Avatar 2 – The Way of Water was so expensive to create that it will have to threaten the record books just to break even, according to the movie’s director, James Cameron.
Estimates put the movie’s production budget alone at roughly $250 million, although that figure has not been confirmed—Cameron only revealed that it was “very f—ing [expensive].”
For context, Pirates of the Carribean: On Stranger Tides is, at present, the most expensive film ever made with a budget of $422 million.
Top 4—at least
To illustrate how much the new Avatar would have to bring in to break even, Cameron said, “you have to be the third or fourth highest-grossing film in history. That’s your threshold. That’s your break even.” To that end, Avatar 2 would need to beat Star Wars: The Force Awakens or Avengers: Infinity War.
To make an actual profit, it would have to compete with Avengers: End Game, the second highest with $2.7 billion, and even Titanic in third place ($2.1 billion), which Cameron himself also directed; any figure under $2 billion would be a loss.
Cameron’s original Avatar, released in 2009, still currently holds the top spot as the highest-grossing movie ever, having pulled in $2.9 billion.
How Cameron got Avatar’s green light from execs
Considering his record of success, and the fact that all his movies have made a profit, studios appear to be reluctant to turn Cameron away—something the director emphasized in a retelling of an “I-told-you-so” moment.
The first Avatar movie was initially rejected by Fox, and Peter Chernin, who ran the studio at the time, allegedly asked Cameron “‘Is there any way you can get the kind of tree-hugging hippie bullshit out of it?’” (Chernin himself reportedly believes that Fox passed on Avatar due to cost.)
Cameron recalled telling Chernin: “You might look like a big d–k if it makes a lot of money,” citing how Universal passed on his pitch for Titanic.
Long before Avatar 2, Cameron’s repertoire included some of the most expensive films ever made in their time, such as Terminator 2: Judgement Day and True Lies.
The director said that while he used to be defensive about the costs, he now uses them to his advantage.
“Now I’m like, if I can make a business case to spend a billion dollars on a movie, I will fucking do it,” he said, arguing that he’s putting it to good purpose, compared to where else it might go.
“We don’t put it all on a pile and light it on fire. We give it to people,” Cameron added. “If the studio agrees and thinks it’s a good investment, as opposed to buying an oil lease off of the north of Scotland, which somebody would think was a good investment, why not do it?”
James Cameron Shares How Expensive Avatar 2 Was to Make
James Cameron will make his anticipated return to theaters with Avatar: The Way of Water later this year. As a noted perfectionist, Cameron has been working on this film for over 10 years. Between production delays and new technology, Avatar 2 will be one of the most expensive films ever made. With a rumored budget of $250 million, the film will need to make a substantial dent at the box office to turn a profit. When asked by GQ about the budget, Cameron bluntly said how expensive Avatar 2 was to make.
“Very fucking [expensive],” said Cameron. The director even told Disney and 20th Century Studios that the sequel is “the worst business case in movie history,” and to make a profit, Cameron said Avatar 2 needs to be;
“the third or fourth highest-grossing film in history. That’s your threshold. That’s your break even.”
Cameron is no stranger to big-budget productions. Terminator 2: Judgement Day, Titanic, and Avatar were all some of the most expensive films ever made upon their release. However, all three films became box office sensations, with Titanic and Avatar occupying two of the three spots for highest-grossing film of all time. With a proven track record of success, Cameron can now justify his work on expensive films.
“And I used to be really defensive about that because it was always the first thing anybody would mention. And now I’m like, if I can make a business case to spend a billion dollars on a movie, I will fucking do it. Do you want to know why? Because we don’t put it all on a pile and light it on fire. We give it to people,” said Cameron. “If the studio agrees and thinks it’s a good investment, as opposed to buying an oil lease off of the north of Scotland, which somebody would think was a good investment, why not do it?”
Avatar 2 Needs To Break All-Time Box Office Records To Be A Success
James Cameron provides a daunting update on what Avatar: The Way of Water needs to achieve at the box office to be considered a financial success. Past reports have seen the budget for The Way of Water around the $250 million mark, as the four planned sequels to Avatar were reportedly split evenly between $1 billion. The long-awaited sequel comes out December 16.
In conversation with GQ, writer-director Cameron gives a nerveracking statement regarding Avatar: The Way of Water‘s budget, saying it needs to be the third- or fourth-highest-grossing film in history just to break even. Whether that’s an exaggeration or not, Cameron claims that The Way of Water is very expensive. See what he has to say about the budget below:
Very f***ing [expensive]. [This film represents] the worst business case in movie history. You have to be the third or fourth highest-grossing film in history. That’s your threshold. That’s your break even.
