13 years after Avatar became the highest-grossing movie of all time, Avatar: The Way of Water is finally here, and it’s going to be another massive hit. The general excitement around the movie, early ticket sales, and positive reviews are all strong early indications of the movie’s potential, but there’s a number of other factors contributing to Avatar: The Way of Water becoming one of the biggest movies of 2022.
James Cameron is no stranger to box office success, with his last two movies (Titanic and Avatar) both becoming the highest-grossing movies of all time, a title they each posessed for over a decade (with the original Avatar still standing as the top all-time box office earner), but there’s uncertainty over whether or not Avatar: The Way of Water can continue this trend. Given the uncertain post-COVID box office environment and other changes to the theatrical movie landscape, it’s not clear if there’s a ceiling on Avatar: The Way of Water‘s box office potential, but there’s a number of big indicators that it’ll still be a monster hit.
Avatar 2 Demands To Be Seen On The Big Screen
Avatar: The Way of Water is meant to be seen on the big screen. James Cameron is known for pulling out all the stops to create massive visual spectacles, and Avatar: The Way of Water is his biggest yet. From advancements in CGI visual effects to the use of high frame rate technology and shooting it under water in IMAX 3D, the movie is crafted to entice audiences to see it on the biggest screen possible, justifying the increased price of admission.
The original Avatar found massive success with a similar strategy, propelling it to become the highest-grossing movie of all time due to higher-priced IMAX tickets and repeat ticket sales from audiences who wanted to see it again. This kind of success is rare for modern movies, especially when audiences don’t have as long to wait before it’s available to watch on streaming, but when it’s clear the home viewing experience (even with a decent home theater setup) can’t replicate the big screen experience, it incentivizes audiences to go to the theater and buy a ticket (possibly multiple times), as seen with the box office performance of Top Gun: Maverick.
The Avatar Brand Has Hype Than People Realize
The first Avatar became the highest-grossing movie of all time as a wholly original property without any thought of sequels, but the same isn’t true of Avatar: The Way of Water. The Avatar sequel doesn’t only benefit from the success of its predecessor, but also from the anticipation of more Avatar movies. In the modern era of franchise movies, sequel anticipation is a big factor in increasing interest in the newest release. Avatar: The Way of Water doesn’t follow the “Marvel model” where Easter eggs, cliffhangers, and post-credits scenes set up the next movie, but there’s clear sequel setup and with multiple Avatar sequels already on the way, Avatar 2 builds that anticipation.
The Avatar franchise has been mocked for lacking the same level of cultural interest as big franchises like Star Wars or the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but when it comes to the box office, the Avatar brand has proven itself numerous times since the original’s release in 2009. A Chinese re-release in 2021 earned Avatar another $60 million and the global re-release in September 2022 earned it another $75 million, proving a high level of maintained interest in the franchise and box office potential in Avatar: The Way of Water.
Avatar Is Popular At The International Box Office (Especially China)
The original Avatar made over $2.9 billion at the global box office, 73 percent of which – $2.1 billion – internationally. James Cameron movies have always performed well internationally, even in an era where movies made far less abroad than they did domestically, but things really took off with Terminator 2: Judgment Day, which was the first movie in history to gross more than $300 million outside the domestic box office. Avatar continued that trend, growing Cameron’s international box office pull even more due to the movie’s visual focus, straightforward story, and universal themes.
China’s box office is especially important when it comes to Avatar. A significant number of recent blockbusters haven’t received a release in China for a variety of social and political reasons, dragging their international box office potential. As already mentioned, Avatar‘s 2021 Chinese re-release earned nearly $60 million, so getting a Chinese release for Avatar: The Way of Water is a big deal for its box office potential.
Don’t Forget the James Cameron Factor
Finally, there’s the James Cameron factor. Cameron’s impact on Hollywood is undeniable, but his box office track record is a true anomaly. He has a long history of making movies with concerningly massive budgets only to turn them into massive box office hits. There’s plenty of easy-to-explain reasons why Avatar: The Way of Water will be a big box office hit, but there’s also the intangible James Cameron factor.
To see just how much of an anomaly Cameron’s box office track record is, look at the 10 highest-grossing movies of all time. Eight of them are sequels, remakes, or reboots of popular IP, all of which were released in the last decade, four of which were made in the last four years). The other two are directed by James Cameron (Titanic and Avatar) and stand clearly apart from the rest of the top 10. Both movies are much older than the rest of the list, neither was an existing franchise, and neither had a massive opening, meaning the vast majority of ticket sales came from word of mouth and repeat viewings.
Of course, the 13-year delay between the original Avatar and Avatar: The Way of Water, the uncertainty of the post-COVID box office, and a number of factors raise understandable concerns over the movie’s ultimate box office potential; however, it’s clear it’ll still be a big hit, even if it doesn’t ultimately reach the same highs of its predecessor, which may not be clear for some time if it follows the same long-tail box office performance as Cameron’s other movies. Regardless of the ultimate box office outcome, Avatar: The Way of Water is poised to be a massive hit.
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