James Cameron’s Avatar: Waterway is off to a strong start in China, despite considerable uncertainty regarding the country’s public health situation. As of Friday at 12 noon local time, the film had earned $15.2 million (RMB106 million), including Thursday night previews, according to regional box office consultancy Artisan Gateway. The firm is currently projecting that Avatar 2 will finish the weekend with an opening haul of $119 million to $128 million.
China’s biggest ticketing app, Maoyan, meanwhile, expects The Way of Water to end its domestic run with $360 million (RMB 2.51 billion), making it the country’s biggest Hollywood film this year (more than double Jurassic World: Dominion’s $157 million China haul). and the third largest U.S. of all time in China. But even at the best of times, Maoyan’s full-run estimates a projection that affects initial sales rates, user ratings, and performance trajectories of past titles are subject to significant revision in the first days of release.
And Avatar 2’s revenue prospects are difficult to predict, given the uncertainty surrounding the spread of COVID in China’s major cities right now. Artisan Gateway is projecting a wide range for Avatar 2’s career total — $315 million to $415 million (RMB 2.2 billion-RMB 2.9 billion) — reflecting the unpredictability of the moment. Last week, China announced sudden changes to its national health response, lifting almost all of the strict “COVID zero” restrictions in place since the early days of the pandemic.
Most of the testing requirements have been removed and the proof-of-health QR code to enter most public places has been removed. The sudden policy pivot comes in response to growing social unrest in life under endless lockdowns, as well as rising infection rates in many Chinese cities, which some public health experts believe have already made “COVID zero” sustainable.
On the face of it, China’s sudden freedoms of social movement seem like a boon to theatrical moviegoing. About 75 percent of Chinese cinemas were open this weekend, down from 50 percent two weeks ago, Artisan Gateway estimated. But a spike in Covid-19 infection rates quickly followed the easing, causing widespread anxiety and voluntary self-isolation among Chinese people.
With testing largely halted, it’s now impossible to get reliable data on how much China’s infection rates have risen, but anecdotal evidence in Beijing — reports of strained hospitals, large numbers of absentee staff, and battered businesses with largely empty streets — suggests the potential spread is enormous. But if there’s anything that can lure wary Chinese people back into religious spaces, perhaps it’s Avatar 2.
Among Chinese millennials, few titles evoke as much nostalgia as the first Avatar. The film was one of the country’s initial wave of Hollywood blockbusters that ushered in the late high-growth box office boom era – and Avatar became the biggest sensation of them all. The first film topped the box office at $202.6 million, a staggering amount in 2010 when China was home to just 5,690 movie screens (today, more than 82,000).
It took three years and thousands of films to break Avatar’s China record (Stephen Chow’s Journey to the West, which brought in $215 million in 2013). And when the original Avatar was re-released in China in March 2021 — part of a bid by regulators to boost sales during the pandemic follow-up period for Chinese and Hollywood releases — it grossed $58 million, besting a US release. . Fourth in the movie.
That year. How the word of mouth surrounding The Way of Water interacts with audience reluctance will determine its ultimate fate in China — and perhaps the sequel’s climb into the record books worldwide.