For a period of nearly 18 years, from early 1998 until early 2016, the highest grossing film of all time at the domestic box office was something directed by James Cameron. For the first decade-plus of that run, the film was Cameron’s 1997 Titanic, until it was overtaken in early 2010 by Avatar, also directed by Cameron. Prior to Titanic, the #1 all-time film at the domestic box office was Star Wars: A New Hope, which was the top film of all time for many years after its 1977 release and briefly regained the top spot following the theatrical release of the Special Edition in the spring of 1997.
In a neat bit of symmetry, Cameron’s box office stranglehold was broken earlier this year by another Star Wars film, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, which overtook Avatar in January on its way to a record U.S. box office of $936.6 million. So what does James Cameron think about The Force Awakens?
The director, currently at work on a series of sequels to Avatar, gave an interview this week in which he shared his opinions about the most recent Star Wars film. In the interview, with journalist Hannah Litchfield as cited by Gizmodo, Cameron indicates that perhaps he’s not the biggest fan of the film - but that he’s trying to be very nice about it:
“George Lucas is a friend of mine, and he and I were having a good conversation the other day about it. I don’t want to say too much about the film… I also have a lot of respect for J.J. Abrams, and I want to say where they’re taking it next… I have to say that I felt that George’s group of six films had more innovative visual imagination. This film was more of a retrenchment to things you had seen before and characters you have seen before, and it took a few baby steps forward with new characters. So for me, the jury’s out. I want to see where they’re going with it.”
This reaction from Cameron isn’t especially surprising. Lucas’ Star Wars films, the prequels especially, had a large focus on the most sophisticated special effects - which is certainly similar to Cameron’s way of doing things throughout his career. The Force Awakens, on the other hand, had a greater emphasis on practical effects, and a noted lack of the sort of all-CGI characters that we saw in The Phantom Menace and Avatar alike. Is Cameron bitter that Star Wars took his box office record, and that the Avatar sequels aren’t likely to get it back for him? Possibly, though who knows if that has anything to do with opinion on the film itself.
But the part of the quote that is most interesting is Cameron’s “good conversation” with Lucas - does this indicate that perhaps Lucas agrees with Cameron and was underwhelmed with Abrams’ Star Wars film as well? Lucas has said most of the right things in public, but his more expansive thoughts on The Force Awakens remain a closely guarded secret.
Cameron's next film, Avatar 2 is expected to reach theaters in December 2018, followed by Avatar 3 in December 2020, Avatar 4 in December 2022, and Avatar 5 in December 2023.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens is now available in DVD, Blu-Ray, and Digital formats. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story arrives in theaters December 16th, 2016, Star Wars: Episode VIII on May 26th, 2017, and the Han Solo Star Wars Anthology film on May 25th, 2018. Star Wars: Episode IX is expected to reach theaters in 2019, followed by the third Star Wars Anthology film in 2020.