After many delays, James Cameron's sci-fi epic Avatar: The Way of Water is finally here, and it sets the stage for an ambitious set of sequels to come. Here's what you need to know about Cameron's grand plans for the franchise:
Warning: Spoilers for Avatar: The Way of Water will follow.
When are the next 'Avatar' movies coming out?
After The Way of Water, the plan is to release three more Avatar sequels every two years through 2028.
A third Avatar is scheduled for December 2024, with the fourth installment scheduled for December 2026 and the fifth scheduled for December 2028. This is assuming there aren't any major delays, though. Keep in mind, The Way of Water was originally scheduled to come out in 2014.
What's the status of 'Avatar 3' and 'Avatar 4'?
There's reason to believe director James Cameron can stick with this schedule this time.
After all, in the vein of Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings trilogy, the scripts for all three upcoming Avatar sequels have already been written. Cameron has said writing the movies back-to-back was a time-consuming process that took four years, which was part of the reason for the long wait.
Additionally, most of Avatar 3 was already shot in conjunction with The Way of Water. Actor Sam Worthington confirmed on The Tonight Show in 2022 that "80, 90 percent" of the third movie has been filmed. Cameron also said in 2021 that "a little bit" of Avatar 4 was shot while the child actors were still the right ages.
"I had to shoot the kids out," he said. "They're allowed to age six years in the middle of the story on page 25 of movie 4. So I needed everything before then, and then everything after, we'll do later."
Producer Jon Landau added in 2022 that "most of the first act of Avatar 4" is completed, and "we've designed most of the whole movie."
In 2017, Cameron told Collider there's a "tremendous amount of water work across Avatar 2 and 3," so the exploration of Pandora's oceans will continue into the next film. "It's ongoing into 4 and 5," he added, "but the emphasis is on 2 and 3."
Though the sequels were written simultaneously, Landau has said each will tell a standalone story. "This is a greater narrative broken up into four complete stories," Cameron told Empire. Broadly, Cameron also described the sequels to io9 as a "generational family saga" like The Godfather.
Will 'Avatar 3' definitely be released?
Of course, all of this depends on The Way of Water being a hit. Cameron told Vanity Fair in 2017, "Let's face it, if Avatar 2 and 3 don't make enough money, there's not going to be a 4 and 5."
Plus, he has acknowledged the bar for success is high, claiming to GQ that The Way of Water must become "the third or fourth highest-grossing film in history" to even be profitable. But even if The Way of Water is a financial disappointment, Cameron at least sounds confident we'll get Avatar 3.
"We'll probably finish movie three regardless because it's all shot," he told The Hollywood Reporter, adding that "we'd have to really crater" at the box office "for it not to seem like it was worth the additional investment" to complete it.
"Now, hopefully, we get to tell the whole thing because five's better than four, four's better than three, and three's better than two," he added.
But in a worst-case scenario where it's no longer financially viable to make Avatar 4 and beyond, Cameron has a backup plan: He would conclude the series with Avatar 3.
"The market could be telling us we're done in three months, or we might be semi-done, meaning: 'OK, let's complete the story within movie three, and not go on endlessly,' if it's just not profitable," he told Total Film.
Cameron also told Deadline that ending with Avatar 3 "would be satisfying," even though he still hopes audiences see what comes after.
"We enter a whole new problem and then that whole problem absorbs Movie 4 and Movie 5," he said. "So [Avatar 3 is] a natural stopping point."
What will the rest of the sequels be titled?
In 2018, rumored titles for all four sequels emerged via BBC: The Way of Water, The Seed Bearer, The Tulkun Rider, and The Quest for Eywa. Cameron confirmed to Entertainment Tonight these are "among titles that are in consideration" but cautioned "no final decisions have been made."
Though The Way of Water was later confirmed as the real name of the first sequel, by 2022, producer Jon Landau suggested to io9 the other titles may have changed. "We have decided on titles, but I would not go by those other three titles that were out there," he said.
How long will Quaritch stick around as the villain?
