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IMAX CEO on 'Avatar 2' crossing $2 billion: 'Reports of our death were premature'

IMAX (IMAX) CEO Richard Gelfond is warning those who bet against the movie theater business.

"Reports of our death were premature," Gelfond told Yahoo Finance Live after James Cameron's "Avatar: The Way of Water" crossed the $2 billion mark over the weekend, making it one of the highest grossing films of all time.

After just six weekends in theaters, the sequel has nabbed an estimated $2.02 billion globally with $1.43 billion stemming from international markets, according to Disney. IMAX screens accounted for $227 million of that global haul, making the film the second-highest grossing IMAX release of all time.

"Coming out of the pandemic and China being closed, there were a lot of odds against movies coming back to pre-pandemic levels," Gelfond said. "The studios made that worse with [premium video-on-demand] and streaming. If there was ever a plague where everybody tried to kill us — [that was it]."

"Avatar: The Way of Water" is now one of just six titles in history to cross the $2 billion milestone, joining "Avengers: Endgame," "Titanic," "The Force Awakens," "Avengers: Infinity War," and its 2009 predecessor, "Avatar."

"Avatar: The Way of Water" just became the second highest grossing IMAX release of all time (Courtesy: Disney)
"Avatar: The Way of Water" just became the second highest grossing IMAX release of all time (Courtesy: Disney)

'There are going to be changes'

According to data from Comscore, the domestic box office brought in just over $7.4 billion in 2022, representing a roughly 70% year-over-year increase but still 30% below pre-pandemic levels.

Industry watchers blamed the dip on a lack of new content, as 2022 saw around 40 fewer wide releases compared to pre-pandemic years; however, Gelfond called out several tentpoles which will likely add to box office totals in 2023, including "Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania," "Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One," "Fast X," and "Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3."

Although none of those films may reach the same meteoric numbers as 2022's "Top Gun: Maverick" — which secured more than $1.5 billion in global ticket sales — there's still enough demand for big budget films to go around.

"For IMAX, we're in the blockbuster business. The question is how many blockbusters are there? So even if there's not one that does $1.5 billion, I think there's so many that we feel very good about the year," Gelfond said.

Still, the executive warned the industry may never fully recover to where it once was amid recent challenges like shrinking production budgets and the streaming boom.

"There are challenges in the traditional movie business and I think there will probably be less screens, particularly in North America...they're going to have to find different audiences," he explained, suggesting live content like sports may replace some of what was lost before.

"Like many businesses, there are going to be changes — hopefully for the better."

Alexandra is a Senior Entertainment and Media Reporter at Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter @alliecanal8193 and email her at alexandra.canal@yahoofinance.com

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