Weekend Box Office Forecast (Update): M3GAN Scores $2.75M Previews Behind Viral Buzz, Avatar: The Way of Water Looks to Extend Its Reign

Photo Credits: Disney & 20th Century Studios ("Avatar: The Way of Water"); Universal & Blumhouse ("M3GAN")

Friday Update: Universal reports this morning that M3GAN scored a strong $2.75 million from Thursday domestic previews beginning at 5pm in around 2,950 locations. The latest Blumhouse sleeper is on course to potentially reach the upper end of prior forecasts, depending on internal weekend word of mouth.

Comp-wise, here’s how M3GAN stacks up against recent genre films:

  • 150 percent ahead of Violent Night ($1.1 million)
  • 53 percent ahead of Smile ($1.8 million)
  • 8 percent behind The Black Phone ($3 million including Early Access Wednesday)
  • 17 percent ahead of Escape Room ($2.345 million)

Notably, most trajectories point toward $25 million or more for the weekend (some topping $30 million), though the Escape Room model would suggest just over $20 million (and Thursday previews have only become more popular since that pic released in January 2019).

As always, we’ll see how the weekend plays out.

Wednesday Report: 2023 gets started with an injection of new content aiming for young adult audiences as Universal and Blumhouse’s M3GAN looks to counter Avatar: The Way of Water‘s legs.

The latest original collaboration from Universal and genre master Jason Blum’s studio has been tracking very well in recent weeks, thanks largely to a viral social media presence that took off with M3GAN‘s most recent trailers. The film’s overall footprint of social buzz and pre-sales are comparable to those of The Black Phone and Smile. Tracking is strongest among young women aged 17 to 34.

As always, its worth noting that pre-sales for non-sequel horror pics aren’t known to pop until the eleventh hour before release. Coming immediately off the holidays adds another layer of complexity to forecasting, as does the fact that no reviews are available at the time of release.

Also of note is the fact that M3GAN will not benefit from a significant premium screen price boost. The Avatar sequel continues to dominate that landscape, meaning average ticket costs for the new Blumhouse pic will probably come in lower than those of Violent Night, Smile, and The Black Phone. Early reviews are very encouraging, though, which will be important toward staying power.

Universal is distributing the film at an estimated 3,400 locations this weekend with previews beginning Thursday at 5pm. The studio expects around $17 million from its domestic debut.

As mentioned, James Cameron’s Avatar: The Way of Water will remain a force to be reckoned with in its fourth weekend as it settles into the post-holiday corridor that became lucrative for the sequel. Way of Water initially opened 13.5 percent behind Rogue One: A Star Wars Story with the same 2016 calendar alignment, but has flipped that gap to take a 2.2 percent lead after 19 days in domestic play with $457.3 million thus far.

Way of Water claimed the third best third weekend in history during the New Year’s frame thanks to sustained holiday business and, perhaps, some spillover from a deflated Christmas weekend that saw much of the market impacted by Winter Storm Elliott. That trailed only Star Wars: The Force Awakens ($90.24 million) and the original Avatar ($68.49 million).

Among all-time fourth weekends, recent benchmarks include Top Gun: Maverick ($44.655 million) and Spider-Man: No Way Home ($32.62 million) as the third and seventh best, respectively. 2009’s Avatar posted $50.3 million in its fourth frame.

The question now is how soft of a landing can the sequel make as consumers return to work and school. Given its lengthy runtime and the continued moviegoer preference for premium format shows, it stands to reason the film will play extra strong on weekends.

Meanwhile, Sony is expanding the Tom Hanks-led A Man Called Otto into limited release this weekend. The studio has not yet provided a location count, though independent projections are around 600-plus from its 4-venue platform last week. This would mirror the expansion pattern of The Fabelmans back in November, though that occurred during Thanksgiving week.

Given the struggles of adult-focused dramas to catch fire in recent months, expectations are volatile for Otto. Hanks’ presence and the popularity of the source novel — combined with a more light-hearted marketing campaign than recent adult fare — could help it beat expectations, though. The film goes into true wide release on January 13.

Weekend Ranges

Avatar: The Way of Water
Fourth Weekend Range: $30 – 40 million

M3GAN
Opening Weekend Range: $20 – 35 million

(M3GAN‘s range was incorrectly reported in the initial publication of this report. It has corrected as of Thursday morning and reflects prior long range tracking.)

Weekend Forecast & Location Count Projections

Current projection ranges call for an 18 to 28 percent decrease from last weekend’s $102 million top ten aggregate.

Film Distributor 3-Day Weekend Forecast Projected Domestic Total through Sunday, January 8 Fri Location Count Projection (as of Wed) 3-Day % Change from Last Wknd
Avatar: The Way of Water Disney & 20th Century Studios $36,100,000 $506,400,000 ~4,100 -46%
M3GAN Universal Pictures / Blumhouse $24,000,000 $24,000,000 ~3,400 NEW
Puss in Boots: The Last Wish Universal Pictures / DreamWorks Animation $8,000,000 $80,100,000 ~3,900 -52%
Black Panther: Wakanda Forever Disney & Marvel Studios $2,800,000 $444,900,000 ~2,100 -46%
I Wanna Dance with Somebody Sony / Columbia Pictures $2,400,000 $19,600,000 ~3,300 -39%
A Man Called Otto Sony / Columbia Pictures $2,000,000 $2,100,000 ~650 3467%
Babylon Paramount Pictures $1,300,000 $13,000,000 ~2,400 -50%
Violent Night Universal Pictures $1,100,000 $49,800,000 ~2,000 -48%
The Whale A24 $1,000,000 $7,800,000 ~750 -27%
The Fabelmans Universal Pictures $625,000 $13,400,000 ~900 -40%

All forecasts are subject to revision/finalization before the first confirmation of opening previews or Friday estimates from studios or official sources.

Theater counts are either studio estimates OR unofficial projections if preceded by “~”.

The above table does not necessarily represent the top ten as some studios do not finalize weekend location counts and/or an intent to report box office returns prior to publishing.

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