If you release it, they will come. Sometimes. The holiday season wasn’t much to write home about, save for a couple of blockbusters and one of the better family releases of the year, but 2023 is getting off to a great start. One of those aforementioned blockbusters is still pulling heat, and the first big release of the year is doing big numbers — it may have even taken No. 1 if one of the highest-grossing films of all time was further into its run.
James Cameron’s Avatar: The Way of Water continues to lead the way in what should be a path forward to seven straight weeks at the top. This weekend, its fourth stay at No. 1, the blockbuster sequel grabbed another $45 million, which is the second-best fourth weekend of all time (behind 2009’s Avatar, no less). Its domestic total of $516 million is the eighth-highest total ever for a film after 24 days of release and the fifth-best fourth weekend of all time. We are now past the Rogue One stage of comparison, as The Way of Water is now pacing more than $30 million ahead of that film, which made $22 million in its fourth weekend. Now Avatar has moved into the $600 million watch, with numbers ahead of Marvel’s The Avengers. That film earned $36 million in its fourth weekend for a total of $513 million up to that point.
The Avengers also had a fuller summer ahead of it to build towards its eventual $623 million haul, while TWoW is now facing a January with kids going back to school. In its favor, though, is a marketplace still with little to challenge its dominance until M. Night Shyamalan’s Knock at the Cabin drops on Feb. 3. A total around $20 million next weekend will keep it ahead of The Avengers, and it only needs $620 million to become one of the 10 highest-grossing domestic films ever — a mere consolation prize at this point, given that it is already one of the 10 highest-grossing films of all time worldwide. Currently in 7th place with $1.7 billion, The Way of Water passed 2019’s The Lion King and 2015’s Jurassic World this weekend, and it continues its march toward the $2 billion Cameron said it would need to turn a profit.
Perhaps it should not be considered a surprise, given that buzz was high and memes were in rich supply, but Gerard Johnstone’s M3GAN, grossed a terrific $30.2 million to kick off 2023. Since we’re big on Avatar’s rankings, its worth pointing out that this is the second-best opening weekend (literally) to start any year behind only The Devil Inside ($33.7 million) and ahead of Insidious: The Lost Key ($29.5 million). Lesson to Hollywood: Save your November and December horror releases for the first weekend in January. If you doubt that, see if you notice a connection in the next seven films in the top 10 list M3GAN just entered – White Noise (2005), Texas Chainsaw 3-D, Hostel, Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones, Escape Room, The Woman In Black 2: Angel of Death, and Underworld: Blood Wars.
Not only are the numbers solid for M3GAN, but the critical response is through the roof as well. Certified Fresh at 94%, how about this list for the best-reviewed wide openers in January?
Paddington 2 (99%), Paddington (97%), Belle (95%), M3GAN (94%), Matinee (92%), The Kid Who Would Be King (90%), Tremors (88%), Gridlock’d (88%), Kung Fu Panda 3 (86%), Dragon Ball Super: Broly (82%)
Clearly critics enjoyed starting off their year with a doll-size companion, but it is the audience numbers that Universal is loving on the $12 million-budgeted film. The Devil Inside is the only film to open over $25 million in January and not reach at least $60 million — remember, that film had an infamously booed ending and a rare F Cinemascore. M3GAN got a B, so we’ll set the floor at $60 million and go from there.
Third place this week goes to another Universal film, Puss In Boots: The Last Wish, dropping just 22% to $13 million. That marks the first time since the weekend of Sept. 23-25 that the box office had three films (Don’t Worry Darling, The Woman King, and the Avatar re-release) in the top 10 gross $10 million or more. Boots’ total is now up to $87 million after three weekends, which puts it on par with yet another Universal film, Pitch Perfect 3, which had $87.7 million after 19 days of release and a $10.29 million third weekend. The first Puss In Boots grossed over $405 million outside the U.S. and Canada; to date, The Last Wish has grossed just over $100 million internationally.
Expanding this week from its four-theater launch at the end of 2022 is A Man Called Otto, which finished in fourth place. The Tom Hanks film semi-launched into 637 theaters before its much wider rollout on January 13. It grossed $4.2 million, which, while not quite Glass Onion numbers, is better than nearly all movies in 2022 that debuted in under 2,000 theaters. The only other films that did better were RRR ($9.5 million in 1,200 theaters), Brahmastra Part One: Shiva ($4.5 million, 810 theaters), and the Avatar re-release ($10.5 million, 1860 theaters).
The next two slots went to a pair of films on the opposite ends of the box office spectrum. Marvel’s Black Panther: Wakanda Forever made $3.4 million in its ninth weekend, bringing its total to $445 million. The $250 million-budgeted film has grossed over $825 million worldwide and is in profit (unlike Black Adam) despite being only a fraction of the success that Doctor Strange In The Multiverse of Madness was last year. On the flipside is Paramount’s Babylon. Just $1.3 million in its third weekend brings its total to $13.4 million, and sans any international support at the moment, the film could join a number of titles last year on the $100 million-losing side of the ledger.
Other holiday holdovers include Whitney Houston: I Wanna Dance With Somebody, which grossed $2.4 million to bring its total to just under $20 million. Searchlight’s The Menu is on HBO MAX now, but it still drummed up $724,000 for a total of $37.7 million, making it their highest-grossing domestic total since Guillermo Del Toro’s Oscar-winning The Shape of Water in 2017-18. While Universal is enjoying those M3GAN numbers, they also have to be happy that Violent Night spent another week in the top 10 and is going to cross $50 million domestic (and over $75 million worldwide). A24 also has to like what they are seeing out of The Whale, which has now brought its total to $8.5 million after increasing its theater count up to 850. This is the second year in the company’s history (2019 being the other) that four of their films will cross the $10 million line. The Whale will soon join X, Bodies Bodies Bodies, and Everything Everywhere All At Once.
A Man Called Otto is the film that should make the biggest splash next week, but it is not the only title going wide. Nothing says go big or go home like a Gerard Butler film called Plain — I mean Plane — from the director of the Assault On Precinct 13 remake, in which he plays a pilot who fights off guerillas after making an emergency landing. Also rescued from going straight to HBO MAX is Warner Bros.’ remake of House Party. The Kid ‘N’ Play original from 1990 with 93% support from critics grossed a strong $26 million despite never reaching more than 700 theaters. How much will this one-time streaming refugee not screening for critics make next week?
[box office figures via Box Office Mojo]
Thumbnail image by ©Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures