Ever since Avatar became the highest grossing movie in the history of ever, fans have been waiting for sequels. That wait has lasted almost an entire decade now and is still far from being over. For years there was a question as to whether any sequels would even happen, and now, while principal photography on two sequels has been completed, it has also been confirmed that, while we knew James Cameron has written screenplays for two additional films, there's no guarantee those will ever see the light of day.
The major reason that Avatar sequels have apparently taken a decade is that the screenwriting process continued to get more and more involved for James Cameron. What was originally going to be two more movies, completing a trilogy, became three more movies and is now four more films, making a total of five if they all get made. However, Disney CEO Bob Iger recently confirmed to Barron's that while the first two sequels are on the way, the other two films have not been greenlit.
While James Cameron's original deal was made with 20th Century Fox, with the acquisition of Fox by Disney, a deal that is expected to be closed by the end of the month, it's going to be Disney's decision whether or not the other two sequels happen, and right now it seems that decision has not been made.
The original schedule, as it had been presented, was that Avatar 4 and 5 would go into production shortly after the release of Avatar 3. It appears now that part of the reason for that plan may have been that Fox wanted to see how Avatar 2 and 3 did before letting the next two films get made. While the original Avatar is the highest grossing movie ever (unadjusted for inflation) there's always the possibility that the audience will have moved on and the sequels could falter.
It's still possible that Disney could make the call to give the final two Avatar movies the green light sooner. Avatar 2 is set to open in 2020 and Avatar 3 will hit in 2021. Avatar 4 isn't expected until 2024, but if Disney doesn't want to wait that long it could make the call, assuming it works within everybody's schedule, to move on the other two movies earlier.
Certainly, with the Fox merger happening Disney is going to need to figure out how it plans to make and release movies in the coming years and it's going to have a significant impact on the release schedule overall. Disney won't want its films to compete with themselves too much and with the addition of every Fox property, there are just going to be that many more films, and potential films, to consider when planning releases for the next several years.
While the merger is expected to be finalized soon, it will probably still be several months before we really get an idea of what the new Walt Disney Company will look like. The company has to figure out exactly what it is they have and integrate all of the new elements into the existing company. Disney probably won't be making any multi-million dollar decisions, like greenlighting a couple of expensive films from the new studio, until it's sure it's ready to do so.
The original Avatar, while it certainly left itself open to potential sequels, also wasn't exactly a cliffhanger ending that required them. Based on what James Cameron has said previously, the same will be the case with each individual sequel.
At the center of each of our four movies will be the Sully family. Each sequel will play as a stand-alone movie. Each movie's story will come to its own conclusion... However, when looked at as a whole, the journey across all four movies will create an even larger connected epic saga for audiences around the world.
On the plus side, this means that if something does go south for the Avatar franchise and we don't see the fourth and fifth films at all, it shouldn't be an issue for those people who are stil big fans. We won't see unanswered questions left in Avatar 3 that won't ever be resolved.
It's also in Disney's best interests to make sure that the Avatar franchise does continue to be successful. Long before the House of Mouse decided to purchase 20th Century Fox, the company made a deal with James Cameron to license the Avatar franchise for theme park use. Pandora - The World of Avatar is still the single most popular part of Walt Disney World, thanks to the Flight of Passage attraction which has insane wait times every single day.
These different sides of Disney's business feed off each other. The theme park's success has the potential to boost the box office by keeping people excited for Avatar for the next two years. At the same time, new movies can help draw people to experience the World of Avatar at the theme park.
But things also work the other way. If the movies aren't successful or fans decide they don't care, it doesn't just hurt the movie side of the business, it can hit the theme parks too.
While the final two Avatar films may not be officially greenlit, it's probably still a safe bet that they will happen. Even if the sequels don't compete with the original for the all-time box office crown, they can still be incredibly financially successful, which will simply add to Disney's massive library of successful franchises. And then, of course, there's the possibility that they will make all of the money in the world, and then those two movies will be greenlit faster than you can blink.
Avatar 2 is set for release December 18, 2020. Avatar 3 will follow on December 17, 2021. While not officially happening, the other two sequels do have release dates. Avatar 4 is scheduled to arrive December 20, 2024, with Avatar 5 completing things on December 19, 2025.