‘Avatar: The Way Of Water’ Seeing $45M Saturday, Putting James Cameron Sequel At $135M Opening – Late PM Update

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SATURDAY PM UPDATE: 20th Century Studios/Disney’s Avatar: The Way of Water minted an estimated $45M Saturday which will put the James Cameron directed sequel at a 3-day opening of $135M per sources. That’s the 6th best domestic debut in December after Spider-Man: No Way Home ($260.1M), Force Awakens ($247.9M), Last Jedi ($220M), Rise of Skywalker ($177.3M) and Rogue One: A Star Wars Story ($155M).

Despite Avatar: The Way of Water missing its $150M-$175M projections, the town doesn’t seem bothered –nor do they believe that the sky is falling for cinema– particularly for a movie that cost according to sources (not Disney) at about around $460M before P&A.

Uhhh, how is that?

First of all, the exits for Avatar 2 are excellent (A CinemaScore, 91% and 5 stars on ComScore/Screen Engine PostTrak), and provide confidence that the film will hold. In fact, it already is. Avatar 2‘s Friday to Saturday decline is only -15%. That’s the best Friday-to-Saturday hold for a year-end tentpole release of late beating Rise of Skywalker (-47%), Force Awakens (-43%), Spider-Man: No Way Home (-39%), The Last Jedi (-39%), and Rogue One (-35%).

Top Gun: Maverick was floated as a comp pre-weekend given how it was a long-awaited sequel to a legacy film. Avatar 2‘s ease from Friday is even ahead of that Tom Cruise title which declined -27% between its first Friday and Saturday. Top Gun 2 had a 5.67x multiple off its 3-day opening of $126.7M and got to $718.7M. See how that worked? It’s the 7th highest opening of 2022, but the top grossing movie of the year. Tentpoles do leg out off lower openings, and that’s the expectation here with Avatar 2 as moviegoers seek out the best tickets in the best formats in the coming weeks.

Again, there’s no direct competition for quite some time. A backloaded grossing movie like Avatar 2 is good for exhibition since their rental split with the studios improves for them in subsequent weeks.

More juice for Avatar 2: schools start Christmas breaks on Monday per Comscore, with 41% K-12 off and 77% colleges. That jumps to 82% K-12 and 94% colleges off by Friday.

Drilling down more on the hold factor here for Avatar 2 throughout its opening weekend: It’s even better percentile-wise than Rogue One. That Star Wars prequel had $29M in Thursday previews, rose +45% on Friday to $42M, and then only upticked +10% on its first Saturday to $46.3M. Avatar 2‘s Thursday ($17M) to Friday ($36M) jump was a great +113%, and the Friday-to-Saturday surge here to $45M is a commendable +25%.

SATURDAY UPDATE: The box office media will be quick to judge that 20th Century Studio/Disney’s Avatar: The Way of Water is coming in under its projections, with an opening day of $53M, and 3-day of $130M-$150M. Projections were between $150M-$175M. That’s far off from the opening day of last December’s Spider-Man: No Way Home, which is the second- highest grossing opening day ever at $121.9M, as well as that pic’s opening weekend at $260.1M, which is also the second-highest ever.

However, realize that in the case of Avatar, it’s all about the low supply and high demand for premium seats, and that’s exactly how people want to see this movie.

Imax and PLF tickets are driving 32% of Avatar 2‘s ticket sales for Friday/Thursday previews –a very similar share figure to Black Panther: Wakanda Forever (35%) and Spider-Man: No Way Home (32%) at the same point in time. But then, Avatar 2 also has another 31% in ticket sales from 3D theaters (that’s non PLF & Imax venues; no double counting here).

“With the runtime, people are seeking out the best time and format to see this movie in,” says EVP, Chief Content, Programming & Development Officer Brock Bagby of Midwest chain B&B Theatres about the 3 hour 12 minute running time sequel. It’s one indication that Avatar 2 will have a slow burn at the box office. No Way Home and Marvel movies are front-loaded, and that former uber movie saw a -68% decline in weekend 2. We can’t judge Avatar 2 until we get through New Year’s weekend.

The top 129 theaters for Friday/previews for Avatar 2 were all over $50K and were all Imax, Dolby, or XD PLF, I’m told. At $53M, it’s the highest opening day for a Cameron movie, beating the $27M first day of 2009’s Avatar. International running total stands at $127.1M with China, for an all-in global cume to date of $180.1M.

Why the big swing with Avatar 2‘s opening weekend range? Rival studios see the movie at around $130M. But exhibition due to presales are spotting the sequel at the higher range. I’m told that rivals can’t see into what the exact presales are, hence their lower figure. Let’s see where Saturday takes us: Comscore/Screen Engine’s PostTrak reports that 41% of all moviegoers are buying tickets day-of, meaning a lot of walk-up business.

