When you hire filmmaker James Cameron, you don’t go cheap. Cameron is known for his major budgets on films, but he’s also not one to waste money, and the dollars are either up there on the screen or in creating tools that help out filmmaking as a whole.
With “Avatar: The Way of Water” currently sitting on the $1.75 billion worldwide haul mark and likely to pass $2 billion before it ends its run, Cameron’s film looks to be heading into profit even on an astonishing estimated budget of $460 million for that film alone.
Cameron has also already shot the third and part of the fourth films and says he’s now likely going to go forward with the rest of the fourth film and a fifth film. Part of the reason he can do that is that in planning out and having written all four films ahead of time, a good portion of the research and development costs went into the first of the sequels already.
Appearing on Smartless not long ago, a podcast hosted by actors Jason Bateman, Sean Hayes and Will Arnett, he indicates the films could actually get less expensive to produce because plenty of costs sunk into the first film can be repurposed for not just the rest of the sequels but other films for Disney and 20th Century Studios and VFX company Weta Digital:
“If we develop something for ‘Avatar’ – usually that’s in the form of an asset like a creature or a setting – that exists digitally. Sits on the server. [The studio] can reap the benefit of not having to recreate that over time. So the movies have a kind of economy of scale over the greater arc. That’s part of the argument for doing three or four films kind of back-to-back.”
Such asset building stretches to sets as well, such as the enormous water tank Cameron constructed in Manhattan Beach (120ft x 60ft x 30ft/36m/18m/9m). In addition, ‘The Way of Water’ carried with it costs related to both COVID pandemic measures during production and multiple theatrical release delays – expenses that hopefully won’t be so impactful on subsequent installments.
Of course, Cameron loves to push the envelope so he could develop further technological innovations that would add to the costs again (such as the third film introducing an “evil fire Na’vi” race). Whether the future films do end up cheaper, we’ll have to wait and find out.