Remember when Avatar came out in 2009, and proceeded to take all the money? Remember how director James Cameron planned to follow up with two more films, for the requisite trilogy that all blockbusters must now be? And how, after years with no new Avatar movies, he later revised that to three more? Notice how we’re all still waiting?
Prepare to wait even longer, as the long-delayed Avatar 2 has been pushed back, out of its loose Christmas 2017 release window to… some point in the future. Basically, it’ll be done when it’s done. This is the second major delay for the film, which was once planned for release this year.
In James Cameron’s defence, the director has ambitious plans for the sequel trilogy. He intends to shoot all three of the effects-heavy films back to back, and has previously said that being able to release all three on an annual basis is more important to him than hitting a release window for the first of the trio.
Hollywood site The Wrap first revealed the delay, along with one possible reason. Although the trilogy is expected to pick up where the 2009 film left off — Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) permanently inhabiting his Na’vi avatar body and partnered with Neytiri (Zoe Saldana), while the exploitative Earth forces are expelled from the forest moon of Pandora — Cameron’s plot supposedly requires underwater filming and other exotic, tough-to-shoot locations. He has reportedly already used a deep sea submersible to film the Marianas Trench.
The Avatar 2 delay comes in the wake of a whole slate of cinematic date shifts centred around Star Wars: Episode VIII. Rian Johnson’s follow-up to The Force Awakens now sits in the 2017 end-of-year window that Cameron has vacated. Along with technical constraints holding up production, the decision to hold off on more Avatar could be, at least in part, a tactical one.
Although the first Avatar is still the world’s most successful movie of all time — a global box office of $2.78bn (£1.95bn) — The Force Awakens is creeping up on it, currently sitting on a tidy $1.89bn (£1.32bn). While the latest Star Wars itself may not quite overtake Avatar’s total, the snowball effect of successive holiday releases and growing hype for the new Star Wars trilogy could rob Cameron’s opus of its crown.
All of which raises the very real question of whether audiences will still turn out in their droves for more Avatar. Part of the thrill of the first was seeing 3D done well, but viewer fatigue with 3D as a format — 2014 saw the number of 3D films plummet, reflecting cinemagoers rejecting them — could mean the same tricks won’t work next time. And, after so long out of the mainstream public eye and without becoming a pop-cultural juggernaut, will people still care whenever Avatar 2 does arrive?