James Cameron announced today that the three sequels to his beloved 2009 blockbuster “Avatar” would shoot in New Zealand. The first film will be out in 2016, and the location was chosen due to large tax subsidies the New Zealand government provides, and probably also because of the varied landscape of the country and its close proximity to WETA, the New Zealand-based visual effects company that will handle a majority of the sequels’ complicated visual effects.
In an interview shortly after the announcement, with the Associated Press, Cameron explained what audiences should expect from the subsequent films: “It’s going to be a lot of new imagery and a lot of new environments and creatures across Pandora,” he told the AP. “We’re blowing it out all over the place. At first I thought I was going to take it onto other worlds as well, in the same solar system, but it turned out not to be necessary. I mean the Pandora that we have imagined will be a fantasy land that is going to occupy people for decades to come, the way I see it.”
So, we’re going to be stuck on Pandora for three more movies.
And while some of the first sequel will take place underwater, it’s not wholly set underwater, which was how previous reports had described the sequel: “There’s a fair bit of underwater stuff. It’s been inaccurately said that the second film takes place underwater. That’s not true,” Cameron said. “There are underwater scenes and surface-water scenes having to do with indigenous ocean cultures that are distributed across the three films.”
The filmmaker made a startling comparison when describing the journey the films would take. In the first “Avatar,” Jake (Sam Worthington), a crippled marine, was signed up for a program where his mind would inhabit the body of a hybrid being that looks a lot like the planet’s local Na’vi culture. At the end of the movie, he actually had his consciousness melded with his avatar body — he was now more than human and Na’vi.
“It was very Jake-centric. His story seen through his eyes,” Cameron said. “We spread it around quite a bit more as we go forward. It’s really the story of his family, the family that he creates on Pandora. His extended family. So think of it as a family saga like ‘The Godfather.'”
The sequels, which are currently being worked on with a small army of writers that includes Josh Friedman (“War of the Worlds”), the husband-and-wife team of Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver (“Rise of the Planet of the Apes”) and Shane Salerno (“Savages”), are expected to be filmed simultaneously. Elsewhere, work continues on the “Avatar”-themed land at Disney’s Animal Kingdom in sunny Orlando, Florida.
Gallery | 10 Sequels That Almost Didn’t Happen
- ‘The Godfather: Part III’ (1990)
Cost: $ 50 million Domestic Gross: $ 66 million
Follows: ‘The Godfather: Part II’ (1974) – $ 57 million gross
Some of the sequels on this list were driven by passion, others by fan demand, but this is a case of sheer financial obligations creating a follow-up that didn’t need to exist. Indeed, director Francis Ford Coppola had resisted pleas from the studio for a third installment, until debts accrued in the making of his disastrous “One From the Heart” and a string of flops forced him to finally pay the piper. Coppola managed to wrangle most of the key cast back, and despite a much-loathed turn by daughter Sofia as Michael Corleone’s daughter, it racked up enough cash and Oscar nods to redeem the director in the eyes of his Hollywood masters. Still, it could have been worse: After years trying to do the film without Coppola, Paramount nearly made it in 1986 with Sylvester Stallone in front of and behind the camera!
- ‘Terminator 2: Judgement Day’ (1991)
Cost: $ 100 million/Domestic Gross: $ 204 million
Follows: “The Terminator” (1984) – $ 38 million gross
He came back. For its time, the original “Terminator” was a sizeable sleeper hit, propelling Arnold Schwarzenegger to superstar status and anointing James Cameron new king of the world. Despite almost immediate sequel talk, they faced two huge hurdles: Technology and studio. The ability to accomplish the then-groundbreaking T-1000 liquid metal effects using CGI was guinea pigged on the watery pseudopod creature in Cameron’s “The Abyss,” but getting the rights back from production outfit Hemdale was a long legal ordeal that cost the big gambling Carolco Pictures plenty. That gamble escalated with a record nine-figure budget, but ultimately paid off when it became the biggest film of the year, and a science fiction landmark.
- ‘Desperado’ (1995)
Cost: $ 7 million/Domestic Gross: $ 25 million
Follows: ‘El Mariachi’ (1993) – $ 2 million gross
File this one under incredibly unlikely. When Robert Rodriguez debuted his little $ 7000 Mexican wonder “El Mariachi” it blew people away that one guy could make such a mainstream action film on a pittance that wouldn’t cover a day’s catering on any Hollywood movie. Columbia Pictures came calling, giving Rodriguez 1000 times the budget to make a sequel headlined by Antonio Banderas. The first thing to go: the original’s leading man Carlos Gallardo, who had to settle for the second banana part of Campa. Another thing that went was the autodidact director’s freedom to shoot things run-and-gun style, abandoning wheelchair dollies for union crews laying down tracks. He adapted, the film succeeded, and the trilogy completed in 2003 with “Once Upon a Time in Mexico.”
- ‘Escape from L.A.’ (1996)
Cost: $ 50 million/Domestic Gross: $ 25 million
Follows: ‘Escape From New York’ (1981) – $ 25 million gross
Much like Vin Diesel’s persistence in bringing Riddick back to the screen, Kurt Russell was instrumental in locking and loading another outing for eyepatched anti-hero Snake Plissken. The original “Escape” had done fine as a low-budget programmer, but would its cult following translate to big box office 15-years later? Paramount rolled those dice on the heels of Russell’s bankability after “Tombstone” and “Stargate,” rounding up the whole gang including creators John Carpenter and Debra Hill. They rewrote a script that began development in 1985 — the originally was deemed “too campy”– but the final result proved little more than a big-budget copy-and-paste of the original on a different coast, with some of Russell’s Libertarian politics thrown in for good measure. Hopefully Diesel fares better…
- ‘Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me’ (1999)
Cost: $ 33 million/Domestic Gross: $ 206 million
Follows: ‘Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery’ (1997) – $ 53 million gross
This is the movie that famously made more money its opening weekend that the previous film had shagged altogether. While the first “Austin” entry wasn’t a miss, it didn’t exactly set the world on fire. The world was not enough for this second 007 parody, which New Line greenlit only after the original made a killing on home video. Despite a relatively modest budget for a comedy sequel, the studio parlayed Mike Meyers’ randy British spy into a major franchise through clever marketing: “If you only see one movie this summer, see ‘Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace.’ But if you see two movies, see ‘Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me.'” The ploy worked, and it was the second highest-grossing movie of the summer.
