'Avatar: The Way of Water' crosses $1.5B worldwide. How much money can the sequel gross?

'Avatar' sequel shows no signs of slowing down at the box office. PLUS: 'Wakanda Forever' Disney+ debut date revealed, Dwayne Johnson's 'Black Adam' tequila bar, and I finally wrap up 'White Lotus.'

'Avatar: The Way of Water' crosses $1.5B worldwide. How much money can the sequel gross?
Sam Worthington and Zoe Saldaña in Avatar: The Way of Water. / 20th Century Studios

Welcome back to Popculturology. I hope everyone’s 2023 is going well so far. (Nervously glances at 2023, waiting for it to do something crazy.) The holiday breaks are over, which means the newsletter breaks are over too.

Let’s talk about Avatar: The Way of Water. The original Avatar set the highest of high bars for the sequel, grossing $785.2 million domestically and $2.9 billion worldwide. The Way of Water came out of the gate strong, debuting with $134.1 million at the domestic box office, easily beating the $77 million that Avatar opened with in 2009.

The film hasn’t let off that pace, adding an additional $63.3 million over its second weekend and actually bumping up to $67.4 million over its third weekend. Through Tuesday’s box office reports, The Way of Water has a roughly $90 million lead over its predecessor.

This is definitely a reminder that, one, we shouldn’t bet against James Cameron. And, two, Twitter isn’t the real world, and despite years of asking who actually remembered Avatar (guilty) or who was asking for a sequel, there were a ton of people out there ready to dive back into this world again.

So can The Way of Water match Avatar’s record worldwide box office haul?

As of Tuesday, The Way of Water sits at No. 12 on the all-time worldwide box office chart with $1,478,419,969. By the time you’re reading this, the sequel will have likely cracked the $1.5 billion mark and passed Top Gun: Maverick (the other massive hit of 2022) to claim the No. 11 spot. After that, all The Way of Water needs to do is … double its money.

Yeah. There’s a lot of space left between the two Avatar films on this chart.

Worldwide box office comparison between Avatar and Avatar: The Way of Water. / The Numbers

The original Avatar stuck around for a very long time. It currently holds the domestic records for:

  • biggest sixth weekend ($34.4 million)
  • biggest seventh weekend ($31.3 million)

and is No. 2 on the charts for:

  • biggest fourth weekend ($50.3 million)
  • biggest fifth weekend ($42.8 million)
  • biggest eighth weekend ($22.9 million)
  • biggest ninth weekend ($23.6 million)
  • biggest tenth weekend ($16.2 million)
  • biggest 11th weekend ($13.7 million)

That’s a lot of money made over a lot of weekends.

The calendar is pretty clear for The Way of Water into February. Between now and when Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania hits theaters on Feb. 17, there aren’t any upcoming releases that pose a real threat to the Avatar sequel. M3GAN? Knock at the Cabin? They’d need to debut in the $40 million to $50 million range to dethrone The Way of Water.

This’ll be a fun one to pay attention to over the next few weeks. By the time Quantumania is out, we’ll know what kind of shot The Way of Water has at matching its predecessor.

Happy Thursday, and thanks for reading Popculturology. I love writing about pop culture, and I hope you enjoy reading this newsletter. If you do, please subscribe. It’s the easiest way to make sure you get every edition of Popculturology. Tapping the ♥️ at the bottom of each post also helps the newsletter. Now let’s get to the news.

The News
Letitia Wright in Black Panther: Wakanda Forever. / Marvel Studios

Wakanda Forever heading to Disney+

If you missed Black Panther: Wakanda Forever in theaters, you’ll soon be able to catch the Black Panther sequel on streaming. Marvel Studios revealed on Wednesday that Disney+ will begin streaming the film on a Feb. 1.

CNET broke down how the gap between Wakanda Forever’s theatrical premiere and streaming debut is now the longest for the MCU in the post-pandemic era.

