Why did James Cameron's Avatar take so long to make? Thought it may have been recently dethroned by Avengers: Endgame, the original Avatar movie in 2009 was a game-changing cinematic release that broke new ground for filmmaking and smashed a series of records along the way. After achieving such success, one might think that a sequel would be imminent but, ten years on, Avatar 2 has yet to see the light of day. Production on four Avatar movies is currently underway, although talk of a follow-up began even before the original had hit theaters. After a long wait, the next decade is set to be dominated by Avatar movies, with the eagerly-anticipated second installment finally set to arrive in 2021.
However, this lengthy period of development is nothing new, and still pales in comparison to the amount of time it took for James Cameron's first Avatar film to get made. Despite releasing in 2009, Cameron's first Avatar treatment was written as early as 1994, even before the release of the director's other big screen record-breaker, Titanic. This 80-page document outlined the world of Pandora and the creatures inhabiting it, and the director had planned to move onto the world of blue alien eco-warriors after first tackling his sinking ship love, with a potential Avatar release at one point penciled in for 1999.
In reality, it would be a further decade before Avatar premiered, and there are several factors behind this extended delay. The primary reason for Avatar's 15-year development is that the technology of the late 1990s simply wasn't good enough to cope with the demands of Cameron's concept. As revealed through several interviews in the period between making Titanic and Avatar, Cameron began looking into the capabilities of CG technology after wrapping up with Jack and Rose's ill-fated boat trip, intending for Avatar to feature real actors who weren't actually present on-screen.
The filmmaker quickly decided that the technology of the day simply wasn't up to this task and temporarily shelved the project. During this period, James Cameron worked on documentaries such as Ghosts of the Abyss and Aliens of the Deep, both of which utilized digital 3-D filming techniques. This allowed the director to refine the processes that would eventually be used on Avatar. As well as waiting for the filmmaking world to catch up to his ideas, Cameron was also allowing the consumer end of the business to advance, specifically in terms of how many theaters were capable of screening 3-D movies.
According to a 2007 interview with EW, projects such as King Kong and Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings trilogy convinced Cameron that the world was ready for Avatar and production truly began in 2005, with 20th Century Fox stumping up the cash. Considering the work that had already been done, however, Avatar still took a long time to develop but, on this occasion, attention to detail was the driving factor. Rather than dive straight into filming, Cameron took the time to fully realize his Avatar world, hiring a language expert to concoct the Na'vi dialect, while also mapping out small details of their culture and Pandora's flora and fauna.
Undoubtedly, Cameron's patience was justified by the end product. Even those who took issue with Avatar's story and overt moral leanings recognized that the film was a visual and technological marvel and the advancements that once seemed so far away are now commonly used in a great many blockbuster releases.
- Avatar 2 (2021) release date: Dec 17, 2021
- Avatar 3 (2023) release date: Dec 22, 2023
- Avatar 4 (2025) release date: Dec 19, 2025
- Avatar 5 (2027) release date: Dec 17, 2027