James Cameron is currently working alongside a team of screenwriters on not just one, but three Avatar sequels, with the intent of shooting the scripts simultaneously and then releasing the films one year after the other. It's a pretty ambitious way to followup the highest-grossing movie of all time, so it doesn't come as a huge surprise to learn that Cameron has now decided the project could use more development time.
Avatar 2's expected release date has been pushed back a handful of times now, most recently after Cameron confirmed that he's working on a whole trilogy of Avatar sequels. In typical fashion for the filmmaker, he's aiming to push the technological envelope with the movies (shooting at a high frame rate, generating underwater mo-cap performances), while still continuing to use the Avatar universe as a parable for the real world.
Hence, Cameron has decided his previous December 2016 release target for Avatar 2 was a bit too ambitious; and thus, he's pushed the film back to late 2017 instead. He explained to the press in Wellington, New Zealand (where he'll shoot the Avatar sequels) that the process of writing the Avatar scripts while simultaneously designing them visually has, not so shockingly, proven to be a big challenge - one that he feels needs even more time, to get right.
Here's how Cameron explained the situation, via ABC News:
"There's a layer of complexity in getting the story to work as a saga across three films that you don't get when you're making a stand-alone film. [My team and I are] writing three simultaneously. And we've done that so that everything tracks throughout the three films. We're not just going to do one and then make up another one and another one after that. And parallel with that, we're doing all the design. So we've designed all the creatures and the environments."
This new development means that Avatar 2 won't be arriving until eight years after the first Avatar opened in theaters. On the one hand, it's not wise to bet against Cameron at this stage in his career, seeing as he's now responsible for the two highest-grossing films of all time. (And seeing as the main appeal of the Avatar franchise is its ability to wow audiences with its visuals, the more time for VFX refinement the better.) On the other hand, the prolonged wait means a greater risk of interest dwindling, more than it already has.
Meanwhile, the blockbuster landscape is now very different than when the first Avatar released in 2009. Case in point, if Avatar 2 had launched in December 2016, it would have faced competition from both Lucasfilm's first Star Wars spinoff and 20th Century Fox's Assassin's Creed video game adaptation. And even in late 2017, Avatar 2 could potentially face-off with Star Wars: Episode VIII, as well as holdover competition from comic book tentpoles like Black Panther and Justice League - Part 1 (among other films that will be announced over the next few years). So that could take a toll on the Avatar sequels, financially speaking.
The other question, of course, is when all is said and done... will the Avatar sequels be worth all the time and effort, in terms of their artistic merits? The screenwriters who are working alongside Cameron on each new film - Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver (Rise of the Planet of the Apes) on Avatar 2, Josh Friedman (The Sarah Connor Chronicles) on Avatar 3, and Shane Salerno (Savages) on Avatar 4 - have each done solid genre storytelling work in the past. But will "solid" get the job done here?
Having said all that, it bears repeating: since it's James Cameron we're talking about, we're not going to bet against him... not yet, anyway.
Avatar 2 is now expected to reach theaters in late 2017, followed by Avatar 3 in 2018 and Avatar 4 in 2019.
Source: ABC News