At $2.92 billion dollars at the global box office, James Cameron’s “Avatar” is the highest-grossing film of all time. But in the months before its premiere, many were skeptical it could even break even — including many executives at Cameron’s “Avatar” home base, Fox.
In an interview with GQ Magazine to promote next month’s long-awaited “Avatar” sequel “The Way of Water,” Cameron shared that after a pre-release screening of the original film, a Fox executive, who he refused to name “because this is a really negative review,” begged him to shorten the 162-minute long film. The famously short-fused Cameron described the exec as having a “stricken cancer-diagnosis expression,” and promptly chewed him out for doubting his vision.
“I said something I’ve never said to anybody else in the business,” Cameron told GQ. “‘I think this movie is going to make all the fucking money. And when it does, it’s going to be too late for you to love the film. The time for you to love the movie is today. So I’m not asking you to say something that you don’t feel, but just know that I will always know that no matter how complimentary you are about the movie in the future when it makes all the money.’ And that’s exactly what I said, in caps, ALL THE MONEY, not some of the money, all the fucking money.”
“You can’t come back to me and compliment the film or chum along and say, ‘Look what we did together,’” Cameron continued. “‘You won’t be able to do that.’ At that point, that particular studio executive flipped out and went bug shit on me. And I told him to get the fuck out of my office. And that’s where it was left.”
Cameron ultimately proved the exec wrong when “Avatar,” indeed, made all the fucking money. For “The Way of Water,” the “Titanic” and “Aliens” director was allowed to go even longer, with the decade-plus follow-up reaching well over the three-hour benchmark. In an interview with Total Film earlier this month, Cameron defended the film’s runtime by comparing the movie to HBO’s “The Sopranos,” saying it was a family drama in the same vein.
“The goal is to tell an extremely compelling story on an emotional basis,” Cameron said. “I would say the emphasis in the new film is more on character, more on story, more on relationships, more on emotion. We didn’t spend as much time on relationship and emotion in the first film as we do in the second film, and it’s a longer film, because there’s more characters to service. There’s more story to service.”
Elsewhere in the GQ interview, Cameron addressed his reputation as having a fiery temper — the story notes that several sets for his film have seen crew members make shirts saying, “You can’t scare me—I work for Jim Cameron.” According to Cameron, it’s something he’s aware of and is attempting to work on to improve.
“I think there was a period of time early on where that reputation worked in my favor,” he told GQ. “And it took on this Paul Bunyan–esque, slightly larger-than-life quality. And then there was a legitimate time when I looked at like, ‘All right, why am I getting so upset, and what is that solving?’ I’m not saying I don’t get upset once in a while. I mean, everybody, I think, is entitled to a bad day. But whereas before, it might have been once every couple of weeks. Now it’s like twice a year.”
“The Way of Water” will release in theaters December 16.