Avatar: The Way Of Water Will Get A Theatrical Release In China, Which Is A Very Big Deal

We are just a few weeks away from one of the most anticipated blockbuster releases in years in the form of James Cameron's "Avatar: The Way of Water." This is not about what one thinks of the first movie on an individual level. The fact of the matter is, 2009's "Avatar" is still the highest-grossing movie in history and remains perhaps the only movie that will ever have a shot at touching $3 billion. So yeah, the sequel to that movie, even if it is 13 years after the fact, is a big, big deal. And things just got more interesting, as Disney and 20th Century Studios have managed to secure an increasingly rare release in China for the film.

According to The Hollywood Reporter, "The Way of Water" will hit theaters in China in December along with other markets all around the world. This is hugely significant as very few American movies have been allowed to release in China since the pandemic receded. Before the pandemic, major Hollywood blockbusters had started to depend on robust grosses from the Middle Kingdom. But that's not the world we live in anymore. However, Disney and Cameron will now be one of the rare beneficiaries of a Chinese release, and few movies need it more than this one does.

As Cameron recently stated, "Avatar 2" needs to literally become one of the highest-grossing movies ever just to break even. That probably means putting in the $2 billion range alongside the likes of "Star Wars: The Force Awakens," "Avengers: Infinity War," and Cameron's own monster hit "Titanic." The budget is said to be as high as $400 million, but is probably at least $350 million, instantly making it one of the most expensive movies ever made. So yeah, China is going to be very helpful here.

The narrow path to profit

For context, the original "Avatar" has earned $2.92 billion globally. That includes a massive $265 million from China. The appetite is still there as well, as a 2021 re-release of the movie in China grossed $57.7 million. Granted, the studio only sees about 25% of the money from ticket sales in China, but still, imagine taking nearly $70 million off the bottom line. That's what Disney could be sacrificing without this key territory.

Let's say for the sake of argument that Disney needs this movie to make it into the top ten all-time to become profitable, meaning it would need to overtake "Furious 7" ($1.51 billion). Currently, the film is tracking for a $150 to $170 million domestic debut, though that number is believed to be somewhat conservative. If you can somehow get to a multiplier of three (which would be outstanding), that puts it at $510 million domestic, give or take. The original sits at $785 million. This to say, it's going to need a ton of help from overseas.

Only a couple of post-pandemic releases have made all-time great money in the form of "Top Gun: Maverick" ($1.48 billion) and "Spider-Man: No Way Home" ($1.97 billion). Can "The Way of Water" defy the odds and land somewhere in between those two? China is going to help for damn sure.

Sure, some recent Hollywood blockbusters such as "The Batman" kind of bombed in China even when they did secure a release. But other movies such as "Godzilla vs. Kong" ($470 million worldwide/$188 million in China) were downright saved by securing a release in the country. It feels very much like this could be the tipping point between Cameron's long-awaited sequel making or losing money. We'll see how things play out next month.

"Avatar: The Way of Water" hits theaters on December 16, 2022.