James Cameron hasn't directed a lot of movies over his long, storied and very successful career, but he has made a big impact almost every time he has stepped behind the camera over the years. It is arguable, and inarguable by certain metrics, that he made his biggest impact with 2009's Avatar. The movie was a massive hit in every single way. That being the case, people have wondered why we haven't had a sequel yet? There are reasons for that, but rest assured, Avatar 2 is on the way.

Fox has wanted a sequel to James Cameron's Avatar pretty much since the movie hit theaters, and who could blame them? Avatar grossed an insane, unprecedented $2.78 billion at the worldwide box office, which is truly staggering. Even after movies like Jurassic World, Star Wars: The Force Awakens and a ridiculous amount of very popular superhero movies, Avatar remains the highest grossing movie of all-time by a very wide margin. The difference is, most studios would have put pressure to get a sequel to a movie like that out much more quickly, but that hasn't been the case with Avatar.

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Interestingly enough, James Cameron hasn't directed any other movies in the time since, so it isn't as though he is focusing his efforts on another directorial project. Sure, he has produced things here or there, but nothing so demanding to prevent him from directing Avatar 2. He has actually been hard at work ever since Avatar came out on his plans for the franchise and that is what has taken so long. He honestly didn't even know how vast and expansive his plans for Avatar 2 and beyond were until he started digging in, which is why this process has been delayed for so long.

There have been many false starts and stops in the years since Avatar first hit theaters in terms of when Avatar 2 is actually going to get underway. Fans of the first movie have been teased again and again with false reports of shooting happening or things of the like, often from James Cameron himself. Last year, though, he and Fox made it clear that their plans for the Avatar franchise are finally just about ready and the director is going to pour all of his efforts into Avatar 2.

Unless there is a really big setback of some kind, it really looks like Avatar 2 will be in production before we know it for real this time. Fans can rest easy and get excited about returning to the world that James Cameron created nearly a decade ago. So, with the shooting on the highly-anticipated sequel supposedly starting soon, here is what we know about Avatar 2.

James Cameron is directing.

<strong><em>Avatar 2</em></strong> director James Cameron

It would be hard to make a case for making Avatar 2 without James Cameron, even though Fox would probably want a sequel to the highest-grossing movie ever made no matter what. Luckily, that won't be a concern because the Hollywood legend seems hell-bent on spending a good chunk of his remaining years on this Earth making Avatar movies and that will start with Avatar 2. In most circumstances, a studio would not give a director nearly a decade to prepare a sequel to such a successful movie, but with James Cameron comes box office success. So they are giving him time to work.

The director currently has the two highest-grossing movies ever made, with Titanic coming in behind Avatar. James Cameron has seemingly cracked the code on mass appeal and even though he has only directed eight movies, those eight movies really speak to that. From Aliens to Terminator 2 and yes, to Avatar, he has proved that he knows what audiences want. So, if you were a fan of the first Avatar, great, but even if you weren't, having him fully involved in Avatar 2 is arguably the single largest reason any movie fan should really be looking forward to this movie.

Audiences will return to Pandora.

<strong><em>Avatar 2</em></strong> Pandora

Whether you loved Avatar or feel indifferent about it, there is no denying that James Cameron was able to create a fascinating and beautifully crafted cinematic world in Pandora. In a lot of ways, the planet was itself a character in the movie, so it makes perfect sense that we will be returning to Pandora in Avatar 2. In the first movie, we were introduced to the planet and sort of learned the rules and got used to how things work there. In Avatar 2, we are going to explore the planet further, which is one of the few things that we do know for sure about the upcoming sequel. For fans of the franchise, getting to take a trip back to Pandora is probably worth the price of admission, so Avatar 2 is probably already going to be worth checking out no matter what else happens, because we should be getting our best look at the Na'vi home planet yet.

Avatar 2 will go underwater.

