Avatar 2 will happen eventually, and according to James Cameron, that “eventually” could be sooner rather than later.
The scripts are close to being ironed out for not only this sequel, but also a third and fourth. Most of the conceptual work is also done, the director recently confessed to Entertainment Weekly.
So what’s the holdup? Apparently getting everything perfect.
“I’m in the process of doing another pass through all three scripts right now,” Cameron said. “Just refining. That’s in parallel with the design process. The design process is very mature at this point. We’ve been designing for about a year and a half. All the characters, settings and creatures are all pretty much [set].”
Cameron believes that Avatar 2 has even more pressure riding on it than his first film did, and that’s in spite of the budget overruns and distributor turmoil, as EW points out, noting that Twentieth Century Fox almost backed out altogether when the budget ran north of $200 million.
Some figures have put the final costs at $237 million, though a New York Times piece from 2009 notes that it could have been substantially higher to the tune of $500 million.
To date, it’s difficult to get a final answer, and Box Office Mojo, which usually keeps up with such matters, has a big fat N/A on the movie’s page.
But even if the original did cost $500 million to put together and had a bloated runtime of 160 minutes, these did not keep it from scaling to a record-breaking $2.7 billion worldwide take, which continues to hold six years later.
Of course, that figure is in danger of being broken by Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens when it opens in theaters on Dec. 18, but until that plays out, Avatar enjoys a comfortable lead over the nearest film to it, James Cameron’s Titanic ($2.1 billion worldwide).
With a track record like Cameron’s, it’s hard to imagine that anyone would second-guess the guy, at least when it comes to knowing what movie audiences like, but as it turns out, Cameron isn’t too sure himself.
When asked by EW if Avatar 2 feels easier to put together, he laughed.
“No. Because you have to challenge yourself. Obviously, expectations are going to be very high on these films, especially on Avatar 2, to make sure it wasn’t just some big fluke the first time. So we’ve got to deliver. I’ve created a nice rod for my own back, so they say.”
That said, Cameron isn’t crazy to feel uneasy about it. The theater climate of today is much different than it was back in 2009.
Movie audiences are buying fewer tickets than they used to, a number that has been pretty much in free fall for a long time.
To compare, if you look at the movie that is the all-time high grosser when adjusted for inflation — Gone with the Wind — it’s apparent that audiences are finding other things to do with their time.
Gone with the Wind, adjusted for inflation from its $198 million take in 1939, would today equal $1.685 billion. Avatar doesn’t even rank in the top 10 on that same chart.
Of course, that’s just for domestic take as Hollywood playing to international audiences is a relatively new thing in the annals of theater distribution, so it doesn’t account for the $2 billion in overseas ticket sales that Cameron enjoyed.
Factoring that in and then converting for estimated ticket sales, Gone with the Wind sold 200 million tickets in its entire theatrical run.
Avatar sold only 97.255 million in its domestic lifetime. Dividing that number by the $760 million domestic take and then using that number as your average ticket price, you have a metric you can use to divide into the worldwide box office. The final number comes out to around 356 million ticket sales globally.
It’s easy to imagine that Gone with the Wind could have bested that number had it the luxury of playing to a mature global market — as Avatar did — since it did better than half worldwide ticket sales in the U.S. alone.
Furthermore, Cameron’s fears must factor in mass shootings, with theaters becoming a disturbingly easy target for crazed gunmen. Last but not least, there is the growth of the video on demand market, which was still in its infancy when the first film debuted.
With these factors in place, do you think Avatar 2 will be as successful as the first?
[Image via Avatar screen grab]