Avatar: The Way of Water Is Swimming Upstream to Profitability

Hollywood accountants have got their slide rules and abacuses in overdrive as they try to answer this simple question: will Avatar: The Way of Water make money? The answer, right now, seems to be … probably?

Public interest in a movie’s box office receipts sometimes seems to overshadow the work itself and is surely the most visible example of the push-pull between art and commerce in our culture. But when it comes to James Cameron, it is understandable. This is a filmmaker who, time and again, has dramatically gone all-in with his chips and come away a winner. He’s got the number one and number three slots on the all-time worldwide top grossers list (Avatar and Titanic), and even if Avatar: The Way of Water loses money, he’s already got most of part three (and part of part four) already shot. Is he someone who is simply impervious to failure?

The precise budget of Avatar: The Way of Water is a little vague, but estimates are at $350 million, before you get into marketing costs. Speaking with GQ, Cameron said he told the studio that the high-risk enterprise was “the worst business case in movie history.” He added that for the film to become profitable, it would need “to be the third or fourth highest-grossing film in history. That’s your threshold. That’s your break even.” Variety put the magic number at (dig up your old Dr. Evil impression) two billion dollars

So how is it looking, with the movie out in theaters (and in multiple formats) for a few days? Well, right now, it’s a smidge underwhelming. Deadline has projected a domestic haul of $135 million. This is lower than the predicted $150-$175 million. However, the trade outlet says that the studio and theater chains aren’t too worried. The movie received an A on Cinemascore, which polls exiting ticket buyers, so word-of-mouth will be strong. Also, there’s not much competition as we move closer to the holidays. Really, there isn’t another big theatrical play until February 17 with Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania. (Or maybe M. Night Shyamalan‘s Knock at the Cabin on February 3. That’s another director you should never underestimate.) The prediction is for “strong legs,” as they say, especially when looking at how Top Gun: Maverick’s achieved its tremendous success earlier the year. 

Also, the first Avatar, back in 2009, only made $77 million during its opening weekend, but stayed strong for weeks to eventually reach the peak of the all-timers list. Behold the staying power of the mighty Na’vi!

Internationally, the film collected $180 in international markets, with a projected $400-$450 million for the weekend. However, a new wave of COVID in China could potentially factor into lower numbers in that key region. 

So we can sum this up two ways. On the one hand, the race is far from over, and only a fool bets against James Cameron. Then again, if you compare Thursday night sneaks in domestic markets in 2022, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness made more dough than Avatar: The Way of Water. That is simply an insult to Eywa. 

Leave a Comment