It has been almost exactly eight years since James Cameron's Avatar released in theaters, changed filmmaking as we know it and went on to become the highest-grossing movie of all tiem. So in this modern blockbuster age, it is surprising that the film hasn't spawned a sequel sooner, but James Cameron is making up for the multiple delays by making not just one sequel, but four, bringing the Avatar saga to a total of five films. If this sounds ambitious, that's because it is. James Cameron himself has now admitted that the completion of this massive endeavor is contingent upon the success of the first two sequel films. As he put it:
Let's face it, if Avatar 2 and 3 don't make enough money, there's not going to be a 4 and 5. They're fully encapsulated stories in and of themselves. It builds across the five films to a greater kind of meta narrative, but they're fully formed films in their own right, unlike, say, The Lord of the Rings trilogy, where you really just had to sort of go, "Oh, shit, all right, well I guess I better come back next year." Even though that all worked and everybody did.
At least James Cameron can look at this situation realistically and acknowledge the financial realities of getting four sequels made to a nearly decade-old movie. There is nothing wrong with aiming for the stars, but it is good to have a sober view should you fall short. Part of what is encouraging about his statement to Vanity Fair is that each film will mostly tell its own story even though it is part of an overarching narrative. This is a huge deal for fans of the film who don't want to leave Avatar 3 on a cliffhanger, only for Avatar 4 to never see the light of day. For James Cameron to realize this and craft his saga accordingly is a shrewd move and another reason we should never bet against the box office king.
As to whether or not these sequel films will be successful enough to complete their arc, it is impossible to predict. Avatar hasn't been the mainstay in pop culture the way some might have predicted it would be given its massive success. However, it has made a comeback in a big way at Walt Disney World's Pandora-themed land at their Animal Kingdom Park. So even if Fox assets were to be sold to Disney, the Mouse House has an investment in seeing the Avatar sequels succeed. As far as expectations go, it would be silly to think that the sequels will match the original's box office. That was a lightning in a bottle event that even the return of Star Wars could not match. Even though these sequels will be wildly expensive, they don't necessarily have to match the original in order to be considered successes.