By December of this year, James Cameron’s intergalactic blockbuster (nay, block disintegrator) Avatar will turn 10 years old. One would assume that, with Hollywood’s sequel churning machine usually at breakneck speed, the highest grossing film of all time (for now) would have already brought in an Avatar 2, 3, or even 4 and 5 by now.
Well, James Cameron assures us that those four (count ‘em, FOUR) subsequent tales exploring the unseen areas of Pandora are on their way. When should we expect Avatar 2, you ask? Who knows anymore? Not even Cameron.
In yet another chapter of Avatar 2’s seemingly unending development hell, as of this week, the release date has been pushed back once again. We know what you’re thinking: is that six delays or only five? Well, to be honest in all the excitement, we’ve kind of lost track ourselves.
So, let’s retrace our steps to when James Cameron first told us we would return to Pandora and see if we can get to the bottom of when Avatar 2 can be expected, shall we? Starting off, let's look at when the talk of a sequel actually began.
When James Cameron Decided To Return To Make Avatar 2 (2010)
Technically, James Cameron has been in talks about sequels to Avatar since 2006, three years before the first film was even released. But talk of Avatar 2 really kicked into gear in October 2010 with the promise of two sequels. This was after Avatar had surpassed Cameron’s own Best Picture winner, Titanic, as the biggest cinematic money maker of all time with more $2 billion worldwide. So, naturally, talk of building a franchise off of this surprise cash magnet was inevitable.
The idea was to complete the proposed trilogy by filming the second and third chapters back to back with release dates set for 2014 and 2015. We even had direct promises from Fox that it would have no problem securing Sam Worthington and Zoe Saldana to reprise their 10-foot tall, blue personas. This was, of course, prior to Saldana being cast as Gamora in Guardians of The Galaxy, but we're sure Worthington could have been easily available.
We feel inclined to mention that this announcement came around the same time Cameron was set to produce Guillermo del Toro’s At the Mountains of Madness, as well as a remake of the 1968 science fiction spectacle Fantastic Voyage, because neither of those films have been made either. It would feel unfair to assume that the Terminator creator has a few issues with time management since the Cameron-produced Alita: Battle Angel came out this year (Robert Rodriguez took over directing duties), but it’s something to consider when discussing a project of this magnitude.
Who Wants To See A Two-Part Movie Anyway? (2012)
In 2012, with Avatar 2 only two years away, the green light was still shining brightly on the Avatar trilogy, or so it seemed. James Cameron was excitedly talking about working with New Zealand effects company WETA on some sort of underwater motion capture system, teasing at sequences for that would present Pandora’s aquatic life and maybe test Zoe Saldana’s lung capacity while at it.
Someone who wasn't as excited about the sequels' plans was producer Jon Landau, who began having second thoughts at this time. Was it about putting multi-million dollar actors below sea level? Nooooo. Of course not. It was about the two-part sequel concept.
While James Cameron was planning to film Avatar 2 and 3 back to back, Landau was insistent that the films would still be presented as standalone films, and the second chapter would not be setup for the third. According to The Hollywood Reporter, Landau is quoted as saying:
That's where movies fall into trouble – when they try to say: 'You know what? It's really one movie and there's an intermission' – so we want each one to be a stand-alone movie.
Scrapping the idea of crafting a film's conclusion to serve as set up for future sequels, in 2012, must have sounded like the obvious choice. How times have changed. Thus, Jon Landau hinted that 2014 might be a hard date to make, but production setbacks are not uncommon, so there did not seem to be much cause for concern at the time. Of course, Avatar fans had no way of knowing this would be the first sign that development might be in trouble.
What’s Better Than An Avatar 2 And 3? Avatar 4! (2013)
Despite initial promises for an Avatar trilogy years before, James Cameron announced the idea of a fourth film, only to later say that just Avatar 3 would round out the series, and then tease the possibility of another entry again, even suggesting it could a prequel. For being one of the most ambitious filmmakers in history, he could not seem to make up his mind. Maybe he could asked Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige for advice.
Then, by December 2013 (only a year away from the proposed Avatar 2 release date), it was confirmed that Avatar 4 was included on the production schedule and would be shot simultaneously with the other entries in New Zealand. That meant that Chapter Two had not even been shot yet. In fact, none of the films had even been fully written yet.
It was clear, at this point, that we would not see Avatar 2 in 2014, but 2015 for sure. Well, that promise did not last long, as the film was then pushed to 2016. Apparently writing three science fiction/fantasy epics at once is no walk in the park.
If James Cameron needs a slight extension for his creative process to flow, fair enough. It is no question that the Academy Award-winning filmmaker is always up for a challenge, as he made very clear the following year.
