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Ahead of 'The Way of Water,' James Cameron says he may not direct the final two 'Avatar' movies

The first Avatar sequel hits the big screen Friday, Dec. 16.

By Josh Weiss
A still from James Cameron's AVATAR: THE WAY OF WATER.

For over a decade, James Cameron has restlessly toiled away on his blossoming Avatar film franchise, which should stretch across five epic movies once all is said and done. With the first sequel — officially titled The Way of Water — scheduled to open on the big screen this December and the third installment already finished, the writer-director has started to contemplate the possibility of handing off the final two movies to another filmmaker, especially since the Pandora mythos is now firmly in place.

"The Avatar films themselves are kind of all-consuming," Cameron admitted to Empire for a lengthy feature in the magazine's August 2022 issue (now on sale). "I've got some other things I'm developing as well that are exciting. I think eventually over time — I don't know if that's after three or after four — I'll want to pass the baton to a director that I trust to take over, so I can go do some other stuff that I'm also interested in. Or may not. I don't know."

When he first pitched the idea to 20th Century Fox (renamed 20th Century Studios under Disney's reign), Cameron insisted on making an entire saga. "I said, 'Imagine a series of novels like The Lord of the Rings existed, and we're adapting them.' Now, that was great in theory, but then I had to go create the frickin' novels from which to adapt it."

The studio's risky gamble paid off big-time when Avatar went on to become the highest-grossing movie of all time — a title it still holds to this day after a brief dethroning by Avengers: Endgame. The big question is this: can any of the sequels match or surpass that gangbusters success at the worldwide box office? For his part, Cameron isn't too bothered about the lengthy gap between the first and second chapters. "The trolls will have it that nobody gives a sh** and they can't remember the characters' names or one damn thing that happened in the movie," he added. "Then they see the movie again and go, 'Oh, okay, excuse me, let me just shut the f*** up right now.' So I'm not worried."

Set a decade after the 2009 original, The Way of Water follows the continued adventures of Jake (Sam Worthington), Neytiri (Zoe Saldana), and the family they've built together. This unit includes: Spider (Jack Champion), an orphaned human boy; Kiri, a Na'vi teenager (Sigourney Weaver); and the Sullys' biological kids Neteyam (Jamie Flatters), Lo'ak (Britain Dalton), and Tuktirey (Trinity Bliss).

The family's peaceful existence is suddenly threatened when the Resources Development Administration shows up to once again ravage Pandora for its natural resources. Hunted by Colonel Miles Quaritch (Stephen Lang, now rocking an Avatar body of his own), Jake, Neytiri, and their children flee to the picturesque coast, where they're taken in by the maritime Metkayina tribe led by Tonowari (Cliff Curtis) and Ronal (Kate Winslet in her first James Cameron joint since Titanic).

"Everything I need to say about family, about sustainability, about climate, about the natural world, the themes that are important to me in real life and in my cinematic life, I can say on this canvas," the director explained. "In the writing across these four films, I got more excited as I went along. Movie four is a corker. It's a motherf***er. I actually hope I get to make it. But it depends on market forces. Three is in the can, so it's coming out regardless. I really hope that we get to make four and five because it's one big story, ultimately."

He also promised "a big time-jump" in the fourth installment and a steady incline of narrative stakes. "It has magnificent scope. It gets very f***ing dark and tragic, and there are serious consequences. You're asked to invest in an idea of hope for everybody, hope for the Na'avi and hope for the humans. That, to me, is the big ethical and moral shift. It's a story about hope."

Avatar: The Way of Water arrives in theaters Friday, Dec. 16 and apparently clocks in at a whopping three hours (20 minutes longer than its predecessor). "I don't want anybody whining about length when they sit and binge-watch [television] for eight hours," Cameron said. "I can almost write this part of the review, 'The agonizingly long, three-hour movie...' It's like, give me a f***ing break. I've watched my kids sit and do five, one-hour episodes in a row."

Fans can reacquaint themselves with Pandora when Avatar is re-released into theaters Friday, Sep. 23.

In the meantime, you can take the plunge into the watery depths of Earth's oceans with James Cameron's Deepsea Challenge — now streaming on Peacock.