‘Avatar: The Way of Water’ can’t stop making money

Does the ‘Avatar’ sequel have what it takes to become the biggest movie ever? PLUS: ‘SNL’ announces 2023 hosts, Nic Cage becomes Dracula, and why was ‘Jurassic World Dominion’ so bad?

‘Avatar: The Way of Water’ can’t stop making money
A scene from Avatar: The Way of Water. / 20th Century Studios

Avatar: The Way of Water won’t stop making money.

The sequel added another $45 million to its domestic haul this past weekend, bringing that total up to $516.8 million. Worldwide, The Way of Water stands at $1.7 billion. The second Avatar film is now No. 14 on the all-time domestic box office chart and No. 7 on the all-time worldwide chart.

With little competition on the horizon between now and when Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania hits theaters in mid-February, The Way of Water has an easy path to keep raking in cash.

Last week, I touched on whether The Way of Water had a shot at Avatar’s all-time worldwide record of $2.9 billion. What’s still in the way of that happening?

First, let’s take a quick detour over to the domestic box office record book. The Way of Water has a ton of ground between it and the No. 1 movie on that list: Star Wars: The Force Awakens. The seventh Star Wars film grossed a total of $936.7 million domestically, a massive haul that, at the time, became the only film to crack not just the $900 million mark but also the $800 million mark. (Avengers: Endgame and Spider-Man: No Way Home have since joined the $800 club.)

In order to crack the top ten domestically, The Way of Water will need to add another $107 million, which would bump The Avengers out of that echelon.

There are six movies that currently rank higher than The Way of Water on the all-time worldwide box office chart. Let’s go through the obstacles in the sequel’s path.

Tobey Maguire, Tom Holland and Andrew Garfield in Spider-Man: No Way Home. / Sony Pictures

Spider-Man: No Way Home ($1,910,041,582)

The newest film on this list, the third MCU Spider-Man film capitalized on not just bringing Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield back into the Spider-Man fold, but also being the first major tentpole film that people decided it was worth risking covid to see (and see again and again again) in theaters.

Josh Brolin in Avengers: Infinity War. / Marvel Studios

Avengers: Infinity War ($2,048,359,754)

We’re in the $2 billion club now. The first half of the finale of the Infinity Saga demanded our money as it made good on the promise of bringing the MCU together after a decade of laying the groundwork. Avengers! Guardians of the Galaxy! Thanos!

Adam Driver in Star Wars: The Force Awakens. / Lucasfilm

Star Wars: The Force Awakens ($2,064,615,817)

It’s easy to make this much money worldwide when you gross almost a billion dollars domestically. The Force Awakens opened under all the right conditions. Positive reviews, a perfectly timed Christmas break, little competition, the first new Star Wars film in over a decade.

Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet in Titanic. / Paramount Pictures

Titanic ($2,207,986,545)

Until the first Avatar came along, Titanic was the worldwide champ, being the first film to crack the $2 billion mark in the process. The occasional re-release over the years has padded out Titanic’s box office haul.

Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Hemsworth and Robert Downey Jr. in Avengers: Endgame. / Marvel Studios

Avengers: Endgame ($2,794,731,755)

For a moment, Avengers: Endgame was the all-time worldwide box office champ. (An Avatar re-release bumped James Cameron’s film back into the top spot.) In addition to being No. 2 on the all-time domestic chart, Endgame added almost $2 billion internationally to become the No. 1 (and now No. 2) movie on this list.

Zoe Saldaña and Sam Worthington in Avatar. / 20th Century Fox

Avatar ($2,899,384,102)

Which brings us to the all-time worldwide champ: Avatar. If you removed Avatar’s domestic haul, the film would still be the fourth highest grossing movie in worldwide history.

The Way of Water has made quick work of the all-time box office rankings over just four weekends. It continues to exceed expectations. Check out the expected performance chart from The Numbers.

Credit: The Numbers

After dipping into the expected range, The Way of Water is now trending higher and higher above its expected performance range. Can it keep that up long enough to pass films like Avengers: Endgame?

