Why you haven't seen an Avatar sequel yet

James Cameron caught lighting in a bottle with Titanic, and he somehow managed to do it all over again with Avatar. The highest-grossing movie of all-time is scheduled to get not one, not two, but four sequels, beginning in December 2020. The first sequel was originally supposed to release in 2014, but it's been delayed and retooled so many times that we've almost lost track—and there are several reasons for that. Here's why we haven't seen an Avatar sequel yet.

James Cameron wanted to finish his novel first

Towards the tail-end of Avatar's run in theaters, people wanted to know when they would be able to visit the world of Pandora again. James Cameron has said he's always had more stories to tell, but before he jumped into developing the sequels, he wanted first to finish his Avatar novel. "Avatar 2…we're still working on deals.," Cameron told MTV News. "We don't start the movie until we get the deals worked out. I'm making notes. I'm not sitting idle. But really, what I'm working on primarily is the novel."

Although he never got the chance to write the novel while they were in production on Avatar, it's something he's "always intended to" do. As the filmmaker explained, "I didn't want to do a cheesy novelization where some hack comes in and kind of makes s**t up. I wanted to do something that was a legitimate novel that was inside the characters' heads and didn't have the wrong culture stuff, the wrong language stuff, all that."

Despite focusing on the novel after Avatar's release, the director still hadn't completed the book by 2013. He wanted this new Avatar story to be his introduction as a novelist, but as he explained, "Every time I get an idea for the novel, I kind of work it into the [Avatar 2] script, and I try to create a feedback loop." That's why he ended up passing the book duties over to Jumper writer Steven Charles Gould, whose job is to pen each novel for the four (now five) Avatar films. Looks like this guy will be keeping pretty busy for the next couple of years.

He keeps adding sequels

Shortly after Avatar hit theaters in December 2009, James Cameron confirmed that he intended to develop two or three more movies. He'd always had these plans, and he even incorporated scenes in the first film that would help set the foundation for a sequel. "I've had a storyline in mind from the start; there are even scenes in Avatar that I kept in because they lead to the sequel," Cameron told Entertainment Weekly. "It just makes sense to think of it as a two or three film arc."

Though he originally wanted to tell two more stories, while writing the sequels, Cameron realized there was too much content to confine to just two additional movies. "I've come to realize that Avatar's world, story and characters have become even richer than I anticipated, and it became apparent that two films would not be enough to capture everything I wanted to put on-screen," Cameron said in a statement in 2013, when Fox announced plans for three sequels.

Avatar 2 was supposed to release in late 2016, but citing "complexity" with writing the scripts, Cameron ended up delaying the film until December 2017. Then, in April 2016, Cameron joined Fox on stage at CinemaCon to announce plans to develop an additional movie, thus bringing the total count to four sequels. "We're making four epic [Avatar] films that stand alone but together form a saga." Fox said the first sequel would release in 2018, but that's no longer happening. After all, you know what they say about the best-laid schemes of Na'vi and men…

He's pushing for new technologies

James Cameron wants his Avatar sequels to be seen on the biggest screens possible, and that's why he keeps pushing for new technologies. "Our jobs as filmmakers is to keep making films on-screen," he told audiences at CinemaCon 2016, before going on to say, "There's always been a threat with moviegoing, whether that's been video, DVD or streaming….We answer it by being great with our showmanship. We create things by being great in the movie theater." However, Cameron is perfectly willing to wait awhile if it means creating the best experience possible. After all, he conceived the idea of Avatar in the mid-'90s, but he didn't move forward on the project until the mid-'00s, and that's because the technology he needed to realize his dreams hadn't caught up yet.

It might be the same thing for Avatar 2. Cameron has expressed the desire to incorporate new technologies in his upcoming sequels, including a higher frame-rate, which is something the world got a taste of with Peter Jackson's The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey in 2012. "When you author and project a movie at 48 or 60 [frames-per-second], it becomes a different movie," he said (via The Hollywood Reporter). "The 3D shows you a window into reality; the higher frame rate takes the glass out of the window. In fact, it is just reality. It is really stunning." Alongside a higher frame-rate, Cameron hopes to utilize glasses-free 3D. "I'm still very bullish on 3D," he said in a 2016 speech to the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers, "but we need brighter projection, and ultimately I think it can happen—with no glasses. We'll get there."

