Avatar: The Way of Water is hitting theaters in 2022’s holiday season, and the lasting implications of its box office performance are huge.
Avatar: The Way of Water will be a real test of the box office and the state of theatrical movie going. James Cameron’s long-awaited expansion of the Avatar franchise has taken over a decade to get everything in place for his next extremely effects-heavy adventure on Pandora in Avatar 2. However, everything presented so far for Avatar 2 shows it will prove to have been worth the wait, with the sequel to hit theaters on December 16th, and the three subsequent Avatar sequels planned through 2028.
While a lot is riding on the box office performance of Avatar 2, the movie is an even more unusually significant release because of what it could reveal about box office trends. Avatar 2 is releasing at a time when movie theaters are still recovering from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. Additionally, the landscape of movie theaters has shifted greatly since Avatar, with theaters in general facing much more uneven business. All of this sets up Avatar 2’s box office performance to be a kind of crystal ball for the potential future of theaters and box office numbers.
The Avatar & Avatar 2 Difference Could Reveal A Box Office Problem
The long time gap between Avatar and Avatar 2 has often been cited as the biggest hurdle for the latter’s box office prospects. Avatar’s re-release verified its box office popularity and suggests that the anticipation for Avatar 2 is indeed strong. Even with those factors on Avatar 2’s side, the impact of the pandemic, inflation, and a general downward trend in theater attendance might ultimately demonstrate that the first Avatar struck box office gold at the perfect time and can’t be repeated.
Even James Cameron himself has been quite candid about the high price tag for Avatar 2 and the mountainous threshold it has to climb simply to break even. Avatar 2 coming in far below Avatar could spell a widespread problem of theaters shedding moviegoers on a large scale. Of course, if anyone can dispel such box office woes, it is James Cameron, and if he succeeds, it would indicate a different but equally crucial change in the theatrical experience.
Avatar 2’s Success Would Confirm The Demand For Spectacle Cinema
The trailers for Avatar 2 have been quite effective in showcasing the grandiose visual effects wonderland that Cameron’s second Pandora-based adventure is set to deliver. Meanwhile, its extended gap from the first Avatar gives Avatar 2 a similar quality as Top Gun: Maverick of being a long-awaited sequel to long-ago phenomenon. Moreover, Maverick and Avatar 2 have a similar kind of DNA in being the biggest shows around during their respective releases. With Avatar 2 as the potential fourth post-pandemic movie to cross the $1 billion, its success would confirm the kind of big-budget spectacle audiences will return to theaters in droves for.
Like Top Gun: Maverick, Avatar 2 is very much banking on being a shared experience propelled by strong word of mouth, with Maverick’s success indicating similar fortunes for Avatar 2. The anticipation for Avatar 2 also supports such a commercial performance by Cameron’s sequel as the 2022’s last big tent pole right at the heart of the holiday season. Avatar 2 also has a clear road going into 2023, so the question is less of whether it will top the holiday season box office, but what margin it will do so by and how long it will stay in the number one spot for.
Avatar 2’s Massive Gap Will Show If Audience Habits Have Changed
The biggest change since Avatar is the increased monopolization of the theatrical business by a handful of tent pole franchises every year. The rise in ticket and concession prices, the popularity of superhero movies, and an abundance of streaming options, the gap between billion-dollar movies and everything else is growing more and more stark. Even as the box office is recovering from the pandemic, those changes have, unfortunately, left movie theaters with large sections of the calendar year seeing feast or famine levels of business.
The pandemic brought all of those changes more visibly into the spotlight, and coupled with how colossal blockbuster budgets have become, Avatar 2 could well provide a final verdict of sorts. In essence, Avatar 2’s box office tally could end up being a strong barometer of not just how much audiences are still going to theaters since Avatar (and the pandemic), but what movies have the best shot at bringing the out en masse.
Why Avatar 2’s Success Is So Important For Cinema’s Future
While it is unusual and arguably unfair for so much pressure to be on one film, Avatar 2 arriving at the exact point in time that it is will essentially point to two radically different futures for movie theaters. Should the 3D mega-event of Avatar 2 underperform or even fail outright, it will be a telling sign that movie theaters could have a dark future ahead. If even the sequel to the all-time box office champ cannot draw big crowds, the theatrical experience will need to undergo some extreme adaptations in order to survive into the future.
On the other hand, if Avatar 2 does comparable business to Avatar, it paints a picture of a thriving future for movie theaters, albeit one in which their business model will still need some adjusting. Avatar 2 becoming a massive hit could point to theaters becoming more akin to, as Martin Scorsese might put it, theme parks, with trips to them being treated as such. A majority of theatrical release could finally shift towards major event films with budgets in the hundreds of millions and theme park-like accommodations added to theaters. In the wake of Avatar 2 achieving such box office success, movies of lower budgets and scales could finally start to fully adopt streaming and home media options as their primary home.
It is rare to see both a groundbreaking hit and its sequel become turning points in cinematic history, but such is the case for Avatar and Avatar 2. In the case of the latter, though, Avatar 2‘s box office performance clearly has far more expansive real-world implications. As with the original Avatar, audiences are simply along for the ride for whatever cinematic future James Cameron’s Avatar: The Way of Water is leading to.
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