‘Avatar: The Way of Water’ Tops New Year’s Eve Box Office

Audiences rang in 2023 with a trip to Pandora, as James Cameron’s “Avatar: The Way of Water” continued to dominate the holiday box office.

The ambitious — and staggeringly expensive — science-fiction epic has been in the works for years, blowing past several release dates as Cameron figured out a way to expand his story of a race of alien creatures struggling against hostile invaders over a planned five-films. He also labored to create new technology that would allow him to do performance capture work underwater. The wait appears to have been worth it. “Avatar: The Way of Water” brought in a projected $63.4 million domestically over New Year’s weekend and is expected to generate $82.4 million over the four-day holiday (most people have Monday off and many of them will apparently be spending that day with the Na’vi).

But all that innovation didn’t come cheap and Cameron has suggested that in order to turn a profit for Disney, the company that bought the rights to “Avatar” when it purchased much of 21st Century Fox in 2019, the movie will need to be one of the highest-grossing films in history. Sources put “Avatar: The Way of Water’s” break-even point at roughly $1.4 billion, a figure it is on the precipice of passing.

Here’s where things stand. So far, the film has earned $421.6 million domestically and $956.9 million internationally. Its global gross stands at $1.38 billion. The “Avatar” sequel is now the fifteenth highest global release of all-time, just behind “Black Panther” and ahead of “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2.” So it’s in some pretty rarefied commercial company.

“Avatar: The Way of Water” was basically the only game in town when it came to New Year’s Eve viewing. Coming in a distant second was Universal and DreamWorks Animation’s “Puss in Boots: The Last Wish,” which earned $16.3 million over the weekend and is expected to make $21.7 million over the four-day holiday. That would put the animated adventure’s domestic total at just over $66 million.

Disney and Marvel’s “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” took third place, earning $4.8 million over the weekend and a projected $6.5 million over the four-day holiday. Its domestic total stands at $438 million, while its global gross is $818.5 million.

In fourth place, Sony and Tri-Star’s “Whitney Houston: I Wanna Dance with Somebody” earned $4.2 million for the weekend and $5.4 million for the four-day holiday. That leaves the biopic about the troubled pop icon with a $16 million domestic gross, a discordant result for a film with a $45 million budget.

Paramount’s “Babylon,” a look at all the drugs and debauchery that made Hollywood’s silent era a real blur, rounded out the top five even as it struggled to entice audiences. The $80 million drama earned $2.7 million over the weekend and is expected to gross just $3.6 million over the four-day holiday. That would bring its domestic gross to a disastrous $11 million and change. It’s a big money loser and the only blight in what has been an incredible run for Paramount — the studio scored with “The Lost City,” “Scream,” “Sonic the Hedgehog 2” and “Top Gun: Maverick.”

In limited release, A24’s “The Whale,” a drama about an obese college professor that’s received rave reviews for Brendan Fraser, earned $372,950 on New Year’s Eve. It is expected to gross $1.7 million over the four-day holiday, bringing its total to $6.2 million.

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