James Cameron’s blockbuster sequel Avatar: The Way of Water makes box office history Sunday (with a chance to reach the magic number Saturday) as it reaches $2 billion, a number most pundits and film fans seemed to doubt it could top when the film first opened five weeks ago to $435 million in worldwide receipts.
Official poster for “Avatar: The Way of Water”
Every weekend the Avatar sequel has climbed box office charts, defying naysayers time after time to reach new unexpected thresholds, and faster than anticipated to boot. Each step of the way, many journalists and pundits — as well as plenty of cinephiles and online movie communities — suggested odds were against the film topping much more than $1 billion, or $1.5 billion, or $1.8 billion, or $2 billion, depending on what number it had already shattered at the time.
Indeed, after the early slower than expected debut weekend, I was among those who started to suggest The Way of Water might not have the momentum to carry it much past $1.8 billion, despite my initial early predictions that it would pass $2 billion.
But on Tuesday of this week, Avatar: The Way of Water had topped Spider-Man: No Way Home’s $1.9+ billion cume for the #6 spot on the all-time highest grossing box office list. Which made it inevitable that the film would hit $2 billion this weekend.
Avatar: The Way of Water will also top $1.5 billion at the international box office, and cross $600+ million domestically, within the next several days as well.
Only five films in history have ever grossed more than $2 billion, and all but one of them released in the past 13 years — Avatar (2009) with $2.899 billion, Avengers: Endgame (2019) with $2.794 billion, Titanic (1997) with $2.2 billion, Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens (2015) with $2.06 billion, and Avengers: Infinity War (2018) with $2.048 billion.
In fact, of the 50 movies that have grossed $1 billion or more at the box office, only three were released before 2006 — Titanic, Jurassic Park (1993) with $1.045 billion, and Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace (1999) with $1.027 billion.
It’s not clear yet whether The Way of Water will gross enough through the end of the weekend to move into fifth place on the list of highest grossing films in history, a position currently occupied by Avengers: Infinity War with $2.048 billion. But it’s only a matter of time before it does, at which point it is also in shooting distance of the $2.064 billion it has to beat to take the #4 spot where Star Wars: The Force Awakens currently resides.
As I’ve mentioned before, from there it will become harder for Avatar: The Way of Water to move up the all-time charts, because Titanic sits at #3 with $2.19 billion and is going to increase that sum substantially when it hits theaters again in February to celebrate the 25th anniversary of its own historic box office release and sweep at the Oscars. Titanic arrives in 4K HDR 3D, and should wind up somewhere between $2.25 and $2.3+ billion box office by the end of this re-release.
To take the third position on the box office charts, then, Avatar: The Way of Water needs to finish its remarkable run on the higher end of most estimates at this point. Which is certainly doable, and it’ll be a tough match between Cameron’s twin titans for that #3 slot. But either way, Cameron obviously still wins, with three of the top four grossing movies in history.
I don’t see any realistic scenario where Avatar: The Way of Water challenges for second place on the all-time list, since Avengers: Endgame must feel awfully comfortable with its $2.79+ billion. That’s a lot of cushion protecting its seat.
However, my guess is we’ll eventually see an Avatar 2 re-release ahead of Avatar 3’s release — and also even a “special edition” re-release of The Way of Water including some new scenes we haven’t seen before, all of which has a shot at boosting The Way of Water closer and closer to Endgame’s #2 spot.
At this point, Avatar: The Way of Water should easily pass $2.1 billion and make a run for at least $2.2+ billion and maybe $2.3 billion, with $2.4+ billion the higher end of likely outcomes. But even saying that, I have to remind myself this film has been blowing past expectations and defying odds every day, so we can’t rule out a $2.5 billion finish. Improbable, maybe, but impossible? Never bet against James Cameron.
I’ll continue to update you on Avatar: The Way of Water’s record breaking and expectation-defying run, dear readers, so be sure to check back here soon for more news. And watch for my coverage of Ant-Man and the Wasp, and continuing coverage of Marvel Studio’s Black Panther: Wakanda Forever getting a recently announced release in China that could put it on the path to a possible $1 billion finish after all — read more about that situation here in my latest report about it.
And if you’re among the eager audiences venturing out to theaters this weekend to see Avatar: The Way of Water or another film, be sure to remember to wear a mask to protect not only yourself but also other people around you who might be immuno-compromised or otherwise at worse risk of serious health outcomes or death from Covid or even from the flu. The pandemic isn’t over, dear readers, and right now it’s actually surging with a new more dangerous variant, so be careful and mask up!