Avatar 2 and its subsequent sequels can fix the problem Disney has had with launching successful Sci-Fi movie franchises. James Cameron's long-gestating follow-up to 2009's Avatar has been delayed several times, but will finally make its cinematic debut in December 2022 (barring any further set-backs, which can't be ruled out at this stage of uncertainty in Hollywood). After Disney's purchase of 20th Century Fox (now 20th Century Studios), Avatar 2 will fall under the broad Disney umbrella.
The first Avatar was, of course, the highest grossing movie of all time until 2019, when it was overtaken by another Disney franchise movie, Avengers: Endgame. It may be that Avatar gets a re-release in the future that allows it to take over from Endgame, but it's also possible that the House of Mouse will have similar hopes for its sequel, Avatar 2. And even if it doesn't quite reach those lofty heights, it should still be a major weapon in Disney's arsenal.
When it comes to the box office, James Cameron should rarely be counted out, especially when he's actually serving as director (after all, excluding documentaries his last two movies have grossed almost $5 billion combined). That's the kind of clout Disney is in need of, especially when it's increasingly reliant on the MCU to deliver the big wins, and after a decade or so when it's struggled with its Sci-Fi franchises in particular.
Disney's Sci-Fi Movie Franchise Problem Explained
Disney may be a Hollywood superpower, possessing an array of different studios that makes it almost impossible to match at the box office, but it has had its struggles when trying to start its own franchises outside of those. The likes of Marvel, Pixar, and Lucasfilm have all proven extremely successful over the years - though the MCU is the only one that has remained incredibly consistent - but in terms of actual Disney movies, there's been an issue: the likes of A Wrinkle In Time and The Nutcracker and the Four Realms have been duds, leaving the studio with its live-action remakes but little else.
This has been particularly amplified within the Science-Fiction genre, where Disney's problems with franchises are perhaps most evident. Back in 2012, the Mouse House attempted to relaunch the TRON series with TRON: Legacy, which received mixed reviews and brought in $400 million at the box office, against a budget of $150m, hardly making it a resounding win for the studio. That was followed by 2012's John Carter, which bombed with just $284m at the box office, against an estimated budget of around $263, making it an all-time flop. 2015 brought Brad Bird's Tomorrowland, which held a lot of promise during its build-up, but similarly failed to launch (grossing $209 million against a budget of around $180m), and in 2020 Artemis Fowl was unceremoniously dumped on Disney+ to little fanfare.
There are several factors involved in each of these failures, including many specific to each individual property. But Disney has seemingly shown a reluctance to fully embrace the genre while at the same time wanting to utilize its strengths, resulting in movies that feel watered down and try to twist themselves to fit wider markets, but end up in a middle ground where they don't quite appeal to either side. They could've gone deeper on the lore and in making truly imaginative, smart Sci-Fi movies that there has often been a demand for, while keeping it accessible for viewers, but they missed the mark on all counts.
Avatar 2 Can Give Finally Give Disney A Successful Sci-Fi Franchise
While Avatar 2 will be produced and released by 20th Century Studios, it's nonetheless likely to be seen as a big opportunity (and even bigger winner) for Disney. The studio is quite clearly intent on making Avatar 2 one of its major tentpoles, positioning it for the same December release slot that it's previously given to Star Wars movies in the past few years. Avatar was one of the biggest gains for Disney when they purchased Fox, not least as they already had an affiliation with the IP through the Animal Kingdom park, which houses an Avatar-themed area. That makes Avatar 2 even bigger, because it can feed into those areas while being a major box office success in its own right.
Although the box office's future remains uncertain in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, it'd take something drastic for Avatar 2 to not be a success when it releases in December 2022. The original movie may not be treated with reverence now, but it was still the biggest movie of all time for almost an entire decade, and as mentioned James Cameron is a box office draw. There's little precedent for the highest-grossing film ever to receive such a belated follow-up, but the success of franchise legacy-quels such as Star Wars: The Force Awakens and Jurassic World perhaps gives the best indication of the ballpark Avatar 2 will be in. It likely won't beat out Avengers: Endgame, but it should still easily be a $1 billion movie, and could perhaps become just the sixth movie in history to break the $2 billion barrier.
Even if it is another example of Disney buying success rather than creating it in a more organic fashion, Avatar 2 will be a huge win for the company, and for its Sci-Fi movie franchises. This will mean those past failures no longer look so bad, and that the future looks much better too. It won't need to hope that it can turn around its fortunes so much, because Avatar 2 should, if all goes according to Disney's plan, give it a more ready-made Sci-Fi movie franchise that it can package-up and sell as part of the Disney brand.
Avatar's Sequels Should Be Successful (But Are More Of A Risk)
Of course, Disney didn't just get Avatar 2 when it bought Fox - it also got Avatars 3, 4, and 5, since Cameron is developing so many sequels. Disney has given each of those movies a release date and, right now, is committed to ensuring all of them happen, which shows the faith they're putting in this to be one of its flagship franchises for the next decade (and that could no doubt involve further tie-ins, such as Disney+ spin-off shows, should Avatar 2 be the hit it's expected to be).
Right now, the Avatar sequels seem like a reasonably safe bet, even though there isn't much of a sure thing in Hollywood. But it's also worth considering that they are something of a risk too. Avatar 2 and Avatar 3 are filming back-to-back, while part of Avatar 4 has also reportedly been filmed, which doesn't leave Disney a great deal of wiggle room should things not pan out as they hope. While it's likely Avatar 2 will see fans flock to the cinemas since it'll be over a decade after the first movie, there's much less guarantee of that translating to the sequels.
If Avatar 2 is bogged down by the same story and character problems as the first, then there won't be the same levels of hype for the remainder. Of course, poor quality hasn't stopped Hollywood movies from making billions of dollars before, but it could leave Disney with a franchise that is quickly fatigued if the first sequel isn't something truly impressive. That said, when the upside is so high, it's also no doubt worth the risk.
Will Disney Be Able To Build On Avatar 2'S Success?
Although Avatar 2 and its many sequels will presumably be a success and give Disney a new franchise to expand, there is an even greater question of whether they can replicate such success with other movies, Sci-Fi and otherwise. Avatar 2 will help fill in some of the cracks, but it isn't completely overhauling the shaky foundations on which so many franchise failures have been built. Disney will need to be able to learn from and mimic whatever it gets right (and indeed, wrong) in order to help grow its other movies in a similar way.
The most obvious upcoming movie this applies to is TRON 3, which will star Jared Leto and look to get that franchise back on track. As a cult Sci-Fi movie series, then it falls right within the bracket of the kind of film Disney has struggled to sell previously, with its current problems dating back to TRON: Legacy. Avatar 2 can't guarantee success for the third TRON movie, but it could help show the studio where it can go right with regards to approaching technology, story, and marketing. That can go for any future Sci-Fi movies Disney decides to make too, which should be seen as a more viable and lucrative option following on from Avatar 2, allowing greater creativity and more true, harder Sci-Fi movies to be made by the studio.