Are 4 ‘Avatar’ Sequels a Risky Move for Fox?

Director James Cameron announced the followups this week, with the second film hitting theaters almost a decade after the original

When James Cameron announced four upcoming sequels to 2009’s “Avatar” at CinemaCon this week, people immediately took to Twitter to complain, but box office analysts say this is a good move for Fox and Cameron.

“It’s somewhat unprecedented to announce that big of a commitment to future sequels this long after the original,” Paul Dergarabedian, senior analyst at comScore, told TheWrap. “I’ve never seen anything like that. I think it’s a smart strategy.”

“Even though the backlash has been strong, it doesn’t really matter,” added Jeff Bock, senior analyst at Exhibitor Relations. “People will be blown away when it comes to showtime, whatever the release date is.”

Both analysts listed several reasons as to why the idea is a good one, even though this means the first sequel will hit theaters almost a decade after the original, with the last film (for now) debuting in 2023.

First, it shows Cameron’s overarching commitment to the project. Both analysts agreed that Fox and Cameron must see this as a huge payoff if they’re investing the next seven years in a project that requires this much time and effort.

“Fox knows more than anyone that after the success of ‘Avatar,’ more releases will be worth the wait,” said Bock. “James Cameron is one of those master innovators that calls the shots, and he redefines what cinema is … what he did for 3D and technological advances, it’s going to be worth it.”

Second, it’s a step in the right direction for theater owners. “He’s committed to the big screen/theatrical experience for the theater owners,” said Dergarabedian. “It shows a commitment to the theatrical experience, while people say it’s going to go away like the dinosaurs. This way, it’s holding its own among emerging technologies that have become a real threat.”

He also said it will be a plus for the “vendors who create sound and vision.” After all, the first “Avatar” was a huge breakthrough for not only 3D technology, but also performance capture technique.

Furthermore, releasing four more movies over the next seven years will allow Cameron to keep revolutionizing 3D and performance capture. Technology will evolve, and Cameron will continue to adapt the sequels to each iteration of that technology.

And while most of us would like there to have been a smaller gap between the 2009 film and its followup, lengthy waiting periods can actually help some franchises, added Dergarabedian.

“It creates excitement and anticipation,” he said. “We get excited when we want something that we can’t have, but if you give audiences something too easily or too readily, it may not seem special or exclusive. With ‘Avatar,’ this seems super exclusive because we’re going to have to wait a long, long time.”

And a long time it will be — as mentioned before, the sequel is coming out almost 10 years after the original, which is still the highest grossing movie worldwide ($2.7 billion globally and $760 million domestically). Lately, we’ve seen a lot of sequels hit the big screen years after their original was released.

“Zoolander 2” took 15 years to come out; “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” took 14. The sequel to “Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy” waited nine years. “Creed,” too, was also released nine years after “Rocky Balboa.” And while some of these sequels didn’t perform well critically or financially — namely “Zoolander 2,” which only made $28 million — both Bock and Dergarabedian agree that timing is not to blame for the potential failure of a film, which is why it won’t matter how long fans have to wait for the “Avatar” sequels.

“It wouldn’t matter if it was 50 years since the previous film, as long as the movie holds up and is a good film,” said Dergarabedian. “I don’t think anyone cares about how long it takes to get a good movie out. For any long, gestating sequel, you can’t blame the failure of something on the timeline because we’ve seen plenty of long-lead sequels.”

Bock agreed and added that as long as Cameron is involved and elements of the former movie are woven in, fans will be happy.

“‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’ got it right,” he said. “You can’t erase the history of these long-awaited sequels, you have to weave it into the fabric of the new story. Don’t pretend the original doesn’t exist and make the fan happy with the story going forward.”

Bringing back the original cast and crew members is key, they both agree. “Cameron’s involvement will guarantee the quality of the film,” added Dergarabedian.

For now, fans can look forward to revisiting Pandora on Christmas 2018, Christmas 2020, Christmas 2022 and Christmas 2023.

“Hollywood is going to follow James Cameron wherever he goes, and he decided to go back to Pandora four more times,” added Bock.