Box Office: ‘M3GAN’ Slays With $30 Million Debut, ‘Avatar: The Way of Water’ Stays No. 1

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Move over, Jamie Lee Curtis and Neve Campbell. There’s a new scream queen in town… M3GAN.

Universal and Blumhouse’s creepy doll thriller “M3GAN” — short for Model 3 Generative Android — made a killing in its opening weekend, collecting a better-than-expected $30.2 million from 3,509 North American theaters. Internationally, the film has generated $14.8 million to date, taking its global tally to $45 million.

Heading into the weekend the PG-13 film was projected to open to $17 million to $20 million in North America, but stellar word-of-mouth and audiences’ enduring love for horror were key in significantly outperforming expectations. It’s a killer start for the $12 million-budgeted movie.

“Blumhouse and James Wan’s Atomic Monster delivered an incredible film. It’s fun, it’s scary, it’s thrilling,” says Jim Orr, Universal’s president of domestic distribution. “Word-of-mouth is through the roof.”

And the turnout for “M3GAN” is especially encouraging to Hollywood and theater owners alike because January tends to be a box office dead zone. “M3GAN” is the first movie to open to more than $30 million in the first week of the new year in over a decade, when 2012’s “The Devil Inside” kicked off to $33.7 million.

It’s not too surprising that this doll delivered at the box office. In the weeks leading up to its debut, M3GAN became a viral internet sensation thanks to her killer choreography and overall chaotic energy. Universal and Blumhouse successfully capitalized on the internet fervor with clever marketing tactics, including troupes of dancing dolls at the film’s premiere and sporting events. Gerard Johnstone directed “M3GAN,” which centers on a roboticist (Allison Williams) who creates a realistic AI creation that’s programmed to be the perfect companion to her recently orphaned niece (Violet McGraw).

“Horror movies are showing no slowdown at the box office,” says David A. Gross, who runs the movie consulting firm Franchise Entertainment Research. “Young moviegoers want to see them with their friends, on the big screen, for the maximum thrill.”

However impressive, ticket sales for “M3GAN” weren’t enough to dethrone James Cameron’s enduring blockbuster sequel “Avatar: The Way of Water,” which has claimed the No. 1 spot on domestic box office charts for four consecutive weeks. The sci-fi epic, from Disney and 20th Century, added a robust $45 million from 4,340 cinemas, a minimal 33% decline from last weekend. So far, “Avatar 2” has generated $516 million in North America and $1.1 billion internationally. With $1.708 billion globally, it currently stands as the seventh-biggest movie in history.

“Between “M3GAN’s” opening and “Avatar 2’s” sensational 4th weekend, this is a solid start to the year,” Gross adds. “Is it too soon to declare 2023 a complete and utter success?”

With the combined wattage of “The Way of Water” and “M3GAN,” the movie industry is starting 2023 with reason for cheer. But it’s far from fully rebounding to pre-pandemic levels. The box office in 2022 was down roughly 30% from 2019, partially because studios released fewer films and partially because moviegoing habits shifted during COVID. Yet there’s certainly hope the next 12 months will be stronger than the last 24, with blockbuster-hopefuls like “Mission: Impossible 7,” “Fast X” and “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3” and potential breakouts such as Greta Gerwig’s neon-coated “Barbie” and Christopher Nolan’s war drama “Oppenheimer” on schedule.

Elsewhere at the domestic box office, holdovers from 2022 rounded out the top five spots. Universal’s “Puss in Boots: The Last Wish,” an animated sequel in the “Shrek” universe, landed in third place with $12.4 million from 3,919 venues. After three weeks of release, the family friendly “Puss in Boots 2” has grossed $87 million in North America and $197 million worldwide. It carries a $90 million price tag.

Sony’s “A Man Called Otto,” a heartwarming drama with Tom Hanks as a widower, took the No. 4 spot with $4.2 million from just 637 theaters. The studio has plans to expand the film nationwide over Martin Luther King Jr. weekend.

Disney and Marvel’s “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” secured fifth place, bringing in $3.3 million in its ninth weekend in theaters. To date, the superhero sequel has earned $445 million domestically.

At the specialty box office, A24’s awards hopeful “The Whale” is one of the rare indie titles that’s actually getting audiences to go to theaters. The movie, starring Brendan Fraser as an obese college professor, added $1.5 million from 835 screens over the weekend, resulting in the strongest hold in the top 10. After weeks in limited release, “The Whale” has grossed $8.58 million.

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