James Cameron’s sequels for ‘Avatar’ have started filming today in Los Angeles, following years of pre-production work, and now with a budget said to be in excess of $1 billion.
That astonishing figure would make the ambitious project the most expensive of its kind in movie history, leap-frogging Peter Jackson’s ‘Lord of the Rings’ movies.
Deadline reports that Cameron’s four planned movies are ‘expected to surpass $1 billion’ once all its production bills are paid.
Cameron is shooting all four movies – the follow-ups to his 2009 sci-fi fantasy epic – back to back, a feat never attempted before on this scale.
But is there a bit of a risk to all this?
Whether the project is a bit of a dice roll for 20th Century Fox, the studio putting up the money, is impossible to know at this stage.
‘Avatar’ became one of the highest-grossing movies of all time, making $2.788 billion at the worldwide box office, and if each movie only made half of that, a $1 billion investment would seem to be a lucrative one.
But is there the appetite for four more sequels to a film that, as critics often note, has never entered the pantheon of truly loved movies in popular culture?
Despite its box office riches, it’s not quoted or re-watched in the same way movies of its ilk like the ‘Star Wars’ trilogy are, and nor does it feature on polls of the best movies ever made.
Though many critics hailed it at the time – the legendary Roger Ebert called it ‘extraordinary’, giving it a rare four stars out of four – some consider it in retrospect to be a pretty clumsy exercise in both dialogue and storytelling.
However, the first movie pulled in the crowds thanks not only to the draw of a new Cameron project, but also because of its genuinely ground-breaking special effects, provided by Peter Jackson’s New Zealand-based visual effects company Weta Digital.
Rumours emerged last year that Cameron was working on ‘glasses-free’ 3D technology for the new sequels, a spectacle which could potentially prove naysayers wrong and bring in crowds in their droves, whether they’re fans of the Avatar story or not.
However, he later calmed such talk, telling Wired: “I don’t think that’s a near-term technology. Someone could walk through the door tomorrow having cracked it… but someone could also walk through the door tomorrow with a warp drive.”
Who’s returning? Who are the new stars?
Returning for the sequel will be Sam Worthington as Jake Sully, Zoe Saldana as Na’Vi warrior Neytiri, Sigourney Weaver as Grace Augustine and Stephen Lang as antagonist Mile Quaritch (despite Weaver and Lang’s characters not making it out alive from the first movie).
Meanwhile Oona Chaplin, of ‘Game of Thrones’ fame, is among those joining the cast, along with Cliff Curtis from ‘Fear The Walking Dead’.
When are they out?
‘Avatar 2’ is due for release on December 18, 2020, ‘Avatar 3’ on December 17, 2021, ‘Avatar 4’ on December 20, 2024, and ‘Avatar 5’ on December 19, 2025.