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Avatar: The Way Of Water Opens Much Lower Than Expected In China

Expectations couldn't be higher for James Cameron's "Avatar: The Way of Water," and unfortunately, it doesn't look like the sci-fi epic is living up to them, especially in China, where box-office numbers reportedly fell far short of Disney's opening-weekend earnings trajectory.

Leading up to its December 16 release, Cameron claimed that his "Avatar" sequel had to be "the third or fourth highest-grossing film in history" in order for 20th Century Studios to break even, meaning it needed to rake in a whopping $2 billion or more at the box office for Disney to get all its money back (via GQ). Ticket pre-sales and growing excitement around the returning "Avatar" franchise — along with China's need to revitalize its film industry in wake of the COVID-19 pandemic — had led experts to believe "The Way of Water" could possibly make over $100 million in the country (via Variety). 

Back in 2019, "Avengers: Endgame" managed to gross a record $610 million in China, which was nearly a quarter of its global sales (via CNN). Chinese moviegoers were responsible for $265 million in "Avatar" ticket sales in 2009 (via CNBC). Analysts believed that Cameron's follow-up could go on to beat the "Endgame" record and become China's biggest international release ever. However, it officially looks like those predictions have been sunk ...

Avatar: The Way of Water only managed to bring in $57M at the Chinese box office between Friday and Sunday

According to reports, China's box office results for "Avatar: The Way of Water" were ultimately viewed as a huge disappointment for Disney, with the numbers being placed at around $57.1 million for its entire opening weekend haul. On Monday, December 19, the total had reportedly grown to $62.2 million (via Deadline). Global sales were reportedly hovering around $441 million — and even with China backing it, the movie only managed to earn the third-highest global weekend of the pandemic era and second-highest global weekend of 2022 behind "Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness." 

"Amazingly, Top Gun: Maverick did this without a release in China," joked Twitter user @ChillyBoyYT. "Avatar: The Way of Water did release in China and could be only the 3rd film to breach $1B in 2022," the user blasted. And while the social media diss may seem like a cheap shot, it's actually not far off from what happened, with "Top Gun: Maverick" managing to make over $248 million during its first three days in theaters without the boost of Chinese ticket buyers. 

As for why "The Way of Water" is failing in China, movie experts reportedly believe a new and evolving COVID-19 outbreak in the country is to blame, which has led to more restrictions and a dwindling social life for local residents. 

China's theatrical industry is still reeling from the pandemic, says expert

When it comes down to it, the main reason for "Avatar: The Way of Water" failing at the Chinese box office is the country's reported COVID-19 outbreak, and until things slow down again, there's nothing James Cameron or 20th Century Studios can do about it. 

"China's theatrical industry continues to labor under the impact of COVID, with significant impact to original estimates," explained Rance Pow, CEO of regional box office consultancy Artisan Gateway, in a statement to The Hollywood Reporter. "This includes what may be a reluctance of people to return in force to public spaces, including cinemas — ironically, as COVID policies become more adaptable to local conditions," he continued. "If so, Avatar 2's long runtime may work against it."

Now, while things may seem bad at the moment, all hope is not lost for "The Way of Water." Some analysts believe an eventual ticket surge will come and help turn things around — both in the U.S. and overseas — as a result of the film's overwhelmingly positive reviews. Critics and audiences have so far given it a 78% Tomatometer rating and a 94% Audience Score on Rotten Tomatoes

"The film is sporting excellent social media scores," Pow told THR. "James Cameron has an immense fan base in China, and his films have an established performance record of legging out well."

As of Monday, "Avatar: The Way of Water" was sitting with around $134 million in domestic sales, which was also below Disney's original projection of $135 million to $150 million, per CNBC. However, that is more than what "Avatar" managed to make during its first few days, with its opening weekend tally being $77 million (via Box Office Mojo). So keep the faith, "Avatar" fans.