Science-fiction epic ‘Avatar 2’ gains $56m in storm-hit second weekend

Walt Disney’s science-fiction epic Avatar: The Way of Water battled winter storms in the US and Canada to bring in an estimated $56m (about R952m) in ticket sales this weekend through Sunday.

It garnered another $168.6m in theatres internationally over the weekend, for a total haul of $855.4m (about R14.5bn) globally since its December 16 release, Disney said on Sunday.

The company predicted the film would take in $82m domestically over the four days that include the Monday after Christmas.

While the movie easily topped the box office, domestic ticket sales fell 58% from its $134.1m opening weekend. That’s typical for a big film release, but executives at theatre chains and at Disney had said they expected The Way of Water would be more resilient. That was before storms shut some cinemas and brought dangerously cold weather in many parts of the US.

The original Avatar had a strong, but not spectacular, opening in 2009. It became the highest-grossing picture in Hollywood history because it stayed on top of the box office for seven weeks. In all, that movie sold $2.92bn worth of tickets globally, buoyed by word of mouth about its 3D effects and fans who saw it multiple times.

Writer-director James Cameron secured a massive budget to make the sequel, with The Way of Water production costs alone topping $350m. Disney is planning to release three more Avatar films through 2028. Whether it can make that investment pay off remains to be seen.

While domestic box office receipts for The Way of Water came in below some estimates in its opening weekend, the film generated $50m a day in ticket sales globally after that, with many children out of school and adults taking time off. Ticket sales may benefit from improving weather and a return of theatregoers in the coming weeks.

The movie faced competition this weekend from three new pictures in wide release. Puss in Boots: The Last Wish, an animated film from Comcast Corp’s Universal Pictures, finished in second place with $11.35m in North American ticket sales through Sunday, according to an estimate from Comscore.

Sony Group’s I Wanna Dance with Somebody, a biopic of singer Whitney Houston, came in third with a three-day total of $5.3m. Babylon, an adult drama from Paramount Global about the movie business in the 1920s, debuted in fourth place with $3.5m through Sunday.

The entertainment business is still struggling to convince movie fans to come back to theatres after pandemic-related closures. Films are appearing on streaming services much faster than they did in the past, as media giants look to bulk up subscriptions to those services. That’s conditioned people to wait a few weeks to see new movies at home.

With just a few days left in the year, industry-wide ticket sales total $7.2bn (about R122bn), well below the $11.4bn (about R194bn) generated domestically in 2019.

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