How 'Avatar 2' Will Make Box Office History

James Cameron just provided new details on the new 'Avatar' films. Here's why they're poised to make box office history.

Steve Symington
Steve Symington
Apr 20, 2014 at 10:00AM
The Business

News Corp, Viacom, and Disney will continue to battle for box office supremacy.

James Cameron recently revealed new details on Avatar 2, 3, & 4, Credit: News Corp, Wikipedia.

"Hi Reddit. Jim Cameron here to answer your questions."

So began a fantastic dialog last week between fans and the famed writer-director. Cameron initiated the thread in advance of the April 13 premier of Years of Living Dangerously, his new nine-part documentary on climate change. But it was lost on no one they were talking to the man behind the two highest-grossing films of all time -- Avatar and Titanic. 

In fact, Cameron's work comprises the only two films to ever exceed the $2 billion mark worldwide -- News Corp. (NASDAQ:NWS) subsidiary 20th Century Fox enjoyed a $2.78 billion haul from Avatar in 2009, while Viacom (NASDAQ:VIA) Paramount racked up $2.19 billion from Titanic in 1997. Meanwhile, The Walt Disney Company's (NYSE:DIS) Marvel's The Avengers currently remains a distant third with "just" $1.52 billion.

It seems safe, then, to bet Cameron knew he'd end up fielding more than his fair share of questions about his planned sequel, three-quel, and four-quel to Avatar -- yep, you read that right -- which he previously confirmed are slated for their respective releases in December 2016, 2017, and 2018. 

Cameron didn't disappoint, candidly covering everything from Disney's efforts to bring bring Pandora to life at Walt Disney World, to chances one fan could score a role playing a plant in Avatar 2 ("Sure!" he wrote, "But you might have to learn how to stick your tongue out about 14 feet.").

Perhaps most intriguing, however, were Cameron's details on both the progress and production schedules of each new Avatar film. Specifically, he stated:

The second, third and fourth films all go into production simultaneously. They're essentially all in preproduction now, because we are designing creatures, settings, and characters that span all three films. And we should be finished with all three scripts within the next, I would say, six weeks.

Of course, this approach isn't particularly new. Fellow writer-director Peter Jackson, for example, implemented simultaneous production schedules to complete both his Lord of the Rings and Hobbit trilogies. And even with one Hobbit film yet to be released late next year, Jackson's first five efforts have seen great success, yielding nearly $4.9 billion in gross box office receipts.

On intentions and wonderment

So, will James Cameron's next three Avatar films be able to live up to what's already the world's most successful movie?

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I think so, but with two big caveats.

Avatar 2 can't be about money, and needs to capture our imaginations, Credit: News Corp.

First, whether Avatar 2, 3, and 4 can succeed anywhere near on the same level as their predecessor will hinge on the world's perception of why Cameron is creating them in the first place. Surely both he and News Corp. stand to make spaceboat-loads of money from the sequels, but if that appears to be the primary motivator, general audiences and die-hard Avatar fans alike could take notice and revolt.

Fortunately, when asked that very question in the Reddit thread, Cameron insisted Avatar's success did play a role, but not in the way you might think:

[T]he positive feedback for Avatar and the support of the message of Avatar, encouraged me to do more of those films. For me, the success was a factor because I was encouraged by the fact that an environmental film, or a film about nature, could be successful. It's certainly not just about money. I'm considering success to mean the measure of the ability of the film to communicate.

Second, remember the first Avatar captured movie-goers' imaginations not only with its environmentally friendly ambitions, but also through its portrayal of a jaw-dropping, beautiful alien world punctuated by cutting-edge technology. The next three films will need to match this wonderment to once again make box office history. Sure enough, Cameron elaborated on his motivations:

Every director wants their film to communicate. The biggest factor, however, is the drive to continue developing the world -- more characters, more creatures with unfettered creativity.

That meshes with Cameron's comments last summer when he first announced he was making not two, but three more Avatar films. At the time, he noted he had come to realize "Avatar's world, story, and characters have become even richer than I anticipated," so it became apparent "just" two more films simply wouldn't do it justice.

If that's true and when the curtains rise on Avatar 2 in 2016, it seems safe to bet Cameron's incredible vision will be just as stunning as the first. When that happens, there should be little preventing the new Avatar from making box office history.