We have seen countless major movie franchises come and go, but few have had the global appeal of James Cameron's Avatar, which continues to hold the record as the highest-grossing movie of all time, pulling in $2.85 billion worldwide as of 2022 when the 2009 blockbuster was re-released. The year also saw the reveal of Avatar 2’s official title – Avatar: The Way of Water – along with a visually stunning first trailer and special footage shown at CinemaCon, which boosted fan anticipation by lightyears.
Luckily, after fans have patiently waited years for sequels -- during which some people have experienced the original for the first time -- the wait finally came to and end in December 2022. In fact, the day on the 2022 movie release schedule when the latest installment of the Avatar franchise hit theaters is where we shall start in our breakdown of everything we know about the blockbuster.
Avatar: The Way Of Water Came Out in December 2022
Originally set for release back in 2015, Avatar: The Way of Water suffered one delay after another in the years following. Situations that led to this extended wait would involve the surprise announcement of the fifth installment in 2016, the Disney/Fox merger in 2017, and, of course, the Covid-19 Pandemic in 2020.
Luckily, it was in September of that year when James Cameron confirmed that principal photography had wrapped on Avatar 2 and that the third installment was also almost finished. By then, the film had been set for a theatrical release on December 16, 2022, and would surpass $1 billion less than a month later.
James Cameron Returns To Direct Avatar: The Way Of Water
The first Avatar was truly a passion project for James Cameron, as the filmmaker spent years and years developing both the script and the technological advancements that it needed to be made. So, you didn't really expect him to hand off the sequels to someone else, did you? While the filmmaker later told IGN he would have to train an apprentice to finish the franchise if he is unable to himself, Cameron did come back for just Avatar: The Way of Water -- which Sigourney Weaver said is also a very personal film for the director -- and also intends to helm the third, fourth, and fifth installments as well.
He also spoke about his big plans for the technological side of things, such as filming at higher frame rates and using performance capture underwater. The sequel, indeed, pushed the boundaries of what can be accomplished in modern filmmaking. Cameron wants to show that the first film's success was not a fluke, and the director is certainly not expecting success to come automatically to the Avatar sequels simply because the first one did well.
James Cameron Co-Writes The Avatar 2 With Multiple Writers
James Cameron brought in a full team of collaborators to help write the Avatar sequels, including Josh Friedman -- David Koepp's co-writer on Steven Spielberg's War of the Worlds remake -- who is credited as helping write the story for Avatar: The Way of Water along with Rise of the Planet of the Apes veterans Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver and Armageddon's Shane Salerno. They will also be working side-by-side with Cameron on further sequels, which will introduce "whole new worlds, habitats, and cultures." This very well could mean that we will get to meet more kinds of intelligent alien species beyond what the second chapter introduces.
While the Avatar sequels were written as one large, ever expanding beast, and are being largely filmed together, we're being told that each of them have been created as standalone films, rather than being four parts of a larger story. As we now know about Avatar: The Way of Water, specifically, the story is focused around the oceans of Pandora. The details we have about new characters would appear to confirm that much.
Avatar 2’s Plot Involves Jake And Neytiri’s New Family And A Water-Based Na’vi Tribe
In 2016, while promoting Toruk, James Cameron teased that the sequels -- which were still in their early development at the time -- would be a family saga, following the continuing adventures of Jake Sully, Neytiri, and their children. That description was essentially echoed by producer Jon Landau in 2020, when he provided more specific details about the plot of Avatar: The Way of Water, long before the then-rumored title was confirmed.
Landau added that Jake and Neytiri’s family would be forced to leave their home and explore the further regions of Pandora, especially those that are overridden with water. This is where they would become acquainted with an aquatic Na’vi tribe known as the Metkayina.
