There has been, for some time now, much discussion in regards to when (if ever) the box office will return to "normal." Are we ever going to get back to pre-pandemic levels of moviegoing? That remains to be seen but, as January rolls on in 2023, we have reason to be encouraged. Over the MLK holiday weekend, "Avatar: The Way of Water" proved its resilience, inching ever closer to becoming our first $2 billion movie since 2019. Meanwhile, "M3GAN" continues to cement herself as a modern horror icon, while "Puss in Boots" confirmed his status as a beloved pop culture figure divorced from "Shrek."

But that was just the holdovers! This holiday weekend also brought with it a trio of new releases in the forms of Lionsgate's action/thriller "Plane" (which I personally loved), Warner Bros.' "House Party" remake, and indie viral horror sensation "Skinamarink." Not to mention the Tom Hanks dramedy "A Man Called Otto" expanded wide after a couple of weeks of success in limited release. The result of all this? The single most encouraging weekend at the box office we've seen in, arguably, years. Let's dig into the numbers, shall we?

Avatar, M3GAN, And Puss In Boots All Continued To Crush It

James Cameron's "Avatar: The Way of Water" continued its run atop the box office for a fifth straight weekend, adding $31.1 million to its ever-growing total, per Box Office Mojo. Keep in mind, we've still got the Monday holiday numbers to factor in for all of these movies, so the picture will only look better after that. All told, the expensive sci-fi sequel now sits at $1.9 billion worldwide and, once those Monday numbers come in, it will pass "Spider-Man: No Way Home" ($1.91 billion) to become the highest-grossing release of the pandemic era. So yeah, let's never doubt James Cameron again and look forward to this thing crossing $2 billion sooner rather than later.

"M3GAN," meanwhile, added another $17.9 million to the bank in its second weekend, dropping a mere 41.1%. It's an excellent hold for a horror film, particularly one that only cost $12 million to produce. It now stands at $93.9 million worldwide and should, very easily, cross the $100 million mark this week. Expect Blumhouse and Universal to officially announce a sequel any day now. Would you look at that? We already have our first new franchise of the year!

One of the most remarkable results of the weekend belongs to director Joel Crawford's "Puss in Boots: The Last Wish." Despite the fact that the animated flick from Universal and DreamWorks has been available on VOD for well over a week now, it stayed in third place with $13.4 million. That is just a 1% drop from the prior weekend. Yes, just 1%! It now officially stands at $251 million worldwide and, even with that $90 million budget, it's looking like this is going to be another win for Universal. The holds for this one have been truly outstanding.

A Man Called Otto, Plane, And House Party Filled Seats

Tom Hanks has been one of the most beloved actors walking planet Earth for decades now, but the pandemic even took a bite out of his box office appeal, with "Greyhound," "Finch," and "Pinocchio" all going direct-to-streaming. Luckily, Hanks is still capable of putting meat in seats, as we're seeing with "A Man Called Otto." In its first week of wide expansion, the adult-friendly flick took in $12.5 million, which was good enough for fourth place. It sits at a nice $35.7 million worldwide thus far. If it can keep chugging along, Sony will look wise for betting on adult-focused fare even when those films struggled mightily last year. The only thing holding it back is the reported $50 million budget, but that may not kill it in the water when all's said and done.

As for the weekend's new releases, Lionsgate brought Gerard Butler back to the big screen with "Plane," a '90s throwback action flick that also stars Mike Colter. It took in a decent $10 million. Again, the issue here is that the movie cost $50 million to produce. At the same time, this feels like a movie that could do well overseas once it rolls out. So, over time, this one could still prove a wise investment. We need to see what the next week or two brings to make a call here.

Warner Bros. dropped its "House Party" remake in theaters, seemingly with very little fanfare or advertising. Be that as it may, the comedy managed to pull in $3.8 million. Is that enough to make this a hit? Absolutely not. While the budget has yet to be revealed, it surely cost more to justify than box office returns like that. Even so, if this didn't cost a fortune, it might be able to do some business in theaters and make its money on VOD before becoming an HBO Max asset in the coming weeks.

This Is What The New Normal Can Look Like

So, why is this all so damn encouraging? Well, for the first time in a long time, the top five movies on the charts all made $10 million or more. Lately, it's been one or two movies making a chunk of change, leaving the rest to fight for scraps. Ultimately, it's come down to a willingness on the part of studios to release more movies and attempt counter-programming. Understandably, in 2021, there was far less certainty and studios didn't want to risk too much as they were figuring out what audience appetites were. But people have proved that they're happy to head to theaters for the right movie, and there's no reason we can't have room for more than one or two players on any given weekend.

The fact that every single movie in the top 10 this weekend at least cleared $1 million is a major benchmark. We had big sci-fi movies, horror movies, adult-friendly flicks, Oscar favorites like "The Whale," and even an Indian import in the form of "Waltair Veerayya" making the cut. Truly something for everyone. Heck, even the very scary "Skinamarink" narrowly missed the top ten with $746,00 on just 692 screens thanks to strong word of mouth in horror circles.

All of this to say, we're much closer to "normal" than we've been in some time. Just look at MLK weekend in 2019, when we had "Glass" top the charts, with "The Upside," "Aquaman," "Dragon Ball Super: Broly," and "Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse," similarly, offering a diverse slate, with all of those movies clearing at least $10 million. If studios are willing to keep this up, 2023 could tee up the new normal we've been waiting for — and it can be a healthy new normal for theaters and studios alike.

Top ten movies at the box office January 13-15, 2023:

1. "Avatar: The Way of Water" – $31.1 million

2. "M3GAN" – $17.9 million

3. "Puss in Boots: The Last Wish" – $13.4 million

4. "A Man Called Otto" – $12.5 million

5. "Plane" – $10 million

6. "House Party" – $3.8 million

7. "Black Panther: Wakanda Forever" – $2.1 million

8. "The Whale" – $1.45 million

9. "Whitney Houston: I Wanna Dance with Somebody" – $1.1 million

10. "Waltair Veerayya" – $1.08 million

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