Forget Quadrilogy, James Cameron Threw In Avatar 5! (2016)
It was at CinemaCon in April 2016, a day that will live in infamy, when James Cameron made the biggest announcement in the Avatar saga yet. The director said he planned not one, not two, not three, but four sequels to the worldwide box office smash, staying true to the plan of the simultaneous production of all entries in New Zealand. Wow!
The announcement came with the revised release dates in December 2018, 2020, 2022, and 2023. This only increased speculation of the endurance, and even the probability, of the continuation of this franchise.
Were the scripts finished? Was principal photography just one trip to New Zealand away? Do we really need four sequels to Avatar, let alone even one? Could James Cameron really, finally, stick with a chosen release date?
Well, unless you, somehow, do not have access to a calendar, you know that it didn’t work out that way.
More Delays, This Time With Avatar 2's Release Date (2017)
Less than a year after the announcement that Avatar would be a five-parter now, James Cameron had to admit that we would have to wait just a little bit longer for Avatar 2. Within a month, Fox clarified the delay, revealing a two-year extension for each film.
The sequels would be released on the specified dates of December 18, 2020; December 17, 2021; December 20, 2024; and December 19, 2025. At this point, the most consistent pattern to be found in the franchise's development was a committed attachment to the month of December. From that point on, all there was to do was wait for the next delay announcement.
Yet later that year, in the wake of all the cynical speculation reaching its peak, something amazing happened: the cameras started to roll. Avatar 2 began principal photography, featuring notable cast returns such as Sigourney Weaver, and the introduction of Kate Winslet, who learned to dive for the underwater sequences.
Zoe Saldana, who completed her reprisal of Neytiri for the next two sequels by 2018, went on record about working double duty (not her first rodeo, of course) shooting scenes from Avatar 2 one day and 3 the next. Things were really looking up for this saga. Maybe we would see a return to Pandora at the (new) promised time.
How The Disney-Fox Merger Has Affected Avatar 2, 3, 4 And 5 (2019)
James Cameron, being the innovative visionary that he is, still most likely could not have seen how the Disney-Fox merger would affect the production of Avatar.
Walt Disney Studios, in a move formerly under the authority of Fox, made the announcement that Avatar 2 and its three following entries, once again, would be delayed. As of this week, the second chapter is slated for December 2021, with its sequels scheduled to follow every two years in that same month.
Rarely does news of a film set for 2027 come this early, but perhaps Avatar 5 had it coming. At least it and 4 could finally say they were greenlit.
What is the reason for this latest execution in Avatar's development scurvy, you ask? Can’t think of another property of Disney’s that would might be treated with a higher priority?
Indeed, a new trilogy of Star Wars films are set for release in 2022, 2024 and 2026. The new release schedule given to the Avatar franchise came in an effort to avoid overlapping with Disney’s other seemingly more important properties. You can't blame the studio for trusting its instincts.
Where Do We Go From Here With The Avatar Sequels?
It has been a long road for James Cameron to complete his vision. Even the first Avatar took its time until its 2009 release as a decision to wait for the appropriate technology to exist.
But now, the technology is here. The scripts are ready. The green light is on. But Avatar 2 is prepping to be seven years late… for now, at least.
Is now the time to lose hope? Could 2021 finally be the year we see the return to Pandora, or will it be pushed back farther and farther into an inescapable oblivion? Perhaps the most important question we have to ask by now is if and when Avatar 2 finally graces the screen, who will be left to actually care? More than a few, actually.
Ten years may have passed since the peak of Avatar's popularity, but its presence in pop culture outside of production purgatory has yet to slow down. In 2015, James Cameron collaborated with the makers of Cirque du Soleil to create a live show using Avatar as inspiration called Toruk - The First Flight, which is still running. Better than re-watching the film to revisit Pandora, fans can actually visit the place as an attraction as part of Walt Disney World's Animal Kingdom.
Now, it is well known by now that Avatar has its critics. It has practically become the Nickelback of sci-fi movies, with people shamelessly taking shots at the film's wooden acting and cheesy dialogue, and often comparing its storyline to Pocahontas. With that logic, you might as well call The Walking Dead a Toy Story rip-off... Oh, yes, that theory exists.
However, to those who became the secret to Avatar's success in 2009, none of those things matter. What matters to the those who ignore the naysayers and are still proud to call themselves fans of the film is the world that James Cameron brought to life with complex world building, fantastic production design, astonishingly realistic visual effects, and even a whole new language to rival Klingon. Say what you want about the cutesy blue people romance, the lame Leona Lewis post-credits song, or the fact that Sam Worthington has been practically MIA ever since; Avatar means something to some people and that meaning can never be taken away from because this, this is their land!
Every franchise has its audience, of course, and, given the evidence I have provided, anticipation for this franchise is alive and well. However, the fate of Avatar 2 all depends now on the faith of its owners. Stay tuned to CinemaBlend for more updates on the Avatar franchise.