The pundits called it long ago: Avatar 2: The Way of Water was going to be a flop. They did allow that betting against the so-called ‘king of the world’ James Cameron was rash – after all, Titanic and the first Avatar film overcame almost hysterically negative buzz in order to become box office behemoths. But there were too many reasons why the latest Avatar was going to fail.
Nobody remembered the first film, they said. It wasn’t meme-able, they warned. Sam Worthington, its supposed star, was a nobody. There were too many blue people in it. The first film had had the novelty of 3D, but that was now a completely defunct format, popular only in China. People had moved on. The now 68-year-old Cameron had failed to understand what audiences want.
Well, the critics were wrong. Avatar 2 has not flopped. Released just a month ago, it is the highest grossing film of 2022, and currently the seventh highest grossing film of all time, taking more than $1.7 billion at the box office. The original Avatar remains the highest grossing; Titanic is third, with Avengers: Endgame playing gooseberry between the two of them. But only an idiot – or a pundit – would bet against Cameron’s latest film rising steadily up the list, given its remarkably consistent hold at the box office. Its sequels – three of them, apparently – are now guaranteed to get made, keeping Cameron in the Avatar business for the rest of the decade.
Those of us who hoped that this uniquely talented filmmaker might return to films that do such unfashionable things as have humans interacting with one another will have to wait a great deal longer. But rather than kvetching about Cameron’s obsession with boundary-pushing special effects – a career-long fixation of his – it’s more interesting to ask why the pundits were so spectacularly wrong about Avatar 2.