The Way of Water: Just how much money has gone into James Cameron's Avatar 2?

Ayaan Paul
Ayaan PaulDec 13, 2022 | 08:00

The Way of Water: Just how much money has gone into James Cameron's Avatar 2?

With just a few days until the long-awaited Avatar The Way of Water - sequel to James Cameron’s record-breaking blockbuster from 2009 - set to hit theatres, we take a look at the money pumped into the franchise and its after-effects on the theatre business.

The Academy Award-winning sci-fi epic followed the story of a paraplegic Marine - Jake Sully - dispatched to the alien moon Pandora on a unique mission, as he becomes torn between following his orders and protecting the world he feels is his home.


Hailed for its visionary immersive spectacle, the film made extensive use of new motion capture filming techniques and was released for traditional viewing, 3D viewing, IMAX 3D and 4D experiences. 

  • Avatar crossed the $1 billion mark on the 19th day of its international release, making it the first film to reach this mark in only 19 days. It became the fifth film grossing more than $1 billion worldwide, and the only film of 2009 to do so.
  • On January 31, it became the first film to earn over $2 billion worldwide, and it became the first film to gross over $700 million in the US and Canada, on February 27, after 72 days of release.

The visual treat it had to offer was the first of its kind at the time, leaving the world mesmerised at a never-before-seen movie-going experience. Its infamously prolonged theatrical run therefore, broke box office records in 2009, assuming the throne of the highest grossing film of all time from Titanic, which had held the position for 12 years.

Avatar remained the highest-grossing film in the world for nearly a decade until it was overtaken by Avengers: Endgame in 2019, but a Chinese re-release of the film led to the film retaking the worldwide top spot in March 2021, where it has been ever since.


The film’s blockbuster success can be attributed to a few different factors:

  • Its theatrical run started from December and peaked in January - a month that has historically been recognised as the ‘dump month’ for the year’s weakest films. The flimsy competition or lack thereof, catapulted Avatar to its record-breaking status within weeks of its release.
  • Avatar’s marketability capitalised primarily on its status as a “must-see” event, more so this time around for its spectacular appeal. But what really drove the point home was Fox positioning the film as a cinematic event that should only be watched on the big screen, and preferably in 3D.
  • The novelty surrounding 3D cinema had peaked in 2008-2009, much of which was the primary selling point for Avatar. However, it is the very same enhanced viewing experience with increased ticket prices that contributed to the massive box office pool.
  • The Oscar buzz surrounding the film and its eventual success at the Academy Award ceremony furthered the hype around the film.

It’s proven increasingly tedious to put a finger on the exact amount of money that went into the development and promotion of Avatar. The film was officially budgeted at $237 million, due to the groundbreaking array of new visual effects Cameron achieved. However, other estimates put the cost between $280 million and $310 million for production and at $150 million for promotion.

“It is the most expensive film we’ve made, but now, having the luxury of hindsight, it is money well spent, so I’m not concerned about it,” 
- James Gianopulos, former CEO of Fox Filmed Entertainment in a 2009 interview with CNN

The Way of Water has already been touted as one of the most expensive films of all time, with a production that has taken over three years to film. Set more than a decade after the events of the first film, The Way of Water tells the story of the Sully family, the trouble that follows them, the lengths they go to keep each other safe, the battles they fight to stay alive, and the tragedies they endure.

Here's the trailer for the film:

In a recent interview with GQ, though Cameron revealed that The Way of Water was “very f***ing expensive” to make, he did not drop any official numbers. However, Cameron’s concerns towards the film turning a profit, which he claims would require it be the third or fourth highest grossing film of all time to merely break even, gives us a rough estimate of the gargantuan amount of money that has been pumped into the film this time around.

Here’s a look at the current worldwide box office records of all time, according to Box Office Mojo:

The future for the Avatar franchise is entirely contingent upon The Way of Water’s box office success according to Cameron. Though a third film has already been filmed and is set for a 2024 release, the profitability of The Way of Water alone shall determine whether the planned fourth and fifth installments in the franchise shall ever see the light of day. 

"The market could be telling us we're done in three months, or we might be semi-done, meaning: 'OK, let's complete the story within movie three, and not go on endlessly,' if it's just not profitable."
- James Cameron in an interview with Total Film

Currently, the film has surpassed Doctor Strange: The Multiverse of Madness in advance booking collections, pooling in an estimated Rs 10 crore according to BoxOfficeIndia.

Even if Cameron’s much-hyped sequel immediately exceeds its highest expectations similar to Spider-Man: No Way Home on the same weekend last year, it's unlikely that it would follow suit on the scale of its record-smashing predecessor.

It’s safe to say that A LOT is riding on this film’s success, perhaps on scales never before witnessed in box office history. Despite his history of profit-motivated shortcomings, Cameron’s sequel holds the potential to revitalise the movie-going experience to pre pandemic levels, and that in itself should prove enough to root for the film’s success.

Avatar: The Way of Water hits theatres this Friday, December 16, 2022.

Last updated: December 13, 2022 | 10:02
    Please log in
    I agree with DailyO's privacy policy