Avatar Sequels Delayed Because There Was No Other Choice?

Avatar: The Way of Water's release was delayed by almost a decade because of technological challenges, massive creative changes, and a long shooting schedule.

By Michileen Martin | Updated

avatar 2

Avatar 2‘s very first official release date was in December 2014, and in spite of all the delays movie and TV fans have gotten used to over the last few years, you can’t lay everything at COVID-19‘s doorstep. According to a new report, The Way of Water took as long as it did because there was simply no other way. Producer Jon Landau says the sequel faced massive technological and creative challenges while filming; including the decision to film all the sequels back-to-back, multiple instances of the story changing drastically, and the surprise choice to make four sequels instead of three.

According to /Film, in a panel moderated by long-time James Cameron collaborator Jon Landau–who produced Titanic and the first Avatar among other films–the producer explained why Avatar 2 took as long as it did.

“First, Jim [Cameron] took two years to dive [into] the Mariana trench after the last sequels. Then he came back and spent a year writing 1500 pages of story notes.”

-Jon Landau

In spite of taking that much time and care on the first script for Avatar 2, James Cameron threw it out according to Landau, because it didn’t meet his expectations. Nor was this the last creative hiccup. Originally, Cameron had only three sequels to Avatar in mind, but that changed and made everything take longer.

“Then we said, ‘ok,’ we’re going to be going out doing, we thought at that time, three sequels and worked with a writing team to break those down into scripts that Jim would want to direct. We decided it needed to be four, and then we said, OK now, let’s design four…We shot all of two, three, and the first act of four.”

-Jon Landau
James Cameron Avatar 4

Accompanying Jon Landau at the panel was the FX team from Weta Digital, who faced significant technological hurdles in making Avatar 2, many of which simply couldn’t have been jumped by the original release date of 2014, nor many of the subsequent dates announced. Avatar: The Way of Water, according to the production crew, took what it took and not a second was wasted. The team began working on the film in 2013, says Landau, and from then until now it was agreed they had to “raise the bar” to create what the producer calls “the ultimate cinematic experience.”

Whether or not Avatar 2 has proven to be the “ultimate cinematic experience” is up to each individual viewer, but what may prove a much more black-and-white question is whether or not we’ll ever see all 4 sequels. The Way of Water will reportedly need to make $2 billion just to break even. Avatar 3 is apparently a sure thing no matter what the numbers say for Avatar 2, but Cameron has expressed concern that he may not be able to make Avatar 4 or 5.

The opening weekend returns for Avatar 2 fell short of projections of $150 to $175 million, but still hit a strong $134 million. The good news is that until Ant-Man and The Wasp: Quantumania hits theaters on February 17, the saga of Pandora has no serious competition in the theaters.