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James Cameron Threatened to Fire ‘Avatar’ Sequel Writers Over Focusing on New Stories at First

Understanding why the first "Avatar" was so successful was more important to Cameron than coming up with new plotlines.

Editorial use only. No book cover usage.Mandatory Credit: Photo by Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corporation/Kobal/Shutterstock (5885988aj)Zoe SaldanaAvatar - 2009Director: James CameronTwentieth Century-Fox Film CorporationUSAScene Still


20th Century Studios

James Cameron’s long-awaited “Avatar” sequels are drawing closer (the first one, “Avatar 2,” is scheduled for release December 16, 2022), and the Oscar-winning filmmaker took fans inside the creative launch of the five follow-up films during a recent interview on “The Marianne Williamson Podcast.” With over $2.8 billion at the worldwide box office, “Avatar” is the highest-grossing movie in film history (unadjusted for inflation). Cameron said “the financial success of the first film was not a fluke,” as it had a simplistic story that “inspired people across all cultures,” adding, “‘Avatar’ was the number one film in basically every country.”

“When I sat down to write the sequels, I knew there were going to be three at the time and eventually it turned into four, I put together a group of writers and said, ‘I don’t want to hear anybody’s new ideas or anyone’s pitches until we have spent some time figuring out what worked on the first film, what connected, and why it worked,'” Cameron continued. “They kept wanting to talk about the new stories. I said, ‘We aren’t doing that yet.’ Eventually I had to threaten to fire them all because they were doing what writers do, which is to try and create new stories. I said, ‘We need to understand what the connection was and protect it, protect that ember and that flame.'”

For Cameron, understanding and preserving what made the original “Avatar” become a record-breaking sensation was of utmost importance during the initial launch of the sequels. Along with his writing team, Cameron re-watched the first movie and mapped out a three-tier structure to explain the original’s unprecedented success. The first tier was “the surface storyline, which is just the plot,” and the second tier was thematic, “the spiritualism and the themes of capitalism, imperialism, colonialism, human rights abuses, and nature deficit disorder.” But it was the third tier that proved most essential.

“There was a tertiary level as well, and we were all in unison about it, but there was a level that was dreamlike that you could not express in a sentence,” Cameron said. “It didn’t have any ‘-isms’ to it, it was a dreamlike sense of a yearning to be there, to be in that space, to be in a place that is safe and where you wanted to be. Whether that was flying, that sense of freedom and exhilaration, or whether it’s being in the forest where you can smell the earth. It was a sensory thing that communicated on such a deep level. That was the spirituality of the first film.”

When Cameron finally allowed his writers to start coming up with new storylines, it was the third tier that became the team’s guiding light. As the director explained, “We created and rejected many storylines for the second and third film because they didn’t take us to that transportive, dreaming-with-your-eyes-wide-open feeling.”

Watch Cameron’s full interview on “The Marianne Williamson Podcast” in the video below.

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