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The News
Aubrey Plaza in The White Lotus. / HBO

Aubrey Plaza and Michael B. Jordan to host SNL

Saturday Night Live revealed its first two hosts of 2023 last week. The show will return on Jan. 21 with Aubrey Plaza hosting and follow with Michael B. Jordan on Jan. 28.

This will be both Plaza and Jordan’s first time hosting SNL. The show returns without Cecily Strong, who said goodbye to SNL during the Austin Butler-hosted Dec. 17 episode.

A Gladiator sequel is happening and it has its first castmember

Talk of a sequel to Ridley Scott’s Gladiator has been a thing since pretty much the moment that film hit theaters. There was even at one point a script that would’ve sent Russell Crowe’s Maximus on a journey through the afterlife. It’s a wild script, one that The Kingcast’s Scott Wampler broke down back when Birth.Movies.Death. was still alive.

The sequel that Ridley Scott and his screenwriter/partner David Scarpa are working on skips the afterlife and instead focuses on “Lucius, the son of Lucilla, played by Connie Nielsen, and the nephew of [Joaquin Phoenix’s] Commodus,” according to The Hollywood Reporter.

This is where our first bit of casting news for the Gladiator sequel comes in. THR reported on Friday that Paul Mescal, who was seen in the Hulu series Normal People, is in talks to play Lucius.

James Cameron on the set of Avatar: The Way of Water. / 20th Century Studios

Avatar: The Way of Water has made so much money, James Cameron ‘can’t wiggle out’ of making sequels

Up until Avatar: The Way of Water hit theaters, Cameron had been playing cute with the idea of additional Avatar sequels being greenlit by Disney, saying stuff like “aw, shucks, maybe this one won’t make enough money to justify making eight more Avatar movies.” (That’s just a generalization of what Cameron said. I don’t think he says “aw, shucks.”)

Cameron can finally stop playing that game now that The Way of Water has made over $1.7 billion worldwide.

“It looks like just with the momentum that the film has now that will easily pass our breakeven in the next few days, so it looks like I can’t wiggle out of this, I’m gonna have to do these other sequels,” Cameron said while on Who’s Talking to Chris Wallace? (via The Hollywood Reporter). “I know what I’m going to be doing the next six or seven years.”

Was there ever a doubt that Disney would greenlight the future Avatar sequels? They’ve been on their release schedule for years now. Cameron even revealed during that same appearance that the next three Avatar movies are in various stages of completion.

“I’m sure that we’ll have a discussion soon with with the top folks at Disney about the game plan going forward for Avatar 3, which is already in the can,” he said. “We’ve already captured and photographed the whole film so we’re in extended post-production to do all that CG magic. And then Avatar 4 and 5 are both written. We even have some of 4 in the can. We’ve begun a franchise at this point. We’ve begun a saga that can now play out over multiple films.”

This is Cameron’s life now. Avatar forever and forever, a hundred years Avatar.

The next Avatar film is set to introduce villainous Na’vi, with Cameron discussing a new group of the aliens while talking with the French publication 20 Minutes (via Total Film).

“The fire will be represented by the ‘Ash People,’” Cameron told 20 Minutes. “I want to show the Na’vi from another angle because, so far, I have only shown their good sides. In the early films, there are very negative human examples and very positive Na’vi examples. In Avatar 3, we will do the opposite.”

Tim Blake Nelson joins Dune sequel

I really enjoyed Dune, watching it at home while Warner Bros. was releasing everything on HBO Max during the pandemic. I hope Warner Bros. Discovery considers re-releasing Dune in theaters before Dune: Part Two hits theaters. I’d love to have a shot at seeing the first part in a Dolby Cinema theater.

Anyways, Dune: Part Two continues to build out its cast. In addition to the previously announced Butler, Florence Pugh, Christopher Walken and Léa Seydoux, we learned on Friday that Tim Blake Nelson has joined the sequel.

“Character details for Nelson’s role are being kept deep in the sand,” The Hollywood Reporter writes.