Sam Worthington And Other Cast Veterans Return In Avatar 2
As the plot details above would suggest, Australian actor Sam Worthington and MCU star Zoe Saldana signed a deal to reprise human-turned-Na’vi Jake Sully and his native-born lover (and fierce warrior), Neytiri, respectively, in the Avatar: The Way of Water cast and in subsequent films. Other Avatar veterans who joined them on this new journey include Dileep Rao as Dr. Max Patel, Joel David Moore as Jake’s human buddy and Na’vi enthusiast Norm Spellman, Giovanni Ribisi as the greedy RDA administrator Parker Selfridge, and CCH Pounder as the Na’vi’s spiritual leader, Mo’at.
Another cast member whose return was more surprising upon announcement is James Cameron’s Oscar-nominated Aliens star, Sigourney Weaver -- whose character in the first film, Dr. Grace Augustine, passed away -- as Jake and Neytiri's adoptive teenage daughter, Kiri. Stephen Lang -- who calls the new film "gorgeous" -- is also back as the ruthless Col. Miles Quaritch, despite receiving two arrows to the chest, along with Matt Gerald as Corporal Lyle Wainfleet, who was crushed by a hammerhead titanothere.
Kate Winslet And Other Franchise Newcomers Join The Avatar 2 Cast
Also reuniting with James Cameron for Avatar: The Way of Water is Titanic cast lead and Academy Award winner Kate Winslet as Ronal -- a somewhat rival of Neytiri -- from the Metkayina tribe, whose chief, Tonowari, is played by Cliff Curtis. Other newcomers include Jemaine Clement (according to Twitter) as marine biologist Ian Garvin, and Edie Falco as Gen. Ardmore and Brendan Cowell as Capt. Mike Scorseby from the RDA.
There are also many young newcomers in the Avatar 2 cast, such as the three playing Jake and Neytiri’s children -- Jamie Flatters as the oldest son, Neteyam; Britain Dalton as the middle child, Lo'ak; and the youngest child, Tuktirey, is played by Trinity Bliss. Youngsters from the Metkayina tribe include Filip Geljo as Tonowari’s son, Aonung; Bailey Bass as freediver Tsireya; and Duane Evans Jr. as Roxto. Playing a human named Spider is Jack Champion.
Many Avatar 2 Sequences Were Actually Filmed Underwater
No discussion about Avatar is complete without mentioning the technology involved. The Academy Award-winning visual effects for the first film by Weta Digital sparked a major revolution in the movie industry, particularly its cutting-edge use of performance capture before it became a far more common process. It has, of course, been used again to make Avatar: The Way of Water, but the sequel also charts new territory with the method.
James Cameron, the crew, and the cast (in full performance capture) went as far as actually submerging themselves to film sequences that take place underwater. Kate Winslet reportedly managed to stay underwater seven minutes at time while playing Ronal. Cameron also talked to Vanity Fair about filming in a large tank with some of the younger new cast members who, not being able to speak, used a “kind of sign language” to convey their dialogue.
Even with a runtime that exceeds three hours, there are more stories to tell following Avatar: The Way of Water in the form of at least three more movies. Avatar 3 was filmed concurrently with Avatar 2, is currently scheduled for release on December 20, 2024, and was mostly finished as of late 2021. Cameron and co. still have some things to finish for Avatar 4, which is currently set to come out on December 16, 2026.
The fourth installment actually went a few years without a proper greenlight from Disney as it was being developed. The same goes for Avatar 5, which is slated for December 22, 2028, at the moment.
Despite its success, it is no secret that Avatar had its critics. However, it appears that the ones who truly do still have a special place in their hearts for the action-packed, visually stunning sci-fi spectacle will have the opportunity to spend a lot of time in Pandora for the next few years. The journey has continued with Avatar: The Way of Water, which is now playing in theaters.
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Jason Wiese writes feature stories for CinemaBlend. His occupation results from years dreaming of a filmmaking career, settling on a "professional film fan" career, studying journalism at Lindenwood University in St. Charles, MO (where he served as Culture Editor for its student-run print and online publications), and a brief stint of reviewing movies for fun. He would later continue that side-hustle of film criticism on TikTok (@wiesewisdom), where he posts videos on a semi-weekly basis. Look for his name in almost any article about Batman.