You'd be right in thinking that James Cameron's enormous sci-fi epic Avatar feels like a lifetime ago, even if the cutting-edge technology hasn't aged one bit. But the film is now already 12 years old, and in many ways older if you consider the level of pre-production that was involved, and even before that, the journey of its conceptualization, which James Cameron says started way back in 1994, three years before his 1997 blockbuster Titanic.
While the film often suffers from unwarranted criticism about a ‘paper-thin plot', its special effects aren't up for debate. Avatar clocks in at just under a whopping three hours, and there are only really a handful of moments where ground-breaking motion-capture performances and immersive 3D technology aren't filling the screen from top to bottom. For that reason alone, Avatar deserves to be considered a landmark in filmmaking.
So it's no surprise that, at the time of its release in 2009, Avatar went on to become the highest-grossing film in box office history, snatching that title from Cameron's previous box office juggernaut Titanic, and collecting north of $2.8 billion, against an estimated budget of $336 million (though the budget for the sequel is said to be a lot bigger). Avatar would remain victorious for an entire decade before losing to 2019's Avengers: Endgame. However, a Chinese re-release of James Cameron's sci-fi epic helped the film reclaim its position at the top once again.
When you also consider that the film was nominated for nine Academy Awards, winning three of them, while also being the catalyst for the popularity of 3D technology in cinema and at home, it's really no surprise that there are a number of Avatar sequels currently in development. But the question is, why is Avatar getting so many sequels? Let's find out.
Is Avatar 2 confirmed?
Before we dive into the deep and thriving jungle that is the Avatar franchise, it makes sense to start with the first sequel. The follow-up to the 2009 phenomenon, rumored to be titled Avatar 2: The Shape of Water, has indeed long been confirmed, and it's understood that the sequel wrapped filming in New Zealand last September, after an extensive three-year shoot, which underwent delays towards the end due to the current pandemic. The film will see the return of Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana, Giovanni Ribisi, Stephen Lang, and Sigourney Weaver, and welcoming newcomers Kate Winslet, Michelle Yeoh, and Vin Diesel, among many others. Although the characters played by Stephen Lang and Sigourney Weaver were killed in the first film, it has been confirmed that Lang will be reprising his role of Colonel Quaritch, while Weaver will be playing an entirely new character.
How many Avatar movies will there be?
There are four confirmed sequels to 2009's Avatar, in response to its enormous global success. In 2012, Cameron said that each of the films would be written as "separate stories that have an overall arc inclusive of the first film", and that they would be "a natural extension of all the themes, and the characters, and the spiritual undercurrents." Many of the original cast members from the first film will be making a return in Avatar 2 and Avatar 3, however, much less is know about the final two movies in the franchise at this stage.
Why are the Avatar sequels taking so long?
There is no short and simple answer to why the Avatar sequels are taking so long. As you can imagine, there are myriad moving parts to any film, and when it comes to an Avatar sequel, you have to multiply those complexities by, say, a gazillion. For starters, though, it has very little, if nothing, to with the COVID-19 pandemic (though it's fair to say it has more recently played a role in delays). You have to remember that development for the first film started in 1994, originally intended for a 1999 release, 10 years before it would eventually come out. However, Cameron realized the technology wasn't ready yet. And where Avatar 2 is concerned, the process was a lot similar. The film will also be pioneering even more ground-breaking visual effects, courtesy of Weta Digital, including underwater motion-capture performances, which will be the first time this kind of technology has ever been seen in a film. Kate Winslet, who reunites with James Cameron after 20 years since Titanic, plays a character called Ronal, which has required the actress to shoot a huge portion of her scenes underwater.
Even the writing took much longer than the director expected, and when you add scripts for three subsequent films to that mix, it's really no surprise. Cameron confirmed in early 2017 that all four movies had finally been written, and had taken four years overall to complete. Other preparations included character, setting, and creature design, and those things are just the tip of a huge iceberg. All in all, the film has undergone eight delays to its release, but now appears to be officially set for Christmas 2022.
James Cameron has long since confirmed that the entire franchise will be an "expansion" of the story set up in the original film, which sees humans colonize the tropical moon of Pandora, in a bid to exploit its natural resources, by using a genetically engineered ‘Na'vi' – remotely operated by a solider – to infiltrate an indigenous tribe. The plot for the first sequel, which is set many years after the original, will see the return of Jake and Neytiri, who in that time have had children. The film will also go beyond the boundaries of Pandora, with the film said to be focusing on underwater scenes and storytelling, as our heroes will be forced out of their homes by a new human threat.
When are the Avatar sequels coming out?
Avatar 2 is currently scheduled for theatrical release on December 16, 2022, and the third film in the franchise is set for December 20, 2024. While the final two films in the franchise, Avatar 4 and Avatar 5, are still in production, the release dates are currently December 18, 2026, and December 22, 2028, respectively. This would mean that, from December next year, the Avatar franchise will dominate the box office every two years across a six-year period.
While the first sequel feels like a lifetime away, one can still enjoy the fruits of Pandora in the meantime, whether it's through the original film, Disney World's themed land Pandora – The World of Avatar, or the upcoming open-world game, Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora, that was recently announced by Ubisoft.