The sequels will film simultaneously

James Cameron had told Famous Monsters of Filmland (via Slashfilm) that he plans on filming the sequels simultaneously, instead of one after the other as previously thought. "It's not back-to-back. It's really all one big production. It's more the way you would shoot a miniseries. So we'll be shooting across all [Avatar scripts] simultaneously. So Monday I might be doing a scene from Movie Four, and Tuesday I'm doing a scene from Movie One."

True, it'll be quite a difficult task, and he knows that, saying, "We're working across, essentially, eight hours of story. It's going to be a big challenge to keep it all fixed in our minds, exactly where we are, across that story arc at any given point." In fact, Cameron believes this might be the craziest project he's ever tackled, explaining, "It's going to be probably the most challenging thing I've ever done. I'm sure the actors will be challenged by that as well."

Filming four sequels simultaneously will require a long production schedule, which is something Zoe Saldana (who plays Neytiri) is ready for. But with her commitment to the Marvel Cinematic Universe (not to mention the busy schedules of all the other cast members), Fox had to figure out a time that would work for everyone. According to Saldana, filming will start in summer 2017 and probably continue into early 2018. Hopefully, everything moves along smoothly, and they actually make the production start date this time.

Cameron likes to take his time

James Cameron likes to play the long game. He's not someone who pushes out films every one, two, or three years. Instead, he comes up with an idea, then he spends years—perhaps even a decade—planning it out to perfection. For example, look at the original Avatar. Cameron originally conceived the project in 1994, but the film didn't release in theaters for another 15 years. According to former Fox chairman and CEO Jim Gianopulos, "[James] Cameron has his own pace" when it comes to creating his movies. He's not wrong. Cameron has directed only eight feature films throughout his entire career (not counting documentaries), the last two being Titanic and Avatar. Considering how well-received they've all been, it only makes sense that the director takes his time with his four Avatar sequels, too.

The death of James Horner

Making a movie is a collaborative process, and if you lose a valuable team player, that can definitely slow things down. Tragically, that's what happened in 2015, with the passing James Horner. The legendary film composer had worked with Cameron for three of the director's biggest hits (Aliens, Titanic, and Avatar),and he was supposed to return for the Avatar sequels.

Sadly, that's no longer the case, and Cameron will need to find a suitable replacement. "The beauty and power of Avatar lay not just in the superb performances and the visual splendor, but in the music that made us cry and exult along with our characters," Cameron and producer Jon Landau said in a joint statement following Horner's death. Cameron followed up by saying, "[After his passing], of course, all we talked about was, 'What are we gonna do about the Avatar sequels?'" The director then went on to say, "I'm not thinking about the problem of replacing James right now. I'm just feeling really, really sad that I won't experience that teamwork again. Both of us were really looking forward to doing it again."

No one wants to compete with Star Wars

Avatar 2 finally looked like it was going to hit theaters in 2018, but in March 2017, Cameron revealed that they weren't going to be able to make that release date. A month later, Fox announced the first sequel would release on December 18, 2020, with the three other sequels releasing every December after that. It was surprising considering that Lucasfilm has been pushing out their Star Wars movies on that same weekend for the past few years, and it seemed like they would be doing so for the foreseeable future.

However, a few days later, Disney came out their own announcement. As it turns out, the House of Mouse had decided to move Star Wars: Episode IX back to its prime May slot, thereby freeing up December for Avatar. Perhaps the two studios reached some sort of mutually beneficial agreement. After all, it wouldn't be the first time Disney cooperated with another studio. In 2015, Disney agreed not to promote Gareth Edwards's Rogue One: A Star Wars Story outside of conventions until after Christopher McQuarrie's Mission: Impossible—Rogue Nation released in theaters, so as to prevent public confusion between the two films.

On the surface, it may seem like a coincidence, but the fact is, Cameron has stated multiple times that he wouldn't want to compete with Star Wars. No one would. As he told Collider in April 2016, he doesn't "want to land on the same date as one of the Star Wars sequels" because "that's just good business." Cameron then further elaborated, saying, "I don't want to go head-to-head with Star Wars. That would be stupid. And hopefully, they won't want to go head-to-head with [one of the Avatar sequels]."

But if Star Wars and Avatar did go to war, man, that would be the box-office battle of the ages.