To say that Disney/20th Century Studios is betting big on the “Avatar” franchise is an understatement. The original film, though released more than a decade ago, is still the biggest film of all time and has already spawned a huge attraction at one of Disney’s theme parks. And based on the popularity of the original “Avatar,” the studio told filmmaker James Cameron to begin work on four sequels. But what if that confidence blows up in the faces of the studio and Cameron? Will the filmmaker allow his franchise to limp to the finish line if the first sequel, ‘The Way of Water’ fails? Not likely.
In a new conversation with /Film, James Cameron talked about the possibility that “Avatar: The Way of Water” doesn’t do well at the box office. And if that’s the case, the filmmaker is willing to cut his losses and wrap the franchise up way earlier than originally anticipated.
“The market could be telling us we’re done in three months, or we might be semi-done, meaning: ‘Okay, let’s complete the story within movie three, and not go on endlessly,’ if it’s just not profitable,” he explained. “We’re in a different world now than we were when I wrote this stuff, even. It’s the one-two punch — the pandemic and streaming. Or, conversely, maybe we’ll remind people what going to the theater is all about. This film definitely does that. The question is: how many people give a shit now?”
Again, it needs to be reiterated that it’s been more than a decade since the first “Avatar” was released. At the time, 3D films were all the rage, and Cameron’s film blew the doors off with its incredible effects and worldbuilding. However, 3D is no longer the be-all, end-all. In fact, it’s barely a blip at the box office. Not only that, since “Avatar” was released, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has fully dominated the box office and huge blockbuster spectacle films are a dime a dozen. All that to say, is there room for another massive “Avatar” explosion this December?
The real question isn’t how much money “Avatar: The Way of Water” might make in theaters. The thing you have to wonder about is what the “magic number” is for Disney/20th Century Studios. What box office total does ‘Way of Water’ need to earn to justify three more films after it? $1 billion? $2 Billion? What if “Avatar: The Way of Water” only earned $1 billion? Is this the first instance of seeing a billion-dollar film being viewed as a failure?
One thing is for certain—you can never bet against James Cameron. Time after time, when people really think he’s gone off the deep end (a blockbuster, big-budget film about the Titanic sinking? Really?!), the man delivers a record-breaker. But are we approaching the premature end of “Avatar?” We’ll find out when ‘The Way of Water’ debuts on December 16.