Now, Wakanda Forever is taking 82 days to start streaming.

That's the longest that a Marvel movie has spent in theaters before streaming since Disney resumed theatrical exclusives in 2021. That year, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings was in theaters for 70 days and Eternals, 68 days.

CNET also notes that Paramount kept Top Gun: Maverick off Paramount+ for 209 days, but I’m guessing that was more due to Tom Cruise’s stance that his films belong in theaters than any corporate philosophy at the studio.

‘Dwayne went around everyone, which didn’t sit well’

The drama surrounding Black Adam and Dwayne Johnson continued this week, with Variety reporting on Wednesday new details of the soured relationship between the star and Warner Bros. Discovery.

Not long after the Warner Bros. Discovery merger closed in April, Dwayne Johnson directly pitched CEO David Zaslav on a multiyear plan for Black Adam and a [Henry Cavill]-led Superman in which the two properties would interweave, setting up a Superman-versus-Black Adam showdown, sources say. Black Adam producers Hiram Garcia, who is Johnson’s former brother-in-law, and Beau Flynn also were part of the brain trust looking to take DC down a new path. Other sources confirmed the meeting but downplayed any discussion of Black Adam’s future.

Although the move took place amid a power vacuum created as former DC head Walter Hamada and Warner Bros. film chief Toby Emmerich prepared to exit, it ruffled feathers internally, sources add. “Dwayne went around everyone, which didn’t sit well,” says one.

According to Variety, the finger-pointing goes both ways, with one source blaming Black Adam’s “modest” budget for not matching having Johnson as the film’s star.

“Budgets are commensurate with the talent involved,” the source told Variety. “Something with a lower budget like Shazam! is dubbed a hit, because ‘hits’ are based more on profitability.”

The funniest part of Variety’s piece? Turns out Johnson “insisted on a tequila bar at the New York premiere of Black Adam featuring his Teremana brand, despite the film being rated PG-13.”

“His demands increased and the returns just weren’t there,” a source told Variety.

Jeremy Renner offers an update on his health

Jeremy Renner was injured in a pretty severe accident over the weekend, with original reports offering vague mentions of a snow plowing accident. We now know that Renner was run over by “an extremely large piece of snow removal equipment weighing at least 14,330 pounds.”

Renner himself offered an updated on his recovery on Tuesday, posting on Instagram: “Thank you all for your kind words. 🙏. Im too messed up now to type. But I send love to you all.”

Variety reports that Renner “underwent two surgeries after suffering blunt chest trauma and orthopedic injuries in the weather-related incident. Following surgery, Renner remained in the intensive care unit in “critical but stable condition,” according to his representation.”

It’s a relief to see Renner coming through this injury, especially on the heels of the tragic injury to Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin on Monday.

New Ant-Man trailer on the way

Meanwhile, promotion for the next installment in the MCU is moving ahead. A new trailer for Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania is set to air during the College Football Playoff National Championship on Monday.

The first trailer for the third Ant-Man film debuted back in October. The movie will hit theaters on Feb. 17.

Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Elizabeth Olsen in Avengers: Age of Ultron. / Marvel Studios

Aaron Taylor-Johnson might be the frontrunner to be the next James Bond

We’re still a few years away from the next era of James Bond, but that hasn’t stopped the pop culture world from guessing who will don 007’s tuxedo after Daniel Craig. According to a report by Puck (via Gizmodo), Aaron Taylor-Johnson might be the frontrunner in that game.

In November, The Sun reported that the Bullet Train star had impressed producers in a “secret audition” for the role. Now, Puck NewsMatthew Belloni writes that Taylor-Johnson did indeed sit with [Bond producer Barbara Broccoli] “and the meeting went well.” He reportedly checks all the boxes—beyond those listed above, he’s also a “great actor” and “accomplished but not particularly famous.”

