‘Avatar 2’ Box Office Battles Storm Elliott as Holiday Movies Get Iced  

A brutal weather system named Storm Elliott is taking the merriment out of holiday moviegoing at the North American box office.

The bomb cyclone has brought freezing temperatures, high winds, snow and ice to a wide swath of the country. Traditionally, the Christmas corridor is one of the most lucrative times of the year for Hollywood studios and theater owners. This year is an exception, between Storm Elliott and ongoing concerns about COVID-19, the flu and the RSV virus.

In a bummer for the year-end box office, Christmas weekend revenue could be down as much as 57 percent from 2019 — before the pandemic struck — and, more worrisome, 40 percent from 2021. (Part of the reason is the fact that Christmas Eve falls on a Saturday and Christmas on a Sunday.) Put another way, studios are already looking to next week to make up for lost ground.

20th Century and Disney’s Avatar 2 stayed No. 1 on Friday with $19.5 million from 4,202 theaters for a domestic total of $217.2 million. The big-budget tentpole is expected to post a Friday-Monday gross of $88 million to $90 million. While a strong number, the James Cameron-directed sequel is falling a bit more than expected in its second weekend as Mother Nature has her way.

DreamWorks Animation and Universal’s Puss in Boots: The Last Wish, which opened midweek, will have no trouble coming in No. 2 with a projected four-day holiday gross of $17.4 million and six-day opening of $24 million from 4,099 theaters. The family pic had been tracking for a launch in the $30 million to $35 million range.

TriStar’s Whitney Houston: I Wanna Dance With Somebody and Paramount’s Babylon are also having a hard time. Both films opened Friday.

I Wanna Dance With Somebody grossed an estimated $2 million Friday from 3,625 theaters for a projected four-day gross of $7 million to $8 million (Sony insiders believe that number could climb to $10 million). The Whitney Houston biopic earned an A CinemaScore from audiences after earning glowing reviews.

Darren Aronofsky’s star-packed Babylon is looking like a major disappointment unless it rebounds next week. The movie, which runs north of three hours — similar to Avatar 2 — opened to $1.5 million from 3,343 theaters on Friday for a projected four-day debut of $5 million.

At the specialty box office, The Whale is expanding into a total of 603 cinemas over Christmas. The A24 film is expected to earn $1.4 million for the four-day weekend.

Among new offerings, Sarah Polley’s acclaimed Women Talking opened Friday in eight theaters. The MGM and UAR film, like numerous other titles, is no doubt being impacted by freezing temperatures in key markets such as New York.

Numbers will be updated Sunday.

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