‘Avatar 2,’ ‘M3GAN’ Movie Lead MLK Jr. Holiday Weekend Box Office

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

January tends to be a slow time of year at the box office. Yet James Cameron’s blockbuster sequel “Avatar: The Way of Water” and Universal’s viral horror movie “M3GAN” continue to slay in North America, prevailing over three new nationwide releases during the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend.

“Avatar 2” remained in first place, for the fifth consecutive weekend, with $31.1 million from 4,045 theaters over the traditional three-day period and an estimated $38.5 million through Monday. Just how popular has “The Way of Water” remained at the box office? Well, to put those numbers in perspective, the science-fiction epic has earned more in its fifth weekend of release than many pandemic-era movies have managed to gross during 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 at the end of February.

So far, the mega-budgeted Disney and 20th Century tentpole has generated $570 million in North America and a staggering $1.89 billion worldwide. “The Way of Water” already ranks as the seventh-biggest global release in history. It will soon dethrone 2021’s “Spider-Man: No Way Home,” which stands at No. 6 with $1.91 billion.

Meanwhile, “M3GAN” finished in second place with 17.9 million from 3,605 cinemas over the weekend and an estimated $21.2 million through Monday, a 40% decline from its debut. Those are killer results for the horror film, which cost $12 million to produce and has amassed $59 million to date.

In terms of new offerings, Sony’s “A Man Called Otto,” a tearjerker starring Tom Hanks as a grumpy widower, successfully expanded into wide release, taking in $12.6 million from 3,802 theaters over the traditional weekend and an 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 stayed particularly strong over the holiday weekend. The family film added $13.4 million over the weekend and $17.3 million through Monday, bringing its domestic tally to $110 million.

After two weeks in limited release, “A Man Called Otto” has generated $21.2 million. It’s one of the rare pandemic-era films aimed at adult audiences to effectively sustain momentum with a traditional platform rollout, which has allowed “Otto” to generate positive buzz.

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

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

“Plane” took off with $10 million from 3,023 theaters over the weekend and an estimated $11.6 million through Monday, a decent though unspectacular start for the roughly $40 million-budgeted film. (Lionsgate acquired the domestic rights for less.) The actioner, starring Butler as a pilot who saves his passengers from a lightning strike, only to discover things are about to get much worse, was awarded a “B+” CinemaScore from audiences. Initial ticket buyers were predominantly older men, as 77% of crowds over the age of 25 and 55% were male.

“House Party,” meanwhile, blazed out with $3.8 million over the weekend and an estimated $4.5 million through Monday. The reboot of the 1990 comedy classic was commissioned for HBO Max, but the studio opted to release it theatrically. With seemingly little promotion and dismal reviews (holding a 25% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes), “House Party” struggled to attract an audience to the big screen. There’s hope, at least at Warner Bros., that it’ll become a bigger draw by the time the film arrives on streaming. The theatrical release, says Franchise Entertainment Research’s Gross, is “designed to raise the film’s profile before heading 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 notable achievement for indies in today’s fractured moviegoing environment. In pre-COVID times, those ticket sales wouldn’t be particularly impressive. But adult-skewing dramas have struggled to rebound.

“Skinamarink” debuted in 11th place, collecting $746,000 from 692 theaters and an estimated $798,000 through Monday (averaging roughly $1,000 per location). That’s not bad considering the gruesome, low-budget horror film wasn’t granted too many daily showtimes at major chains throughout the weekend. “Skinamarink,” destined to give viewers night terrors, has succeeded mostly through word-of-mouth. The film carries a mere $15,000 production budget.

“Once we saw the incredible response online, we knew we had to bring this film to as many theaters as possible nationwide,” said Arianna Bocco, president of IFC Films and IFC Midnight. “[Director] Kyle [Edward Ball] has made a film for a new generation and has proven yet again what horror films and its community are capable of even with the smallest of budgets. ‘Skinamarink’ is at once terrifying and eerily familiar and that feeling demands shared experience.”

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