We have not even had a feel of Avatar 2 yet, but James Cameron is wasting no time in announcing his growing plans for the franchise. His recent update makes it clear that there will be as many as four sequels to the 2009 original Avatar. Yes, four! This should be Fox’s answer to Disney’s growing Marvel and Star Wars cinematic universes. Cameron’s statement has gotten a lot of people excited, a lot worried, and some really don’t care. Well, I do care, but I am not certain in which category I lie yet. I wasn’t a big fan of Avatar and do not yet comprehend its gigantic untouchable box-office earnings across the globe. I did admire though what James Cameron was creating – a sci-fi world of his own bound by his rules and his imagination alone, challenging the technologies available to him and then pushing them further ahead. To say that James Cameron’s Avatar has boosted Imax/3D technologies is an understatement. With four sequels now planned by the movie maestro, I can see quite a few reasons on why it could go in either direction.
Reasons why it will work
1) Massive franchises usually work
It may sound to be a simplistic reason but if you look back at the past decade or so, Hollywood studios have been investing heavily in building big-budget franchises which are paying rich dividends. We aren’t talking anymore about going ahead with one sequel at a time, but building movies with the idea of creating a cinematic universe. James Cameron plans to do something similar in the Avatar franchise, with each of the sequels looking good enough as a standalone movie and yet tied-together as part of a bigger universe.
2) This would be James Cameron’s legacy
James Cameron is undoubtedly one of the greatest directors in Hollywood today whose works include the unforgettable Terminator movies (the first two in the franchise), True Lies, Aliens and the hugely successful Titanic. With 2009’s Avatar, James Cameron pushed the boundaries of what he can achieve with the right mix of imagination and technology. It is understandable that he wants to scale those kind of heights again, dwell deeper into a world he created from scratch and make it standout in the pages of cinematic history as something akin to Star Wars. A saga to be remembered for generations. The final movie of this planned franchise is scheduled for a release by end of 2023, almost eight years from now, by the time which Cameron would be 69 years old. So Cameron is investing a lot of his time and effort in creating this franchise, with an eye of leaving a stronger mark than he already has in Hollywood. That kind of commitment from a top-notch director is bound to yield some great results.
3) James Cameron gets to do what he wants
It is difficult to not compare the possibilities available for Avatar with that of George Lucas’ original Star Wars trilogy. Just as Lucas was the master of his stories, totally independent to carry them forward the way he wanted to, Cameron has that kind of liberty with the Avatar franchise. It is his imagination, his vision, and Fox will surely let him work with a free hand. More so because Cameron’s reputation is far bigger than what George Lucas carried when he began work with Star Wars. That kind of freedom is not so common now with the interference from studios quite strong, and the source materials for most movies already available.
Reasons why it may not work
1) Too much too soon
The first sequel is planned for a 2018 release which is a nine-year gap since the original. But the four sequels will come out over a five-year span, in 2018, 2020, 2022 and the final movie in 2023. Is the audience ready to enter the world of Avatar so frequently is the question that has not been tested yet. You could argue that Disney has six Star Wars movies scheduled over a six-year period, but the legacy of Star Wars is much better established and its market is far more readily available. Marvel’s superhero movies that come as frequently as twice in a year are in fact quite different from each other despite being in a single cinematic universe. Also, despite the success of 2009’s Avatar, its plot line was not that everyone was talking about, rather the cinematic experience was the key success factor. Since Avatar, other big-budget movies too have brought about radical changes in the way they make their movies visually appealing, which means the Avatar sequels would have to again jump ahead in the technology race to once again stand out.
2) The original movie’s accomplishments are difficult to surpass
Avatar earned $2.7 billion globally worldwide, and even though the box-office collections were earned way back in 2009 (December) and 2010, no movie has since then come even close to those figures. Only Star Wars: The Force Awakens has managed to earn more than $2 billion in these last 6-7 years, which should surprise us. The global earnings of movies have definitely been rising and we see more number of movies achieving a billion dollar collection figure now than a decade back when it was an unspoken number. Despite this growth, global earnings for a Hollywood movie are still far off from even the $2 billion mark, barring a very select few, and so to achieve the earnings of 2009’s Avatar is not going to be an easy task. Even for Avatar sequels!
3) Too many universes to watch
Are we having too many cinematic universes for one lifetime? Marvel’s attempt with Iron Man was something different, something well-planned and well-thought out, and it worked because it was done with substance and a lot of sincere effort. We have seen more of these universes develop in recent years, and it can become a bit taxing. Movies linked with other movies, that leave clues and such stuff in them which matter in the upcoming movies, and which probably need to be recapped before stepping into the next film. We already have Marvel’s superheroes, but now we have started with Star Wars again which is a massive world in itself, and we also have DC/Warner Bros. wanting to slowly bring us to Justice League through their own line-up of movies. Paramount is working with Michael Bay to widen the universe of Transformers; Sony is in collaboration with Marvel to broaden the horizons of Spider-Man; Fox is already mixing timelines in its X-Men series to make it all the more confusing; Universal Pictures will no doubt be working on something massive for Jurassic World sequels; even Warner Bros. Animation has a cinematic universe of sorts chalked out for its Lego series! In such a world of ours, I do wonder how many people are excited about entering a new unknown world anymore that will not end once you step out of the theatre but will continue for a few more years.
It’s a big bet that Fox and James Cameron have taken. The box-office performances of these sequels are not at all guaranteed despite the phenomenal success of the original film. Interesting times though do lie ahead, not only for the Avatar series but Hollywood as a whole too!