‘Avatar: The Way of Water’ makes $17 million in Thursday previews, driven by big 3D sales

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James Cameron’s “Avatar: The Way of Water” snared $17 million during its Thursday night previews on its way towards a $175 million opening weekend.

The number itself is not particularly remarkable compared to other cinematic releases this year, but the percentage of tickets that were sold for 3D and premium format screenings is quite notable.

A whopping 61% of Thursday’s domestic tickets were for 3D showings.

Marvel Studio’s “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” produced $36 million during its Thursday previews, the highest of any film in 2022. “Thor: Love and Thunder” was the second-highest with $29 million followed by “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever,” which snapped up $28, and Warner Bros.‘ “The Batman,” which took $21 million in early ticket sales.

Premium formats will be a big factor in the film’s opening weekend and its overall box office run. Director Cameron and Disney have marketed “The Way of Water” as a must-see 3D movie, meaning the majority of showings for the film will require special glasses and a steeper ticket price.

This is particularly important considering Cameron told GQ that the film will need to become the third or fourth-highest grossing film in history to break even – meaning that it needs to generated more than $2 billion at the global box office during its initial run in theaters.

EntTelligence estimates that for “The Way of Water” 3D tickets will average around $16.50 each while 2D will cost around $12.50 a piece.

Heading into the weekend the “Avatar” sequel saw an even split between the number of 3D screens and 2D screens. This is the highest ratio of any film released this year. The second-highest was “Wakanda Forever” with 17% 3D showings.

On Thursday, the film made $50.4 million from international ticket sales, excluding China. In Europe, 71% of tickets sold came from 3D and premium format showings. Meanwhile, in Asia-Pacific, which includes Korea, Thailand, Indonesia and the Philippines, 39% of box office receipts were for these more expensive showings.

So far, China has tallied $5 million in advanced screenings, with expectations that opening day will top $18.5 million.

“Every marathon starts with that first step and for ‘Avatar: The Way Of Water’ this is just the beginning,” said Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst at Comscore. The movie has earned generally positive reviews, as well.

“Avatar,” which was released in 2009, only made $77 million during its opening weekend, but went on to become the highest-grossing film of all time. It maintains that title thanks to several rereleases.

The film had incredible staying power at the box office, running in theaters through August 2010, a staggering 234 days. “Avatar” ultimately generated $760 million in the U.S. and Canada and more than $2 billion from international markets during its initial theatrical run.

At the time, theatrical windows typically ran for 75 to 90 days. These days, the timing between theatrical release has narrowed to around 45 days. Of course, there have been exceptions, including Paramount and Skydance’s “Top Gun: Maverick” which has been in theaters for 203 days and continues playing.

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