Avatar: The Way Of Water Was A Massive Box Office Success, And James Cameron Got A Huge Payday Himself

Saying that Avatar: The Way of Water has been a huge success may be the king of all understatements. The film is now the fourth highest-grossing movie of all time worldwide and one of only six movies to ever break the $2 billion mark. That’s a lot of money, and it turns out that a not insignificant portion of that will be going to director James Cameron, who will make a minimum of $95 million off the film. 

A new list of the 10 highest-paid entertainers from Forbes lists James Cameron as number eight, at $95 million. That entire income is reportedly a result of his work on Avatar: The Way of Water. The $95 million is a minimum number because Cameron’s deal is reportedly largely based on back-end deals, where the director has received bonuses for the film hitting different box office goals. And the movie isn’t done yet, so Cameron might not be either.

Back in deals have become pretty standard for big names in Hollywood. Rather than taking a large salary upfront, actors and directors frequently take something small, (or even nothing at all) upfront, in exchange for a share of the movie’s profits after release. It tends to be a good deal for the studio, as they end up paying less for a movie that doesn’t hit big with the audience. But for the movies that do work, like in this case, it can be a massive payday. Last year's other billion-dollar success, Top Gun: Maverick, was a major payday for Tom Cruise for the same reason.

One assumes that Cameron has a similar deal in place for Avatar 3 when that comes out at the end of 2024. Both Avatar movies were filmed simultaneously so it was likely all done as a single deal. Avatar: The Way of Water was super successful, even after years of people not being sure if audiences cared about Avatar. So I have to assume that Avatar 3, almost certainly now one of the most anticipated upcoming Disney movies, is going to do quite well at the box office. There’s a decent chance we could see Cameron back on this Forbes list in a couple of years when the next movie comes out. 

And considering that The Way of Water has made so much money it probably paid for the production of both movies, Disney is in a strong financial position going into the third movie. Then James Cameron will go into the next two Avatar films and we’ll do this all over again. The original plan was to not start shooting Avatar 4 and 5 until Avatar 3 was released, though that was the plan under a pre-Disney 20th Century Fox, so we’ll have to wait and see if there are any changes to that plan.  

Dirk Libbey
Content Producer/Theme Park Beat

CinemaBlend’s resident theme park junkie and amateur Disney historian, Dirk began writing for CinemaBlend as a freelancer in 2015 before joining the site full-time in 2018. He has previously held positions as a Staff Writer and Games Editor, but has more recently transformed his true passion into his job as the head of the site's Theme Park section. He has previously done freelance work for various gaming and technology sites. Prior to starting his second career as a writer he worked for 12 years in sales for various companies within the consumer electronics industry. He has a degree in political science from the University of California, Davis.  Is an armchair Imagineer, Epcot Stan, Future Club 33 Member.