James Cameron, writer, director, and producer of ‘Avatar: Way of Water’, revealed in a recent interview that his new movie was “very f** expensive” to make and needs to be at least the fourth highest-grossing movie of all time to break even.

The interview had the legendary filmmaker talking through some of his most remarkable movies, which was almost all of them, including Terminator 1 and 2, Aliens, Titanic, and of course, the first Avatar, released in 2009.

Even with the monumental reign of Disney in the current box office rankings, Cameron still has two of his films in the top 3 highest-grossing movies of all time ranking: Titanic at number 3, and Avatar at number 1, with a monumental $2,922,917,914 grossed worldwide. 

Avatar had been dethroned a while back by Avengers: Endgame after Disney re-released the movie with extended scenes in theaters. But the first Avatar was also recently remastered and re-released in theaters, bringing it back to the top by a “few” hundred million dollars. 

Source: Variety
Source: Variety

At the time of its release in 2009, the first Avatar was considered the most expensive movie ever made with an estimated budget of $237 million. This was largely due to the groundbreaking motion-capture technology, and of course, the unique 3D technology that was pushed as the new big thing and led to many other movies using the same technology afterward.

This cost has since been surpassed by a few other movies – the current most expensive movie ever made is said to be 2011’s Pirates of the Caribbean at $376.5 million. (Source: Insider)

If we are to take Cameron’s statement at face value – that his latest movie would have to be at least one of the top 4 highest-grossing movies ever to break even – this means that Avatar: Way of Water would have cost at least $2 billion to make. Which is considerably more than any movie ever, and by a whole lot.

However, it’s important to note that Cameron might be referring to the cost of all Avatar sequels combined, given how at least the second and third installments were filmed at the same time (and Cameron has confirmed from the beginning that his plan was to produce three more films after the original, all filmed at the same time).

Naturally, it could also be his expectation that the movie has to perform that well to be considered a success either by himself or the studio funding it, which will obviously expect gigantic results.

Source: WDEN
Source: WDEN

But on the other hand, ever since the original Avatar came out in 2009, Cameron has been working tirelessly on the technology required to produce the sequels and has been filming since 2017. It’s safe to assume that this could very well be the most expensive movie ever made, even if it didn’t exactly cost $2 billion to make, as Cameron suggests.

He has since commented that Avatar 3 was also very close to completion, but little is known about the fourth and allegedly final installment in the series.

Fortunately for Cameron, Avatar: Way of Water was released in China, which is a massive push towards the expectation of landing yet another spot as one of the highest-grossing movies ever. It is a known fact that if you want your movie to make a ton of money, it has to be released in China, the most populated country in the world with a population of 1.4 billion currently.

This is why studios like Disney often make compromises that allow their movies to release in China, such as removing scenes that would be considered controversial for those audiences and even altering posters to remove actors of color, as they have for Star Wars: The Force Awakens. John Boyega, despite being one of the central characters, was removed from the poster directed at Chinese audiences. Similarly, Disney has removed short scenes of LGBT couples featured in movies and animations specifically for release in China (such as an extremely brief lesbian kiss from Star Wars: Rise of Skywalker between two background characters).

Sometimes compromises are not enough though, as China has been barring many foreign films in an attempt to bolster their own productions in the country. That combined with different cultural sensitivities, and some movies don’t even make it, such as the recent Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, which was not released in China at all.

Of course, Disney isn’t the only studio to make such compromises and surely 20th Century Studios was ready to do the same for Avatar’s sequel, should it have been necessary. Even so, the movie could have been barred outright for other reasons.

But Chinese officials have approved the movie for theatrical release on December 16, the same day that it opened worldwide. The movie will likely amass a huge box office debut, and if Cameron’s reputation is anything to go by, it will probably land somewhere in the top 10 of the highest-grossing movies ever – which would give Cameron his third film in the top 10.

Avatar: Way of Water was released in theaters worldwide on December 16th – 13 years after the first movie. Between the hype of the long-awaited sequel and securing a theatrical release in China of all places, it’s safe to assume it will be the highest-grossing movie of the year. Now, let’s see if it will “break-even”, as Cameron says.