Why All Four Avatar Sequels Were Announced At Once (And Why They've Taken So Long)

This December we will finally be heading back to Pandora for "Avatar: The Way of Water." It has been 13 years since James Cameron's first film became the highest grossing film of all time worldwide, but he is not a director who will just fast track a sequel to capitalize on the success of something. No, Cameron takes his time. Seven years elapsed between his first and second "Terminator" movies. It took 12 after making the previous highest grossing film "Titanic" before "Avatar" hit the big screen. Few people have accrued as much power in Hollywood as James Cameron to do whatever he pleases, and he is going to do it on his own terms.

"Titanic" had the benefit of a definitive ending. I'm sure the studio would have loved to find a way to transform that massive hit into a franchise, but there isn't really anywhere to go. "Avatar" is a different story. James Cameron built this entire world in which to explore from scratch, and the prospect of expansion was too tantalizing to pass up, from future films to theme park attractions. But if you make something on the scale of "Avatar," you are not just going to make one more movie on an even bigger scale. You are going to make a saga.

That is why we do not just have one "Avatar" film to look forward to in the future. We have four (though only two have been officially green lit). Cameron has not spent these past 13 years shooting "The Way of Water." He has devised a multi-chapter "Avatar" epic, and he wasn't going to do it any other way.

Sagas take time

There's obviously a lot of pressure on James Cameron to follow up the most successful film of all time, especially since he's already done it once. He had one of two options: either never touch "Avatar" again or make it the biggest thing imaginable. He chose the latter. In the August 2022 issue of Empire (on shelves July 7, 2022), he discusses arriving at this decision:

"I thought about it for a good two years before we finally made a deal ... What I said to the Fox regime at the time was, 'I'll do it, but we've got to play a larger game here. I don't want to just do a movie and then do a movie and do a movie. I want to tell a bigger story.'

For Cameron, the way to turn "Avatar" into a movie franchise was to treat it as a saga, developing a larger world that could be explored through several stories. This was no easy feat, however: 

I said, 'Imagine a series of novels like "The Lord of the Rings" existed, and we're adapting them.' Now, that was great in theory, but then I had to go and create the frickin' novels from which to adapt it.

Quality takes time

If you are looking to create a Tolkien-esque epic, you aren't going to be able to crank that out in six months. The writing process alone will take years, let alone developing all of the technology required to make these innovative pictures. Cameron said to Vanity Fair:

"The scripts took four years. You can call that a delay, but it's not really a delay because from the time we pushed the button to really go make the movies [until now], we're clicking along perfectly ... We weren't wasting time, we were putting it into tech development and design. So when all the scripts were approved, everything was designed. Every character, every creature, every setting."

So, if you think it's been too long since the first "Avatar," just remember all this time hasn't simply been for one movie. James Cameron is crafting a legend, and I, for one, want to see his vision displayed on that big of a canvas.