While we should all know by now not to bet against James Cameron, 20th Century Fox’s decision to invest in four Avatar sequels still seems risky when you consider the current level of interest in the franchise despite the record-setting box office of the original. Nevertheless, production has begun on the first two Avatar sequels and as we previously reported, it will be making use of brand new, underwater motion-capture. He’s a director that’s continually pushing the boundaries of technology, but he’s certainly not ignorant of the financial realities of the industry.
Speaking to Vanity Fair, Cameron says that while all five films build to a larger “meta-narrative”, if there aren’t fourth and fifth installments, that will be okay:
Let’s face it, if Avatar 2 and 3 don’t make enough money, there’s not going to be a 4 and 5. They’re fully encapsulated stories in and of themselves. It builds across the five films to a greater kind of meta narrative, but they’re fully formed films in their own right, unlike, say, The Lord of the Rings trilogy, where you really just had to sort of go, “Oh, shit, all right, well I guess I better come back next year.” Even though that all worked and everybody did.
It was previously assumed that Fox had greenlit all four sequels, but right now it looks more like there’s a tentative agreement where the studio has given Cameron the greenlight on the first two films, but the studio’s investment on the second two movies is dependent on the box office performance of Avatar 2 and Avatar 3, which makes sense. Unless you have something like Fantastic Beasts, which is coasting off the continued and undying popularity of the Harry Potter brand, it’s not a good idea to make four sequels if the audience stops showing up.
The first Avatar sequel is slated to open on December 18, 2020.