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Korea Box Office: ‘Avatar 2’ Fourth Weekend Win Gives Bright New Year Start After Industry’s Patchy 2022 Recovery

AVATAR: THE WAY OF WATER
©Walt Disney Co./Courtesy Everett Collection

South Korea’s box office continued its “Avatar”-powered strong run into a fourth weekend, with overall takings exceeding $15 million during the first normal Friday to Sunday of the new year.

Avatar: The Way of Water” remained in the top position that it has enjoyed since release in mid-December. But there were good showings for local holdover title “Hero” and for new release “The First Slam Dunk.”

“Avatar 2” took $6.42 million in its fourth weekend of release, according to data from Kobis, the tracking service operated by the Korean Film Council (Kofic). That was a 51% weekend-on-weekend drop after two previous weekends when the film had held extremely strongly and benefited from the Christmas and New Year holiday seasons. Since releasing on Dec. 14, 2022, the title has now accumulated a total of $87.8 million. Its market share dropped to 42% over the weekend, the first time it has been below half since its debut.

“Hero,” an historical drama depicting Korean anti-Japanese activists in occupied Manchuria, held on to the second place that it has enjoyed since releasing on Dec. 21. It earned $2.62 million in its third weekend of release and claimed a 16.8% market share. Directed by consistent hitmaker, JK Youn, the film now has a running total of $17.5 million.

Japanese animation film “The First Slam Dunk” was the weekend’s highest new opener. It earned $2.61 million over the weekend and enjoyed a 16.7% market share. Over the five days since its Wednesday debut, it has earned $3.49 million.

Two other new release titles followed. “Puss in Boots: The Last Wish” opened with $1.69 million over the weekend and $2.40 over its opening five days. Korean-produced “Switch” earned $1.10 million over the weekend and $1.78 million over five days.

Japanese title “Even if This Love Disappears From the World Tonight” continued its chart run, despite releasing on Nov. 30, 2022. It earned $459,000 in sixth place for a cumulative of $6.53 million built up over seven weekends.

“The Night Owl,” which had topped the Korean chart for three weekends before the release of “Avatar 2,” took seventh place with a weekend score of $151,000. After seven weekends on release, it has a cumulative of $26.0 million.

“Shinbi’s Haunted House: The Dimension Ghost and the Seven Worlds” added $132,000 in its fourth weekend, for a cumulative of $3.14 million.

Korean-made “Gentleman” sank quickly from a third-placed opening a week earlier to ninth place. Earnings crumpled by 90% as it took $84,000, for a 12-day cumulative of $1.62 million.

There was a tenth-place opening for George Miller’s “Three Thousand Years of Longing,” which took $52,000 between Friday and Sunday, and $99,000 over its opening five days.

The nationwide weekend total weighed in at $15.6 million, a level scarcely seen between September and November, but which was comfortably exceeded during the reign of “Avatar.” It remains to be seen whether Korean audiences have rediscovered the cinema-going habit.

Annual box office in 2022 was up by 96% to KRW1.16 trillion, compared with a disastrous 2021 (and a fractionally worse 2020). Market share for Korean movies returned above half, to 56%, restoring the normality that had held for a decade until COVID-hit 2021. In terms of admissions, the year-on-year gain was 87% (from 60.5 million in 2021 to 113 million in 2022), revealing the impact of somewhat higher ticket prices.

But last year’s Korean box office recovery was not consistent. After a summer releasing flurry, revenues plummeted through the autumn months. Commentators have pointed to a weak supply of new titles, but also to growing competition for consumers’ time and wallets, especially from the country’s hyper-competitive streaming video sector.

And while 2022 was an improvement compared with the two previous years, gross box office lagged 39% behind 2019, when aggregate revenues were KRW1.91 trillion and Korea was the world’s fourth largest box office market.

The strength of the US dollar compared with the Korean Won also undermines the global value of the Korean cinema marketplace. Using year end conversion rates for each year, the size of the Korean theatrical market expressed in dollars was $1.65 billion in 2019, $496 million in 2020, $492 million in 2021 and $922 million in 2022 – the latter is a 45% deficit compared with 2019.

In cinema admissions terms, the contrast between the pre-COVID era and Korea’s present is also stark: the 2022 attendance total was only 49% of 2019’s 227 million.