The Avatar series is many things, but fast is not one of them.
James Cameron, director of Aliens and Titanic, first wrote a treatment for sci-fi/environmentalist tale Avatar in the mid-'90s. The movie eventually came out in 2009. And despite being the highest-grossing movie of all time -- raking in $2.8 billion worldwide -- the planned sequels have failed to materialize.
All that's about to change. Cameron is planning not one but four (!) Avatar sequels. And just as Avengers: Endgame threatens to take Avatar's box office crown comes the announcement that Avatar 2 will hit theaters in December 2021.
Release date and where to watch
Starting with Avatar 2 at Christmas 2021, Cameron's sequels are projected to alternate witheach holiday season until Avatar 5 ends the series in 2027 -- nearly two decades after the first movie was released.
Here's the schedule for the next few years of Star Wars, Avatar and other Disney movies dominating the holiday season:
2019: Star Wars Episode 9 - The Rise of Skywalker
2020: Cruella and West Side Story
2021: Avatar 2
2022: Star Wars movie
2023: Avatar 3
2024: Star Wars movie
2025: Avatar 4
2026: Star Wars movie
2027: Avatar 5
What's the plot?
In the original movie, paraplegic marine Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) joined a rapacious mining outfit plundering a moon called Pandora of its infamous treasure, the metal Unobtainium. Transferring his mind into a hybrid body, Sully walked among Pandora's tall, blue-skinned inhabitants, the Na'vi, and fell in love with their princess, Neytiri (Zoe Saldana).
Not to be confused with animated fantasy Avatar: The Last Airbender, which is being remade in live action by Netflix, the Avatar sequels will continue the story of Jake and Neytiri. While we don't know exact plot points, Cameron and producer Jon Landau have given a few hints over the years.
In a February 2019 interview with Collider, Landau said each movie would be a standalone story, meaning you wouldn't have to remember the original to understand what's going on.
In a 2016 interview with Variety, Cameron said the sequels would explore the theme of family, following Jake, Neytiri and their children. In 2018, Cameron said he'd been thinking of the Avatar sequels as family dramas, even name-checking The Godfather films.
Landau also said the movies will further explore Pandora and the other clans and geographies of that world. "In the first movie, we really only met one clan, the Omaticaya," he said. "But if a clan has lived forever on the oceans, they're culturally going to be very different than a clan that has lived in the rainforest, and we want to present that in the movies as well."
What are the titles?
In November, the BBC reported it had seen the titles of the sequels. In a February interview with Entertainment Tonight Cameron said these names aren't definite, but they are contenders:
Avatar: The Way of Water
Avatar: The Seed Bearer
Avatar: The Tulkun Rider
Avatar: The Quest for Eywa
Cast and crew
James Cameron will direct all four movies. He's co-writing the series with Shane Salerno, while other writers are also involved with individual films. Josh Friedman is working on Avatar 2, while Amanda Silver and Rick Jaffa will do the honors for Avatar 3.
Zoe Saldana as Neytiri
Sam Worthington as Jake Sully
Giovanni Ribisi as Parker Selfridge
Stephen Lang as Colonel Miles Quaritch
Joel David Moore as Norm Spellman
CCH Pounder as Mo'at
Matt Gerald as Corporal Lyle Wainfleet
Did you look at that list and think to yourself, "Hey, didn't Sigourney Weaver's character die?" Then congratulations on remembering what happened in Avatar! Cameron has said Weaver will be playing a new character. Similarly, Stephen Lang is returning for the sequels despite his character also dying.
So… what's the holdup?
Cameron started talking about sequels back in the oughts. Variety reported in 2010 that Avatar 2 and 3 would be released in 2014 and 2015. By 2012, producer Jon Landau said that deadline would be "tough." Avatar 2 was pushed back to 2017, then 2018, then 2020, before the creators settled on the 2021 release date.
The movies have been delayed for various reasons. As two sequels swelled into four, Cameron talked about the complexities of shooting multiple movies at once. He even bought 2,500 acres of land in New Zealand just to shoot the films.
The first movie was filmed with a new generation of 3D technology specially developed by Cameron and his team, and the sequels are also likely to use innovative filmmaking tech. There's been talk of an "underwater motion capture system," for example.
Some of that new tech was also channeled into Alita: Battle Angel, another effects-heavy and long-gestating Cameron project. Cameron handed that one off to Robert Rodriguez to get the film over the line, and critics found the results to be underwhelming.
Most recently, the films were delayed again when Disney bought Fox, the studio behind Avatar. Disney had to slot Avatar into the schedule so it wouldn't compete with the other sci-fi epic series on its books, Star Wars -- hence the alternating Christmas release dates.
A lot's changed since the original Avatar smashed box office records. With superheroes ruling the box office and Alita: Battle Angel proving disappointing, the question is: can the Avatar sequels repeat the success of the original?