There’s really never been a film franchise quite like what’s about to happen with Avatar. Some studios have taken on a chance on making two sequels back-to-back; the last two Back to the Futures were shot that way, as were the first two Matrix sequels. But James Cameron isn’t making two Avatar sequels back to back; he’s making four back to back to back to back. And while the first of these movies, Avatar: The Way of Water, doesn’t even debut until December, Cameron has already shot a significant portion of the fourth film — which isn’t even scheduled to open in theaters under the best circumstances for another four years.

Franchise producer Jon Landau presented some footage from The Way of Water at the Busan International Film Festival this week, where he gave this information on the state of the franchise (via Variety):

We’ve completed most of the first act of ‘Avatar 4’ and there were logistical reasons why we needed to do that. We’ve designed most of the whole movie for ‘Avatar 4’ but we haven’t actually filmed all of it – just the first act.

The degree of complexity and size of these movies, and the organizational skills needed to pull this off is basically beyond my comprehension. To already be shooting Avatar 4, you’ve got to not only have Avatar 2 finished, you’ve got to feel confident enough in your plans for Avatar 3 that the film won’t change significantly. Unless, I suppose, you figure you can always reshoot Avatar 4 down the line if you need to.

Na'vi sitting in the ocean.
20th Century Studios

When people say they don’t really care about Avatar or they aren’t interested in seeing the sequels, this is the reason I dismiss those complaints. Even if you don’t care about Jake Sully or the other characters, Cameron is doing something unheard of here. Why wouldn’t you want to see what he comes up with?

The late film critic Gene Siskel famously had this test for movies, where he would ask: Is this thing I just watched as interesting as a documentary about the actors sitting around and eating lunch together? It feels like there should be some kind of expanded version for Avatar: Is this sequel as interesting as just watching James Cameron try to wrap his brain around making four gigantic films with tons of groundbreaking special effects simultaneously?

Avatar: The Way of Water is scheduled to open in theaters on December 16, 2022. Avatar 4, which doesn’t have an official subtitle yet, is currently planned for December 18, 2026.

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