<strong><em>Avatar 2</em></strong> Underwater Scenes

Never let it be said that James Cameron doesn't have an imagination. One of the things that James Cameron is pushing for will be underwater performance capture, since a chunk of Avatar 2 will reportedly explore the oceanic part of Pandora. Performance capture has been an ever evolving, increasingly important aspect of big Hollywood movies, but doing full performance capture underwater for Avatar 2 will be something truly groundbreaking.

James Cameron's long time producing partner Jon Landau spoke quite some time ago about the digital artists who worked on Avatar testing underwater performance capture technology. That was nearly four years ago, so surely they have nailed down what they need to in order to make it work for Avatar 2. Jon Landau also explained that yes, they could animate water around the actors, but having them capture their performance while actually being underwater will be a more authentic simulation of the experience, which makes total sense. Logical as it may be, it sounds very expensive, but probably very cool for the viewer when Avatar 2 finally hits theaters.

Sam Worthington is back as Jake.

<strong><em>Avatar 2</em></strong> Sam Worthington

No franchise can really be a franchise without a hero and for better or for worse, Sam Worthington is the hero of the Avatar franchise. While Jake Sully may not be as memorable as Ellen Ripley from Aliens or The Terminator in terms of being the cornerstone of a franchise, Avatar worked in a big way, so it is hard to argue against Sam Worthington in that respect. With that said, looking at the long-term prospects of the Avatar franchise, which will be kicking off with Avatar 2, Jake is going to have a lot of room to grow.

At the end of Avatar, Jake had fully assimilated himself into the Na'vi and was permanently transferred into his Avatar body. So, while specific details about Avatar 2 have largely been kept under wraps, it is pretty safe to say we will be seeing a very different Jake in the sequel. We will probably be getting to explore his relationship with Neytiri and how his role has adapted with the Na'vi. That definitely represents some interesting character stuff to explore and should give us a more potentially impactful performance from Sam Worthington.

Zoe Saldana will return as Neytiri.

<strong><em>Avatar 2</em></strong> Zoe Saldana

Sure, Avatar had a lot of spectacle to it. One of its biggest selling points was the innovative technology and the world that James Cameron was able to create. But at the core, it was a love story and a spectacle without some sort of emotion to anchor it to isn't really ever worth much. That being the case, it makes complete sense that Zoe Saldana is coming back as Neytiri. She and Jake left on in a place at the end of Avatar that is something that really needs to be explored in Avatar 2. Do they have little blue Na'vi kids? Is Jake having a tough transitional period away from human life that is putting strain on their relationship? There are a lot of questions that need answering and it would be pretty tough to answer them without Neytiri there. That aside, Zoe Saldana did a great job and was able to be another very strong female character, which is something James Cameron is very good at bringing to his movies. So, he surely wants her back and that looks to be the case.

Stephen Lang is coming back as the villain.

<strong><em>Avatar 2</em></strong> Stephen Lang

Every great story needs a great bad guy. That being the case, James Cameron is bringing back Stephen Lang for Avatar 2. That may seem a bit confusing, since his character Colonel Quaritch was seemingly killed at the end of the first Avatar. Still, Stephen Lang has stated that he will be filming the sequel, so somehow, some way, he will be back as the bad guy for the Avatar franchise. It is possible that Colonel Quaritch lived somehow, but that doesn't seem overly likely. Maybe he had a clone? Maybe he had a twin? It is really hard to know what James Cameron has planned, but having a guy like Stephen Lang on board is never a bad thing. Especially considering his most recent turn in Don't Breathe, he has really proved he can be a menacing presence on screen.

Sigourney Weaver's Dr. Grace Augustine will be resurrected.

<strong><em>Avatar 2</em></strong> Sigourney Weaver

Director James Cameron has a very longstanding, great working relationship with Sigourney Weaver that dates back to his work on Aliens. She appeared in the first Avatar but as fans know, her character Dr. Grace Augustine died. Still, James Cameron and Sigourney Weaver have both confirmed she will be back for Avatar 2. How that will happen hasn't been made clear, but the director did say in an interview a couple of years ago that she will be playing a different character and that she is playing a "more challenging" character. Given that few plot details have been released about Avatar 2, it is tough to speculate about Sigourney Weaver's new character, but it can only be a benefit to have an actress of her caliber in the movie.

