Despite 13 years passing since “Avatar” first hit theaters, moviegoers are still dazzled by the striking world of Pandora.
In anticipation of the sequel “The Way of Water,” which opens in December, Disney re-released James Cameron’s original science-fiction epic to promising results. The film generated $10 million in North America and $20.5 million internationally over the weekend — a huge turnout for movie that opened more than a decade ago, even if that movie happens to be the highest-grossing global release in history. With this weekend’s returns, “Avatar” widens its lead as the biggest movie of all time with $2.85 billion worldwide.
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“We’re talking about a film that’s 13 years old, which people can watch at home,” says Paul Dergarabedian, a senior media analyst with Comscore. “The big draw is the Imax presentation. ‘Avatar’ is serving as a reminder of how cool the imagery of Pandora looks on the big screen.”
In North America, “Avatar” placed third on box office charts behind newer releases like Olivia Wilde’s “Don’t Worry Darling” ($19.2 million) and the Viola Davis-led “The Woman King” ($11 million). In terms of recent re-releases, ticket sales for “Avatar,” which played in 1,980 locations (mostly Imax), came in 85% ahead of the re-release for “Spider-Man: No Way Home.” The latest Spidey adventure, which returned to theaters months, not years, after its original run, collected $5.4 million from 3,835 theaters over Labor Day weekend.
Overseas, where the first “Avatar” made over 70% of its money, the remastered version took the No. 1 spot in smaller markets like France ($2.9 million), Italy ($1.5 million), Singapore and Thailand. Other top territories were Germany ($1.3 million), the United Kingdom ($1.3 million) and Korea ($1.3 million).
Since “Avatar” returned to theaters on a random weekend in September, box office watchers are encouraged for Cameron’s long-awaited, mega-budgeted sequel, due out on the big screen on Dec. 16.
“Had the re-release underperformed,” Dergarabedian said, “that would be the first indicator that — uh oh — there may be a problem [for the sequel]. But this is very encouraging.”
When “Avatar” debuted in 2009, the film generated a solid, but hardly record-breaking, $77 million opening at the domestic box office. Yet the film had unparalleled legs and remained a huge draw for months, driven by exceptional word-of-mouth, 3D showings and plenty of repeat viewings. It held the No. 1 spot for a record consecutive seven weeks and remained in the top 10 for over three months, eventually climbing to $760 million in North America.
David A. Gross, who runs the movie consulting firm Franchise Entertainment Research, predicts “Avatar: The Way of Water” will “certainly open big.” But, he adds, in order to repeat the commercial success of “Avatar” and generate at least $1 billion globally, the sequel needs to “engage and expand audiences’ imagination the way the first film did.”
“Based on early materials and trailers,” Gross said, “it looks promising.”