An example of this sell-out demand for Avatar 2 can be seen at the AMC Century City in LA: There’s only one Dolby 3D show left for today and that’s at 12:30 AM. Cameron has been pushing for the sequel to be seen in Dolby 3D, and there’s only 157 of those auditoriums in the US. Meanwhile, there aren’t any Dolby showtimes available on Sunday at AMC Century City. There’s only one Real 3D showtime left this AM for today, and four Imax showtimes apiece today and tomorrow at AMC Century City at the time of this report. There are Dolby showtimes at AMC’s fancy Porter Ranch location north of LA — that is, unless you want a seat in the front row of the theater.

Midwest B&B Theatres chain also tells Deadline that they’re selling out their premium formats, such as PLF 3D, MX4D, and Screen X, with plenty of avails for 2D and standard 3D. Pre-sales on Avatar 2 for the chain “are very strong midweek, and Christmas Day pre sales on this title are very high already. Higher than last years Spider Man Christmas Day presales,” adds Bagby.

Meanwhile, Rick Roman, owner of the Crowne Point Theatre in Elizabethtown, Kentucky: “From when we first started selling tickets, I could tell moviegoers wanted to see Avatar: The Way of the Water in Premium 3D.  Now that the film is here, I don’t have enough 3D seats. I am selling every 3D show out.”

Also, as keeps being emphasized, Avatar 2 is really the only five-quad movie on the marquee this season and into February. Warner Bros. moved DC’s Shazam: Fury of the Gods (which would have been nice to have to provide more bounce to the box office) to March 17, so that they can could get all the good PLF and Imax screens. Smart business decision there.

Avatar: The Way of Water easily gets an “A” CinemaScore, the same grade as its first film 13 years ago. PostTrak is still 5 stars, 91% with men at 58%, women at 42%. Men over 25 are the biggest quad at 36% (89% grade), followed by women over 25 at 24% (93% grade), men under 25 at 21% (89% grade), and women under 25 at 19% (94% grade) — arguably a great hearty turnout for each demo. Diversity demo update on Comscore/Screen Engine’s PostTrak audience exits are 33% Caucasian, 27% Hispanic, 17% Black, 15% Asian and 8% Other.

In regards to the sequel’s social media reach, RelishMix reports that the sequel counts over 810M across Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Instagram — “with TikTok notably out of the mix.” That’s the eighth-best ever in regards to social media reach, behind Avengers: Infinity War (2.5 billion), Avengers: Endgame (2.1 billion), Spider-Man: No Way Home (1.2 billion), Black Panther: Wakanda Forever (969M), Thor: Love and Thunder (963M), Black Panther (901M), and Star Wars: The Last Jedi (820.5M)

“Activity on the enormous stack of materials is over-indexing, and has an outstanding viral potential that may exceed over the weekend. This campaign is a playbook of strategy for keeping the brand relevant and active over 13 years, as well as driving anticipation and intensity of awareness and activity on Twitter, Instagram, and most on Facebook, with over 350 video posts,” says RelishMix. Zoe Saldana brings 16.1M fans to Pandora with strong activation, especially on her Instagram. Other lead cast are non-social including Sigourney Weaver, Sam Worthington and Kate Winslet. Cameron steps in with his 2.4M fans who follow his every pixel.

RelishMix adds the first Avatar was produced at the dawn of social and built its social network up to 44.4M connected fans with social materials posted on Facebook at 43.6M fans, Twitter at 304K fans and Instagram at 502K fans and a YouTube channel draw at 287K subs.

Forty-three percent of those polled by PostTrak say they went to Avatar 2 because it’s part of a franchise they love. After seeing the sequel, 36% of those queried by PostTrak say they’ll see it again, versus 45% who say they’ll buy it on DVD/Blu-Ray or digitally.

1.) Avatar: The Way of Water (Dis/20th) 4,202 theaters, Fri $53M, 3-day $130M-$150M/Wk 1

2.) Black Panther: Wakanda Forever (Dis) 3,380 (-345) theaters, Fri $1.4M (-50%) 3 day $5.3M (-53%)/Total $418.9M/Wk 6

3.) Violent Night (Uni) 3525 (-198) theaters, Fri $1.4M (-41%), 3day $5.02M (-42%), Total $35M/Wk 3

4.) Strange World (Dis) 2,870 (-690) theaters, Fri $521K (-35%) 3-day $2.2M (-41%) Total $33.8M/Wk 4

