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Box Office Breakdown: Black Panther: Wakanda Forever Crosses $400 Million, Paving the Way for Avatar: The Way of Water

This weekend in theaters was never going to be great, and that was certainly the case as the top ten struggled to bring in $33 million cumulatively. The box office desperately needs a sure-thing like James Cameron’s Avatar: The Way of Water, which you can read more about below.

This Past Weekend

Marvel StudiosBlack Panther: Wakanda Forever became only the third movie in 2022 to cross the $400 million mark. Although it’s currently the year’s third highest-grossing movie, it’s done well enough that it’s likely to zoom past the $411 million made by Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness sometime this week. This weekend, Ryan Coogler‘s superhero sequel added another $11.1 million domestically to remain in first place for a fifth weekend in a row with $409.8 million grossed so far. It made slightly more overseas this weekend, adding another $11.8 million to bring its international total to $358 million, with $767.8 globally. So far, Doctor Strange has come closest to a billion worldwide this year, but only two movies have made that mark, Top Gun: Maverick and Jurassic World: Dominion.

David Harbour’s holiday action-comedy, Violent Night, remained in second place with $8.7 million, down 35% from its opening weekend with a solid $26.7 million in ten days.

Disney’s animated Strange World also remained in third place with $3.6 million, down 29% from last weekend, but with only $30.5 million grossed since opening over Thanksgiving. In general, family films have not done well in the past few months, other than Universal’s Minions: The Rise of Gru, which made $369.5 million domestically and $569.9 million overseas after its summer release.

DreamWorks Animation’s Puss in Boots: The Last Wish is the next animated family movie, hitting North American theaters on Dec. 21, and this weekend, it opened in 24 international territories, where it made $8.9 million. 

Searchlight Studios’ dark comedy, The Menu, starring Anya Taylor-Joy and Ralph Fiennes, also held its ground, making $2.7 million (-21%) to retain fourth place. So far, it has made $29 million in North America in four weeks of release.

Sony’s Devotion, which also opened over Thanksgiving, remained in fifth place with $2 million, down 27% from last week but with less than $17 million grossed, so far.

Universal’s attempt to expand Steven Spielberg’s The Fabelmans into 973 theaters proved to be a fruitless effort for the acclaimed drama, as it took seventh place with $1.2 million but having only made $7.3 million in domestic theaters so far. With the movie hitting digital and on demand on Tuesday, it’s unlikely to go much further with much more competition in theaters between now and Christmas Day.

Focus Features always planned on expanding the dramedy Spoiler Alert, starring Jim Parsons and Ben Aldridge, nationwide this weekend, but playing in 782 theaters, it brought in just $700,000 or $895 per theater. Even though it took tenth place, it’s not going to have a very long theatrical life based on those numbers. (Two Fathom Events movies took eighth and ninth place with roughly $750,000 to $800,000 each.)

A24 did better this weekend with its platform release of Darren Aronofsky’s The Whale, starring Brendan Fraser, than any other movies. Opening in just six New York and L.A. theaters, the drama brought in $360,000 or $60,000 per venue, which is the best per-theater average for any movie this year. A24 will expand the Oscar hopeful nationwide on Dec. 21. (You can read J Don Birnam‘s review over on Below the Line.)

By comparison, Searchlight released Sam MendesEmpire of Light, starring Olivia Colman, into just 110 theaters this weekend, where it made $160,000 or $1,455 per theater. It, too, will try to expand over the Christmas holiday weekend but probably won’t expand too wide.

The worst and most embarrassing showing of the weekend had to be Sony’s decision to re-release a PG-13 Father Stu: Reborn, starring Mark Wahlberg, into 993 theaters on Friday, where it only made $110,000 or $109 per theater.

