‘Avatar: The Way of Water’ Nabs 4th Best 3rd Weekend Ever With $63.4 Million As Overall Box Office Rises In New Year’s Weekend
There’s no denying that 2022 was not a great year at the box office. The domestic cume for the entire year came to $7.37 billion, down considerably from 2019’s $11.36 billion, and by pre-pandemic standards it was the worst year since 1999. Yes, it was up 64% from 2021’s $4.48 billion cume, but 2021 was largely a dud year until the Memorial Day weekend “reopening.” Comparing just June through December, this year looks like less of an improvement with $4.67 billion for the final seven months compared to 2021’s $3.84 billion. Much of that improvement came from a strong summer, and the lead evaporates away if you compare September through December, with 2021’s cume coming to $2.435 billion, ahead of 2022’s $2.096 billion.

We can only hope that 2023 brings greater box office fortunes, but for now we can celebrate that 2022 ended on a positive note, at least relatively. The overall box office this weekend came to $98.7 million, ahead of last weekend’s $94.7 million nearly on par with the previous year’s final weekend (December 31-Jan 2) cume of $98.9 million (note that no weekend since mid-November has beat 2021’s corresponding weekend, though that could change with the actuals). It’s still far from pre-pandemic norms (2019’s final weekend brought in $197 million), largely because just a few films are driving the box office right now (the top two titles made up 80% of the weekend cume), but the solid to strong performances of individual titles and a rebound from the lackluster Christmas weekend is something to feel good about as we head into the new year.

Of course, the dominant force at the box office is Avatar: The Way of Water which is up 0.2% from last weekend for a third weekend of $63.4 million. That gives The Way of Water the fourth best third weekend of all time, and the $422 million cume (and with Monday estimates that’s $441 million) means it has already grossed over three times its opening weekend and is ahead of Top Gun: Maverick at the same point in its release ($395 million). Internationally the film grew 4% over last weekend, bumping the global cume to $1.397 billion million. The last time we saw legs like this on a massive winter blockbuster was, appropriately enough, 13 years ago with the release of the first Avatar.

Whether or not the spectacular holds continue, the film has already made a killing, and with the Monday estimates it has passed Black Panther: Wakanda Forever’s $440 million domestic cume to become the second highest domestic grosser of 2022. More impressively, The Way of Water is also just days off from becoming 2022’s highest grossing film worldwide, surpassing Top Gun: Maverick’s $1.49 billion cume. The China release helps here, being the film’s largest international market with $153 million so far, while Maverick never got a release in the Middle Kingdom. Even without China, though, Avatar 2 would still be on track to be the year’s topper. It has already broken pandemic-era records in many markets (notably France, its second biggest international market with $95.1 million so far) after less than three weeks of its release, with considerable room for further growth as it shows no sign of slowing down.

The runner-up this weekend is Puss in Boots: The Last Wish which grew 31% from last weekend, bringing in another $16.3 million. The toon may have opened soft, but it is looking much better this weekend with a cume of $60.7 million (and an estimated $66.1 million through Monday). The holds are strong abroad as well, and the new global cume is $135 million. Overseas it is tracking closely to Sing 2 despite under performing it at home (after two weekends Sing 2 grossed $90.2 million domestically). Considering Sing 2 grossed $245 million internationally, the $90 million budgeted The Last Wish is in a good place even if it can’t approach the $555 million global cume of the first Puss in Boots.

Surprisingly, third place went to Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, which finished in sixth last week. The MCU film may be in its eighth weekend, but it still has stamina, rising 38% from last weekend to gross $4.8 million. The cume through Monday is $440 million domestic and $820 million worldwide.

Whitney Houston: I Wanna Dance with Somebody finished in fourth with $4.3 million, down 11% from the last frame. It’s chugging along steadily even though the numbers are still low, with the cume coming to $16 million through Monday. Internationally the biopic was up 29% in holdover markets, and the worldwide total is now $29.1 million. This definitely isn’t the next hit biopic, but if the holds continue to impress then it may eke out an okay cume following its disappointing opening. Still, it will need a lot of growth to cover its $45 million budget.

In fifth place is Babylon with $2.7 million, a drop of 24%. Through Monday, the $80 million budgeted period drama has tallied just $11 million. If there’s hope for the film, it’s from overseas where it begins its rollout later in the month, but it’s hard to imagine the pricey film recovering from such a weak domestic showing.