James Cameron is nothing if not ambitious, and seldom has that been more clear than in the aftermath of the monumental success of ‘Avatar’. Cameron’s 2009 film, of course, became the highest grossing film of all time, shattering a record that Cameron himself had set twelve years earlier with the release of ‘Titanic’. That success immediately generated talk of a sequel. Or rather, “sequels”. Four of them, to be precise. It is only now, though, the better part of a decade after the release of the first film, that a second has entered production in parallel with the third.

Some of this, no doubt, is thanks to the cutting-edge visual effects and 3D photography that so characterized the original (to which it owes at least some of its success). You see, the thing about aiming for the cutting edge is that it’s a constantly moving target. And then there’s the fact that Cameron has been developing all four films simultaneously. Developing a single film as a worthy successor to a smash hit with history-making visual effects would be a daunting enough task for most filmmakers, never mind doing it for four films at once.

But the flip side of that is that we’ll be getting four of these, right? And presumably in a lot less time than it took to get ‘Avatar 2’ off the ground? Well, yes and no. While that certainly seems to be the plan, it turns out that the fourth and fifth films are less of a sure thing than we’d been lead to believe. As Cameron explains:

“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 worked and everybody did.”

So the fate of the final two films will depend on the success of the first two sequels. That’s not the most surprising revelation in film history, but it does change our understanding of the franchise’s future inasmuch as the success of the first film seemed to have effectively given Cameron a blank check going forward. But even in the worst case scenario,  we seem to be guaranteed at least two more ‘Avatar’ films. And if that is where it ends? Cameron is making sure that we will have a complete and satisfying story, even if the meta-narrative isn’t wrapped up to his satisfaction.

Directed by James Cameron, the upcoming ‘Avatar’ sequels will see the return of original stars Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana, Stephen Lang, and C.C.H. Pounder alongside newcomers such as Kate Winslet. Principle photography on ‘Avatar 2’ began in September of this year. Production on further sequels is expected to kick off once work on the second wraps. ‘Avatar 2’ is currently slated for release on December 18, 2020.

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