Stephen Lang returns in The Way of Water as Colonel Miles Quaritch, who was killed in the original but is resurrected in a Na'vi body. After waging war on Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) and his family, Quaritch survives the movie after his son, "Spider" (Jack Champion), saves his life.
Not only will Quaritch return for Avatar 3, but it's been confirmed he'll remain the series' villain through Avatar 5.
"The interesting conceit of the Avatar sequels is it's pretty much the same characters," Cameron told Empire. "...It's not a whole bunch of new characters every time. There's not a new villain every time. Same guy. Same motherf--ker through all four movies."
Now that Quaritch is a Na'vi, could Cameron perhaps be planning a redemption arc that sees him eventually join their side by Avatar 5?
Who else will join the cast?
New additions to the series in The Way of Water include Kate Winslet and Edie Falco, and a few more stars have been lined up for future sequels. Michelle Yeoh will play a scientist, Dr. Karina Mogue, and debut in Avatar 3, and Vin Diesel has reportedly been cast in an undisclosed role.
In 2017, Game of Thrones star Oona Chaplin was cast as Varang, a "strong and vibrant central character who spans the entire saga of the sequels." Actor David Thewlis has also said he'll be in the third, fourth, and fifth films.
Will we see Earth in any of the sequels?
Cameron revealed to Fandom that in Avatar 5, "you will see action on Earth," adding the film will show what could happen to the planet "if we don't change." Producer Jon Landau elaborated to io9 that "there is a section of the story where we go to Earth" in Avatar 5 to "open people's eyes, open Neytiri's eyes, to what exists" there. This comment also confirms Neytiri (Zoe Saldaña) will survive Avatar 3 and Avatar 4.
In The Way of Water, we learn that Earth is dying and the humans are plotting to make Pandora their new home. So it seems like a human vs. Na'vi war for control of Pandora could be the main story arc of the sequels.
What else has Cameron said about the sequels?
Assuming it actually happens, it seems the fourth film could mark a turning point for the franchise. "I got more excited as I went along," Cameron told Empire. "Movie four is a corker. It's a motherf--ker. I actually hope I get to make it." He expanded on that to Collider, revealing that after he submitted the Avatar 4 script, a studio executive sent him an email that simply said "holy f--k" in lieu of any notes.
"I said, 'Well, where are the notes?'" Cameron recalled. "And she said, 'Those are the notes.' Because it kind of goes nuts, in a good way. You think you know what it's about, and then, oh no, you don't."
But while speaking to Empire, Cameron floated the idea of potentially not directing all the films himself and tapping a filmmaker "that I trust to take over" after the third or fourth movie. "Or maybe not," he added. "I don't know."
Producer Jon Landau also told Entertainment Weekly that "each movie will introduce audiences to new biomes," as well as "new clans" and "new cultures on Pandora," and there are clans "that we'll introduce in movie 3 that you'll see in movie 4 and so on and so forth."
How much will these movies cost?
21st Century Fox executive chair Lachlan Murdoch told Variety in 2017 that the Avatar sequels "will be the most expensive movies of all time," and according to Deadline, their combined budget is over $1 billion. That works out to about $250 million per movie, though, not too much higher than the original's $237 million price tag.
Will 'Avatar 5' end the series?
While Cameron's current set of scripts extends through Avatar 5, he's not envisioning that as the end. He told The Hollywood Reporter he's already thinking about Avatar 6 and 7, though he likely wouldn't direct those.
"Obviously, I'm not going to be able to make Avatar movies indefinitely, the amount of energy required," Cameron said. "I would have to train somebody how to do this because, I don't care how smart you are as a director, you don't know how to do this."
But we're probably into the 2030s at this point, so we're getting way ahead of ourselves. For now, all that matters is whether The Way of Water lives up to expectations and becomes as much of a phenomenon as the original. Considering the sequel has stunned critics with its visuals and secured a coveted China release, box office analysts' expectations are high.
Besides, the years of delays resulted in The Way of Water arriving at a time when audiences more than ever go to the movies specifically for giant spectacles they can't find on streaming. So in the end, the timing could actually be perfect.
Update Dec. 16: This piece has been updated throughout to account for the release of The Way of Water.