“Avatar: The Way of Water” is among the four highest grossing films in the world. James Cameron did three of them. What's his secret?
Avatar's sequel hopes to emulate success of its predecessor
“Avatar: The Way of Water ” has broken the 2 billion dollar mark: Director James Cameron's blockbuster has now grossed 2.1 billion dollars at the box office worldwide. Only four films in film history have managed to do this, including the predecessor “Avatar: Departure from Pandora” and “Titanic”, both also by James Cameron.
“Avatar – Departure from Pandora” is still alive the most successful of all films, no other flushed so much money into the box office through ticket sales – and into those of the film studios in Hollywood. According to the “Hollywood Reporter”, it was around 2.9 billion euros.
Before the theatrical release of “Avatar: The Way of Water” there were doubts whether the film could repeat the success of the first part. Not even Cameron himself was sure. Streaming services and the corona pandemic have really stirred up the cinema industry, in the important sales country China many cinemas are still closed.
“Can we make a profit even though the market has changed so much?” Cameron asked Reuters ahead of Avatar 2's theatrical release. “Or are we the last dinosaur left after the comet hit? I can't tell you right now.”
James Cameron: the director's superstar
The latest success story should have dispelled Cameron's doubts. “Avatar: The Way of Water” also did well with critics and audiences. The website “rottentomatoes.org”, for example, has 77 percent positive ratings from professional critics, and the strip has so far been liked by 92 percent of those there registered film fans.
Thus, James Cameron proves once more that he is a guarantor for success with the public: Not only the first “Avatar” film developed into a box office hit. Cameron broke all records with his film “Titanic” (1997). Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio played a young and tragic couple on board a sinking ocean liner. The film won eleven Oscars – before and after it only “Ben Hur” (1959) and “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King” (2003) succeeded.
Not least because of this, the expectations of Cameron's new film were very high. Although the exact budget of “Avatar: The Way of Water” is not known, the “Hollywood Reporter” estimates that the production costs alone should amount to 350 million dollars. This would make the film one of the most expensive productions in film history. James Cameron told Reuters the film needs to gross at least $2 billion to avoid losses. He has succeeded.
The second “Avatar” film explores the seas and oceans of the planet Pandora
Kate Winslet breaks a record
The expensive special effects in “Avatar: The Way of Water” are particularly well received by critics and audiences. In order to perfect this, Cameron had come up with a few ideas. As with the first part of “Avatar”, he developed a new camera system in cooperation with a colleague in order to bring images that were sharper than ever before to the cinema screen – especially when they were shot under water. Because in the second “Avatar” film, the main characters Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) and Neytiri (Zoe Saldana) are haunted by old enemies and flee their home in the forest to the Metkayina sea clan to seek protection on and in the ocean.
Cameron also demanded a lot from his actors, such as Kate Winslet. According to the Hollywood Reporter, she held her breath underwater for seven minutes and 15 seconds during filming. She beat Tom Cruise's record of holding his breath for six minutes for “Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation,” according to imdb.com. On average, people without training can only do this for a minute or two.
The Oscar-winning British actress Kate Winslet at the London premiere of “Avatar: The Way of Water”
Winslet, who played the leading female role in 'Titanic', told The Hollywood Reporter that she was full of praise for Cameron and the female characters he creates: “These leaders, these women, they have power, they have physical strength and they have emotional depth.” She plays the matriarch of the Metkayina clan and found it very exciting to play a role that was so much in line with “how I see the world and how I want to be as a parent and as a wife.”
< h2>A great love story
13 years lay between the release of the first and second parts of “Avatar”. Therefore, before the theatrical release, some doubted whether “Avatar: The Way of Water” would achieve a similar success as its predecessor. Shawn Robbins from “Boxoffice Pro” told Reuters that they had waited too long with the second part. “The general perception is that the first film didn't really sink into pop culture” because the sequels were missing.
This assumption is natural at a time when Hollywood primarily earns money through the reprocessing and continuation of well-known material – just think of the superhero films and series from Marvel, the numerous Star Wars films and series, created in the last decade, or the current “Lord of the Rings” series “The Rings of Power”, which can call itself the most expensive television series of all time.
But “Avatar” never went away entirely: Montréal, Canada's Cirque du Soleil, one of the most successful circus groups in the world, put on a show based on James Cameron's world, and a 3D “Avatar” roller coaster is one of the most popular Attractions at Walt Disney World in Florida. If you want to ride, you have three to four hours to fly over the world of the planet Pandora.
James Cameron (right) and Disney CEO Bob Iger opened the “Avatar” roller coaster at Walt Disney World, Florida in 2017
What is Cameron's secret of success?
On the one hand, “Avatar” was characterized by what made it new and different: the very first film was dedicated to ecological issues early on, and as early as 2009 in the blockbuster format drew attention to how important it will be for people to be in harmony with the to live nature. This message is also repeated in the second part. James Cameron has now dedicated himself entirely to nature conservation and, above all, takes care of life under water. In addition, the climate crisis has now entered the consciousness of a wider audience.
James Cameron has since dedicated himself to nature conservation: in 2012 he descended into the Mariana Trench, the deepest point in the sea, with National Geographic
On the other hand, Cameron's films always deal with one of the strongest human passions: love. Just like “Titanic”, “Avatar” is not actually about the grandiose scenery, the latest camera technology, not even about the climate crisis. At least that's how leading actress Zoe Saldana sees it, telling the Hollywood Reporter: “It's a love story at its core.”
Jake Sully (Sam Worthington, left) fell in love with Neytiri (Zoe Saldana) in the first “Avatar” film
Focus on family
In the second Part of it is no longer just about the romantic love between two characters, but also about the love for one's own family. In addition, Cameron boasts everything that modern cinema has to offer, from its own camera technology to the sharpest 3D effects the audience has ever seen.
The success of “Avatar: The Way of Above all, Water” should ensure that it continues: Cameron has already agreed to also shoot parts three and four for Disney. Even a fifth part now seems possible.
“Avatar: The Way of Water” has been in German cinemas since December 14th, 2022.
This article was updated on 02/02/2023.