‘Avatar’ Sequels Pushed Back: How Shocking!

Writer-director James Cameron hates to let down fans yet again, but on Friday he spilled the beans

Film buffs, we hope you’re sitting down, because Friday morning brought us absolutely shocking news.

“Avatar 2,” the long-percolating sequel to the highest grossing film of all time, will not be released next year. That’s according to writer-director James Cameron, who told The Toronto Star the planned Christmas 2018 release is “not happening.”

If you’re at all familiar with Cameron and his process, this actually is about as surprising as the sun rising in the east and setting in the west. The real surprise would have been the writer-director of “Titanic,” “Terminator 2: Judgment Day” and “Aliens” actually sticking with the release date.

It’s been almost 20 years since Cameron became one of the most successful filmmakers in the world by writing, directing and producing “Titanic,” which won 11 Oscars and became the first film in history to earn more than a billion dollars. (It would remain the highest grossing film of all time until Cameron’s own “Avatar” in 2009 took the top spot.)

But in the intervening years, Cameron’s been decidedly less than prolific, at least as it comes to directing feature films. After “Titanic” and “Avatar,” the 2003 documentary “Ghosts of the Abyss” is the action auteur’s only other directing credit in the past 20 years.

“Avatar 2” originally was scheduled for a Christmas 2016 release. Then it was pushed back to a Christmas 2017 release. Now the Christmas 2018 release is out the window as well.

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Cameron told the Star the delays are understandable given the scope of the project: He’s essentially filming four “Avatar” sequels simultaneously. The most recent plan was to have “Avatar 2” arrive in 2018, “Avatar 3” in 2020, “Avatar 4” in 2022 and “Avatar 5” in 2023. (No one’s ever accused Cameron of failing to think big.)

However, pushing back the release of “Avatar 2” presumably will affect the time frame of all the sequels.

“We haven’t announced a firm release date,” Cameron told the Star. “What people have to understand is that this is a cadence of releases. So, we’re not making ‘Avatar 2’ — we’re making Avatar 2, 3, 4 and 5. It’s an epic undertaking. It’s not unlike building the Three Gorges dam.”

The delays must be frustrating for 20th Century Fox and its shareholders, but you can’t blame the studio for its faith in Cameron. It partnered with Paramount to co-finance and release “Titanic,” and its risky bet paid off when that film, which analysts feared would be a mega-priced bomb, became a historic commercial and critical smash.

Fox similarly gave Cameron all the space he wanted (and more than $300 million just in production budget) for “Avatar,” which paid off as well.

“It took us four-and-a-half years to make one movie and now we’re making four,” the filmmaker said.

However, it’s hard for critics to not be skeptical of Cameron’s complete immersion with creating sequels to “Avatar.” Despite the film’s incredible popularity at the time and its pioneering development of new 3D technology, it hasn’t necessarily held up all that well.

The film’s lead characters, Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) and Neytiri (Zoe Saldana) have hardly remained beloved the way “Star Wars” characters have, for example. It’s not hard to argue that Saldana’s Gamora in “Guardians of the Galaxy” (which sees a sequel arriving this May) is already far more popular. Meanwhile, Worthington hasn’t exactly shown much star quality outside of his “Avatar” role.

As huge as “Avatar” was eight years ago, audiences likely showed up more for Cameron’s reputation, the revolutionary technology and the immersive world of Pandora than they did for the characters. You have to figure “Avatar 2” will do enormous numbers when it eventually arrives — but unless Cameron has some amazing tricks up his sleeve, one wonders whether it makes sense to already be producing three more sequels beyond that.

Then again, Cameron’s been doubted many times before, and he’s always delivered. Now 62, he’s put all his chips in the pot, likely putting his filmmaking legacy on the line with his Avatar obsession, too.

In addition to creating the sequels, Cameron shepherded the creation of the “Pandora – The World of Avatar” theme area, which is being constructed in Disney’s Animal Kingdom theme park at the Walt Disney World Resort near Orlando, Florida. The park is scheduled to open May 27 — one date that’s actually expected to stick.

Cameron actually was speaking to the Star’s Tony Wong about the new attraction when Wong asked him about the planned release dates for the sequels — leading Cameron to acknowledge that “2018 is not happening.”

“It took us four-and-a-half years to make one movie and now we’re making four,” the filmmaker told Wong. “We’re full tilt boogie right now. This is my day job and pretty soon we’ll be 24-7. We’re pretty well designed on all our creatures and sets. It’s pretty exciting stuff. I wish I could share with the world. But we have to preserve a certain amount of showmanship and we’re going to draw that curtain when the time is right.”

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