What the $58 Million Success of the ‘Avatar’ Re-Release Says About Who Will See ‘Way of Water’

The success of the re-release of “Avatar” these past two weekends isn’t necessarily a guarantee that its upcoming sequel, “The Way of Water” will be a global hit this Christmas. But the younger-skewing demographics and the overwhelming majority of 3D moviegoers for the re-release are certainly a reason for Disney, 20th Century Studios and movie theaters worldwide to have hope.

As of Monday, 10 days into its two-week limited engagement in theaters, “Avatar” has grossed $58.1 million worldwide, with a domestic total of $18.6 million from 1,860 theaters. That is enough to bring the lifetime gross of “Avatar” to $2.9 billion, the highest of all time before inflation adjustment.

Let’s get the caveats out of the way first: “Avatar” is hitting theaters at a particularly depleted time for the box office, coming out of the worst September in over two decades. Also, this total is dwarfed by the $191.7 million that another James Cameron classic, “Titanic,” made from a 3D re-release in 2012 excluding China and Russia, two major markets that “Avatar” has not re-released in due to the Ukraine invasion and China’s ongoing clampdown on Hollywood releases.

Also Read:
‘Avatar: The Way of Water’ Footage Debuts in 3D High Frame Rate at D23 to Mixed Results

But given how much streaming — which makes it easier than ever for people to see major blockbusters like “Avatar” — has grown in the decade since that “Titanic” re-release, it’s impressive how much interest there has been in buying a ticket for a blockbuster that came out 13 years ago. That speaks to how, despite all of the criticism it has taken over the years for its perceived lack of cultural relevance, “Avatar” is still seen as something that must be watched on the big screen.

Another encouraging sign is how young the audience for this re-release has skewed. While only 14% of moviegoers on the re-release’s first weekend were under 18, 54% were under the age of 35. That means that 68% of the re-release’s initial audience were college age or younger when “Avatar” first came out in 2009.

In order to find anywhere near the level of success that “Avatar” had, “The Way of Water” will need to win over audiences who were either kids when they first saw the film in theaters or were too young to have any fond memories of the movie.

Disney will have two months to get that buy-in with a massive marketing campaign led by trailers that will air in front of other tentpoles like the other big blockbuster coming down the pipe, Marvel’s “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever.” But with the bulk of the campaign still getting started, this re-release is a sign that there is some nostalgia for Pandora and the Na’vi among Gen Z.

Also Read:
‘Black Adam,’ ‘Halloween Kills’ Lead the Most Anticipated Movies of October | Chart

The other big stat from opening weekend: 93% of tickets sold were for 3D screenings. By comparison, only 10% of tickets sold for the opening weekend of “Thor: Love and Thunder” this past July were for 3D.

Much has been written, including on this site, about how far interest in 3D has fallen since “Avatar” first came out , but if the 3D share of the opening weekend of “The Way of Water” is as strong as it was here — or even as it was back in 2009, when 74% of “Avatar” opening weekend tickets were 3D — that will be a significant boost to its box office fortunes given the surcharges that come with each ticket sold for 3D, Imax, or other premium formats.

“James Cameron has always been one of the most avid filmmaking partners we’ve had. He is involved in every single aspect of the 3D process, making sure that the picture is good, that the screen is bright enough, that we’re getting the full range of color on our screens,” said Sean Spencer, VP of Sales and Marketing for RealD, of Cameron. “Even if audiences don’t know all the details, they do recognize when a filmmaker is dedicated to that level of quality, and that’s a big reason why so many people want to see ‘Avatar’ in 3D.”

Also Read:
‘Bros’ Flops at the Box Office – and the Marketing Didn’t Help | Analysis

But Cameron’s unique interest in 3D is also the reason why a resurgence in interest in the format will likely be confined to “Avatar.” A major reason why 3D declined so quickly was because moviegoers got wise to when a film was simply converted to 3D in post-production, as opposed to having it laced into every element of production the way Cameron does.

Once that happened, most moviegoers decided spending extra money to see the film with glasses on was no longer worth it. Until and unless 3D becomes something that blockbuster directors want to regularly explore again, 3D’s best days will remain behind it.

As for “The Way of Water,” hope still abounds that the franchise’s universal blockbuster appeal, with awe-inspiring alien environments, epic battle scenes and impressive production design and digital technology, will create a can’t-miss spectacle that can be a lifesaver for theaters the way “Spider-Man: No Way Home” was last year.

But beyond what should be a strong $100 million-plus opening weekend, this sequel will have to do more than provide amazing visuals. With a third installment already set for 2024 and Cameron planning to make two more, “The Way of Water” must get millions around the world invested in the story of Jake Sully, Neytiri and the Na’vi. If it doesn’t, well… just look at what happened to “Fantastic Beasts.”

Also Read:
Worry, Darling: September Box Office Plummets to Worst Levels in 25 Years