Avatar: The Way of Water was so expensive to create that it will have to threaten the record books just to break even, according to the movie’s director, James Cameron.
Cameron even informed Disney and 20th Century Studios executives that it is “the worst business case in movie history”, according to an interview with GQ. The release is just weeks away.
Estimates put the movie’s production budget alone at roughly $250 million, although that figure has not been confirmed—Cameron only revealed that it was “very f—ing [expensive].”
For context, Pirates of the Carribean: On Stranger Tides is, at present, the most expensive film ever made with a budget of $422 million.
Top 4—at least
To illustrate how much the new Avatar would have to bring in to break even, Cameron said, “you have to be the third or fourth highest-grossing film in history. That’s your threshold. That’s your break even.” To that end, Avatar 2 would need to beat Star Wars: The Force Awakens or Avengers: Infinity War.
To make an actual profit, it would have to compete with Avengers: End Game, the second highest with $2.7 billion, and even Titanic in third place ($2.1 billion), which Cameron himself also directed; any figure under $2 billion would be a loss.
Cameron’s original Avatar, released in 2009, still currently holds the top spot as the highest-grossing movie ever, having pulled in $2.9 billion.
How Cameron got Avatar’s green light from execs
Considering his record of success, and the fact that all his movies have made a profit, studios appear to be reluctant to turn Cameron away—something the director emphasized in a retelling of an “I-told-you-so” moment.
The first Avatar movie was initially rejected by Fox, and Peter Chernin, who ran the studio at the time, allegedly asked Cameron “‘Is there any way you can get the kind of tree-hugging hippie bullshit out of it?’” (Chernin himself reportedly believes that Fox passed on Avatar due to cost.)
Cameron recalled telling Chernin: “You might look like a big d–k if it makes a lot of money,” citing how Universal passed on his pitch for Titanic.
Long before Avatar 2, Cameron’s repertoire included some of the most expensive films ever made in their time, such as Terminator 2: Judgement Day and True Lies.
The director said that while he used to be defensive about the costs, he now uses them to his advantage. “Now I’m like, if I can make a business case to spend a billion dollars on a movie, I will fucking do it,” he said, arguing that he’s putting it to good purpose, compared to where else it might go.
“We don’t put it all on a pile and light it on fire. We give it to people,” Cameron added. “If the studio agrees and thinks it’s a good investment, as opposed to buying an oil lease off of the north of Scotland, which somebody would think was a good investment, why not do it?”
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