Filming has begun on the four sequels to Avatar, James Cameron’s 2009
3-D CGI adventure about a paraplegic marine who lands on the planet Pandora to mine unobtainium. This time, though, Cameron is really gonna make it happen — he’s not playing around! He’s spent much of the last decade teasing us about the upcoming installments, throwing out piecemeal updates (with occasional breaks for a Titanic rerelease or to shade Alien: Covenant). But this time, he’s serious. Avatar 2 is just the first of the installments known as the The Avatar Sequels, which will come with a budget of $1 billion. (That’s three and a half Lord of the Rings trilogies, six Wonder Womans, 66 Hurt Lockers, and 250 Moonlights.) Below, a timeline of all Cameron’s Avatar promises that once seemed broken, or at least teetering on the edge of breaking, but he’s definitely about to make good on them, you’ll see. You’ll all see.
January 14, 2010: Now he says there won’t just be another — there will be several more. “I’ve had a story line in mind from the start — there are even scenes in Avatar that I kept in because they lead to the sequel,” he tells EW. “It just makes sense to think of it as a two or three film arc, in terms of the business plan.”
February 16, 2010: We’re not only getting several more trips to Pandora, but a book! “I told myself, if it made money, I’d write a book. There are things you can do in books that you can’t do with films,” Cameron says. Your middle-school librarian nods in agreement.
August 7, 2010: Now Avatar 2 and Avatar 3 will be filmed back-to-back. “We’re talking about that, that makes a lot of sense, given the nature of these productions. We can bank all the capture and then go back and do cameras,” he says. But really, he’s focused on the prequel novel: “I didn’t want to do some cheesy novelization,” he says, “where some hack comes in and makes shit up.”
March 7, 2010, an aside: Cameron loses the Oscar. (Later on, he’ll say the Oscars don’t award his kinds of movies anymore, meaning “big, visual cinema.”)
April 21, 2010: The Avatar sequel, Cameron says, will dive deep (not into the history — that’s for the novel) into the ocean. “Part of my focus in the second film is in creating a different environment — a different setting within Pandora. And I’m going to be focusing on the ocean on Pandora, which will be equally rich and diverse and crazy and imaginative, but it just won’t be a rain forest,” he tells the Los Angeles Times.
October 27, 2010: Avatar 2 and Avatar 3 are definitely happening ASAP — he passed on Sony’s never-realized Cleopatra to work on them. Fox made a big donation to his environmental green fund to make sure the trilogy rises to the tippity top of his to-do list. Cameron is shooting for a December 2014 and December 2015 release.
May 7, 2012: Not just Avatar 2 and Avatar 3. Now Cameron has an Avatar 4 in store too. He says he’s Avatar only. Literally, he says this: “I’m not interested in developing anything. I’m in the Avatar business. Period. That’s it. I’m making Avatar 2, Avatar 3, maybe Avatar 4, and I’m not going to produce other people’s movies for them,” he tells the New York Times. He confirms it formally in August 2013.
December 2013: Avatar 2, Avatar 3, and Avatar 4 will shoot in New Zealand. Not sure when, but probably soon-ish? When you jot it down in your calendar, maybe use pencil or one of those fancy erasable pens they sell at Staples.
April 12, 2014: Cameron says they’re in preproduction! Go ahead and set those iCal alerts.
January 14, 2015: He says Avatar 2, Avatar 3, and Avatar 4 are delayed, but only for a couple years, ideally 2017. So it’s a little delay, not a big delay. If we’re using Google calendar by this point, adjust it accordingly.
April 28, 2015: Cameron isn’t just giving us Avatar 2, Avatar 3, and Avatar 4. Did you think we’d get away without an Avatar 5? He and his writing team have come up with five whole freaking scripts. We’re getting Avatar 5, too.
January 1, 2016: He’s losing steam. How can he get it done? The Wrap reports that Avatar 2 has been “suspended indefinitely.”
April 14, 2016: “The next time I see you will be on Pandora,” Cameron tells a Comic Con audience. He’s back, baby! And this time, he’s promising a new Avatar nearly every other Christmas: Avatar 2 is slated for release on Christmas 2018, with Avatar 3 following on Christmas 2020, Avatar 4 on Christmas 2022, and Avatar 5 on Christmas 2023.
September 8, 2016: Sam Worthington is deep into his Christian movie stardom, Zoe Saldana is with Guardians of the Galaxy now, but Cameron is still hard at work on those Avatar movies. You’ll get them when you get them. Okay?!? “We haven’t moved that target yet, but we will if we need to,” Cameron says. “The important thing for me is not when the first one comes out but the cadence of the release pattern.”
April 22, 2017: Shady’s back, tell a friend: Cameron has started production with an adjusted timeline: Expect Avatar 2 on December 18, 2020; Avatar 3 on December 17, 2021; Avatar 4 on December 20, 2024; and Avatar 5 on December 19, 2025.
