While the first of James Cameron's three upcoming Avatar sequels was originally going to be released at the end of 2016, that planned shifted in January when it was revealed that the schedule was being pushed back a full year. Why did this happen? Well, if you were to ask 20th Century Fox chairman-CEO Jim Gianopulos, his response would simply be that, "Jim Cameron has his own pace."
This was the explanation that the executive gave while speaking at the Gabelli & Company’s Movie & Entertainment Conference in New York City earlier today. According to Variety, Gianopulos said that he has confidence that the highly-anticipated sequel will be released during the Christmas season two years from now, and that the first one will be followed by two subsequent films in 2018 and 2019. Proving that he has first had experience with James Cameron's pace, he also let it be known that he had the chance to visit the movie's production offices in New Zealand and was blown away by what he saw. Said Gianopulos,
It’s a room…which is covered floor to ceiling with images, characters, worlds, settings. It’s the most amazing, breathtaking thing you’ve ever seen. His challenge is to put all of that in a movie
In case you've lost track of the time, the first Avatar was released all the way back in 2009 (for comparison, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has released nine movies since then). Considering Hollywood's modern business model is dependent on sequels that can be rapidly put together, Avatar 2 is really an outlier - though it's understandable why 20th Century Fox is willing to wait for James Cameron to put his vision together. Let's not forget that the 2009 winter blockbuster still ranks as the biggest worldwide box office hit of all time, with a total haul of $2.78 billion. If Avatar 2 were to make half that cash it would still be the fifth biggest worldwide box office hit of all time.
James Cameron clearly has a deliberate pace when he's putting together projects (let's not ignore the 12 year gap between Titanic and Avatar), but he does actually have an excuse when it comes to the Avatar sequels - specifically that he plans to film all three of the upcoming movies back-to-back-to-back. Unlike other franchise that have set up these types of productions - like Peter Jackson's Middle-earth movies or the last two Harry Potters - there is no source material to go by, so the script really needs to be in the best place possible to make it all work. Let's also not ignore the filmmaker's passion for using the most advanced technologies for his filmmaking - even if that technology doesn't actually exist yet and he has to help invent it.
Assuming that there are no more delays, Avatar 2 will be released on December 25, 2017, followed by Avatar 3 in December 2018, and Avatar 4 in December 2019.