Weekend Box Office

Rank Entry Distributor Revenue Theater Count Total Revenue
1 Black Panther: Wakanda Forever Walt Disney $11,100,000 3,725 $409,810,778
2 Violent Night Universal $8,700,000 3,723 $26,694,315
3 Strange World Walt Disney $3,600,000 3,560 $30,453,692
4 The Menu Searchlight Pictures $2,700,000 2,710 $29,027,758
5 Devotion Sony Pictures $2,030,000 3,458 $17,002,419
6 Black Adam Warner Bros. $1,335,000 2,143 $166,868,377
7 The Fabelmans Universal $1,180,000 973 $7,329,966
8 Met Opera: The Hours Fathom Events $791,374 826 $791,374
9 I Heard the Bells Fathom Events $750,713 1,180 $4,072,954
10 Spoiler Alert Focus Features $700,000 783 $802,593


Last Year

West Side Story
A scene from West Side Story / 20th Century-Disney

Steven Spielberg’s adaptation of West Side Story hit 2,820 theaters, following a New York City premiere that generated hugely positive buzz for Spielberg and his cast, including future Oscar winner, Ariana DeBose. It ended up making just $10.5 million, which led to much concern that adult-oriented fare wasn’t bringing older audiences back to theaters, something which escalated once the Omicron variant of COVID spiked the numbers across the country. 

The other new wide release was the Ric Roman Waugh-directed football drama, National Champions, which opened in 1,197 theaters (via STX) but only made $301,028 or $251 per theater, ending up outside the top 12.

A24 released Sean Baker’s indie comedy, Red Rocket, starring Simon Rex, into six theaters, where it brought in $96,953, or $16,099 per theater. It never expanded into more than 377 theaters (probably for the reason mentioned above: Omicron), and it just barely eked past $1 million in theaters.

Upcoming

Avatar: The Way of Water
A scene from Avatar: The Way of Water / 20th Century-Disney

This weekend is going to be another big one at the box office, because filmmaker James Cameron has finally returned to Pandora for Avatar: The Way of Water, the sequel to his 2009 movie, which not only grossed $749.8 million domestically and $2.7 million worldwide, but also received nine Oscar nominations, winning three. 

The Way of the Water is an interesting sequel, not only due to the 13 years since the previous movie, but also because it generally has been receiving positive reactions from the most cynical of film critics, who may not have been fans of the original Avatar. Reviews won’t be out until Tuesday afternoon, and they should generally be positive as well.

A couple of things to bear in mind: the 13-year gap between movies could mean that many of the younger moviegoers who normally go to theaters and have driven the box office in recent months might not have the love for the movie as older moviegoers did back in 2009.

On the other hand, the gap between George LucasStar Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith in 2005 and J.J. Abrams’ 2015 sequel, Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens was about ten years and that gap helped boost the latter’s opening to a whopping $248 million this very same weekend. An important caveat is that very often, movies that open in the weeks before Christmas don’t reach their full potential until the holiday week between Christmas and New Year’s Day. Then again, just last year, we had another example of a movie that did huge business on this very weekend, as Spider-Man: No Way Home opened with $260 million with almost half that number on its opening day.

Like Star Wars, Avatar is an event movie that fans of the original will want to see right away, and The Way of Water should also benefit from the inflated ticket pricing for 3D and large-format screens and premium formats like IMAX and Dolby, especially with the lack of another other blockbusters other than Black Panther: Wakanda Forever

Because of this, Avatar: The Way of the Water should be good for north of $125 million this weekend, but maybe somewhere closer to $140 or $150 million. With the holidays coming up and most school kids on vacation, this one could easily gross north of $500 million by January.


Edward Douglas
Edward Douglas

Edward Douglas has been writing about the box office for 21 years at places like ComingSoon.netThe Tracking Board, and many others, but mostly under the banner of “The Weekend Warrior.” He’s also a film critic with bylines at Film JournalThe New York Daily NewsDen of Geek, and other places.

Box Office Breakdown will be posted each week by Monday morning. You can read other features by Edward Douglas over at Below the Line.

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