Back in 2009, James Cameron’s sci-fi epic Avatar became the highest grossing film of all time. The first of four planned sequels is scheduled to hit theaters next December, but the director recently expressed some serious doubts about their success. He thinks that if trends toward more streaming and fewer theater releases continue, they could kill the Avatar sequels.
In an interview posted Tuesday by Entertainment Weekly, James Cameron points to some serious and understandable concerns. “The big issue is: Are we going to make any damn money?” Cameron muses. “Big, expensive films have got to make a lot of money. We’re in a new world post-COVID, post-streaming. Maybe those [box office] numbers will never be seen again. Who knows? It’s all a big roll of the dice.”
It’s difficult to blame James Cameron for his concern. According to Box Office Mojo, just looking at domestic box office gross totals, the highest earner in 2021 was Marvel’s Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, which made $224.5 million domestically. Meanwhile, over a decade ago, Avatar brought in a staggering domestic total of $760.5 million — that’s a difference of over half a billion dollars. So, if Avatar 2 releases next year to Shang-Chi numbers rather than totals similar to the original Avatar, how many more of Cameron’s planned sequels will we get? After all, referring to the lengths they’re going to making the new films, Cameron told EW that “if Avatar hadn’t made so much damn money, we’d never do this — because it’s kind of crazy.”
While the four Avatar sequels weren’t announced until 2016 (via Deadline), EW says James Cameron began planning them ten years ago, in 2012. Avatar 2 and Avatar 3 — both of which have wrapped principal photography — will transfer the ongoing saga of Pandora from the forests to the oceans. In Avatar 2 we will meet a new group of Na’vi called the Metkayina. The seaside dwellers live in what Cameron calls “Bora Bora on steroids.” Much of the film will take place underwater, which added some big technical challenges to the filmmaking.
For one, all the actors appearing in Avatar 2 needed to receive training from professional divers so that they would be able to free dive into water and hold their breath much longer that normal. Cameron told EW he was amazed at how long two actors in particular were able to hold their breath underwater. At 72, Sigourney Weaver could safely stay underwater for six and a half minutes while Cameron’s old collaborator from Titanic, Kate Winslet, was able to hold her breath for seven and a half minutes. Cameron described a moment during production when he walked by the special 900,000 gallon tank built for Avatar 2, to find Winslet leisurely walking along the bottom of it, holding her breath, as if she was taking a morning stroll.
Another big issue was the performance-capture process. EW points out that the process designed for James Cameron’s first Avatar wasn’t meant for actors working underwater. So the digital wizards working on the sequels had to push the envelope farther than ever. We’ll get to see the end result when Avatar 2 releases in December 2022, and hopefully we’ll get to see the three other planned sequels. Avatar 3 is scheduled for a 2024 release, Avatar 4 for 2026, and Avatar 5 for 2028 — almost two decades after the original.