‘Avatar 2’, ‘M3GAN’ movie leader MLK Jr. Holiday Weekend Box Office

Movie theater operators owe a debt of gratitude to Na’vi and the new queen of artificial intelligence.

January is usually a slow time of year at the box office. Still, James Cameron’s blockbuster “Avatar: The Way of Water” and Universal’s viral horror film “M3GAN” continue to kill in North America, predominating over three new nationwide releases over the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend.

“Avatar 2” remained in the top spot for a fifth consecutive weekend, grossing $31.1 million from 4,045 theaters over its traditional three-day period and an estimated $38.5 million through Monday. How popular has ‘The Way of Water’ remained at the box office? Well, to put those numbers in perspective, the sci-fi epic has made more in its fifth weekend of release than many pandemic-era films have managed to make in its opening weekend. And it won’t face much high-profile box office competition until Disney and Marvel’s “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania” debuts in late February.

To date, the mega-budget Disney and 20th Century tentpole has grossed $570 million in North America and a whopping $1.89 billion worldwide. “The Way of Water” is already the seventh biggest worldwide release in history. It will soon dethrone 2021’s “Spider-Man: No Way Home,” which ranks #6 with $1.91 billion.

Meanwhile, “M3GAN” tied for second with 17.9 million from 3,605 cinemas over the weekend and an estimated $21.2 million through Monday, a drop of about 40% from its debut. Those are great results for the horror film, which cost $12 million to produce and has collected $59 million to date. Internationally, “M3GAN” grossed $15.4 million from 64 markets, bringing its worldwide total to $90 million.

“The 41% stake on ‘M3GAN’ is unheard of for a horror movie,” said senior Comscore analyst Paul Dergarabedian. “The great reviews, the audience response and the PG-13 rating created a perfect storm for success. Scary is scary, regardless of the month.”

In terms of new offerings, Sony’s “A Man Called Otto,” a tearjerker starring Tom Hanks as the grumpy widower, has successfully expanded to a wide release, grossing $12.6 million in 3,802 theaters over the traditional weekend and estimated $15 million through Monday. Those ticket sales were enough for fourth place, behind Universal’s animated adventure “Puss in Boots: The Last Wish,” which held particularly strong over the holiday weekend. The family movie added $13.4 million over the weekend and $17.3 million through Monday, bringing its domestic total to $110 million.

After two weeks in limited release, “A Man Called Otto” has grossed $21.2 million. It’s one of the rare pandemic-era films aimed at mature audiences that effectively maintains momentum with a traditional platform rollout, which has helped “Otto” generate positive buzz. It cost $50 million, so it has to keep playing all winter to justify its budget.

“This is a very good opening for a character-driven comedy drama, with an excellent turnout from older moviegoers,” said David A. Gross, who heads the film consulting firm Franchise Entertainment Research.

Gerard Butler’s action thriller “Plane” and the Warner Bros. remake of “House Party” also kicked off this weekend, landing fifth and sixth respectively on the domestic box office charts.

“Plane” opened to $10 million from 3,023 theaters over the weekend and an estimated $11.6 million through Monday, a decent but unspectacular start for the movie with a budget of about $40 million. (Lionsgate acquired the domestic rights for less.) The actor, starring Butler as a pilot who saves his passengers from a lightning strike, only to find things get much worse, was given a “B+” CinemaScore by audiences . The first ticket buyers were mostly older men, as 77% of the audience was over 25 years old and 55% male.

“House Party,” meanwhile, blazed with $3.8 million over the weekend and an estimated $4.5 million through Monday. The reboot of the 1990 comedy classic was commissioned by HBO Max, but the studio chose not to release it theatrically. With seemingly little promotion and dismal reviews (with a 25% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes), “House Party” struggled to draw an audience to the big screen. There’s hope, at least at Warner Bros., that it will become a bigger draw by the time the movie arrives on streaming. The theatrical release, says Gross of Franchise Entertainment Research, is “designed to raise the profile of the film before it heads to HBO. [Max].”

There were several bright spots in the arthouse sector, including A24’s “The Whale” and IFC’s stomach churner “Skinamarink.”

After several weeks in limited release, “The Whale” surpassed $10 million in domestic ticket sales, a remarkable achievement for India in today’s fractured movie theater environment. In pre-COVID times, those ticket sales wouldn’t be particularly impressive. But adult dramas are struggling to recover.

“Skinamarink” debuted in 11th place, collecting $746,000 from 692 theaters and an estimated $798,000 through Monday (averaging about $1,000 per venue). That’s pretty good considering the gruesome, low-budget horror movie that only cost $15,000 to produce. Plus, it didn’t get too many daily showtimes at major chains all weekend. ‘Skinamarink’, destined to give viewers nightmares for days on end, succeeded largely through word of mouth.

“When we saw the incredible response online, we knew we had to bring this movie to as many theaters across the country as possible,” said Arianna Bocco, president of IFC Films and IFC Midnight. “[Director] Kyle [Edward Ball] has created a movie for a new generation and has once again proven what horror movies and their community are capable of, even on the tiniest of budgets. ‘Skinamarink’ is at once terrifying and eerily familiar, and that feeling calls for shared experience.”

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