Norm Spellman is coming back.

Norm Spellman

Original Avatar star Joel David Moore has been confirmed to reprise his role as scientist Norm Spellman. Norm Spellman is a human anthropologist as well as an avatar driver. It is currently unknown whether or not he had his consciousness transferred into his avatar body, like Jake, his friend and ally. Norm should bring some much needed humor into this sci-fi adventure, much as he did in Avatar.

Two new characters have been revealed.

New <strong><em>Avatar 2</em></strong> characters

Oona Chaplin, perhaps best known for playing Talissa Stark in HBO's Game of Thrones, has come aboard to play a very important character named Varang. She will be appearing in all four sequels. She is described as a strong and vibrant central character who spans the entire saga. Cliff Curtis, of Fear the Walking Dead fame, is playing a new character named Tonowari, the leader of the Metkayina, a reef clan from Pandora. It hasn't yet been revealed if these two new characters are connected in any way.

Avatar 2 is the first of four sequels.

Avatar Sequels

Avatar was released back in 2009 and given the insane success that the movie enjoyed on a global scale, one would have thought a sequel would have been made several years ago. James Cameron did indeed start working on Avatar 2 shortly after the release of the first moive, but he found a much larger story to tell in the process. So, we are actually going to be getting five Avatar movies in total, which was revealed by James Cameron last year. He has written scripts for all of the movies and intends to shoot all four of the sequels one after another at the same time, which will no doubt be a tremendous undertaking. That being the case, no matter what happens, once cameras start rolling, unless something dramatic changes, we are going to see four sequels to Avatar released by Fox. So if you liked Avatar, James Cameron has been making you wait for Avatar 2 for a good reason.

The budget will be massive.

<strong><em>Avatar 2</em></strong> Budget

There is some debate over what the the production budget of the first Avatar, but even on the low end, it cost around $240 million to make. Some estimates have it at over $300 million, which would make it one of the most expensive movies ever made. Avatar 2 is going to be no different, especially since James Cameron is planning on shooting four movies all consecutively. Oddly, that will save money in the long run, but Fox is going to have to shell out a lot of money up front to get Avatar 2 and the other Avatar movies made.

Assuming the budget is even somewhat modestly (for an Avatar movie) averaged out to $200 million per movie, that will be about $800 million Fox needs to make back just to break even for the production, let alone marketing. Avatar 2 probably won't be able to make the nearly $3 billion that the first Avatar did, but even if it makes around $1 billion and if the other sequels James Cameron is making can do the same, they should still be pretty profitable for Fox. The point is, Avatar 2 is going to be a very, very expensive movie to make.

Production begins September 2017.

Avatar Production

There has been a lot of hearsay when it comes to Avatar 2 in the years since the first movie was released, but after James Cameron announced that there would be four sequels coming, things really seemed to get moving in the right direction. He and Fox seem to be ready to go and are about to get serious. It looks like Avatar 2 (3, 4 and 5) are going to start shooting this year. Jon Landau recently released a statement that production would officially get underway this fall, with principal photography to begin September 25, 2017, to be exact.

There will be more technological innovation.

<strong><em>Avatar 2</em></strong> Technology

It doesn't matter how you feel about Avatar, there is no doubting that the movie was a colossal technological achievement. Avatar 2 will continue to push the envelope in terms of technological innovation, which is arguably one of the most exciting things about the movie. Not only because it will make Avatar 2 and the other subsequent entries in the franchise better looking, but it will help make that technology available for other movies down the road.

