Avatar won't be a Star Wars-style saga but is more like Top Gun Maverick, says producer

Zoe Saldaña in Avatar
(Image credit: 20th Century Studios)

Much has been made of how Avatar: The Way of Water is only the first of many Avatar sequels that James Cameron is planning, the filmmaker having set his sights on at least an additional three movies, bringing the total to five. That has, his producer Jon Landau tells SFX in the new issue of the magazine, featuring Violent Night on the cover, been something Cameron has wanted to do since the start.

"[Early on], Jim had identified that he wanted to make three movies, and felt that he had a plethora of directions to go in those," explains Landau. "Then, when he started working with teams of writers to take his 1,000-plus pages of notes and coalesce them into stories, he realized we couldn’t get it down to three movies, that there were really four unique stories to tell.”

Avatar, however, isn’t about to turn into some Star Wars-style saga, where the five chapters run together in one big, blue soap opera.

"I guess a really good analogy to think about is: did you need to have seen Top Gun to enjoy Top Gun: Maverick?" says Landau. "If you really look at those two stories together, Maverick has gone on an arc across both movies, and this is that same type of thing. We’re just doing it over four films."

Surrounded by Earth’s mightiest heroes, galaxies far, far away and numerous Pixar/ Disney animation smash hits, Avatar and Titanic are outliers among the biggest movies of all time. But Avatar also differs from the herd because, despite its box-office dominance, it’s never really made a mark on fandom in the same way as Star Wars or the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Sure, you’ll see the odd brave soul donning blue body paint and a tail to cosplay as a Na’vi at comic cons, but the film has rarely been top of the collective pop culture conversation.

And yet, the film’s environmental message (while heavy-handed) feels more relevant than ever, while there’s something timeless about human marine Jake Sully’s (Sam Worthington) unlikely romance with local girl Neytiri (Zoe Saldaña). Besides, the final shot of Jake waking up, his consciousness permanently transferred to his avatar Na’vi body, left the door wide open for a sequel. This follow-up picks things up with Jake and Neytiri several years later, and now they have a family of their own.

"I think going with the Sullies as a family unit was a natural evolution," says Landau. "We always saw Neytiri as pregnant at the end of the first film, and if we were picking up this story, you couldn’t ignore that fact. I always tell people that Jim has the uncanny ability to write in universal themes, themes that are bigger than the genre. There’s no more universal theme than family, so it was a natural progression."

That's just a snippet of the long-read on Avatar 2, available in the Violent Night issue of SFX Magazine, available on now! For even more from SFX, sign up to the newsletter, sending all the latest exclusives straight to your inbox.

Richard is a freelancer journalist and editor, and was once a physicist. Rich is the former editor of SFX Magazine, but has since gone freelance, writing for websites and publications including GamesRadar+, SFX, Total Film, and more. He also co-hosts the podcast, Robby the Robot's Waiting, which is focused on sci-fi and fantasy.