September 25, 2017: Seven years later, Cameron has started filming! Fox says the first Avatar sequel will be released December 18, 2020. Avatar 3 comes a year later, and the last two are due December 2024 and 2025. The Avatar Sequels aren’t just about the destination (again, Pandora, in case you’ve forgotten in the interim). Avatar is about Cameron’s journey.
May 7, 2019: It has only been 588 days since this extremely important timeline has been updated, and I have returned to offer critical news! (You think the Avatar sequels are your ally? You merely adopted the Avatar sequels. I was born into them, molded by them!)
In light of the Disney-Fox acquisition, the House of Mouse has released an updated — and exhaustive — release schedule for all of its new titles. “Four forthcoming Avatar films, expanding the vibrant world of Pandora, will release on the pre-Christmas weekend every other year beginning in 2021,” Disney says. We’re getting the sequel on December 17, 2021; Avatar 3 on December 22, 2023; Avatar 4 on December 19, 2025; and Avatar 5 on December 17, 2027. (Extremely optimistic of James Cam’ron to assume we will still be living on a habitable planet in 2027, frankly!) These movies may or may not be titled Avatar: The Way of Water, Avatar: The Seed Bearer, Avatar: The Tulkun Rider, and Avatar: The Quest for Eywa. Your move, Marvel.
March 17, 2020: Things were going so well in the near-year between spring 2019 and spring 2020! (Granted, James Cam’ron did get into a random feud with a diver, but that is actually very fun and petty drama!) Production on the Avatar sequels, however, screeched to a halt due to the coronavirus. As cities around the globe were shutting down to contain the virus, Avatar producer Jon Landau told the New Zealand Herald that production was temporarily suspended: “We’ve delayed it. We had plans to come down Friday night with a group of people and start back up and we made the decision to hold off and continue working here [Los Angeles], and come down there a little bit later than we’d planned.” Weta Digital would continue to work on the movie’s digital effects during the pause in production.
April 2, 2020: Other directors and other movies are falling victim to the global shutdown, with release plans and opening days shifting on the calendar. Disney releases an updated release calendar of its films, noting that the first Avatar sequel is still slated to emerge December 17, 2021.
May 11, 2020: Let’s be reasonable here: Production on all these Avatar sequels can only last so long. Time is ticking! James Cam’ron gave an update to Empire, detailing his frustration with the production shutdown. “It’s putting a major crimp in our stride here,” he said. “I want to get back to work on Avatar, which right now we’re not allowed to do under state emergency laws or rules. So it’s all on hold right now.” Speaking from his Malibu home, the filmmaker explained that he was about to travel halfway across the globe for a phase of the shoot before lockdown put paid to those plans. “We were about to shoot down in New Zealand, so that got pushed. We’re trying to get back to it as quick as we can.”
May 22, 2020: And we back, and we back, and we back, and we back, and we back! (A Chance the Rapper reference is reasonable here, I think, because in many ways the Avatar sequels are all we’ve got.) Producer Jon Landau announced that production is resuming in June. “Our Avatar sets are ready — and we couldn’t be more excited to be headed back to New Zealand next week,” he wrote, sharing a photo of a “command vessel” and a “jetboat.”
Come hell, high water, or a global pandemic, the first Avatar sequel is coming December 17, 2021! Watch this space.
July 23, 2020: … Or not! Disney pushes all Avatar sequels back a year, giving Avatar 2 a new release date of December 2022.
August 2020: Technically this is not related to an Avatar sequel announcement — it is barely related to canonical Avatar, as imagined by Cameron — but really you must see Joe Rogan earnestly compare a real live person to Na-apostrophe-vi.
September 10, 2020: Sigourney Weaver gives the thumbs-up while performing a mocap stunt, instilling confidence that the film is definitely, totally, unequivocally … being made.
September 27, 2020: Avatar 2 is almost done! Avatar 3 is almost-almost done! “We’re 100 percent complete on Avatar 2 and sort of 95 percent complete on Avatar 3,” James Cam’ron told Arnold Schwarzenegger during a one-on-one for the 2020 Austrian World Summit, per Deadline. “We’re able to operate. We’re able to shoot and have a more or less normal life here. We were very fortunate, so I don’t see any roadblocks to us getting the picture finished, getting both pictures finished.”
The director wouldn’t divulge any other details about the sequels. “I can’t tell you anything about the story. I believe in the mystery and the great reveal.” And I believe in Avatar!
March 11, 2022: Zoe Saldana says she cried watching the first 20 minutes of the upcoming Avatar sequel.
April 27, 2022: Praise Eywa! Fans finally get to watch the very first teaser trailer for the upcoming sequel, which now has a name. It will be called Avatar: The Way of Water. Producer Jon Landau says that the trailer will premiere in theaters on Friday, May 6, ahead of Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness.
May 9, 2022: Seapunk is back, baby. Three days after debuting in theaters, The Way of Water’s first teaser trailer splashes its way onto YouTube.
July 4, 2022: Cameron tells Empire he might “pass the baton” to another director after the third or fourth Avatar movie in the Pandora-verse. According to Cameron, Avatar 3 is happening no matter what, but the fate of the fourth and fifth sequels might depend on “market forces.”