Nelson is about to jump back into franchise films in a big way. After Dune: Part Two in 2023, the actor will reprise his role from The Incredible Hulk in 2024’s Captain America: New World Order.

Wanna send me your comments, questions or recommendations? Write to Popculturology at popculturology@gmail.com, and I might run your mail in a future edition of the newsletter.

Trailer Watch


Whose idea was it to cast Nicolas Cage as Dracula? The inspired casting is at the heart of Renfield, a reimagining of the story of Dracula’s loyal assistant. Nicholas Hoult plays Renfield while Chris McKay directs.

Definitely some What We Do in the Shadows vibes from this Renfield trailer, with the added flair of some fight scenes. (Sorry, Guillermo. Not enough choreographed fight scene from you to consider Shadows an action series.)

Renfield opens on April 7.

Kate Winslet and Cliff Curtis in Avatar: The Way of Water. / 20th Century Studios

Weekend of Jan. 6-8, 2023

  1. Avatar: The Way of Water (1)
    Weekend gross: $45M / Total domestic gross: $516.8M / Percent drop: -33

Weekend gross: $30.2M / Total domestic gross: $30.2M / Percent drop: -NA

Great start for M3GAN. The horror film’s opening weekend outgrossed the $22.6 million that Smile debuted with back in September.

  1. Puss in Boots: The Last Wish (2)
    Weekend gross: $13.1M / Total domestic gross: $87.7M / Percent drop: -22
  2. A Man Called Otto (-)
    Weekend gross: $4.2M / Total domestic gross: $4.3M / Percent drop: +7,366

Black Panther: Wakanda Forever (3)
Weekend gross: $3.4M / Total domestic gross: $445.4M / Percent drop: -34

Black Panther: Wakanda Forever remained in the top five this past weekend. The sequel is about $14 million away from passing Avengers: Age of Ultron to move up to No. 6 on the Marvel Cinematic Universe domestic box office list.

Box office numbers via The Numbers

Ralph Fiennes and Anya Taylor-Joy in The Menu. / Searchlight Pictures

The Menu, Nope and Jurassic World Dominion

A prestigious restaurant to die for. An alien entity tormenting a ranch. And, um, a dinosaur movie about genetically modified bugs?

I had the chance to catch up on a few movies that I had missed in 2022 over the weekend, and I choose Nope, The Menu and Jurassic World Dominion as those films.

The Menu and Nope were my picks while Caitlin was out to dinner and the baby was asleep for the night, knowing that she wouldn’t want to watch either those movies. But Dominion actually began as a film we would watch together — until it proved so bad she went to bed instead.

I need to apologize apologize to The Menu and Nope for including them alongside Dominion, which is not just one of the worst movies of 2022 but one of the worst movies I’ve ever seen.

Let’s jump back to The Menu and Nope, two excellent films.

Anya Taylor-Joy in The Menu. / Searchlight Pictures

I wasn’t sure what to expect from The Menu, only seeing the trailer once but knowing the word-of-mouth around the film was strong. While I didn’t expect the movie to turn violent as quickly as it did, I enjoyed The Menu’s sendup of foodie culture, especially the most pretentious of entries on show’s like Chef’s Table.

“The base camp of Mt. Bullshit,” Anya Taylor-Joy’s Margot quipped as the group of dinners reached Hawthorn, the restaurant at the heart of The Menu.

I enjoy watching shows like Chef’s Table, but the episodes featuring a chef pulling out a pair of tweezers to layer absurd ingredients for absurd prices are when I usually begin rolling me eyes. Ralph Fienners’ Julian Slowik, the chef in charge of Hawthorn, is one of the chefs. (A breadless bread plate?! C’mon.)

Taylor-Joy was fantastic in this film. She has a quiet intensity to her that we’ve seen in shows like The Queen’s Gambit. I can’t wait to see her take on the role of Furiosa in the upcoming Mad Max: Fury Road prequel. (I chuckled when she remarked that her eyes may have been bigger than her stomach. Is there’s an actor with more Disney-esque eyes than Taylor-Joy?)

