As the sequel of the most successful film of all time, the box office expectations for "Avatar: The Way of Water" are high.
James Cameron's 2009 "Avatar" remains cinema's biggest box office hit, grossing $2.9 billion, according to The Hollywood Reporter.
But theatrical distribution now faces the competition of streaming platforms. Additionally, many cinemas in China, a major market for the film, are still closed due to the pandemic.
"Can we be profitable in a changed market? Or are we just the last dinosaur dying after the comet hit? I couldn't tell you that right now," Cameron told Reuters ahead of the movie's debut.
James Cameron: the blockbuster king
Although the exact budget of "Avatar: The Way of Water" has not been revealed, The Hollywood Reporterestimates its budget at $350 million, making it one of the most expensive productions in film history.
James Cameron told Reuters that the film needs to gross at least $2 billion to avoid losses.
Only four films have ever achieved this feat so far — and Cameron happens to have directed two of them, the first "Avatar" and "Titanic" (1997).
Starring Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio as two passengers of different social classes who fall in love as their cruise liner sinks, "Titanic" not only broke box office records but was crowned with numerous accolades. It won 11 Oscars — the only two other films to have collected as many Academy Awards were "Ben-Hur" (1959) and "The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King" (2003).
New technology and acting records
As he did for the first "Avatar," Cameron has once again worked with cinematographer Pawel Achtel to develop a new camera system, this time to film underwater in 3D.
In "The Way of Water," the main protagonists Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) and Neytiri (Zoe Saldana), are haunted by old enemies and flee their home in the forest, hoping to seek protection from a friendly oceanic clan, the Metkayina.
Cameron also had his actors break records during the production.
According to The Hollywood Reporter, Kate Winslet held her breath underwater for seven minutes and 15 seconds for a scene. She beat Tom Cruise's record, who spent six minutes without breathing for "Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation," according to the Internet Movie Database. On average, people without training can only do this for one to two minutes.
Winslet, who previously worked with Cameron on " Titanic," was full of praise for the director's "capacity to create incredible female roles," she told The Hollywood Reporter.
"These leaders, these women, they have power, they have physical strength, they have emotional gravitas," she said.
In "Avatar" she plays the role of the matriarch of the Metkayina clan. It was "very exciting" to portray a "character who is so in line with how I see the world and how I hope to be as a parent and as a woman," she said of the role.
Joining the sequel trend
In the past decade, Hollywood has relied heavily on sequels and spin-offs for revenue, especially the Star Wars or Marvel films and series and this year's "Lord of the Rings" series — the most expensive TV series ever made.
But some observers fear that the long interlude between the first "Avatar" movie and its sequel may weaken moviegoers' interest in the story.
"The common perception has been the first movie didn't enshrine itself in pop culture," Shawn Robbins from Boxoffice Pro told Reuters.
But the story never disappeared completely, inspiring a successful circus show by Cirque du Soleil, for example. Meanwhile, the 3D "Avatar" rollercoaster is one of the most popular attractions at Walt Disney World in Florida; and people wait three to four hours to fly over the world of the planet Pandora.
In any case, Cameron is also ready to contribute to the sequel trend. Beyond "The Way of the Water," he has signed a deal with Disney to shoot parts three and four of "Avatar."
Climate protection and a love story
But beyond the draw of a sequel, the themes of the new "Avatar" are another crowd-puller.
Already in 2009, "Avatar" managed to deal with ecological issues in a blockbuster format, drawing attention to the importance of living in harmony with nature.
Today, James Cameron remains entirely devoted to nature conservation, and particularly to the protection of the oceans. Meanwhile, the climate emergency has also entered the consciousness of a wider audience.
Cameron's films always deal with one of the strongest human passions: love.
Just like "Titanic," "Avatar" features more than spectacular scenery, the latest camera technology, and a message about the climate crisis. As lead actress Zoe Saldana put it in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter: "It's a love story at its core."
The second part is not just about a romantic relationship, but also about the love for one's own family.
That's why Shawn Robbins believes the ambitious Cameron will be "delivering on his big bets."
"He's always had a good feel for what audiences are looking for."
"Avatar: The Way of Water" is released in German cinemas on December 14, 2022.
This article was originally written in German.