James Cameron has spent much of his career pursuing projects the rest of the film world considered to be pure insanity. A blockbuster about the Titanic with a nine-digit budget? Surely it would be a bomb. Another blockbuster about blue aliens filmed almost entirely in front of a blue screen? No one will see that.
Four sequels about that blue alien movie? What is he thinking?
Cameron thrives on building huge risks into his cinematic vision, but there’s one risk he wouldn’t dare take. In an interview with Famous Monsters of Filmland, Cameron said that one of the factors behind planning the release dates for his four “Avatar” sequels is his attempts to avoid fighting for box office dollars with any of the planned “Star Wars” sequels.
“My original plan was to release them a year apart, but we’re opening that up. If for no other reason than that I don’t want to land on the same date as one of the ‘Star Wars’ sequels,” Cameron said.
“That wouldn’t be fair to them,” he laughed. “No, that’s just good business. I don’t want to go head-to-head with ‘Star Wars.’ That would be stupid. And hopefully they won’t want to go head-to-head with us.”
Despite strong beliefs to the contrary when it was released, “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” failed to beat “Avatar” or “Titanic” on the all-time global box office list. It passed the $2 billion mark but fell approximately $120 million short of “Titanic” and $620 million short of “Avatar.” Still, Cameron isn’t going to put the Force to the test, and it’s easy to see why.
While the merits of “The Force Awakens” are debatable, there is no doubt that it was good enough to sustain the hype that Disney wanted. The excitement at the release of the first “Rogue One” trailer is proof of that, and the bits and pieces released about Rian Johnson’s plans to continue Rey and Finn’s adventures have been met with approval.
News of the “Avatar” sequels, on the other hand, were largely met with either apathy or snarky derision. While dominating the public consciousness during its release and Oscar campaign back in 2009, “Avatar” ended up leaving little lasting cultural legacy beyond “Fern Gully” and “Pocahontas” jokes. If Cameron can find a way to turn “Avatar” into a successful and memorable saga in the face of such hostility to the prospect of such a series, it may be his greatest feat as a filmmaker.
And history shows that it’s not wise to bet against Cameron. The unpredicted, unparalleled success of “Titanic,” a film even Cameron had believed was going to lose money, is proof of this. What’s more, Cameron seems to have taken criticism of the first “Avatar” to heart. While he has kept control of the script largely to himself in the past, he’s recruited a team of writers to help him with this project. Included on the team are Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver, who have worked on the two “Planet of the Apes” reboot films.
The first “Avatar” sequel is scheduled for a Christmas 2018 release, with later films coming out in 2020, 2022 and 2023.