5.) The Menu (Sea) 1,875 (-835) theaters, Fri $500K (-40%) 3-day $1.64M (-41%) Day Total $32.1M/Wk 5

6.) Devotion (Sony) 2,211 (-1,247) theaters, Fri $250K (-59%), 3-day $885K (-56%), Total $18.7M/Wk 4

7.) Fabelmans (Uni/Amb) 955 (-18) theaters, Fri $220K (-36%), 3 day $750K (-36%), Total $8.7M/Wk 6

8.) Black Adam (NL) 1,304 (-839) theaters, Fri $120K (-63%) 3-day $467K (-65%)Total $167.6M/Wk 9

9.) I Heard the Bells (Fath) 450 (-521) theaters, Fri $95K (-60%) 3-day $303K (-60%) Total $4.8M/Wk 3

10.) Elf (re, NL) 270 theaters, Fri $46K 3-day $278,5K, Total $178.1M /Wk 1 of re-issue 2022

Notables:

The Whale (A24) 6 theaters Fri $44K (-72%), 3-day $151,6K (-54%), Total $578K/Wk 2

FRIDAY MIDDAY UPDATE: Disney/20th Century Studios’ Avatar: The Way of Water is heading to a $55M Friday at 4,202 theaters, which is inclusive of its $17M Thursday previews, and the 6th best Friday ever in December, ahead of The Hobbit‘s $37.1M back in Dec 14, 2012. I’m told at this point in time this could still get the movie to over $150M for the weekend. Some sources are seeing $120M for the weekend, but I’m told that they don’t have access to the presales and play pattern of those advance ticket sales.

That said, if Avatar 2 comes in under its $150M expectations, it’s because audiences are waiting to secure ideal seats in a premium format — and the best time might be after this weekend. I’m hearing in markets like NYC and LA, it’s difficult to get an Imax, Dolby or PLF ticket for this weekend. While there’s plenty of 3D showtimes for Avatar 2, the U.S. marketplace is underscreened when it comes to Imax, Dolby and key PLFs, particularly in regards to the demand here. Per recent MPAA stats, only 35% of the 43,6K screens stateside are digital 3D.

We all know moviegoing explodes after Christmas, so the best measure of Avatar 2 is its hold in weekend 2, heck, let’s see where the running total is by end of New Year’s weekend.

As far as the rest of the box office: Disney/Marvel Studio’s Black Panther: Wakanda Forever at 3,380 theaters is seeing a Friday of $1.7M, -41%, and sixth weekend of $6M, -47% for a running total of $419.5M by Sunday. The sequel beat the domestic total of Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness ($411.3M) on Tuesday.

Universal’s Violent Night booked at 3,525 theaters is eyeing a $1.5M Friday, -38%, for a third weekend of $5.3M, -39%, and a total by Sunday of $35.2M.

Fourth belongs to Disney’s Strange World on 2,870 with a fourth Friday of $600K, weekend of $2.7M, -29% and running total of $34.2M.

And Searchlight’s The Menu 1,875 theaters is seeing a $530K Friday, -36%, fifth weekend of $1.7M, -39% for a running total $32.1M. The movie is $2.2M away from overtaking Searchlight’s Oscar winning 2018 arthouse title The Favorite which finaled domestic at $34.1M. The Menu has already passed such trippy genre titles as Midsommar ($27.4M) and Searchlight’s own Ready or Not ($28.7M).

FRIDAY AM UPDATE: Disney has officially reported that Thursday night previews for Avatar: The Way of Water stand at $17M — just as we were figuring. The foreign running total at end of Thursday is $50.4M, not including China. PRCs first day looks to be around $18.5M putting the running global total of the James Cameron directed sequel at just under $86M.

Critics on Rotten Tomatoes may have simmered to 79% fresh, however, audience reactions as polled by Comscore/Screen Engine’s Posttrak are through the roof at 5 stars, 91% and 82% definite recommend. They’re numbers any studio would crave. Audience make-up was 89% general, 5% parents, and 6% kids under 12. Men turned out a bit more than women at 59% to 41%. The 18-34 crowd repped 61% of all ticket buyers last night. Those over 45 were 14%. Those under 25 repped 41%. That latter number is potent given how some were concerned how older skewing this property would be. Again, the older Avatar fans will find their way to this movie with the right seat, right format they desire. No one wants to rush to see this sequel and be stuck in a 10 A.M. front seat in 2D. Diversity turnout was 35% Caucasian, 29% Latino and Hispanic, 15% Asian, and 13% Black. These demos will change throughout the weekend.

Again, as we told you that preview figure is in the vicinity of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 and The Batman. It’s also ahead of the $15.3M preview night of Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, which started its showtimes at 7PM (to Avatar 2’s 3PM) and went on to post a $58.5M Friday, $148M opening weekend.

