The “Avatar” phenomenon, or lack of a long tail on it, is one of the weirdest stories in movie history. James Cameron’s sci-fi epic was a gargantuan, unprecedented hit back in 2009 — only two other movies have come within even a billion dollars of its $2.788 billion take (Cameron’s own “Titanic” and “Star Wars: The Force Awakens”), and they’re both at least $600 million behind. It’s a record that may eventually be toppled, but it’s unlikely to happen for a long time yet, and it’s shocking that it happened for a weird movie not a sequel or based on a comic book about blue elves.

But what’s perhaps more shocking is the lack of pop culture impact it’s had in the long run. Sequels were always in the plan, and Disney were so sure that it was the next big thing that they built an entire area of Disneyland around it, and yet people rarely talk about Cameron’s movie these days. There’s little in the way of spin-off merchandise, geek blogs focus on Star Wars and the MCU, and if sequels are brought up, it’s mostly to mock their sheer quantity (four have been announced) and ever-sliding release dates: the original plan was to start putting them out from December 2016, which obviously didn’t happen.

But the mocking might have to stop, because Deadline have revealed that, after years of script tweaks, push-backs and probably Cameron going deep-sea diving for a bit, production has finally begun on “Avatar 2.” And not just “Avatar 2,” but “Avatar 3,” “Avatar 4” and “Avatar 5,” with the movies being shot concurrently in Manhattan Beach.

It’s a typically ambitious schedule — even Peter Jackson’s “Lord Of The Rings” trilogy shot only three at once — and as you might imagine from Cameron, who has shattered the record for most expensive film ever made almost every time he’s turned on a camera (Rob Marshall’s “Pirates Of The Caribbean: On Stranger Tides” is currently the official record holder, having somehow cost nearly $400 million), it’s going to cost a pretty penny. The four films together will cost a billion dollars.

Yes, a billion dollars. When spread across the four films, that’s actually $250 million a piece, which is about standard for the high-end of a modern tentpole, and there are almost certainly movies in production that would be much higher than that (no official figure has been made clear for the two “Avengers” movies currently in production, but given the actor costs alone, we’d be shocked if they didn’t clock in at about $500 million a piece), but it’s worth noting that Cameron tends to, uh, creep over budget a bit, so this figure may yet rise.

Anyway, good news for Sam Worthington and the rest of the returning cast (almost everyone is back, including actors who died before like Stephen Lang and Sigourney Weaver), whille Cliff Curtis and Oona Chaplin have been confirmed to be joining the cast for the new films. Josh Friedman, Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver and Shane Salerno have been writing with Cameron on the movies and they’ll be released on December 18th, 2020, Dec 17th 2021, December 20th 2024 and December 19th, 2025, so expect a long wait — material’s being show now that won’t be on screen for eight whole years…