Avatar 2’s Box Office Projections Explained
Recent, long-range box office projections for The Way of Water’s domestic opening weekend has the movie nearly doubling its predecessor’s success. That puts its opening weekend at $135 million domestically, over Avatar‘s $77 million. However, those projections predict the sequel will make $475 million in the US and Canada by the end of its theatrical run, which is about half of the original movie’s final total. These projections consider a number of factors.
The first is that the legacy of Avatar is expected to carry on to its successor: Avatar was the highest-grossing film of all time in the domestic market, and it has since been surpassed only by Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Avengers: Endgame, and Spider-Man: No Way Home. It should also be noted that 80 percent of its box office success did come from 3D screenings, a mark-up in price The Way of Water will have with premium large formats (PLFs) like IMAX and Dolby. While the tech isn’t as revolutionary as before, Dolby, IMAX, and even IMAX 3D screenings might turn the tide in the sequel’s favor, as Cameron does have artistic intention for using different formats usually written off as gimmicks.
A con that should ultimately be considered, however, is that the sequel is coming out thirteen years after Avatar. So, while all planned sequels and Cameron’s updates have garnered a great amount of hype, The Way of Water is still coming to theaters in a post-COVID exhibition landscape; while the re-release of Avatar was a success, not as many people go to the theaters as they once did. The projected $475 million by the end of its theatrical run, looked at side-by-side with this year’s most profitable movie in the box office, Top Gun: Maverick, is harder to imagine post-pandemic. Come December, Cameron & Co.’s Avatar: The Way of Water will have to see big box office numbers to be considered successful, and Cameron’s latest comments only illustrate just how high the stakes are.
James Cameron’s 3D Criticism Is A Great Sign For Avatar 2
James Cameron’s criticisms of 3D filmmaking after Avatar make for compelling reading, but they also bode well for the quality of visuals he will produce for Avatar: The Way of Water. Cameron rejuvenated 3D with the original Avatar, proving it was not only a cheap trick but something that could be used to accentuate audience immersion in the world and story. Unfortunately, it spawned imitators who mostly used 3D as a gimmick that audiences have become desensitized to since Avatar was released 13 years ago.
The exacting attention to detail Cameron applies to all his films is evident even in Avatar 2’s trailers, including through the introduction of the ilu underwater creature, so it makes sense he feels frustrated by such care not being taken with other 3D projects. In an interview, Cameron spoke about 3D use after Avatar, saying, “I think the studios blew it. Just to save 20 percent of the authoring cost of the 3-D, they went with 3-D post-conversion, which takes it out of the hands of the filmmaker on the set and puts it into some post-production process that yielded a poor result.” However, that Cameron cares so passionately about the artful use of 3D speaks well of his and his VFX teams’ efforts in implementing it in Avatar 2. As he himself adds in the interview, “I do think that the new “Avatar” film will rekindle an interest in natively authored 3-D.”
Avatar’s Sequels Can’t Rely On 3D
Still, simply banking on immersive 3D visuals won’t be enough to sustain visual interest in Avatar 2, especially considering audience fatigue with the concept that grew in the first film’s wake. The sequel does promise its own groundbreaking visual effects, however. Avatar 2’s CGI and underwater technology look spectacular, especially in its breakthrough use of motion capture inside water tanks designed to imitate ocean currents. Never has underwater footage looked quite as striking or tangible.
Sensational effects are admirable in any blockbuster, but to become a popcorn classic, they need to be complemented by a gripping story and nuanced, compelling characters. The original’s rerelease in theaters has surprised people with its box office popularity and includes Avatar 2 footage in its end credits, but that can only be partly attributed to its VFX and well-realized world. Rewatching Avatar in 2022, its story is told elegantly, and its characters are likable, which is almost surprising given its unfair reputation as being shallow or corny, with its effects its redeeming quality. Cameron has not disappointed before, and he deserves the good faith that he will deliver on Avatar 2‘s storytelling front as well as its visual splendor.
Why Avatar’s 3D Is Different To Most Movies That Came After
For Avatar, Cameron shot with cameras that rendered the visuals in 3D during production, what Cameron calls “natively authored 3D.” Meanwhile, most of the other post-Avatar 3D films produced visuals through “3D post-conversion,” which essentially means the 3D effect was added in post-production, a cheaper way of integrating 3D. The end product is a less engaging and elegant form of 3D experience, with more obvious visual flourishes that arguably break immersion rather than complement it. In this way, Avatar: The Way of Water seeks to revitalize and even surpass Avatar‘s graceful Pandora 3D.