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‘M3gan’ dolls up with $30.2M while ‘Avatar’ stays No. 1

NEW YORK (AP) — The Blumhouse evil-doll horror film “M3gan” got off to a killer start, debuting with $30.2 million in ticket sales, according to studio estimates, while “Avatar: The Way of Water” continued its box-office reign in the top spot.

Universal Pictures’ “M3gan,” about a robot companion built for a young girl after her parents are killed in a car accident, rode strong buzz and viral dancing memes to an above-expectations debut. In the low-budget slasher, starring Allison Williams, Blumhouse and producer James Wan crafted Hollywood’s first hit of the new year, likely spawning a new high-concept horror franchise.

Audiences gave the PG-13 film a “B” CinemaScore — though reviews (94% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes) were stronger for the modern, techy twist on a “Child’s Play”-like thriller. It added $10 million internationally.

But while “M3gan” drew audiences largely in 2D showings, large-format screens continued to be soaked up by James Cameron’s “Avatar: The Way of Water.” The 3-D three-hour sequel remained No. 1 for the fourth straight week in U.S. and Canadian theaters with $45 million in sales.

Cameron’s sci-fi spectacle has now surpassed $500 million domestically and $1.7 billion globally. After dominating the otherwise lackluster holiday corridor, the “Avatar” sequel is nearly matching the original’s pace; the 2009 “Avatar” scored $50.3 million in its fourth weekend. “The Way of Water” already ranks as the seventh highest grossing film ever, not accounting for inflation — a total particularly owed to its strong overseas performance. The film’s $1.2 billion in international ticket sales exceeds that of any film released since the start of the pandemic.

“M3gan” was the only new film in wide release, though Sony Pictures’ “A Man Called Otto,” starring Tom Hanks, played in 637 theaters after first launching in four theaters. The film, a remake of the Swedish film “A Man Called Ove,” managed a solid $4.2 million ahead of its nationwide release on Friday.

Third place went to “Puss in Boots: The Last Wish,” with $13.1 million in its third week of release. The animated Universal Pictures sequel has tallied $87.7 million in three weeks, plus $109.7 million internationally.

While many awards contenders have struggled in recent months at the box office, Darren Aronofsky’s “The Whale” is proving a modest exception. The A24 indie starring Brendan Fraser ranked seventh in its fifth week of release with $1.5 million and a cumulative total of $8.6 million — a good return for a film that cost an estimated $3 million to make.

Estimated ticket sales for Friday through Sunday at U.S. and Canadian theaters, according to Comscore. Final domestic figures will be released Monday.

1. “Avatar: The Way of Water,” $45 million.

2. “M3gan,” $30.2 million.

3. “Puss in Boots: The Last Wish,” $13.1 million.

4. “A Man Called Otto,” $4.2 million.

5. “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever,” $4 million.

6. “Whitney Houston: I Wanna Dance With Somebody,” $2.4 million.

7. “The Whale,” $1.5 million.

8. “Babylon,” $1.4 million.

9. “Violent Night,” $740,000.

10. “The Menu,” $713,000.