Despite the 13 years that have passed since “Avatar” first hit theaters, moviegoers are apparently still dazzled by the striking world of Pandora.
In anticipation of the sequel “The Way of Water,” due out in December, Disney re-released James Cameron’s original dazzling sci-fi epic with promising results. The film grossed $10 million in North America and $20.5 million internationally this weekend, a huge turnout for movies that opened more than a decade ago, even if that movie happens to be the highest-grossing worldwide release in history. With the return this weekend, “Avatar” extends its lead as the greatest movie of all time by $2.85 billion worldwide.
“We’re talking about a 13-year-old movie that people can watch at home,” said Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst at Comscore. “The big draw is the Imax presentation. ‘Avatar’ reminds us how cool the images of Pandora look on the big screen.”
In North America, Avatar took third place on the box office charts behind newer releases such as Olivia Wilde’s Don’t Worry Darling ($19.2 million) and the Viola Davis-led “The Woman King” ($11 million) . In terms of recent reissues, ticket sales for “Avatar,” which played mainly Imax locations in 1,980, were 85% higher than the reissue for “Spider-Man: No Way Home.” Returning to theaters months, not years after its original performance, the latest Spidey adventure collected $5.4 million from 3,835 theaters over Labor Day weekend.
Abroad, where the first “Avatar” made more than 70% of its money, the remastered version took the No. 1 spot in smaller markets such as France ($2.9 million), Italy ($1.5 million), Singapore and Thailand. Other top areas were Germany ($1.3 million), the United Kingdom ($1.3 million) and Korea ($1.3 million).
Ever since “Avatar” returned to theaters on a random weekend in September without much promotion, box office viewers have been encouraged for Cameron’s highly anticipated, mega-budgeted sequel to hit the big screen on December 16.
“If the reissue had underperformed,” Dergarabedian said, “that would be the first indicator that — uh oh — there could be a problem [for the sequel.] But this is very encouraging.”
When “Avatar” debuted in 2009, the film generated a solid, but barely record-breaking, $77 million at the domestic box office. Still, the film had unparalleled legs and remained a huge draw for months, propelled by exceptional word of mouth and numerous repeat viewings. It held the #1 spot for a record-breaking seven weeks and stayed in the top 10 for over three months, eventually climbing to $760 million in North America. Notably, over 80% of ticket sales for “Avatar” came from 3D and premium formats.
David A. Gross, who runs the film consulting firm Franchise Entertainment Research, predicts that “Avatar: The Way of Water” is “definitely going to get big.” But, he adds, in order to replicate “Avatar’s” commercial success, the sequel must “engage and expand the audience’s imagination like the first film did.”
“Based on early materials and trailers,” Gross says, “it looks promising.”