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Avatar: The Way of Water” made a smaller splash in its debut at the mainland China box office than might have been expected just a few weeks ago. But under the fast-changing circumstances in the country, that was probably as good as could have been hoped for.

The film earned $51.3 million between Friday and Sunday, according to data from consultancy firm Artisan Gateway. That represented a massive 97% market share of the weekend total which Artisan Gateway reported as $53.5 million. Including Wednesday sneak previews and midnight screenings on Thursday, “Avatar 2” closed out the weekend with a cumulative total of $57 million.

Those numbers represent: just the 12th biggest nationwide weekend box office total of 2022; the fourth biggest opening performance by any film in China this year; but, still, the biggest opening by any Hollywood movie released in China in 2022.

Giant screen supplier Imax reported that the film earned $15.8 million (including pre-release screenings) from the 735 screens operated under its label in the country. It said that was Imax’s best-ever weekend in China.

But the growing COVID problem in China is causing rapid revisions of all expectations.

For more than two and a half years China had operated a strict zero-COVID policy, under which it would attempt to identify, trace and isolate every infection in the country. The policy led municipal and provincial governments to lock down entire cities at short notice, to mount onerous mass testing operations and to enforce travel and access restrictions.

In the past two weeks, that policy has been significantly dismantled. But along with reduced restrictions, the new policy is also allowing COVID to spread rapidly through the population. Data on the scale of the new spike in infections is harder to gather and interpret as Chinese authorities are no longer reporting the number of asymptomatic cases.

However, many people have chosen to stay at home for fear of catching the disease. Others have caught it and are self-isolating at home. And some companies in Beijing have reported that half of their workforce is no longer venturing out.

Cinema chains have been affected by audience hesitancy in face of the growing outbreak and by shortages of staff necessary to operate the theaters.

Data from local Chinese sources show that the nationwide number of screenings dropped by 20,000 from Saturday to Sunday.

Ticketing agency, Maoyan has slashed its forecast of the possible final score for “Avatar 2” by more than half. On Friday, within hours of the film opening, Maoyan forecast that the film could gross RMB2.5 billion (roughly $357 million at current rates of exchange). By Monday, Maoyan had revised its forecast to RMB1 billion or $143 million.

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