James Cameron Reveals The Reason He Abandoned The Original Avatar Sequel

James Cameron threw away a year's worth of work on an Avatar sequel because it did not have the spiritual touch he wanted.

By Nathan Kamal | Published

James Cameron is one of the most commercially successful film directors in history, bested only by the likes of Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson. However, according to a recent interview in Total Film, he got there by the kind of exacting standards that made him work for an entire year on a sequel to his colossal movie Avatar, only to throw it away. It seems that James Cameron felt that the original Avatar sequel did not have the kind of ineffable spiritual quality that he feels is necessary for success. 

Specifically, James Cameron says that he worked for over a year with a team of writers to build a 130+ page story for a movie called Avatar: The High Ground, which was ultimately scrapped because it “didn’t play enough by Avatar rules, which is to connect us to the dream world, that which has a spiritual component that we can’t even quite quantify in words. It ticked every other box, but it didn’t tick that one.” James Cameron also says it didn’t have enough of the “unexpected,” which probably means it basically had second-act problems. 

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While most people would not essentially discard a year’s worth of work simply because they didn’t think it had an unquantifiable element, but most people are James Cameron. In the course of his career, James Cameron has directed two separate movies that became the highest-grossing movies of all time (Titanic and Avatar, which currently still holds the record) and also directed a number of movies that ranked as the most expensive productions ever at the time. He is not a man who does things halfway, which has made him wildly successful and earned him the lifetime enmity of Ed Harris, so things are probably mixed there. 

One can also imagine that the pressure on James Cameron to replicate the staggering, historic success of the first movie is pretty intense, so he wants to make sure that things are as solid as they can possibly be. Given that he already took decades to develop the first movie and essentially moved the entire field of 3D filmmaking forward to do so, it can be imagined that he is a bit of a perfectionist. James Cameron also seems to feel that, if all goes well, the Avatar franchise might occupy the rest of his life with unlimited sequels. 

On the other hand, James Cameron has also been refreshingly candid that if the box office gross of Avatar: The Way of Water is not up to expectations, he is perfectly fine with just finishing off a trilogy and giving up on it. In all likelihood, the second Avatar movie will probably be a huge commercial blockbuster, but when the preceding installment is literally the biggest movie of all time, you can either beat it or look like a failure. That’s a tough spot for anyone to be in. 

Even if Avatar: The Way of Water and the untitled third film tank, James Cameron will pretty much be able to make any movie he wants for the rest of his life. So, why not throw away a few scripts?