James Cameron finalizes his plan for a sci-fi saga that's one movie short of its only rival
Remember when Avatar came out in 2009 with all of the fanfare about its CGI and how nothing was real and about the hundreds of millions—or was it billions? Trillions?—of dollars that it had cost to make and the years it had had to wait because the technology hadn't been ready and then, finally, it was and James Cameron put together an exciting, allegorical story about an indigenous species' battle to save their planet from corporate greed with the help of a few sympathetic colonizers who inhabited indigenous bodies through even sci-fi-er tech within the sci-fi-created world?
Yeah, I hadn't thought about all of that in awhile, either.
Avatar has been in the news off and on since it came out as James Cameron continued to tease a sequel, then more sequels, but never seemed to get any of them started. Most notably, it was in the news in 2016 because of another movie: Star Wars: The Force Awakens was chasing down its $2.79 billion global earnings. It wasn't until The Force Awakens threatened Avatar's crown of dollars that I'd even known it wore the crown. Avatar: the highest-grossing film of all time? When was the last time I'd even heard someone talking about it?
This week, Cameron launched his still-soon-to-be franchise back into the news when he announced the release dates (down to the day!) of the four planned sequels. James, let's deliver one before we start talking about four. Undeterred, Cameron says the four movies will be filmed concurrently.
Back in 2010, Cameron said we'd see a sequel in 2014. I remember 2014. I don't remember a sequel, or news of its delay. I don't even remember remembering that there was supposed to be a sequel. At CinemaCon last year, the director promised a first sequel in 2018. Already, that has been pushed back to December 18, 2020. So three years from this December, a full ten years after the first film, and over nine years since you forgot about the first film altogether, Avatar 2 will probably (maybe, but probably not, though, to be honest) hit theaters. We can guess more certainly at a budget than a release date: let's start the bidding at a cool $600 million.
The third will follow in December, 2021. Then, we'll have a three-year break before the fourth and fifth movies come out in 2024 and 2025.
According to Cameron, the writers and producers with whom he's met think that he simply has too much material for two, or even three, films. World-building—it's a big project. But let's be honest, James, when you say five films, you really mean six, because what is a five-movie epic sci-fi saga other than a franchise that comes up one short of its ultimate competition—you know, the first franchise whose name comes to mind when you say epic sci-fi saga, and perhaps the first franchise in your mind when you say "saga," at all.
Star Wars: The Last Jedi owns this December and has owned it since The Force Awakens came out. But starting in 2020, be prepared to spend over five years watching Avatar trailers and reading about figures of money that it's hard to believe any movie should be spending.
Why did the first Avatar make this incomprehensible amount of money? It was a showcase for the latest in CGI and film technology that created buzz by bragging about its budget. Money makes money. It was a good movie. It had pretty scenery. But a movie you describe as merely "a good movie" often isn't the one you'd expect to win Best Picture at the Golden Globes and to sell more tickets than any other movie, ever.