Most recently, while speaking at an awards ceremony, he said "I'm going to push. Not only for better tools, workflow, high dynamic range (HDR) and high frame rates (HFR), the things we are working toward. I'm still very bullish on 3D, but we need brighter projection, and ultimately I think it can happen, with no glasses. We'll get there." So if there is one thing you can expect in Avatar 2, it will be impressive innovations. There are still many that argue Avatar has had the best 3D we have ever seen in a movie, but doing that without glasses would be on a whole new level.

Avatar 2 will arrive in theaters with Glasses-Free 3D

<strong><em>Avatar 2</em></strong> glasses-free 3D

James Cameron's Lightstorm Entertainment, Inc. has renewed an exclusive, five-year agreement with Christie Digital Systems, that sees these two industry leaders sharing know-how and ground-breaking technology to propel the future of immersive cinema experiences. This includes Glasses-Free 3D, something that James Cameron has talked a lot about. Christie Digital Systems will equip Lightstorm with a variety of current and planned projection systems including the first of a new RGB laser projection series now under development, one that boasts much higher efficiencies than lasers utilized in current cinemas. The units will be spread across James Cameron's production facilities and come with 24/7 access to the Christie Network Operations Center (NOC), call center support, and replacement parts as per Christie's warranty services to all exhibitors. These RGB laser projectors will be able to provide bright, high-quality images at a higher frame rate, creating a 3D projection without the need for glasses to discern depth. In exchange for knowledge sharing, equipment and services, Lightstorm will share with Christie its own findings into 3D, HFR and high-dynamic range (HDR) enhancements, as well as formatting and color space requirements, for achieving the optimal viewing experience. This knowledge in turn will aid Christie in creating market-leading projectors, media servers and tool kits for a variety of applications including cinema exhibition, location-based entertainment and post-production markets.

What's up with the release date?

<strong><em>Avatar 2</em></strong> Release Date

Good question. We've been promised an Avatar sequel ever since 2013. But it's now 2017, and we still don't have one. And we won't until 2020. The first sequel was supposed to finally arrive in 2018. But those plans changed this year. In April, James Cameron confirmed a new release strategy for the entire Avatar saga. As of now, Avatar 2 will hit theaters on December 18, 2020. And it will immediately be followed a year later by Avatar 3, which now arrives on December 17, 2021. There will be a break before the final two movies, with Avatar 4 premiering three years later on December 20, 2024. The wait won't be as long for the final installment Avatar 5, which hits one year later on December 19, 2025. At the time of this announcement, James Cameron wouldn't give a solid reason for the massive delay. Other than to state the obvious, that the movies weren't ready to go yet.

Release date competition.

Release date competition

Back in 2009 when Avatar came out, December was not a premium time to release a blockbuster movie like it is now. That being the case, the timing really worked out and helped allow Avatar to eventually gross $2.78 billion worldwide. Interestingly enough, the movie never had a crazy, $100 million weekend, but because of good word of mouth and lack of competition, the movie was number 1 at the box office for eight straight weekends. That almost certainly won't be the case when Avatar 2 rolls around.

A lot has changed in the eight years since Avatar came out. For one, a lot more big budget movies have to find a release date that will allow them to have at least one good weekend. However, the biggest thing in the way of James Cameron and absolute box office dominance may be Star Wars. Both Star Wars: The Force Awakens and Rogue One: A Star Wars Story dominated in December and it looks like Disney and Lucasfilm are planning to rule that month for a long time. Assuming Fox decides to stick to their December release strategy, having to go up against a galaxy far, far away is going to make things very tricky. Even if Avatar 2 doesn't go up directly against a Star Wars movie, it is hard to imagine that, given the current landscape, the movie will enjoy the same kind of success. Right now, Lucasfilm and Disney appear to want to also return to some summer dates, with Han Solo debuting in the summer of 2018. Avatar was supposed to arrive next year, but the release date changed, for the umpteenth time to December 18, 2020. That date appears to be sticking for now, and there is no real competition at that time. Lucasfilm has not yet announced its third spin-off movie yet, which is expected in 2020 as well. So we'll have to wait and see.

Ryan Scott at Movieweb
Ryan Scott