‘Avatar 2’ Earns $56 Million in Second Weekend, ‘Babylon’ Drops Bombs on Christmas

James Cameron’s sci-fi sequel ‘Avatar: The Way of Water’ dominated at the box office during the holiday season even as a huge winter storm kept audiences at home.

Extreme weather conditions are affecting large parts of the United States with freezing temperatures, high winds and blankets of snow, contributing to low movie theater attendance. For theater owners, it’s a particularly disappointing end to 2022 because they’re relying on the holiday season for lively attendances. Hollywood was already worried that takings would be depressed because Christmas Eve falls on Saturday and Christmas arrives on Sunday, cutting into weekend numbers. With bad weather, plus growing concerns over cases of COVID, the RSV virus and the flu, a trio of new releases failed to resonate at the box office.

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All three major new releases — Paramount’s glittering entertainment epic “Babylon,” Universal and DreamWorks’ “Puss in Boots: The Dying Wish,” and Sony’s Whitney Houston biopic “I Wanna Dance With Somebody” — as well as the sequel to “Avatar” try to catch up in the next week. Many Americans take off between Christmas and New Years, so it’s a popular time to go to the movies.

Even with unfavorable circumstances, ‘Avatar: The Way of Water’ managed to bring in decent numbers, earning $56 million from 4,202 North American theaters over the traditional weekend. It appears to be raising $82 million between Friday and Monday, which would bring its national tally to $278 million. The first “Avatar” faced similarly unfavorable weather conditions when it was released in December 2009, but that didn’t stop the film, over time, from breaking records with $760 million in North America and $2.92 billion globally.

With promising business during the week, the ‘Avatar’ sequel grossed $601 million internationally and $855.4 million globally, making it the fifth highest-grossing film of 2022 after just 10 days in theaters. By the end of the year, the $350 million-budget tentpole aims to hit the $1 billion mark. Only two other films, ‘Top Gun: Maverick’ and ‘Jurassic World: Dominion’ have managed to hit that landmark this year.

Far from Pandora, the R-rated film “Babylon,” directed by Damien Chazelle and starring Margot Robbie and Brad Pitt, bombed with $3.5 million from 3,343 venues over the weekend and an estimated $5.3 million in dollars until Monday. The film’s particularly awful start, as well as its CinemaScore “C+” from audiences, suggest that even with the winter blues, the 3-hour, 9-minute “Babylon” may not have resonated on the big screen.

That’s a problem because the film cost an estimated $80 million to produce and tens of millions more to market, meaning the Oscar hopeful will become an underdog unless business picks up again in the next few days. The film’s international release at the end of January should boost ticket sales. But barring a reversal of fortunes, “Babylon” may be the only blemish in Paramount’s otherwise unexpectedly stellar year at the box office, with hits ranging from “Top Gun: Maverick” to the creepy thriller “Smile.”

David A. Gross, who runs film consultancy Franchise Entertainment Research, suggests there’s still room for optimism about “Babylon,” an overblown ode to Hollywood. “The film will get a boost if it picks up big award nominations,” he says.

“Puss in Boots: The Last Wish,” a sequel set in the “Shrek” universe, came in second place with $11.3 million from 4,099 locations over the weekend and an estimated $17.7 million through Monday. Since the film opened on Wednesday, ticket sales would bring its domestic total to $24.6 million. The film generated $32.5 million internationally and $57.2 million worldwide. With no competition from family films until ‘The Super Mario Bros. Movie’ is released in April 2023, the second ‘Puss in Boots’ hopes to stay strong in the new year.

“It’s a fascinating film, and our audience reaction scores are stellar,” says Jim Orr, president of domestic distribution at Universal. “We’re going to have a stellar week.”

By comparison, the original “Puss in Boots” opened to $34 million in 2011 and eventually grossed $554 million globally, enough to merit a sequel. Since the $90 million budget sequel, about a swashbuckling feline, generated solid reviews and an “A” CinemaScore, analysts believe weather played a significant role in lower-than-expected ticket sales. There was hope that the sequel would make $30 million in its opening weekend.

“This opening was canceled entirely by extreme weather,” adds Gross. “With the schools on vacation, the film can pick up some of its business next week.”

“I Wanna Dance With Somebody” secured third place with a disappointing $5.3 million from 3,625 theaters over the weekend and an estimated $7.5 million to $9 million through Monday. Toward the weekend, “I Wanna Dance With Somebody” and “Babylon” reportedly made $12 million to $15 million each over the extended holidays. It cost $45 million, less than others in wide release, so the musical film won’t take as long to turn a profit. And audiences seemed to like the film, in which Naomi Ackie embodies the latest pop icon Whitney Houston, giving it an “A” CinemaScore, which is a good sign for her prospects on the big screen.

Elsewhere, Disney and Marvel’s “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” is nearing the $800 million mark. After seven weeks, the superhero sequel has grossed $425.7 million domestically and $799.5 million globally.

Overall, the domestic box office brought in $86 million over the weekend, according to Comscore. Christmas Day is projected to bring in just $34.4 million, making it the lowest-grossing holiday (aside from 2020, when most theaters were still closed) in two decades.

“A slower-than-typical Christmas season shouldn’t come as a surprise,” says Paul Dergarabedian, senior analyst at Comscore. “Only five films had a major release in December, leaving the last week of the year in the cold.”

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