“Avatar: The Way of Water” is projected to achieve a total Chinese box office of RMB2.5 billion, or $357 million at current rates of exchange, throughout its theatrical run, according to a leading Chinese ticketing firm. The film is projected to launch with $100 million in its opening weekend and pre-sales.
The forecast was published by Maoyan on Friday morning within the first hours of the film enjoying its commercial release in the Middle Kingdom, and the figure is potentially subject to significant revision. The company’s forecasts typically make use of actual sales, pre-sales and other indicators such as the strength of social media interest.
At 12:30 p.m. on Friday, the film had clocked up RMB86 million ($12.2 million of sales) for screenings on the first day. Including sneak previews on Wednesday and midnight screenings on Thursday, the film had a RMB120 million ($17 million) running total by lunchtime Friday.
Getting to grips with the box office performance of “Avatar 2” in China has been particularly difficult. It is the first Hollywood tentpole film to release in China for several months, benefited from a three-week marketing campaign and arrives in mainland Chinese theaters at much the same time as the film goes out in the rest of the world. These are all positives, working in favor of a film and director with built-in name recognition.
The big unknown has been the condition of the Chinese exhibition sector and the anti-COVID controls that throughout this year have caused instantaneous lockdowns of major cities, mass testing requirements and localized travel restrictions. These controls have already depressed China’s box office by more than $3 billion compared with a more buoyant 2021 and reportedly pushed many Chinese exhibitors close to the brink.
In the last 10 days, and since “Avatar 2” got its release slot, China’s central government has ripped down many of the COVID control restrictions. On the surface, that would appear to be another fillip for the film. But the measures also mean that the disease is being allowed to spread in the population and, suddenly, less data on infections is now available. Local media have reported that people have reacted by staying at home to avoid infection and have stocked up on medicines, nutritious foods and alcohol.
Nearly three years of government messaging about the dangers of close human contact has made it unclear whether Chinese audiences would be willing to crowd back into cinemas. Unscientifically polled by Variety at a recent industry event, a handful of Chinese box office seers threw up their hands. They said that the potential for “Avatar 2” in China is huge, but they had little inkling of whether that potential could be attained.
he first installment of “Avatar” earned some $200 million in 2009, a time when the number of screens and premium large format screens in China was far smaller than today.
The biggest Hollywood film in China this year has been “Jurassic World: Dominion,” which grossed $157 million. The biggest Chinese film of this year was “Water Gate Bridge” (aka “The Battle at Lake Changjin 2”), which released at the Lunar New Year holiday season in February and grossed RMB4.07 billion ($581 million). Since then, few other films — Chinese or imported — have lived up to their potential.