‘Avatar 2’ soars past ‘Top Gun’ by $1.5 billion to become the highest-grossing film of 2022, and it’s already the 10th biggest film ever

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Tom Cruise’s “Top Gun: Maverick” easily took on “Jurassic World,” “Minions,” and a trio of Marvel movies. But in the end it was no match for James Cameron.

“Avatar: The Way of Water” has surpassed “Maverick’s” sales in just its first three weeks in theaters and has grossed an astounding $1.51 billion worldwide as of Dec. 16, according to Box Office Mojo data.

The figure makes it the highest-grossing release of 2022, and has enabled it to skip 2015’s “Furious 7” to become the No. 10 highest-grossing film of all time.

Box office viewers don’t expect “Avatar 2” to slow down anytime soon. The film has a clear runway to continue raking ticket sales and is expected to have a firm hold on IMAX, Dolby and other premium viewing formats until the release of “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania” next month.

[James Cameron] built a career on films that burn slowly at the box office, and it really shows again with the sequel.

Shawn Robbins

Chief Analyst, BoxOffice.com

It’s welcome news for Cameron, who claimed leading up to the film’s release that it would need to make at least $2 billion to break even. Along with the original “Avatar” ($2.92 billion) and “Titanic” ($2.2 billion), Cameron has now directed three of the 10 biggest blockbusters ever.

“I really wonder what kind of legs it will develop now that we don’t have a vacation anymore,” Shawn Robbins, principal analyst at BoxOffice.com, told CNBC Make It. “The first movie just went on and on and on.”

“[James Cameron] built a career with films that burn slowly at the box office, and it really shows again with the sequel,” he adds.

“Avatar’s” box office dominance was not self-evident from the start. The film’s opening weekend fell short of box office expectations, and the winter storms that hit large parts of the country also depressed viewership.

Avatar: the way of the water

Thanks to Disney Co.

The global hunger for “Avatar 2” helped carry the film. While “Top Gun” made $718 million in the United States and $770 million overseas, $1.05 billion in “Avatar’s” ticket sales came from overseas, with a relatively modest contribution of $464 million from US viewers at 6 January.

“Avatar” doesn’t act like a typical sequel either. Most sequels in major franchises normally see frontloaded box office returns as fans rush into theaters opening weekend and then quickly drop out week after week, but “Avatar” hasn’t seen any steep declines in its first three weeks.

“It’s acting like something people didn’t see before,” says Robbins. “There’s been a return to ‘Avatar’ in a way that makes it a bit of an original movie for a lot of people. They’re rediscovering the franchise through this sequel.”

Whether it will be able to match its predecessor and become the highest-grossing film of all time remains to be seen, but “Avatar: The Way of Water”‘s performance so far means that the $2 billion forecast of Cameron looks good.

“When that first weekend maybe didn’t quite live up to some of the high-end expectations, it cast doubt on whether it would get there,” says Robbins. “Now we’re here and it’s over $1.5 billion and has a pretty healthy runway to come up with a lot more. So the odds are better than ever.”

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