Top Gun: Maverick is expected to be the number one domestic release in 2022

“Avatar: The Way of Water” has shown strength so far. What lies ahead is less certain than recent releases just before Christmas.

With caveats, sure, but five days after release (and seven in some countries), the trajectory for James Cameron’s Avatar: The Way of Water (Disney) is clearer. Most of the time, we now know enough to guess its rank among domestic releases in 2022.

Barring a larger-than-expected surge, Top Gun: Maverick (Paramount) will take the domestic crown in 2022 with $719 million amassed to date. But the Tom Cruise star, who has grossed worldwide $1.489 billion, should be surpassed by The Way of Water when all the box office earnings are in. ” at this point best in this category.

As of Tuesday, The Way of Water has grossed $168.6 million domestically and $555.9 million worldwide. There are small positive signs that its trajectory will improve compared to recent pre-Christmas weekend releases from The Force Awakens (2015) to Spider-Man: No Way Home (2021). In particular, his 13 percent improvement Tuesday over Monday is the best indication of a better performance ahead so far.

Opening weekends are usually enough to make a reasonable guess at final domestic gross. (Foreign is not so easy due to staggered openings and larger differences between countries). “The Way of the Water” is a little different. Questions remain about how strong the word-of-mouth is, as well as whether the length and potentially higher interest from the family could push participation to December 25 and beyond, and how much repeat viewing contributes to a higher-than-usual increase could.

Based on usually reliable precedents from top films with Christmas still to come, Cameron’s sequel could have headed for $470 million domestically and $1.4 billion worldwide. The improvement since then is small, but as seasoned observers know, small increases in key early days matter. A record number of new releases will also be played.

But what makes the prospects better are several elements. First, the fanbase doesn’t have the same intensity of excitement for it that makes seeing it first a priority. Then the 192-minute runtime (plus pre-show) makes it an above-average engagement that’s easier to watch during the holiday break. That commitment and the higher prices for priority premium broadcasts may have left some viewers with a wait-and-see feeling. The World Cup finals on the opening weekend also served primarily as a competition for foreign spectators. The repeat view is yet to be determined.

The projection of the Christmas and New Year season begins with past precedents. Big things will not equal the first weekend; Next weekend, with Christmas Eve on Saturday, there could be a 50 percent drop. But the remaining days of the week will recover, so the full week could only drop by a third.

Where does this lead? Industry sources vary in their forecasts, but the worst-case scenario is a total of $475 million domestically. Most estimates are at least $500-$525 million with a chance of reaching $600 million. For comparison, “No Way Home” landed at $814 million.

Foreign estimates tend to be less clear as different markets can react differently. In China in particular, where this has raised $66.5 million so far (damaged by ongoing COVID-19 woes), the potential for improvement is greatest. Expect it to top $1.5 billion and “Maverick” with an estimate between $1.6 billion and $2 billion. (“No Way Home” was just over $1.9 billion).

There hasn’t been anyone in the industry who expects the domestic take to get past “Maverick.” Comparisons to the massive 22x multiple on the first weekend for Titanic and 10x for “Avatar” are looming with fans hoping for a lot more.

AVATAR: THE WAY OF WATER, (aka AVATAR 2), from left: Neytiri (voice: Zoe Saldana), Jake Sully (voice: Sam Worthington), 2022. © Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures / Courtesy Everett Collection

“Avatar: The Way of Water”

© Walt Disney Co./Courtesy Everett Collection

Circumstances are different this time. Both films faced far tighter seating issues than The Way of Water in their first few weeks. The current film is a sequel, which almost always means that its gross will initially exceed the original (adjusted for current ticket prices, “Avatar” made $113 million in its first weekend).

The industry remains confident that it will surpass what the opening weekend suggested. But as strong as the forecast is (second best domestic price for the year), it still feels like a minor disappointment.

“Avatar,” adjusted for current ticket prices (which are up 20 percent in the last three years alone), grossed about $1.1 billion domestically, ranking No. 15 all-time. (“Titanic” is #5, about $1.5 million). Both films grossed over $3 billion worldwide, again adjusted. With all the challenges for theaters and a normal decline for a sequel, the estimated take for the film is a win.

It alone would never save cinemas a very disappointing 2022. And what a global final sale of less than $2 billion would mean for Disney, whose combined production and marketing costs are estimated at $750 million, is unclear, particularly with regard to further sequels beyond the already advanced stage of Avatar 3″ out. The need to rake in $2 billion to be profitable comes straight from Cameron, but that feels excessive when Disney is charging premium movie distribution for it, and even for a 3D movie, there’s significant revenue coming from the home view to join the game.

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Lindsay Lowe

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