Walt Disney Co. lowered its guidance for Avatar: The Way of Water’s opening weekend, after the movie generated $53 million in its first two days of release domestically.
It garnered an additional $127.1 million in international markets over three days, Disney said in a statement Saturday.
The company suggested The Way of Water would take in between $130 million and $150 million in US and Canadian theaters in its opening weekend. It previously forecast more than $150 million.
While that would still put it alongside the biggest movies of the year, the results could come as a disappointment for theater chains that were anticipating an even stronger performance.
The receipts compare with a $52 million opening for Paramount Global’s Top Gun: Maverick in May and $48.2 million for Universal’s Minions: The Rise of Gru in July over their first two days, according to Comscore Inc. data. The results were below recent superhero film releases, such as Disney’s Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, which tend to generate early attendance from fans looking for clues to future storylines.
The Way of Water is the sequel to 2009’s Avatar, the highest-grossing picture of all time with $2.92 billion in box-office receipts. It’s potentially the most significant film franchise to come from Disney’s $71 billion purchase of Fox’s entertainment assets in 2019. The production costs alone for The Way of Water have been reported by various news outlets to be greater than $350 million. Disney shot two pictures at once, part of an overall plan to have five films in all, going out to 2028.
The first Avatar became a cultural phenomenon, with its dazzling special effects ushering in a new era for 3D cinema. Many people saw it again and again, a far broader audience than those normally interested in science-fiction films, notes David Herrin, founder of the Quorum, a movie research firm. Herrin’s analysis suggests the sequel is resonating strongest with men over 35.
“The first ‘Avatar’ averaged a 13.6% weekend-over-weekend decline in ticket sales through its first seven weeks in theaters, which we think could be difficult for the sequel to mimic,” Bloomberg Intelligence analysts Kevin Near and Geetha Ranganathan said in a research note. “Light theatrical competition may be overshadowed by high-budget streaming releases.”
The Way of Water is among the widest releases in Disney history, debuting on over 12,000 screens in the US and Canada and 40,000 internationally. It’s being released at the same time globally in every country, a rarity in the business.
At three hours and 12 minutes in length, the film’s run time could be limiting how many people see it, because theaters can’t schedule as many screenings per day with movies that long.
In Thursday previews, 61% saw it on 3D screens. While that higher-priced format will boost average ticket prices, it may also limit the number of viewers as fans wait to get the best seats in theaters with 3D screens.
In any case, the picture will have a chance to continue to generate revenue for weeks to come. Only four other films are getting wide releases in the US this month, half the number of prepandemic times, according to Comscore data.
The Way of Water follows the story of a moon called Pandora and the colonization that threatens the indigenous Na’vi humanoid race that inhabits it. It’s got 78% of critics recommending it, according to the review site RottenTomatoes.com.
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