Taylor-Johnson is no stranger to a franchise, previously leading the Kick-Ass series, appearing as Quicksilver in Avengers: Age of Ultron and signing up to play Kraven in Sony’s Spider-Man cinematic universe. Will that work against the actor? Would audiences be too familiar with Taylor-Johnson by the time the next Bond film is released?

Michael Giacchino to make feature directorial debut with Them! remake

Werewolf By Night was one of my favorite, um, shows? … movies? … of 2022. Whatever you call it, it was an exciting new storytelling form for the MCU, and it was longtime composer Michael Giacchino who brought Midnight By Night to life as a director.

Giacchino will make his feature directorial debut behind the camera of a remake of the 1954 monster movie Them!. Deadline broke the news on Wednesday night.

“There’s always a movie in your mind that never leaves your head,” Giacchino told Deadline. “For me, that’s Them! It wasn’t until much later in life until I learned what it was about — the nuclear age.”

There had been some chatter that Giacchino would take the helm of Blade before Marvel Studios announced a new director, but I’m definitely excited to see what he’ll do with this remake.

George R. R. Martin: ‘A couple [Game of Thrones spinoffs] have been shelved’ by Warner Bros. Discovery

House of the Dragon is supposed to be just the first in a wave of Game of Thrones spinoffs. A few days after Christmas, Game of Thrones creator George R. R. Martin gave a status update on these spinoffs.

“Some of those are moving faster than others, as is always the case with development. None have been greenlit yet, though we are hoping … maybe soon,” Martin wrote on his blog. “A couple have been shelved, but I would not agree that they are dead. You can take something off the shelf as easily as you can put it on the shelf. All the changes at HBO Max have impacted us, certainly.”

In the pre-Discovery days, Warner Bros. already killed one Game of Thrones spinoff. Bloodmoon, which would have starred Naomi Watts and was set to have a pilot executive produced and directed by S. J. Clarkson, was killed in October 2019.

It wouldn’t be a surprise to see Warner Bros. Discovery squash a Thrones spinoff or two while they’re in development if it means the company could cut costs.

The Deadpool 3 logo. / Marvel Studios

‘I'm probably going to punch him in the head a lot’

It’s still wild that Hugh Jackman is returning as Wolverine, bringing the character in to the MCU with the third Deadpool movie. The film is still coming together, but Jackman shared a bit of news about the dynamic between Wolverine and Ryan Reynold’s Deadpool with the Empire Film Podcast (via Entertainment Weekly).

“How do I categorize it? Ten being really close, zero being the reality: we’re zero. We’re opposites, hate each other,” Jackman told the Empire Film Podcast. “[Logan is] frustrated by him [and] wants to be a million miles away from him or wants to punch him in the head. Unfortunately, he can’t be a million miles away from him in this movie, so I'm probably going to punch him in the head a lot.”

Jackman has previously hinted that Wolverine will be woven into the MCU via time travel and the multiverse, which would explain the “he can’t be a million miles away” from Deadpool line. Odds are Wolverine is going to be pulled from his timeline and stuck with Deadpool.

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Beatrice Granno and Simona Tabasco in The White Lotus. / HBO

White Lotus

We finished up White Lotus’ second season after our holiday travels were done, and — oh boy — did Mike White deliver another crazy season. This is one of those shows where when you start, you’re not really sure it has your attention, but by the end of the first episode, you’re hooked. And by the end of the penultimate episode of a season, addicted.

White Lotus is also an excellent example of why the weekly release model still makes sense in 2023. Since we started watching this season after it had aired, we were able to watch the entire thing in a few batches of episodes. While there was absolutely tension for us between the penultimate episode and the season finale, the wait between those two episodes would’ve added to the tension.

Despite my best efforts, this season’s mysterious death was actually spoiled for me right as we were about to start watching. I managed to keep the death from Caitlin, and White Lotus still delivered a twist on just how that death went down.

