend and an estimated $17.7 million through Monday. Since the film opened Wednesday, those ticket sales will bring its domestic total to $24.6 million. The film grossed $32.5 million internationally and $57.2 million worldwide. With no competition from family films until “The Super Mario Bros. Movie” opens in April 2023, the second “Puss in Boots” is expected to go strong in the new year.
By comparison, the original “Puss in Boots” opened to $34 million in 2011 and eventually grossed $554 million worldwide, enough for a sequel. As the $90 million-budgeted sequel, about a swashbuckling feline, generated strong reviews and an “A” CinemaScore, analysts believe the weather played a significant role in expected ticket sales. The follow-up was expected to earn $30 million in its opening weekend.
“These openings have all but been knocked out by extreme weather,” adds Gross. “With schools on vacation, the cinema may recover some of its business next week.”
“I Wanna Dance With Somebody” finished third with a disappointing $5.3 million from 3,625 theaters over the weekend and an estimated $7.7 million through Monday. Heading into the weekend, “I Wanna Dance With Somebody” and “Babylon” were each projected to earn $12 million to $15 million over the extended holiday. Since it cost $45 million, less than others in wide release, it won’t take that much to turn a profit. And audiences seemed to enjoy the movie, which stars Naomie Aki as the late pop icon Whitney Houston, giving it an “A” CinemaScore, which bodes well for its big screen potential.
More to come…