Avatar: The Way of Water made more than $2 billion at the box office last year, so why isn’t anyone talking about it? Why isn’t the Avatar fandom on par with Star Wars and Marvel? Is there even an Avatar fandom? Vox asked the same questions earlier this year, and they’re still relevant now, if not more so.
No One Talks About Avatar Like Other Blockbuster Franchises
When the first Avatar was released in 2009, it broke box office records and ushered in a 3D boom that cinema is still feeling the effects of over a decade later. And yet, in the 13 years between Avatar and The Way of Water, nobody was talking about the Avatar universe… like at all.
People could be forgiven for thinking the Avatar phenomenon had been a weird shared fever dream that affected the entire world, seeing as over a decade later, James Cameron still hadn’t produced a long-promised sequel.
A Year After Becoming The Third Highest Grossing Movie, Avatar 2 Seems To Be Forgotten
Then, in 2022, Avatar was suddenly back, even though close to no one had been clamoring for another visit to Pandora. And yet, despite no children in 2022 dressing up as Na’vi for Halloween, despite no Disney+ Avatar series, no memes, seemingly no nostalgia at all, The Way of Water made more money than some country’s entire GDP. Now, after only a year, we’re back to no one giving a blue cat turd about the Avatar franchise.
Was The Box Office Rigged?
In the darker corners of the internet, where polite society dares not to tread, some conspiracy theorists have claimed that The Way of Water‘s box office numbers were a psyop perpetrated on the American people by 20th Century Studios and its parent company Disney.
It does feel weird that James Cameron made two of the biggest films of all time—technically three, but Titanic was never forgotten the way Avatar was—and nobody talks about them. You almost want to address Cameron using a line from Mean Girls: “Jim, stop trying to make Avatar happen…” Except that Avatar does happen when it comes out theatrically; it just quickly fades from the cultural consciousness until the next one.
…Or Is Avatar Simply Missing That Expanded Universe Appeal?
The reason for Avatar’s lack of cultural impact lies in James Cameron’s approach to the franchise. Cameron is interested in making huge, envelope-pushing FX movies that allow the viewer to escape the real world for a few hours—and not much else. Despite Avatar‘s world of Pandora being one of the most fully realized, immersive movie universes ever created, there is no “expanded universe” that further fleshes out the movie’s characters or their backstories.
Avatar’s pop culture footprint basically consists of two movies, a handful of video games, and a few comic books. Oh, and oddly, a Cirque du Soleil stage production called Toruk-The First Flight, that apparently involves Pandora’s past and is told through Cirque’s usual acrobatic performances. Aside from that, it’s slim pickings for Avatar fans.
Avatar Could Learn A Thing Or Two From Star Wars
Meanwhile, a franchise like Star Wars that started out as a movie like Avatar has blossomed into several live-action series, cartoons, comic books, novels, video games, toys, and anything else Lucasfilm can shove down consumer’s throats. And that’s the difference. With Avatar, there may be a bit of supplemental material, but the film is the main event.
James Cameron wants fans to care about the Avatar films and not the Avatar synergistic, multimedia, shared continuity brand. Until that changes, then fans are only going to care about Avatar when there’s a movie out and not the time in between.
In all honesty, it’s nice having a franchise that doesn’t throw itself at fans constantly just to make sure it remains relevant.