- ‘Hellboy II: The Golden Army’ (2008)
Cost: $ 85 million/Domestic Gross: $ 75 million
Follows: ‘Hellboy’ (2004) – $ 59 million gross
The original take on Mike Mignola’s horned paranormal enforcer had style and smart-ass to spare, but was not the box office blaze Columbia Pictures wanted to set. Director Guillermo del Toro had always envisioned it as a trilogy, and when the studio balked at the idea of continuing Universal snatched up the rights. Whether they loved the potential of the character or just wanted to get into bed with del Toro after “Pan’s Labyrinth” is anyone’s guess, but del Toro’s passion was never in doubt. The jolly fanboy fav turned down opportunities to helm “Halo,” “I Am Legend,” and “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince” to make this relentless monster mash. Like the first one it only did middling business, but a third film remains in the cards nonetheless. Thank God… er, Lucifer.
- ‘Superman Returns’ (2006)
Cost: $ 270 million/Domestic Gross: $ 200 million
Follows: ‘Superman IV: The Quest for Peace’ – $ 15 million gross
While “Man of Steel” finally knocked it into the stratosphere this past summer, the previous attempt at Superman brought a fitting conclusion to the saga Richard Donner began in 1978. Christopher Reeve’s fourth outing as the character went down like a ton of bricks, and progress on a fifth big screen Supes didn’t exactly move faster than a speeding bullet. Filmmakers as diverse as Kevin Smith, Tim Burton, McG, J.J. Abrams, and Wolfgang Peterson spent years (and millions) nearly rebooting Superman, but it wasn’t until Bryan Singer (hot off of “X2”) came along that Warner Bros. decided to do a proper sequel to the first two “Superman” movies. Despite the modern setting and being almost completely recast — except Marlon Brando as Jor El — the sets, tone, and music are all Donner-inspired, with Brandon Routh doing an eerily good Reeve impression. While it did okay in theaters, a mixed reception from fans who found it slow and jarring meant this was the swan song for that particular series.
- ‘The Chronicles of Narnia: Voyage of the Dawn Treader’ (2010)
Cost: $ 155 million/Domestic Gross: $ 104 million
Follows: ‘The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian’ (2008) – $ 141 million gross
“The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe” made three-quarters of a billion dollars worldwide in 2005, and Disney thought they had the next “Harry Potter”-sized YA franchise on their hands. Wrong. “Prince Caspian” made it very plain that most American readers stop at C.S. Lewis’s first book in the “Narnia” cycle, and the three-year gap between films failed to follow the near-annual pattern of “Potter,” “Twilight,” “Lord of the Rings,” et al. Determined to at least cross the trilogy finish line, Walden Media ditched the mouse and went with 20th Century Fox, also abandoning a planned global shoot in Malta, Prague, and Mexico in favor of Fox’s spacious facilities in Australia. American attendance dwindled further, despite solid overseas numbers, so even Walden said sayonara to rights for further “Narnia” pictures. If “The Magician’s Nephew” ever does happen expect the kids to be in their thirties by that point.
- ‘Tron Legacy’ (2010)
Cost: $ 170 million/Domestic Gross: $ 172 million
Follows: ‘TRON’ (1982) – $ 33 million gross
Steven Lisberger’s monumental integration of live-action and CGI was a precedent-setting achievement in 1982, though Disney expected the next “Star Wars.” Audiences were intrigued by the look of it but needed the kind of verisimilitude that only today’s technology can provide in order to fully immerse them into the world of the Game Grid. Jeff Bridges signed on to reprise his role as hotshot programming whiz Kevin Flynn, once again trapped in the world he created. An unexpected announcement trailer at Comic-Con 2008 had Hall H fans roaring at the first sight of a Light Cycle, which led to over two years of anticipation before Joseph Kosinski’s film appeared in theaters. The huge budget showed, with Deadly Discs and Recognizers buffed to perfection, giving us a glimpse of what looked like Steve Jobs’ wet dream. Despite criticism of the script, it proved fruitful enough that Disney is in pre-production on Part III right this very second.
- ‘The Boondock Saints II: All Saints Day’ (2009)
Cost: $ 8 million/Domestic Gross: $ 10 million
Follows: ‘The Boondock Saints’ (1999) – $ 30 thousand gross
First-time writer/director Troy Duffy became the hottest thing in town when his original “Boondock Saints” script rode a post-Tarantino heatwave in the mid-nineties, attracting talent like Mark Wahlberg and Kenneth Branagh. After Duffy’s abrasive behavior alienated original studio Miramax, he had to settle for a lower rent production starring Norman Reedus and Sean Patrick Flanery, which was barely released in theaters. The making-of documentary “Overnight” cemented Duffy’s reputation as a loose cannon, but huge DVD sales of “Boondock 1” spurred an intense cult following and an equally ultraviolent (though more tongue-in-cheek) sequel finally emerged from development hell a decade after the first. This time the fans came out in force, turning what was intended as a boutique release into a profitable limited run in theaters, ultimately redeeming Duffy, even if he’s no saint.
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