‘Avatar 2’ vaults ahead of ‘Top Gun: Maverick’ as 2022’s biggest grossing film with $1.5 billion in global sales

Ticket sales for Walt Disney Co.’s Avatar: The Way of Water have reached the $1.52 billion mark, making it the highest-grossing film released in 2022. 

The sci-fi epic, directed by James Cameron, generated $33.8 million globally in sales on Wednesday, according to an estimate from Disney.

The result puts the film ahead of Paramount Global’s Top Gun: Maverick, the Tom Cruise-action picture which has generated close to $1.49 billion in ticket sales since its May debut. That includes a two-week re-release in theaters in December. Maverick got less than half of its sales from overseas — and never opened in China — whereas the Avatar sequel scored 69% internationally, with China alone producing $169 million.

The Way of Water’s haul goes some length to vindicating Burbank, California-based Disney’s vision for the Avatar franchise, which includes sequels every two years through 2028. Disney acquired the Avatar rights as part of its $71 billion purchase of 20th Century Fox in 2019.

Cameron’s original Avatar, released in 2009, is the highest-grossing film of all time with $2.9 billion in sales. Like that picture, The Way of Water started off strong but not spectacularly, before gaining steam over the coming weeks. Over four weekdays between Christmas and New Year’s, the film took in around $300 million, more than most pictures generate in a year. 

The softening economy and three hour-plus length of the film many have delayed many people from seeing it immediately after its Dec. 16 release, according to Kevin Near, an analyst with Bloomberg Intelligence. 

“I really suspect there is a large lump of consumers out there who were just trying to make it to Christmas before taking their family out to go see it,” he said.

Now, the test will be whether The Way of Water can continue to generate these kinds of sales with consumers returning to work and students going back to school. The film benefits from a movie release schedule with little competition, notes Barton Crockett, an analyst with Rosenblatt Securities. These box office numbers should allow the picture to be profitable for Disney, even given its high production costs

“My bet is that the movie can make money at this point,” Crockett said.

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