‘Avatar’ sequel dominates box office but falls short of expectations



If the past few days are any indication, it looks like the hottest travel destination this winter might be Pandora, the mysterious Earth-like world in which James Cameron’s Avatar films take place.

Avatar: The Way of Water,” the second entry in the director’s carefully plotted franchise, debuted this weekend at the top of the domestic box office, where it earned $134 million, according to data from Box Office Mojo. The film also captivated global audiences, earning an additional $300.5 million overseas.

The “Avatar” sequel arrived in theaters 13 years after its predecessor, which made $2.92 billion across the globe and remains the top-grossing theatrical release of all time. (“Avatar” was briefly displaced by 2019’s “Avengers: Endgame” but reclaimed the crown last year with a rerelease in China.) Cameron is a fixture on that all-time list; his 1997 landmark film “Titanic” still ranks third, at $2.2 billion.

Given his past achievements, Cameron was trusted with an enormous budget for “Avatar: The Way of Water.” He told GQ last month that the film, which he has been working on since 2013, would need to be “the third or fourth highest-grossing film in history” to be considered profitable.

He said he told the studio this was “the worst business case in movie history.”

The domestic earnings did fall short of opening-weekend expectations, whether in terms of the $175 million that industry analysts predicted or distributor Disney’s more modest $135 to $150 million range, according to CNBC. The $134 million sum tied with “The Batman” as the fifth-biggest domestic opening this year. But the “Avatar” sequel’s earnings could still build over the holidays.

Meet the people who never stopped thinking ‘Avatar’ was cool

The film has received mixed to positive reviews from critics, the more passionate of whom, such as New York magazine’s Bilge Ebiri, praised the director’s ability to balance sentimentality and brutality in service of a larger message: “Cameron’s divided self finds its fullest expression on Pandora,” Ebiri wrote in his review, “not just because he can create vast new worlds and matrices of spiritually interconnected beings but also because he can fight battles he can’t fight elsewhere.”

Others, such as The Washington Post’s Ann Hornaday, were mixed on the film. In her two-star review, Hornaday wrote that it “is frequently clunky and ham-handed in its storytelling, and the words spoken by its characters — human, humanoid and in between — aren’t particularly memorable. But there’s no denying the power of images that can only be described as transporting — literally and figuratively.”

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