To Na’vi or not to Na’vi: The state of Avatar’s sequels.
Love him or hate him, there’s no denying that James Cameron has mastered the art of crafting spectacle. His top-grossing films, Avatar and Titanic, destroyed the competition on their way to unprecedented box office runs. His films Terminator 2: Judgement Day and Aliens are two of cult cinema’s most beloved films. Counterintuitively, out of these four box office monsters, it’s Avatar, the highest grossing film of the bunch that carries the highest “meh-factor.” That’s not stopping Cameron from moving forward with not one but four sequels.
It’s no secret that multiple Avatar movies are coming down the pipeline; Cameron planned on keeping the story going since Avatar dropped back in 2009. Avatar’s first sequel was supposed to hit theaters in 2016 so calling the production behind schedule is a snark-worthy understatement. Today’s news states that Cameron has moved past the tinkering stage and is rolling up his sleeves, ready to get to work. As per Deadline, “Cameron finally began production yesterday in Manhattan Beach on the four sequels he is shooting in succession.”
This story is intriguing for many reasons. From a technical standpoint, no one has ever attempted a production of this scale. With a rumored budget estimated at over $1 billion, Cameron is shooting four blockbuster caliber films in sequence. Peter Jackson took a similar approach, concurrently crafting his Lord of the Rings films which he released in three successive years. The next closest example would be Marvel’s interconnected MCU stories dropping several films in any two-year period. In Marvel’s case, they spread the workload amongst multiple writers, directors, and production teams. Cameron has taken on an ungodly workload to execute his singular vision for the franchise. Factor in how Cameron implements cutting-edge 3D technology into his films and the equation only gets more complicated.
Movies with successful box office runs receive sequels, “It is known.” What’s fascinating about Avatar is pop culture’s apathy toward the series. A film like Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl debuts in 2003, makes loads of money, and the sequels drop in 2006 and 2007. That’s a four-year turnaround on a hot property. Avatar hit theaters in 2009, snatched the all-time box office earner crown from Titanic, and its first sequel is now aiming to reach theaters in December 2020. Hollywood’s financial model is based on prequels, sequels, remakes, and reboots, making Avatar’s 11-year sequel gap an anomaly. Stranger still is how no one seems to care.
20th Century Fox threw Avatar into the pop culture zeitgeist and the fandom hurled it right back. A lot of people like Avatar but few people love it. Walk amongst Comic-Con’s hallowed halls and see how many pairs of yellow Na’vi eyes stare back at you. Take fandom’s temperature by counting how many Avatar fan films, memes, and nerdy t-shirts exist in the world and the reading comes back tepid at best. Sure, there are people who love and appreciate Avatar, I’m not saying there isn’t, but Avatar fandom is disproportionately low given its box office dominance.
A large part of Avatar’s draw was its innovative use of 3D (which also inflated ticket prices). There’s no arguing that people flocked to theaters for Avatars’ 3D experience and not the sci-fi action. But considering the staggering amount of people who saw the film, something must be slightly off for the overall Avatar movie rush to be so fleeting.
With four more films now officially in production, Cameron has ample time to course correct. The additional films may offer the creative leeway he needs to tell a story that resonates with audiences on a deeper level. The troll in me is curious what happens if the film bombs. With so much time and money invested in several films, if an early installment flops, what’s plan B? That’s a lot of pressure for even an entire studio to take on but if any filmmaker is up to the challenge, it’s James Cameron.
Avatar Series Release Dates:
20th Century Fox plans to release the first Avatar sequel on December 18, 2020, the next movie is to be released a year later, with the last two in December 2024 and 2025