Beware – an Ava(tar)lanche is coming! (but not anytime soon)
Sam Worthington and Zoe Saldana will be soon returning to reprise their roles as Jake Sully and Neytiri, respectively.

Two–Three–Four… No, that isn’t a countdown to the launch of a rocket, but the, ever increasing, number of sequels to the epic sci-fi film Avatar promised by James Cameron.

It all started far back in 2006, when James Cameron stated that if Avatar was successful, he hopes to make two more sequels to the film. One year after the film’s premiere, in 2010, he said the movie’s widespread success meant that he would indeed be doing two additional sequels, revealing that he included certain scenes in the first film for possible future story follow-ups. He also added that the sequels would widen the Avatar universe while exploring other moons of the gas giant Polyphemus and said that he is starting to design the ocean ecosystem of Pandora and the other worlds to be included in the story, as the first sequel would likely focus on the ocean of Pandora.

We worked out every beat of the story across all films so it all connects as one sort of three-film saga, said James Cameron

Elaborating further, Cameron explained that the sequels would continue to follow the exploits of Jake and Neytiri, portrayed by Sam Worthington and Zoe Saldana, and that the humans would likely return as the main antagonists of the story. He also confirmed that Sigourney Weaver will be returning in the sequels, despite the demise of her character in the first Avatar film. Cameron planned to shoot the two sequels back-to-back and to begin work “once the script is nailed down”.

Then, in 2012, Cameron for the first time mentioned a possibility of a third sequel. Later that year, he stated that the sequels are being written as “separate stories that have an overall arc inclusive of the first film”, with the second one having a clear conclusion instead of a cliffhanger to the next film, and with the first one expected to be released in 2015. After that, the sequel count started to go up and the release dates started to slip further back. First, in 2013, it was confirmed that there would indeed be three sequels with release dates moving back to December 2016, 2017 and 2018. Screenwriters were also announced: Josh Friedman for the first sequel, Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver for the second, and Shane Salerno for the third one. In addition, Steven Gould was approached to write four companion novels based on the films.

In April 2014, Cameron said that he expected to finish the three scripts within six weeks, and stated that all three sequels were still slated for December 2016 to 2018 releases. He further explained that although Friedman, Jaffa & Silver and Salerno are each co-writing one sequel with him, initially they all worked together on all three scripts: “I didn’t assign each writer which film they were going to work on until the last day. I knew if I assigned them their scripts ahead of time, they’d tune out every time we were talking about the other movie.” and continued: “We worked out every beat of the story across all three films so it all connects as one, sort of, three-film saga.”

By 2015, the scheduled release dates for the sequels were each delayed once more by an additional year, with the first follow-up expected to be released in December 2017 and the last one in 2019, citing Cameron as saying that the screenwriting process is “a complex job”. However, in the beginning of 2016, Fox announced that the sequels would not be released on the scheduled dates, without explaining why.

With Avatar, James Cameron hopes to create a new global multi-media franchise to rival that of the Star Wars universe

And then the bombshell fell. A few months later, in April 2016, in his announcement at CinemaCon in Las Vegas, James Cameron said that fitting his ideas into three sequels would be “too limiting” (he said the same thing about two sequels a couple of years ago) and that his science fiction opera will now stretch over the full four sequels, that is 5 (five!) films in total – count’em – including the original Avatar released in 2009. So far so good – one more sequel can’t be a bad thing, right? Unfortunately, that also means pushing the release dates yet further back, with the gaps between the individual follow-ups also widening from one year to two. Thus, Avatar 2 is now scheduled to be released in December 2018, with the additional three instalments coming out in 2020, 2022 and 2023 (there is only 1-year gap between Avatar 4 and 5). The production of the new Avatar films is scheduled to begin in April 2016 at various locations in New Zealand, with all four sequels being filmed simultaneously, and performance capture and CGI taking place later in the studio.

Clearly with Avatar, James Cameron aims high and hopes to create a new global multi-media franchise to rival that of the Star Wars universe, even if that means that the fans will have to wait yet another three years before they see the next instalment of the saga – nearly a full decade since the first Avatar film was released. We can only hope that it will be worth the wait…