Its a Not-So-Jolly Christmas as Box Office Plummets Due to Weather and (Mostly) Weak Films

Yes, the weather outside has been frightful in much of the U.S. and Canada in the days leading up to Christmas. Fortunately, it’s Christmas Day when grosses usually perk up, with most areas returning to more standard December temps. Unfortunately, even if the box office revives, the packages delivered to theaters are more coal than diamonds.

No doubt the challenging weather decreased theater attendance by more than a little, particularly Friday. But the good news is that when Christmas falls on a Sunday, that day is the best of the three-day weekend. And then the holiday Monday is even more significant. It would have been more catastrophic if the cold front had moved in two days later.

“Avatar: The Way of Water” (Disney) was the relative bright spot among all titles. The three-day estimate is $56 million, down 58 percent from its opening, bringing its 10-day gross to $253,682,000. Worldwide, the total reached $855 million. The studio is guessing $80 million for four days.

The domestic caveats include the weather but also, as has been the case from the start, the time commitment involved in a film running 192 minutes. That’s three-and-a-half hours in the theater, plus travel. That’s a major commitment, especially when travel is more challenging and holiday activities conflict. It’s a key reason why what happens starting tomorrow and the rest of the run is likely to be comparatively better than for other franchise pre-Christmas releases.

Still, Disney’s estimate that Sunday will only be 10 percent above Friday’s gross falls short of the Christmas Day increase other studios are expecting for their films. The last time Christmas fell on Sunday, “Rogue One” (a bigger opening weekend than James Cameron’s film) fell 59 percent. So the reality is that without the weather factor, the drop for “The Way of Water” likely would have been 50 percent or less. And with a better-than-guessed Sunday, it could be closer.

Reality check, though: In its first 10 days, “The Way of Water” domestic gross is over $200 million under what “Spider-Man: No Way Home” brought in for the same time, which was 58 percent of its ultimate $805 million. That film was almost certainly more front-loaded than “The Way of Water,” but if its performance ahead has the same ratio, it would only reach $440 million. The industry consensus before this weekend was a more likely $525–$550 million result. But the hoped-for bounce needs to start happening by tomorrow at the latest.

Only three other studio titles opened for the holidays. Easily the best was “Puss in Boots: The Last Wish” (Universal) at No. 2 with $17,453,000 in five days. For the same extended period last year, “Sing 2” took in $39 million. Again, as with other titles, the weather hurt.

“Whitney Houston: I Wanna Dance With Somebody”


Sony’s “Whitney Houston: I Wanna Dance with You” only managed $5,300,000 for No. 3. Damien Chazelle’s “Babylon” fared worse, with $3,500,000. For both, any rebound ahead will only lessen the damage.

With a greater range possible than usual, the three-day total looks to be around $87 million. That’s awful. Last year (with the benefit of Christmas on Saturday) was $144 million. In 2019, when ticket prices were 20 percent lower, it came to $248 million. That’s only 35 percent as much as the most recent pre-COVID same-time weekend and reduces our ongoing four-week comparison to 46 percent.

“Violent Night” (Universal) came in highest among the other holdovers at No. 5, down 38 percent, and holding well as it dominates at-home VOD action. The best hold, though still at a feeble $550,000 gross with added theaters, was “The Fabelmans” (Universal), No. 9, also on PVOD.

“The Whale” (A24) expanded to 603 theaters on Wednesday, with the weekend coming in at No. 7 with an estimated $924,000. Like all specialized titles, it was affected not only by the weather (with older audiences even more reluctant to brave the elements) but a general disposition to delay moviegoing until the holiday.


“Corsage” (IFC) was the surprise best opener among new platform releases. In two New York locations, it grossed $32,000. The Austrian film had an average of $16,000 per theater, excellent overall, and even more for a non-English title. It adds Los Angeles on Friday, with 200 theaters nationally the following week.

“Women Talking” (United Artists) opened eight theaters in five cities, with an early estimated three-day total of $40,000. Sony Pictures Classics estimated $21,000 for three New York/Los Angeles dates. For both films, a better gauge will be their performance through the rest of the holidays.

The Top 10 (3-day estimates)

1. Avatar: The Way of Water (Disney) Week 2; Last weekend #1

$56,000,000 (-58%) in 4,202 (no change) theaters; PTA (per theater average): $13,327; Cumulative: $253,682,000

2. Puss in Boots: The Last Wish (Universal) NEW – Cinemascore: A; Metacritic: 75; Est. budget: $90 million

$11,350,000 in 4,099 theaters; PTA: $2,769; Cumulative: $17,453,000

3. Whitney Houston: I Wanna Dance with Somebody (Sony) NEW – Cinemascore: N/A Metacritic: 55; Est. budget: $45 million

$5,300,000 in 3,625 theaters; PTA: $1,462; Cumulative: $5,300,000

4. Babylon (Paramount) NEW – Cinemascore: C+; Metacritic: 59; Est. budget: $80 million

$3,500,000 in 3,343 theaters; PTA: $1,047; Cumulative: $3,500,000

5. Violent Night (Universal) Week 4; Last weekend #3; also on PVOD

$3,140,000 (-38%) in 2,562 (-966) theaters; PTA: $1,226; Cumulative: $41,608,000

6. Black Panther: Wakanda Forever (Disney) Week 7; Last weekend #2

$3,022,000 (-43%) in 2,250 (-1,130) theaters; PTA: $1,343; Cumulative: $425,677,000

7. The Whale (A24) Week 3; Last weekend #15

$925,000 (+541%) in 603 (+597) theaters; PTA: $1,533; Cumulative: $2,943,000

8. The Menu (Searchlight) Week 6; Last weekend #5

$617,000 (-62%) in 840 (-1,035) theaters; PTA: $735; Cumulative: $33,797,000

9. The Fabelmans (Universal) Week 6; Last weekend #7; also on PVOD

$550,000 (-26%) in 1,122 (+167) theaters; PTA: $490; Cumulative: $9,754,000

10. Strange World (Disney) Week 5; Last weekend #4; also on PVOD and Disney+

$410,000 (-81%) in 1,390 (-1,480) theaters; PTA: $295; Cumulative: $35,599,000


Specialized titles

Films (limited, expansions of limited, as well as awards-oriented releases) are listed by week in release, starting with those opened this week; after the first two weeks, only films with grosses over $5,000 are tracked.

Women Talking (United Artists) NEW – Metacritic: 81; Festivals include: Telluride, Toronto, New York 2022

Est. $40,000 in 8 theaters; estimated PTA: $5,000

Living (Sony Pictures Classics) NEW – Metacritic: 81; Festivals include: Sundance, Telluride, Toronto 2022

$21,233 in 3 theaters; PTA: $7,078

Corsage (IFC) NEW – Metacritic: 82; Festivals include: Cannes, Toronto, New York 2022

$32,000 in theaters; PTA: $16,000

The Whale (A24) Week 3

$924,329 in 603 (+597) theaters; PTA: $1,532; Cumulative: $(est.) 2,433,000

Empire of Light (Searchlight) Week 3

$71,000 in 350 (-86) theaters; PTA: $203; Cumulative: $677,584

The Banshees of Inisherin (Searchlight) Week 11; also on HBO Max and PVOD

$36,000 in 80 (-85) theaters; Cumulative: $8,891,000

TÁR (Focus) Week 12; also on PVOD

$15,000 in 36 (-27) theaters; Cumulative: $5,504,000

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