RELATED: James Cameron Q&A: His Titanic ‘Avatar’ Sequel Bet, ‘Terminator’ Remorse, Teaching Sigourney Weaver & Kate Winslet The 7-Minute Breath Holding Swim

Disney is reporting that the 20th Century Studios title overperformed with 61% of the preview business from 3D showtimes. Broken down that’s 29% traditional 3D, 15% Imax 3D, 14% PLF 3D and 3% Motion 3D. In North America, 404 IMAX 3D screens delivered $2.63M in ticket sales repping 15.5% of the sequel’s domestic B.O. last night. Among the Imax records: 2015’s Star Wars: The Force Awakens stands as the large format exhibitor’s biggest opening stateside with $30M, repping 12% of that pic’s $247.97M opening weekend. Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar stands as the top movie with the largest share of Imax ticket sales during its opening weekend, that being 26% ($13M of a $50M opening weekend).

The first Avatar held previews at midnight and grossed $3.5M back in 2009 for a first Friday of $26.7M and 3-day of $77M. Imax screens, which only numbered 179 stateside back then, grossed $9.5M of that number, repping 12.4% of the opening weekend.

RELATED: ‘Avatar: The Way Of Water’ Trailer: Return To Pandora With A Mighty Heartbeat

We’ll have more updates for you as they come.

PREVIOUS EXCLUSIVE: We are hearing from our sources that James Cameron’s sequel to his highest grossing movie in the world, Avatar: The Way of Water, is currently on its way to a $17M Thursday night from showtimes that began at 3PM.

As we always, these figures may fluctuate. Right now Avatar: The Way of Water‘s Thursday is around that of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2 ($17M Thursday night, $56M Friday, $146.5M 3-day), and just under Jurassic World‘s ($18.5M Thursday from 7PM showtimes, $81.9M Friday, $208.8M opening) and that of The Batman ($17.6M Thursday night off 3PM, $56.6M Friday, $134M opening). The Batman ran at 2 hours and 56 minutes, while Avatar: The Way of Water runs at 3 hours and 12 minutes.

Here’s what you have to keep in mind about Avatar 2: People are going to flock to this by appointment viewing. It’s for that reason why distribution sources are expecting this movie to hold weekend to weekend, even if it comes in the low end this weekend. Avatar 2 won’t be frontloaded like Marvel pics (Note Black Panther: Wakanda Forever posted a $28M Thursday night, an $84.2M Friday and $181.3M 30-day). Moviegoers seeing Avatar 2 want the perfect seat, perfect time, perfect format. I’m hearing that showtimes for prime 3D, Imax, Dolby and premium format viewings are hard to come by in LA, NYC and Phoenix. It’s the experience auditoriums which will be the drivers of this pic’s weekend ticket sales.

By tomorrow, Avatar 2 will be in play at 4,100 theaters (or 12K screens) stateside, comprised of 400 Imax auditoriums, 950 PLFs (75% being 3D), 3,000 3D theaters, 280 D-box/4D motion auditoriums, and 85 ScreenX locations.

Through this AM, box office analytics corp EntTelligence reports that the preview night and opening day of Avatar 2 represent only 53% sales are for opening weekend, “which is a very good thing,” reports the org.  

“It means that this movie is not front loaded with steep box office drops.  By way of comparison, a superhero movie often has 70+% of PreSales in for Preview Night/Opening Day.  Lower than 70% is a strong indicator of success.   53% eclipses that benchmark,” reports EntTelligence.

Another indicator that Avatar 2 is not frontloaded: 23% of all presales are for after opening weekend.  The film’s subsequent days of release, after opening weekend, are doing better than Spider-Man: No Way Home.

Average ticket price for a 3D premium general seat is at $18.28 for Avatar 2, versus $12.53 for a 2D seat, and last weekend’s average theater ticket price of $12.04.

The sequel has been Fandango’s #1 ticket-seller every day since Monday, Dec. 5. The Jon Landau produced sequel has also seen the largest share of 3D ticket sales on Fandango since 2015’s Star Wars: The Force Awakens. According to a survey of more than 4,000 Avatar 2 ticket-buyers, 79% want to see more blockbusters in 3D or premium large screen formats.

First day overseas B.O. for Avatar: The Way of Water per Nancy is $15.8M from 15 material international box office markets, including France, Germany, Italy and Korea, and another $5.4M from sneak previews in China for a grand running total of $21.2M.

Avatar: The Way of Water is 80% certified fresh among critics on Rotten Tomatoes, just under the 82% they gave it for 2009’s Avatar.

More updates tomorrow AM.

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