Daniel Kaluuya, Keke Palmer and Brandon Perea in Nope. / Universal Pictures

I was actually a bit worried to go into Nope. Alien movies are one of my weaknesses. Not as in I can’t stop watching them, but they usually shake me a bit too much. (Seeing Signs in theaters was a mistake for me.) I had done a remarkably good job of avoiding spoilers when it came to Nope, so I wasn’t sure where it would fall in terms of its alien creepiness.

Turns out Jordan Peele made a different kind of alien movie. I haven’t had a chance yet to dive into everything written about Nope, but I’m eager to see what people took away from the film.

And was everyone else as creeped out by the stables scene as me? That was some Signs-level suspense there — and had me on the verge of questioning if I had made a mistake exposing myself to another alien movie

Jeff Goldblum, Sam Neill, Laura Dern, Bryce Dallas Howard, Chris Pratt, Isabella Sermon and DeWanda Wise in Jurassic World Dominion. / Universal Pictures

And then we have Jurassic World Dominion.

This is not only the worst Jurassic Park movie ever made, it’s one of the worst movies I’ve seen.

Just a colossal misfire on every level. They made a Jurassic Park movie … AND FORGOT TO MAKE IT ABOUT DINOSAURS.

Jurassic World was a highly successful legacy sequel. Dominion tried to top that by bringing back Laura Dern, Sam Neill and Jeff Goldblum — a legacy sequel on steroids, the legacy sequel to end all legacy sequels.

Instead we got mishmash of films, with different elements of previous Jurassic Park installments cut together, all with zero weigh or consequence. There’s a scene in Dominion where Bryce Dallas Howard’s character crashes in a jungle and has to hide from dinosaurs. It’s like a ten-minute sequence, boiling down what had previously been the ENTIRE PLOT of Jurassic Park III into almost nothing.

The film’s villains — the final bosses of the Jurassic Park franchise — are pulled out of nowhere, yet another ominously named genetic engineering corporation. Dominion has none of the nuance that Glass Onion did when it comes to spoofing tech geniuses. Biosyn, Dominion’s evil corporation, even has a version of Elon Musk’s hyper loop.

The only thing that would’ve redeemed this film is if Chris Pratt’s Owen and Blue the velociraptor had shared a hug at the end of the film, Eagly style.

The setup for Dominion had everything going for it. Dinosaurs were no longer contained to an island in the middle of nowhere (or even San Diego). They had gone worldwide. And instead of focusing on that story, Dominion seemingly capped the Jurassic Park franchise with genetically modified bugs.

Quinta Brunson and Lisa Ann Walter in the Abbott Elementary episode “Read-A-Thon.” / ABC

Abbott Elementary

Abbott Elementary returned for its first episode of 2023, giving us a storyline that focused on Lisa Ann Walter’s Melissa — that didn’t involve the mob or shady deals for new reading carpets. Episodes like this one show just how strong Abbott Elementary’s ensemble cast is. Everyone episode doesn’t need to focus on Janine and Gregory.

“My favorite club just got shut down because they let a horse in,” is another great line from Janelle James’ Ava.

Dude, Where’s My Jet?

We finished up the Netflix docuseries about Leonard v. Pepsico, Inc., the lawsuit at the core of the time someone sued Pepsi over whether a Harris jet was a legitimate Pepsi Points prize.

I wasn’t expecting disgraced attorney Michael Avenatti to have played such a large role in this story, much less one at all, but he looms large in the final episode.

The Links

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Odds and Ends

Encanto at the Hollywood Bowl

I missed this when it happened a week or so ago, but here’s a clip of the Encanto cast performing “The Family Madrigal” live.

Honestly, this format should replace Disney’s current streak of making live-action versions of their animated classics. Just recreate the songs with the actual actors in costume. Auliʻi Cravalho, Dwayne Johnson and Jemaine Clement dressed as Moana, Maui and Tamatoa performing “Shiny.” Mandy Moore and Zachary Levi dressed as Rapunzel and Eugene performing “I See the Light.”

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