Avatar 2: How The Way Of Water Could Be The Movie To Revitalize The 3D Market

Jake and Neytyri stand in the water with other Na'vi in Avatar: The Way of Water.
(Image credit: 20th Century Studios)

Audiences have been separated from the Avatar franchise for over a decade, but clearly that hasn’t dulled their appetite for James Cameron’s sci-fi epic. With the impressive debut of Avatar: The Way of Water’s first trailer, the hype couldn’t be more real for the next chapter in the saga of Jake Sully and Neytyri. A resurgence in interest for the franchise isn’t the only potential awakening to be had, as this first look shows the potential for Avatar 2 to revitalize the 3D moviegoing market for upcoming movies

Before we take off for flights of fancy in Pandora, now’s a good time to revisit the trailer for Avatar: The Way of Water, so watch it below.

It may not be the dazzling 3D presentation included with Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, but the Avatar 2 trailer still looks pristine as ever. With that in mind, here’s how 20th Century Studios’ next potential blockbuster could bring back this waning market in style.

Jake rides a winged creature over the ocean in Avatar: The Way of Water.

(Image credit: 20th Century Studios)

Avatar: The Way Of Water’s Trailer Already Has Phenomenal 3D

As previously stated, Avatar: The Way of Water’s footage still looks pretty impressive in an online trailer. However, there’s a reason that it was first unveiled at CinemaCon, followed by a window of theatrical exclusivity with Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. The truth is, Avatar 2’s trailer looks even better in 3D, and that doesn’t seem like an accident.

It’s been a long time since 3D trailers have been implemented with theatrical releases. It’s truly a shame too, because ideally this practice should be your first tease of how good a studio’s 3D conversion of any given film turns out. Applying that logic to Avatar: The Way of Water’s first trailer, the results are something that should hype everyone up for a proper revival for the format.

Jake Sully peering through plants in Avatar: The Way of Water

(Image credit: 20th Century Studios)

3D, And Other Formats, Are Already Confirmed For Avatar 2's Release

Without Avatar’s gargantuan success in 2009, the 3D market may have never landed as studios had intended. James Cameron’s insistence that theaters be able to show the film in as many formats as possible, with IMAX and 3D being central to that strategy, changed everything when it hit. John Fithian, the CEO of NATO, seems to remember those days rather well. Or at least, his remarks on Avatar 2’s release platform at CinemaCon (via THR) would indicate that, as he made the following pledge: 

We are talking about high resolution, high frame rates, 3D, Imax, PLF, different sound systems and in 160 different languages.

To draw even further context about how serious Avatar: The Way of Water’s release platform sounds, it’s going to have high frame rate versions being released. James Cameron had previously nixed HFR versions of Avatar's sequel, but it looks like the writer/director has changed his mind, specifically to the tune of 48 FPS. With Dolby Atmos and Vision also in the mix, more varied formats of 3D are on the horizon for this December 2022 release. 

Clive Owen talks with young Will Smith in Gemini Man.

(Image credit: Paramount Pictures)

Theater Owners Could Finally Invest In 3D Improvements

Considering the inclusion of 4K, 48 FPS High Frame Rate, and Dolby Atmos and Vision releases into Avatar: The Way of Water’s portfolio, we might see improved methods of 3D hitting the wider theatrical market. Experiments like Ang Lee’s Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk and Gemini Man have proven the technology for filming is out there, but there are some improvements on the exhibition side that haven’t been as readily implemented.

More specifically, Real-D’s Ultimate Screen technology, developed and shown off back in 2018, may finally have its day. Again, the straight-up conventional 3D showing of Avatar 2’s trailer looked fantastic, and theaters probably had everything nice and calibrated for both that and Doctor Strange 2’s big debut. In that respect, just as James Cameron pushed theaters to adopt 3D on a wider scale, he could push them to finally use this upgrade that benefits how movies are shown all around.

Sandworm in Dune

(Image credit: Warner Bros.)

IMAX Might Consider Giving 3D Another Shot With Avatar 2

New technologies aren’t the only formats that can benefit from Avatar: The Way of Water’s release. As IMAX has turned its back on the 3D format it helped popularize (at least on the domestic front), homegrown audiences have missed out on some huge opportunities. Namely, there's the IMAX 3D versions for Dune and No Time To Die that hit international markets and could have pumped those movies up further. 

With Avatar 2 on the way, this looks like the movie to convince the company to give domestic 3D another shot. It’s almost a given that this sequel’s monolithic push for as many formats as possible will include a version mastered in IMAX 3D. Even without Avatar’s sequel making such a pledge, the IMAX 3D format was definitely a crucial part to the record-setting grosses the first film brought in. 

Selling out just as easily as the conventional and standard 3D showings, Avatar 2’s predecessor set the tone for IMAX to be an even greater profit machine. Even Chinese audiences who resisted Dune in IMAX 3D would probably want to see the highest grossing movie in their country’s history shown as widely as possible.

Jake and Nytiri in Avatar

(Image credit: 20th Century Fox)

Natively Filmed 3D Projects Stand To Get A Boost From Avatar: The Way Of Water’s Potential Success

The majority of 3D movies shown today (with some exceptions like Alita: Battle Angel), are made that way through post-conversion efforts. Rather than filming movies in native 3D, filmmakers tend to create the third-dimensional illusion in the edit. This especially works in cases like the time James Gunn personally supervised Guardians of the Galaxy’s  3D conversion. However, James Cameron continues to believe in shooting movies in 3D, and he’s doing it again with his Avatar sequels. 

Much like what Ridley Scott and Martin Scorsese respectively did with Prometheus and Hugo, filming in native 3D has been a bit out of fashion in the past couple of years. Avatar: The Way of Water has the potential to show everyone what filming in 3D can do when done right; especially when James Cameron did it so well with the first movie. Adding up all of the potential above, there’s one outcome that ties everything together in the best scenario possible. 

Benedict Cumberbatch in Doctor Strange 2.

(Image credit: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures)

More Movie Studios Could Return To A Wider 3D Release Pattern

The 3D release model has definitely waned in recent years, with the Marvel Cinematic Universe as the format's most consistent practitioner. For a time, all major potential blockbusters released would have a spot reserved for 3D on the release platform, with IMAX 3D also being included. Avatar helped make that happen, and The Way of Water could do it again with the right product. 

Working with more options, improved quality and a movie that shows people actually care about premium formats when they’re crafted correctly is a path to more 3D movies in the future. James Cameron did it once before, and it looks like Avatar 2 sees him chasing that particular rabbit again. With a production model that ensures quality, and theatrical exhibitors ready to welcome Cameron’s return with open arms, the right result should be all studios need to return to making more 3D movies available. 

This is all speculative, as Avatar: The Way of Water still has some thinking it might be too late for the movie to make the money it’s intended to rake in. Then again, there are those who keep maintaining the mindset of, “Never bet against James Cameron,” and that viewpoint has validity based on those trailer views. December 16th marks the return to Pandora, and the start of the future for the Avatar franchise, as well as 3D exhibition.

Who knows? Maybe Disney+ subscribers will be able to access 3D versions in the studio’s library of films, similar to how the platform has used IMAX variants to compete with HBO Max. For the moment, if you’re satisfied with the Avatar 2D experience, that’s exactly what you can find on Disney+. 

Mike Reyes
Senior Movies Contributor

CinemaBlend's James Bond (expert). Also versed in Large Scale Aggressors, time travel, and Guillermo del Toro. He fights for The User.