Walt Disney Co’s Avatar: The Way of Water is on pace to become the top-selling movie released in 2022 after leading the box office for a third straight weekend. 

The sci-fi film generated $63.4 million in domestic ticket sales over the first three days of New Year’s weekend, according to an estimate from Disney on Sunday. It has made $1.38 billion worldwide since its release on December 16.

That puts Disney’s film on track to surpass the $1.49 billion in sales for Paramount Global’s Top Gun: Maverick, the current highest-grossing film released in 2022. Both studios have some bragging rights. The Tom Cruise fighter-jet movie made the most money at domestic theaters within the year, while The Way of Water tops it internationally.

The weekend performance demonstrates the unusual staying power of the Avatar franchise. The Way of Water didn’t even have one of the top three domestic openings of 2022. Its 2009 predecessor Avatar also started out slowly, but ultimately sold a record $2.92 billion worth of tickets.

Director James Cameron and his wife Suzy Amis Cameron arrive at the world premiere of ‘Avatar: The Way of Water‘ in London, Britain, December 6, 2022. REUTERS

Director James Cameron and his wife Suzy Amis Cameron arrive at the world premiere of ‘Avatar: The Way of Water‘ in London, Britain, December 6, 2022. REUTERS

Visual effects, and the use of novel 3D-viewing technologies, have been a selling point for both movies. Avatar films incorporate the real-life movements of actors playing members of an indigenous Na’vi humanoid race into on-screen animation. The use of the tech helped make the movies some of the most expensive ever produced.

On course to break even

The Way of Water is probably on course to at least break even financially, an accomplishment given its high production costs. That bodes well for a series of sequels Disney has planned for the franchise through 2028. The Burbank, California, entertainment giant acquired the rights to the James Cameron films as part of a $71 billion acquisition of 20th Century Fox in 2019.

Despite several strong performances theaters still had a bad year, compared to pre-pandemic times. North American box office sales reached about $7.46 billion in 2022, far less than the $11.4 billion sales figure from 2019, Comscore estimated.

The Tom Cruise fighter-jet movie made the most money at domestic theaters within the year

The Tom Cruise fighter-jet movie made the most money at domestic theaters within the year

Part of the decline is because Covid-19 left movie-release schedules in such disarray they could take years to untangle. Audiences have also been conditioned to watch new films at home. The business may recover further in 2023 with installments of major franchises, including Indiana Jones and Transformers, planned.

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