James Cameron isn’t known for being frugal, at least when it comes to making movies.
“Titanic” was famously the most expensive movie ever made when it hit theaters in 1997, costing $200 million. It was later dwarfed by Cameron’s 2009 sci-fi epic “Avatar” and again by its sequel “The Way of Water.” His 1991 futuristic adventure “Terminator 2: Judgment Day” seemed affordable with a budget of around $100 million (though it also briefly carried the “most expensive movie ever” tag).
But here’s the thing about Cameron: He reliably delivers at the box office, making those stratospheric budgets ultimately worthwhile for the studios backing his prized efforts. If the “Avatar” follow-up crosses $2 billion next week (and many insiders believe the coveted milestone is possible), the filmmaker will be responsible for three of the six-highest-grossing films in history. Meanwhile, he is the only director to have helmed three films that have each surpassed $1.5 billion worldwide. With these enviable statistics, Cameron isn’t hearing “no” from Hollywood.
But even Cameron himself admitted that the cost of his blockbuster represented “the worst business case in the history of cinema,” as he told GQ. With an estimated budget of $460 million and a breakeven point of around $1.5 billion, as in the case of “The Way of Water,” his films could be hugely popular and still Do not turn a profit. (Disney declined to comment on the film’s budget and breakeven point.) Lucky for Cameron and Disney, who own the rights after acquiring 20th Century Fox in 2019, the long-delayed sequel grossed more than $1.7 billion and looks to end its theatrical run with $1.825 billion. To $2 billion, officially set up the black tent. He already plans to make three more sequels, so moviegoers’ sustained interest in Navi is nothing short of a relief.
There’s additional good news as Cameron continues to explore Pandora’s paradise. He suggests that the movies have “economies of scale over greater pressures”, meaning subsequent installments in wider franchises can be less expensive to produce. Studio sources expect that there could be a substantial reduction in the price tag, at least from a production perspective, for subsequent sequels.
Production costs, so far, have mostly been devoted to building the technology and infrastructure needed to recreate the fantastic planet and its natural resources. For the sequel, which was shot simultaneously with Chapter Three, Cameron built a giant tank — 120 feet long, 60 feet wide, and 30 feet deep — on Manhattan Beach to house Sam Worthington’s Jake Sully, Zoe Saldana’s Neytiri, and Jal- as they explore the depths of the ocean. A resident of the Metkaina clan.
“If we develop something to ‘avatar’ – an animal or a setting – that exists digitally. [The studio] You can have the benefit of not recreating it over time,” he told Smartless, a podcast hosted by actors Jason Bateman, Sean Hayes and Will Arnett. “That’s part of the rationale for doing three or four films back to back.”
Yet filmmaking comes with many unknown factors. And with the “Avatar” films, the years-long process of incorporating visual effects is still prohibitively expensive, especially given their long runtimes. For “The Way of Water,” Covid measures have been added, as well as incurring costs for delaying the theatrical release several times, for an already huge budget of millions. It is hoped that these costs will not affect the third installment, but it is too early to tell if the pandemic will affect the production.
Moreover, Cameron is an innovator. Let’s say he departs from the water, the setting for the sequel, for films four and five, opting instead to devise a way to shoot the actors while they’re on fire. (The director has already teased that “Avatar 3” is going to introduce the evil fire navel, so it might not be too far off.) Developing these technological innovations will increase costs tenfold. But hey, wouldn’t it be amazing to see in 3D?