Maybe We Should Stop Doubting James Cameron?

A still from the teaser trailer for Avatar: The Way of Water, out later this year.

Why do people keep doubting James Cameron? At minimum, he’s at least earned the benefit of the doubt!

His first break-through film, 1984’s The Terminator started the theme of his films going overbudget, and coming out with low expectations, and then overdelivering commercially (and usually criticially, too). The film’s original budget was reported to be $4 million, and it increased to $6.5 million. That may not seem like a lot, but when you’re already operating on a shoestring sort of film budget … Anyhow, the film would go on to make $38.3 million domestically. Pretty nice! And of course, another trademark of The Terminator that would follow Cameron is his films being known for extraordinary, often groundbreaking special effects.

1986’s Aliens followed a similar pattern, as did the sequel to The Terminator, 1991’s Terminator 2: Judgement Day, which again was one of the most expensive films ever produced ($94 million), buoyed by groundbreaking special effects work in computer-generated imagery, but would go on to break box office records (the first film to earn over $300 million globally).

Then, there is Titanic. Look at Titanic on paper: An epic film in the style of epic films of the 1930s and 1940s, with an exuberant runtime, and primarily focused on a romance story. On paper, and then in practice when the film, like his prior ones, this was overbudget and over the production schedule, and doubted again. Like with the Terminator sequel, at the time, it was the most expensive film ever produced at $200 million.

The poster.

What happened next? It became the biggest film in the history of the box office (and dominated the box office in the way the films of the 1930s and 1940s did with respect to longevity), and also had critical acclaim at the Academy Awards. Again, spectacular special effects helped, and of course, it helped that people ended up loving the romance story! That caused a lot of repeat business.

And what film broke Cameron’s Titanic record 12 years later? His own film, Avatar in 2010. I don’t think anyone, still, expected that. I don’t think anyone expected Avatar to be much of a big deal at all, much less to easily (at the time) become the highest grossing film of all time, and even today, 12 years later, it’s still the fourth highest grossing film of all time (and Titanic is still seventh). It was also the first film to really show what was possible with the overseas box office at that point, with it being the first film to make more than $2 billion worldwide.

But, like with his other films, Avatar was groundbreaking in its use of 3D to enhance the film-going experience, thus driving people to the theater. In fact, it kicked off the 3D craze to heights never before seen, and arguably, no film after Avatar was able to enhance the film in question like Avatar’s 3D did.

So, 12 years after that effort, with news and marketing materials dropping for Avatar: The Way of the Water, slated for later this year, it’s fascinating to me people are still doubting James Cameron. He’s earned the benefit of the doubt! Sure, maybe this one will finally buck Cameron’s run and the themes I’ve outlined, or maybe it’ll be a smashing success, just not the usual box office smash like his previous films.

But I feel as if those who have claimed for the last 12 years that nobody cares about Avatar, and nobody would care about a sequel, are clearly wrong. Yes, Avatar didn’t have the cultural currency of other films, or the staying power, but that’s ignoring what Avatar was about, and why it got so much repeat business to make it the biggest film in the history of film at the time of its release and run: People wanted to be immersed in that special effects world. It was an event film. It was something you had to see in theaters. There are very, very few films like that anymore, especially 12 years later, and especially after the pandemic disrupted the film industry. It’s basically Marvel now that gets people out like that.

One thing that makes the sequel promising, too: We’re talking about special effects 12 year progressed (and with yet again more technology created just for this film) from the prior Avatar. That’s exciting! Plus, this Cameron guy seems good at sequels!

Oh, and there is also the fact that the teaser trailer that recently dropped had 148.6 million views in the first 24 hours (23 million from China alone), surpassing all recent Star Wars films.

Seems like people are interested to me!

Here’s the teaser trailer, by the way:

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