James Cameron’s “Avatar: The Way of Water” was so expensive to make it will have to become one of the highest-grossing films in history before it will earn a dime.
The long-awaited sequel to 2009’s “Avatar” represents “the worst business case in movie history,” the pioneering director recalled telling Disney and 20th Century Studios in an interview with GQ.
In order to be profitable, he told studio executives, “you have to be the third or fourth highest-grossing film in history. That’s your threshold. That’s your break even.”
Only five movies have crossed the $2 billion mark in history, including two made by Cameron.
The first “Avatar,” about a parapelegic marine who takes a mystical voyage to the alien moon of Pandora, where he falls in love with blue-hued princess, notably sits on top of the all-time box office list, having taking in $2.74 billion worldwide during its original release and netting nearly $2 million more in subsequent airings.
The others are “Avengers: Endgame,” with $2.8 billion, in second place; Cameron’s 1997 “Titanic” in third spot, with $2.2 billion; “Star Wars” The Force Awakens” with $2.07 billion in fourth and “Avengers: Infinity War” with $2.05 billion in fifth.
Cameron wouldn’t say exactly how expensive the lavish “Avatar 2” production was — “Very f***ing,” he told the magazine — but like the original, it required a raft of specialized, and expensive, technology, with GQ noting he and his team had to start all over again despite the technological advancements made for the first “Avatar.”
Like the original, “The Way of Water” required new technologies, including “cameras that could shoot underwater and a motion-capture system that could collect separate shots from above and below water and integrate them into a unified virtual image; they needed new algorithms, new AI, to translate what Cameron shot into what you see,” GQ reported.
And like many new technologies, they came with bugs and glitches that had to be worked on out the set. In one case, Cameron had a single effects shot numbered 405. “That means there’s been 405 versions of this before it gets to me,” Cameron said.
The technical bumps were a key driver in the delays in what is supposed to be the first of four planned “Avatar” sequels, pushing back the premiere of the film multiple times.
But the wait is nearly over. Tickets went on sale in North America Monday at all major theater chains, and premiere dates were announced for London on Dec. 6 , Seoul on Dec. 9, Tokyo on Dec. 10 and Los Angeles on Dec. 12.
Disney also dropped a third and final trailer for the 3-D opus, targeting it at not just the dedicated moviegoer but the casual fan who might not have been aware there was a sequel on its way. The marketing campaign is also expected to span traditional media like linear, commercial television along with a heavy online presence, all of which will be necessary to draw the record numbers to the audience.
Of course, Cameron has faced pressure many times before, including on the first “Avatar.” When asked if he has a theory as to why his 2009 film was so successful, the filmmaker responded, “I think anybody that’s seen the movie knows why; it’s a f–king gigantic adventure that’s an all-consuming emotional experience that leaves you wrung out by the end of the movie. And it was groundbreaking visually, and it still holds up today. So I don’t think I need a theory.”