The return trip to Pandora has been delayed.
If you’ve been making plans for December 2016, and they involve going to see the long-in-the-works Avatar 2, James Cameron’s sequel to his 2009, highest-grossing-movie-of-all-time, you might need to find something else to do. The release of the first of three planned films—Avatar 3 and Avatar 4 were slated to follow in consecutive years—has been pushed back a year.
All three films were originally planning to shoot back-to-back-to-back sometime early-ish this year, and be released in 2016, 2017, and 2018. That strategy has been delayed, as the first film now won’t debut until December 2017.
Much has been made about how all three movies were written simultaneously. Cameron brought in different writers for each and collaborated with them on the individual scripts, and though they were all reportedly finished some time ago, it’s the story process that is holding things up. Speaking at an event hosted by the New Zealand Screen Advisory Board, Cameron said:
There’s a layer of complexity in getting the story to work as a saga across three films that you don’t get when you’re making a stand-alone film. We’re writing three simultaneously. And we’ve done that so that everything tracks throughout the three films. We’re not just going to do one and then make up another one and another one after that and parallel with that, we’re doing all the design. So we’ve designed all the creatures and the environments.
The director did go on to say that the overall plan is still the same: all three films will shoot together and be released a year apart. He also went on to add that while each film is linked to the next, he wanted them to stand on their own and have their own internal resolution, as opposed to leaving the audience in the lurch like with Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings and Hobbit movies.
Moving to December 2017 now means that Avatar 2 will go head-to-head with Rian Johnson’s Star War: Episode VIII, which drops at roughly the same time. Then again, if it stuck to 2016, it was going to butt heads with the first standalone movie in the Star Wars universe, which would still be stiff competition. But with more than $2.7 billion in worldwide ticket sales for Avatar, I think part 2 will probably do just fine regardless of what other movies are in theaters.
Most important is that Cameron and company aren’t just rushing these films into production and are taking the time to do them right. I’d rather wait a year and get a better movie, and with that extra time, you have to imagine that the special effects are going to be nuts.