The sequel to James Cameron’s blockbuster, Avatar: The Way of Water, has grossed $1.928 billion worldwide to date, behind only five films in box office history. The only films to cross the $2 billion mark are the original Avatar ($2.9 billion), Avengers: Endgame ($2.79 billion), Titanic ($2.2 billion), Star Wars: The Force Awakens ($2.069 billion) and Avengers: Infinity War ($2.04 billion). If the sequel, released just over a month ago, manages to hit the $2 billion mark (which is almost certain), it will be the first post-pandemic film and Cameron’s third (!) to join the coveted club… and we can say that cinema is not dead yet!
The Way of Water has so far grossed $574 million in North America and $1.35 billion internationally. The film’s overseas results are surprisingly good because it is not playing in Russia and has underperformed in Japan. However, it has grossed much more than forecast in China ($217 million), France ($123 million), Germany ($108 million) and Korea ($93.6 million). The film was released in mid-December last year, some 13 years after the original. So, success was by no means assured. And of course, the sequel cost roughly $460 million to produce and promote, making it one of the most expensive films of all time.
The original Avatar was a huge success in 2009 and was able to generate great audience numbers for months, not to mention that 3D technology, which has since been almost completely abandoned, probably worked best here. Avatar was undoubtedly a visual marvel that still looks fantastic today, but not everyone was wowed by its characters and plot. Many of us thought that James Cameron’s Avatar sequels would never be released. Not long after the huge success of the first film, it seemed certain that there would be a sequel; then, with each year that Avatar 2 was delayed and two or three sequels added, it seemed much less certain. Moreover, the world of cinema has changed enormously in that time. Since the first movie, almost the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe, a new Star Wars trilogy, and quite a few Fast and Furious movies have debuted, and that’s not even mentioning the advent and rise of streaming.
James Cameron, by the way, is not a man in a hurry: he is painstakingly meticulous, rarely lets go of his ideas, and thinks over every last frame a thousand times before releasing his films. Everything has to happen, has to look the way he imagined it in his head. But when we think of classics like Terminator 1 and 2, Aliens, The Abyss, or even Titanic, we have to say that we have no problem with nit-picking. In addition to his unrivalled talent for measuring the visual-story-character trinity, he is perhaps the most adept at the recipe for blockbusters today.
For a good three hours, the Avatar sequence revives classic storytelling and old-fashioned blockbusters, and as a visual experience it is undeniably perfect and overwhelming. And it is no big secret that this experience should only be enjoyed on the big screen, preferably in IMAX, as it makes sense, since that’s what cinema was invented for in the first place.