August 23, 2022: The original Avatar film will be returning to theaters on September 23 in anticipation of the long-awaited sequel, along with a new trailer for the old movie.
August 30, 2022: In Interview Magazine, Sigourney Weaver extols the strangeness of her role in the film. “I would say that it’s the biggest stretch I get to play in every possible way,” she tells Elizabeth Banks. “I think if Jim Cameron didn’t know me really well, he wouldn’t have cast me as something as goofy as this. I had to work in a completely different way to play this character, a very physical way.” Weaver is also confident about her physical abilities in the film. “I was older than a lot of the other people, and we had to do a lot of parkour,” she says. “We had to do burpees. We had to do free-diving. My husband is from Hawaii and he’s a big swimmer and body surfer, so we took the training together, and we both one day held our breath for six and a half minutes.” Sigourney Weaver will be swimmin’ on through The Way of Water.
September 6, 2022: It is now officially 100 days until The Way of Water opens in theaters.
November 7, 2022: Cameron reveals to Total Film that there was a scrapped Avatar sequel titled Avatar: The Higher Ground. It was a 130-page script that had “Na’vi fighting with bows and arrows in zero-G” but “didn’t play enough by Avatar rules,” according to Cameron. While most of the elements have been reincorporated into other projects, like the pending Avatar sequels, the unused portions that focus on the story between the first and second films have been adapted into a graphic novel coming December 6.
November 30, 2022: Worthington tells Jimmy Fallon on The Tonight Show that “about 80, 90 percent” of Avatar 3 has been shot. He adds that because the child actors were aging out, “a few scenes” of Avatar 4 have also already been filmed.
December 10, 2022: James Cameron reveals in an interview with French outlet 20 Minutes that Avatar 3 will introduce a new culture of the Na’vi, the Ash people. He also shares that audiences will see a darker side of the Na’vi people as they will be the antagonists of the film.
December 16, 2022: Avatar: The Way of Water premieres in wide release, but Cameron is already looking ahead. He gives a rundown of the situation with the sequels, admitting there are unanswered questions left in Avatar 2. “You can call it sequel bait, but I’m not trying to justify a sequel,” Cameron says to Entertainment Weekly. “We’ve already shot the other damn movie. I don’t have to sell it to anybody.” To explain why, he elaborates on what Worthington said. “I love Stranger Things, but you get the Stranger Things effect where they’re supposed to still be in high school and they look like they’re 27,” he roasts. The director also teases a time jump, specifically on “page 35 of the script in movie 4.” “We jump as many years as we need to jump,” he adds cryptically. But time isn’t the only thing broadening throughout the Avatar sequels. “Each movie is going to introduce audiences to new clans, new cultures on Pandora,” Landau says. “Once we introduce a character, they stay a part of the ongoing evolution. We just add to it. So you can expect to see the Metkayina that you meet in this movie in subsequent movies. There are other clans that we’ll introduce in movie 3 that you’ll see in movie 4 and so on and so forth.”
December 17, 2022: Avatar 2 actor Edie Falco goes on The View and says she thought the film had already come out and not done well since she hadn’t heard anything about its release after shooting the film four years back. “So I thought, It happens,” Falco said. She has since learned that the film is out, but does she know if she’s in Avatar 3?
January 6, 2023: James Cameron tells Chris Wallace on Who’s Talking to Chris Wallace? that Avatar 3 is “in the can,” Avatar 4 is partially shot, and 4 and 5 are both written. Cameron says that since Avatar: The Way of Water has crossed the $1.5 billion mark globally, it all but confirms that the next movies will go forward as planned. “It looks like just with the momentum that the film has now that will easily pass our break even in the next few days, so it looks like I can’t wiggle out of this — I’m gonna have to do these other sequels,” Cameron says. “I know what I’m going to be doing the next six or seven years. The point is we’re going to be okay. I’m sure that we’ll have a discussion soon with with the top folks at Disney about the game plan going forward for Avatar 3.” He added that his team is currently in post-production on CG work for the next film. “We’ve begun a franchise at this point,” he portends. “We’ve begun a saga that can now play out over multiple films.”
June 13, 2023: The Avatar sequels are moving on back to span a decade of release dates, with the last one now scheduled to be released in 2031, by which time we assume the human race will have made it to real Pandora and the whole concept will be rendered meaningless. First up, Avatar 3 is moving to December 19, 2025, from December 20, 2024. Avatar 4 will then be released on December 21, 2029, instead of December 18, 2026, and Avatar 5 is going to be out December 19, 2031, rather than the originally intended December 22, 2028. “Each Avatar film is an exciting but epic undertaking that takes time to bring to the quality level we as filmmakers strive for and audiences have come to expect,” producer Jon Landau wrote on Twitter. “The team is hard at work and can’t wait to bring audiences back to Pandora in December 2025.” And we can’t wait to drive our flying cars to get there.
This post has been updated.