It’s been 13 years since James Cameron’s “Avatar” revolutionized the film landscape and topped the history-making box office charts. Now, the long-awaited sequel, “Avatar: The Way of Water,” is finally about to flow into theaters on December 16.
The sequel tells the story of the Sully family — Jake, Neytiri, and their children — as their land becomes torn apart. Per an official synopsis, the Sully family endures danger, battles to the death, and tragedy throughout the film. The couple are displaced from their homes and flee to the Metkayina’s waterworld, which disrupts tribal politics. Cameron directs the feature and produces alongside Jon Landau.
Original stars Sam Worthington and Zoe Saldana reprise their respective roles as Jake and Neytiri, with Sigourney Weaver also returning. Franchise newcomers Kate Winslet and Michelle Yeoh also enter the mysterious world of Pandora in yet-undisclosed roles. Stephen Lang, Cliff Curtis, Joel David Moore, CCH Pounder, Edie Falco, and Jemaine Clement also star in the ensemble film.
Keep scrolling to see everything we know about “Avatar: The Way of Water,” plus its upcoming sequels.
Need a Refresher? “Avatar” Will Be Back in Theaters First
To fully untangle the Pandora’s box worth of plot twists, original film “Avatar” will be re-released in theaters September 23 to drum up excitement for the sequel, out December 16. The first “Avatar” movie made history, grossing $2 billion.
While the original first look at “Avatar 2” was unveiled in January 2020, the pandemic pushed back its release date. Cameron credited Marvel movies for ushering in the return to theaters and promised “Avatar 2” would not debut on streaming.
“Everybody makes a big deal out of [the box office battle], but the truth is what we really need to focus on is getting back to theaters,” Cameron said in April 2021. “Hopefully we can still have movies like that, ‘Endgame’ and ‘Avatar’ and the big Marvel movies and all that, movies that are able to make $1 billion or $2 billion.”
The Oscar winner added, “Let’s pray that movie theaters are still there after this pandemic and after this shift towards streaming, not that I have anything against streaming. There’s great writing and great shows in [streaming], but let’s remember that movie theaters are a sacred experience for all of us. Let’s get back out there when it’s safe to do so.”
Later at 2022 CinemaCon, Cameron promised “The Way of Water” will wow on the big screen.
“I know it’s been rough on the exhibition community these last two years,” Cameron said of theaters amid the COVID-19 pandemic. “I just want you to hear it from me that [producer Jon Landau] and I are here to work with you, you’re our partners, and the best way we can do that is delivering content that is a must-see experience at the cinema.”
“The Way of Water” Has a New Environmental Message
Aside from Jake and Neytiri’s love story and the conflict at the heart of the sweeping sci-fi epic, “The Way of Water” will pivot the message of climate change to promote ocean conservation. Whereas the first film dealt more with the dangers of deforestation, the sequel channels Cameron’s personal passion for oceanography.
“I do the ocean thing when I’m not making movies,” Cameron previously told Entertainment Weekly. “So if I could combine my two greatest loves — one of which is ocean exploration; the other, feature filmmaking — why wouldn’t I?”
Kate Winslet and Sigourney Weaver Held Their Breath Underwater for Over Five Minutes
Disney/20th Century Studios
Cameron had no desire to film “dry for wet” for ocean scenes, and instead opted to be as authentic as possible. Thus, the entire cast was instructed in professional scuba diving. Cameron also developed new technology in order to film motion capture scenes underwater, something never previously achieved. But to capture actors being underwater, there was nothing better than the real thing.
“I said, ‘It’s not going to work. It’s not going to look real,'” Cameron said. “I even let them run a test, where we captured dry for wet, and then we captured in water, a crude level of our in-water capture. And it wasn’t even close.”
Actress Weaver was able to hold her breath for over six minutes, with co-star Winslet not breathing for over seven minutes. “One of my favorite memories was we had this circular tank, maybe 40 feet wide, with a big glass portal in it. I walked by one day and I see Kate Winslet walking on the bottom of the tank,” producer Jon Landau explained. “She’s walking towards me and sees me in the window, and she just waves, gets to the end of the wall, turns around, and walks all the way back.”
Winslet called being underwater for that long “the most amazing thing for me as a middle-aged woman” since she was able to “learn something not just new, but superhuman.”
James Cameron Says Experiencing the Lush World of Pandora in Theaters Will Be Like “Dreaming with Your Eyes Wide Open”
Leave it to Cameron to hype up his own movie. The writer/director explained that when crafting “Avatar: The Way of Water,” the first tier of storytelling relied on the “surface story, which is just the plot,” followed by the thematic “spiritualism and the themes of capitalism, imperialism, colonialism, human rights abuses, and nature deficit disorder” layered on top. The third tier, however, proved to be the most essential to Cameron.
