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Will ‘Avatar 2’ Get a ‘Top Gun’-Style Streaming Delay? When Might We See It on Disney+?

Ben Bowman

The biggest movie of 2022 is “Top Gun: Maverick.” With a $1.5 billion worldwide box office, the Tom Cruise flick poured some much-needed jet fuel into the theatrical industry. Despite premiering six months ago, the movie is still not streaming on Paramount+, though we know some markets will be able to stream it in late December.

Thanks to that box office success, all eyes are now on “Avatar: The Way of Water.” If that movie creates a box office cannonball the way its predecessor did, how will Disney handle the streaming release?

Option 1: An Indefinite Hold

This seems the most likely bet. The original “Avatar” topped the box office for seven consecutive weeks. You could still see it in theaters nearly eight months after its debut.

Although the sequel will release in the thick of Oscar-bait season (December 16), the theatrical slate thins dramatically in January and February, leaving a clear path for “Avatar” to dazzle audiences with its 3D space monkeys and computer-generated water for several months. Its biggest theatrical competition looks to be “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania” on February 17 or “Shazam! Fury of the Gods” on March 17.

Theaters heat up significantly in May with “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3,” “Fast X,” and “The Little Mermaid.” June brings blockbusters like “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse,” “Transformers: Rise of the Beasts,” “The Flash,” and the next Indiana Jones film.

Still, the first “Avatar” managed to stay above the fray in 2009 with its immersive 3D visuals and James Cameron’s trademark action. There’s a very real possibility “The Way of Water” flexes its muscle in theaters for six months.

If the sequel enjoys the success of its predecessor, Disney won’t want to pull it from theaters, even if “Avatar” takes some audience share from the other Disney movies on the schedule.

Disney will also want to save the streaming release for a gap when it has no other marquee releases hitting theaters. September and October look clear on the Disney slate, but a Disney+ “Avatar” release may make sense as a holiday splash. If it streamed on Thanksgiving, it could interfere with the Disney animated film “Wish.” Releasing at Christmas might hobble the prospects of Warner’s “Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom,” so that might make the most sense.

Option 2: Standard Release

Disney movies usually go to Disney+ 45-70 days after the theatrical debut. If the streaming release occurred then, we would see “Avatar: The Way of Water” on Disney+ between January 30-February 24. Dear reader, we don’t expect that scenario. Unless “Avatar” totally dies upon arrival in theaters, Disney is going to milk it.

Option 3: Premier Access

A final option is one that Disney+ has put on the shelf since “Black Widow.” Premier Access allowed Disney+ subscribers to stream films on the same day they hit theaters in 2020 and 2021. The catch was that subscribers had to pay an additional $29.99 per film.

If Disney really wanted another bite of the apple, the company could give “Avatar” a lengthy theatrical run, then bring it to Disney+ with the additional charge, perhaps in the fall. Full Disney+ streaming access would be released a few weeks or months later. It would be unclear how this might affect the standard PVOD or home video release plan.

We have reason to suspect Disney will get creative with this film’s release. After all, the company took the unprecedented step of removing the original “Avatar” from Disney+, then re-releasing it in theaters to drum up anticipation for the sequel. Even now, you can’t stream the original on Disney+. No other titles have disappeared from Disney+ like this.

It’s been 13 years since the last James Cameron blockbuster sent audiences racing to the theater. It feels like the next “Avatar” film will carry at least some of the same staying power. How Disney approaches its streaming release may set the stage for future blockbusters to come.

‘Avatar: The Way of Water’ Trailer

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