A scene from the Bad Batch episode “Spoils of War.” / Lucasfilm

Bad Batch

The first two episodes of Bad Batch’s second season debuted on Wednesday. The show picked back up on its mission-of-the-week format from last season, giving us a two-part story that, once again, had the Bad Batch dealing with the repercussions of a quest gone wrong.

Tasked with a mission that could finally give them freedom, the Bad Batch set off to Serenno to steal treasure from the war chest at the former home of Count Dooku. Like Kamino last season, we learn that the Empire had decimated Serenno through orbital bombardment.

I enjoyed spending time with these characters again, but I do wonder how long the show will stick with missions like this one. The trailer for the season promised Captain Rex, Commander Cody and Palpatine — not to mention loose threads from last season like where a clone like Omega might fit into the whole Palpatine/Snoke/Grogu mess.

I also loved the Moana-ness of the beach in the episode’s opening sequence, right down to the very Tamatoa-looking crab creatures. (Were these creatures sentient? What was the Bad Batch stealing from them? Should we have felt bad as Omega shot them?)

Between Andor and the finale to this week’s second episode, we’re living in a golden age for Imperial paperwork.

Pepsi, Where’s My Jet?

In the 1990s Pepsi ran a promotion where you could redeem points from labels for Pepsi swag and other merchandise. One of the commercials for the promotion even offered a Harrier jet for 7 million points.

Without any fine print.

The Netflix docuseries covers Leonard v. Pepsico, Inc., the court case between a guy who tried to make good on Pepsi’s promise of a jet and the cola conglomerate.

Like a lot of Netflix’s docs, there’s a cheesiness to the production and the recreations, but this docuseries is still super fun.

And if you have too much money and you’re not using it to help the world? Might as well use that money to mess with a giant corporation.

(Also, has anyone else noticed that Netflix has gotten sloppy with their captions and subtitles?)

The Links

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Odds and Ends
Jessica Henwick, Leslie Odom Jr., Kathryn Hahn, Kate Hudson, Rian Johnson, Daniel Craig and Janelle Monáe. / Netflix

‘I heard Benoit Blanc with the Muppets’

I can’t get enough of the Glass Onion. One of the benefits of Netflix owning the film is that we get all these behind-the-scenes clips now instead of in a few months when the movie would’ve gone to Blu-ray.

We’re obviously not going to get a Knives Out film with the Muppets, but what’s stopping Rian Johnson from writing and directing a Muppets movie? Who do we petition over at Disney to make this happen? Who’s their Kevin Feige? Their Kathleen Kennedy?

It’s a random guy in a utility closet, isn’t it? That’s who in charge of the Muppets now, huh?

‘A relief’: Dave Bautista looks beyond Drax

Dave Bautista skipped the Glass Onion cast reunion, but he was pretty talkative for a great new GQ profile. The wrestler-turned-actor addressed the end of his time playing Draw in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

“I’m so grateful for Drax. I love him,” Bautista told GQ. “But there’s a relief [that it’s over]. It wasn’t all pleasant. It was hard playing that role. The makeup process was beating me down. And I just don’t know if I want Drax to be my legacy — it’s a silly performance, and I want to do more dramatic stuff.”

I don’t think Bautista needs to worry about Drax being his legacy. The role put him on the radar of other filmmakers, getting cast in Bond films and working with Denis Villeneuve twice (Blade Runner 2049 and Dune).

‘I burn my life to make a sunrise I know I'll never see’

Lucasfilm knows how good Andor is. And they want everyone else to know too. The studio made the choice to release several of the key monologue’s from Andor’s first season on YouTube.

Andy Serkis’ Kino Loy urging his fellow prisoners to fight back against their captors in the episode “One Way Out.”

Stellan Skarsgård’s Luthen Rael revealing what he has sacrificed in the rebellion against the Empire. (From the same episode as Serkis’ monologue!)

And Fiona Shaw’s Maarva Andor rallying her fellow citizens to “fight the Empire” from beyond the grave in the season finale.

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