“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 on “The Marianne Williamson Podcast” last year. “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.”
He added that a lot of the plot ideas were shut down for the third, fourth, and fifth upcoming “Avatar” installments because they didn’t capture the same level of third tier magic. “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,” Cameron summed up.
Zoe Saldaña Endured “Months of Training” in “Humbling” Transformation Back Into Role of Neytiri
20th Century Fox
Lead actress Saldaña called returning for “Avatar: The Way of Water” a “nerve-wracking” experience due to the success of the first film. “Humbling as well, you know — the wait is finally over,” she added, via Entertainment Weekly. “And we get to share something that we love so much with so many people that we know love it, too.”
Saldaña detailed what it took to turn back into Neytiri for the big screen. “It’s more of a practice. It’s months of training, not just rehearsing with your director, but training with movement coaches, and traveling to the jungle and getting to feel what it’s like to make your own food with all the elements that are around you,” the “Guardians of the Galaxy” star explained. “And once you use all of that, you do bring it into what we call the volume, which is the set, when you shoot under performance-capture.”
To channel her inner Pandora being, Saldaña said the world of “Avatar” has to “become alive in your imagination” first.
“Obviously, there are reference pictures, and Jim [Cameron] always has screens that are alive, and he’s showing you a very rough version of what the environment looks like,” Saldaña shared. “But you have been prepping yourself so much, and you believe so much in Pandora that it’s just not a difficult journey for you to make.”
Kate Winslet’s Character Is a “Fearless Leader” and Pandora Warrior
While the plot for “Avatar: The Way of Water” has been mostly kept under wraps, Kate Winslet revealed that her character is Ronal, a Na’vi warrior who leads the Metkayina tribe alongside Tonowari, played by Cliff Curtis. The Metkayina beings live in the shallow parts of Pandora’s vast oceans, which are a pivotal battleground for the new film.
“She is deeply loyal and a fearless leader,” Winslet told Empire Magazine, citing comparisons to “The Terminator” character Sarah Connor, “Alien”‘s Ripley, and co-star Saldaña’s Neytiri. “She is strong. A warrior. Even in the face of grave danger, and with an unborn baby on board, she still joins her people and fights for what she holds most dear. Her family and their home.”
Sigourney Weaver Returns…As a Teenager
After Sigourney Weaver’s character Dr. Grace Augustine, leader of the RDA’s Avatar Program, died in the first film, fans were perplexed to learn that the actress was returning for the sequel. Empire Magazine confirmed that Weaver will be playing an entirely new role: that of Jake and Neytiri’s adopted teen daughter named Kiri.
“I think we all pretty much remember what we were feeling as adolescents,” Weaver said. “I certainly do. I was 5’ 10” or 5’ 11″ when I was 11. I felt strongly that Kiri would feel awkward a lot of the time. She’s searching for who she is. I was thrilled to be given that challenge by Jim [Cameron].”
Director James Cameron added that it was a big “acting challenge” for any actress to play decades younger. “We’re going to have a 60-something actor playing a character [younger than] her actual biological age. Sig thought it was all kinds of fun,” he told the outlet, adding that Weaver worked with adolescent girls to revisit that time in her own life. “Sigourney just became younger. She looked younger, she had more energy, and she never quite stepped out of Kiri for our whole capture period. She had a glow on her face and lightness in her step and a fun spirit.”
“Avatar: The Way of Water” Will Set Up “Avatar 4” and “Avatar 5,” Third Film to Be Released December 2024
©20thCentFox/Courtesy Everett Collection
The trailer for “Avatar: The Way of Water” debuted in theaters before “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” this May but that’s only the beginning of “Avatar” being back on the big screen. The franchise continues with “Avatar 3,” out December 2024. Cameron also will be busy filming “Avatar 4” and “Avatar 5” back to back…that is, if the director decides to stay onboard in the same role.
“The ‘Avatar’ films themselves are kind of all-consuming,” Cameron admitted to Empire Magazine. “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 maybe not. I don’t know.”
Cameron continued, “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. I got more excited as I went along. Movie four is a corker. It’s a motherfucker. 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.”
Regardless of who is helming the films, though, the multi-layered stories of Pandora will all be viewed as individual installments into the larger franchise, as Cameron noted. Producer Landau also explained at 2022 CinemaCon that “each story will come to its own conclusion, and each movie will deliver to audiences fulfilling emotional resolutions,” despite the multiple sequels in the works.
Landau continued, “However, when looked at as a whole, the journey across all four movies will connect to create an even larger epic saga.”