Stranger Things Forced Major Change To Avatar 2?

James Cameron says the way the Avatar sequels were filmed changed because he didn't want younger actors to age out of their roles; which he calls the "Stranger Things Effect."

By Sean Thiessen | Updated

stranger things cast

The first sequel to James Cameron’s 2009 mega-hit Avatar has been in theaters for a week, desperately trying to sell enough tickets to justify its enormous price tag and slew of planned sequels, parts of which have already been shot. Avatar 3 was filmed alongside this year’s The Way of Water because James Cameron wanted to avoid what he calls the “Stranger Things effect.” In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Cameron said the supposed teenagers in the Netflix series Stranger Things clearly aged out of their parts as the series went on, a phenomenon that he attempted to avoid with Avatar 2 and 3.

Cameron discussed working with Jack Champion, who plays Spider in The Way of Water. Champion is 18 now, but was only 13 years old when Avatar 2 and 3 began filming. To keep a teenage growth spurt from throwing off the continuity of Spider’s look, as he believes happens with Stranger Things, Cameron compressed the production of Avatar 2, 3, and even parts of the fourth film into a continuous four-and-a-half-year span.

Though James Cameron went out of his way to avoid the Stranger Things effect in Avatar 2, he was quick to clarify that he is a fan of the Duffer Brothers’ monster hit. “You know, I love the show,” said Cameron. “It’s OK, we’ll suspend disbelief.”

“We like the characters, but, you know.” The Titanic director may have a point.

The cast of Stranger Things includes a lot of young people who are growing up fast, and the Stranger Things creators, at least at first, did not carry the clout that James Cameron had when planning Avatar 2. An example of the age discrepancy can be seen in Millie Bobby-Brown, who plays Eleven on the show. She was only 12 years old when the show premiered in 2016; now headed into filming the show’s fifth season, which takes place only a few years later, Brown is 18. 

stranger things cast
Joe Keery as Steve Harrington in Stranger Things

James Cameron’s point, however, was more directed at the older kids on the show; Joe Keery, who plays Steve Harrington, is 30 years old, while his character is only a year out of high school. Natalia Dyer, who plays Nancy Wheeler, is 27, and Charlie Heaton, who plays Jonathan Byers, is 28. They are all about a decade outside of their characters’ ages. As Cameron said, Stranger Things and its characters are lovable enough that audiences are willing to suspend disbelief when it comes to age discrepancies, but the Avatar 2 director still went out of his way to avoid the phenomenon in his films.

The so-called “Stranger Things effect” that has been mitigated in Avatar 2 is not a new phenomenon. Harry Potter and Spider-Man have dealt with the same problem for many years. Stranger Things is a lightning rod because it is popular and recent, but its problem of actor/character age discrepancy is not exclusive.

James Cameron’s commitment to the world of Avatar is perhaps as historic as the films themselves. The filmmaker continues to innovate in every aspect of filmmaking, even down to his production schedules. Audiences will be the ultimate judges of whether or not Cameron successfully avoided the Stranger Things effect with Avatar 2 and its sequels, and more importantly, whether or not it was worth it.