James Cameron Explains Avatar 2’s Long Runtime

Avatar 2: The Way of Water screenshot
(Image credit: Fox/Disney)

Once upon a time, it was a rare occurrence to see a theatrical release over two hours long. Today however, it’s not only common to see movies of around two and a half hours long, but it tends to be major tentpole releases, like superhero movies, that are doing it. Now we’re seeing three hours as the limit that few movies will exceed, but Avatar: The Way of Water will do just that.

Back when the first Avatar came out, it was an outlier with a run time of over two and a half hours. Today that runtime wouldn’t be that surprising, but Avatar: The Way of Water’s runtime is still getting noticed, because it’s set to exceed three hours. For what it’s worth James Cameron tells Total Film (via Gamesradar) that the extra runtime is needed so that the movie can give proper time and emotion to the characters. He explains…

The goal is to tell an extremely compelling story on an emotional basis. I would say the emphasis in the new film is more on character, more on story, more on relationships, more on emotion. We didn't spend as much time on relationship and emotion in the first film as we do in the second film, and it's a longer film, because there's more characters to service. There's more story to service.

A movie’s runtime is always something of a balancing act. One doesn’t want to waste time in a movie because they are designed to be experienced in a single viewing, and tell a complete story, so the shorter, often the better. At the same time, you want to have enough time to tell the story you want to tell, and you don’t want to leave a character arc or a relationship short changed by trimming things you’d rather keep in. 

At the end of the day, James Cameron says that there’s just too much more story to tell, and so the movie needs to be over three hours long. There are certainly a lot of important characters in Avatar 2. The movie will focus a great deal on the children of Jake Sully and Neytiri, which means that a lot of these characters will need to be introduced first before we can really follow the story and all that will take time. 

Avengers: Endgame exceeded three hours and became the MCU finale became the second highest grossing movie of all-time, so audiences certainly have no problem with going to the theater for a three hour movie. As long as the story being told is good, the characters are interesting, and everything is well paced, it should be ok.

There will almost certainly be some reviews, from fans and critics alike, who find the movie to be too long. But if James Cameron succeeds in his goal, if the story he is telling is emotional and compelling, then most will probably be too absorbed in the narrative to realize that three hours have gone by. Of course, if the Avatar sequels just continue getting longer than Avatar 4 and 5 may keep us in the theater all day.

Dirk Libbey
Content Producer/Theme Park Beat

CinemaBlend’s resident theme park junkie and amateur Disney historian. Armchair Imagineer. Epcot Stan. Future Club 33 Member.