You don’t have to be a studio exec to know that greenlighting a sequel to the highest-grossing movie of all time is a smart business move, but as James Cameron said QGits long awaited Avatar follow, The way of the water, is “very damn” expensive. So expensive, in fact, as Cameron claims The way of the water should become one of the highest-grossing films ever made just to break even. While Cameron may be exaggerating the sequel’s box office performance a little too much, The Hollywood Reporter put The way of the waterThe production budget is in the range of $350 million to $400 million, which is extremely rare air. (Only a handful of films—two avengers suites and Pirates of the Caribbean: Fountain of Youth— crossed the $350 million production threshold.)
In all, The way of the water is saddled with massive expectations ahead of its theatrical release on Friday. How the public reacts to The way of the water will be determine the future of the franchise, or if there’s even one beyond what’s already been finished in post-production on the sequels. Throw in the perception that Avatar has little to no cultural impact – a blockbuster reduced to a punchline by everyone from reviews to manufacturers of BuzzFeed quiz-and suddenly The way of the water it looks like it’s on very shaky ground. But while the odds seem to be stacked against The way of the waterthere’s an undeniable force working in the film’s favor: the man who created it, who also dresses like half the members of my uncle’s biker club.
When it comes to banking in Hollywood, there are few, if any, filmmakers you’d hitch a ride to before Cameron. Since he sold his terminator scenario for a dollar to ensure he could lead the project, Cameron bet on himself and repeatedly proved his doubters wrong. Even Arnold Schwarzenegger thought The Terminator was going to be “a shitty movie” when he signed; instead, it spawned a multi-billion dollar franchise and transformed the former bodybuilder into one of the biggest action stars of his time.
Such is the Cameron effect: no matter how unconvincing his films may seem on paper, he always finds a way to deliver the goods. If anything, it’s a hallmark of his career. Consider what he did with his next film, Aliens. Having the confidence to pull off an all-time Ridley Scott sequel is one thing, it’s quite another to have this film go in a completely different direction than its predecessor. Ditching the claustrophobic horror of Scott’s masterpiece to create an action-packed blockbuster, Cameron rewrote the rules of what a sequel can be, while making a film as beloved as the original.
Cameron repeated this trick with Terminator 2: Judgment Day, which saw Schwarzenegger return as a T-800 fighting on behalf of humanity against a strange new adversary. Most important, Judgment Day showed that the filmmaker was comfortable working on the largest possible scale: at the time of its release, it was the most expensive film ever made. Critical adoration aside, Cameron justified a bold investment in the sequel, and then some, with Judgment Day becoming the third highest-grossing film of all time.
What’s so impressive and inimitable about Cameron’s career trajectory is that even after making history, he continues to raise the bar. To this end, Judgment Day‘s being Hollywood’s most expensive production was quickly overtaken by… Cameron’s next project, true lies, the first film with a nine-figure budget. It speaks to Cameron’s reputation in the industry that a studio would shell out so much money for an action-comedy about a spy (played by Schwarzenegger) struggling to juggle his failed marriage, which isn’t the genre. of premise that you associate with a blockbuster record. Naturally, true lies did not deviate from Cameron’s pattern of box office bangers and was the third highest-grossing film of 1994.
Cameron’s commercial good faith was already taking on a mythical dimension when he moved on to Titanic, an epic love story set on the ill-fated ocean liner. Once again, Cameron broke his own record for the most expensive movie in Hollywood history, although it wasn’t entirely expected. The film was delayed and well over budget—Cameron even agreed to relinquish one’s share of the profits so that he can do Titanic the way he envisioned it, when the production itself was as doomed as the namesake ship. Cameron’s infamous on-set temper was a frequent source of tension, and at one point the crew’s catering was doped with PCP. (My favorite theory is that someone in production wanted to poison Cameron out of spite.) Amidst all the costly turmoil, the break-even point for Titanic was estimated at over $400 million, which even by Cameron’s standards was a very large order.
Sure, Titanic isn’t known for having one hell of a production. (That distinction belongs to Cameron’s other waterlogged tentpole, the abyss.) If becoming the highest-grossing movie of all time wasn’t enough, Titanic also tied the record for most Oscar wins by a single film with 11, including one for Best Picture. It may have been incredibly scary when Cameron shouted “I’m the king of the world!” onstage while accepting his Best Director Oscar, but no one can deny that he backed up his big speech when it mattered most.
By just about any metric, Cameron’s films aren’t just beloved by audiences and critics: they’re reliable moneymakers. Of the 10 highest-grossing films of all time, the only two that aren’t based on pre-existing IP come from Cameron (Titanic, Avatar). For those who prefer to analyze box office receipts after inflation adjustment, Titanic and Avatar are still in the top three, surpassed only by carried away by the wind. Cameron is as safe a bet as you can get in this industry. Which brings us back to The way of the water: If Cameron has demonstrated time and time again that his movies are box office gold, why is there skepticism that his latest project will live up to the hype?
For starters, Cameron has only released two non-documentary films in the past 25 years, and none in over a decade. (He was too busy explore the Mariana Trench.) The theatrical landscape also changed considerably during this period: When Avatar burst onto the scene in 2009, the Marvel Cinematic Universe was still in its infancy. Thirteen years later, the MCU is at 30 movies and counting, enjoying a seismic shift in the industry that has elevated superheroes and other big-name IPs above all else, including visionary filmmakers. . Best-selling authors with original ideas like Cameron have become rare as major studios prefer the security of an established cinematic universe. Even Steven Spielberg, the godfather of the modern tentpole, saw his most recent and personal film struggling to make a dent at the box office despite overwhelmingly positive reviews.
Ironically, Cameron’s return to filmmaking is technically part of the very ecosystem that threatens directors like him: an extension of lucrative intellectual property. But if the prevailing feeling is that Avatar doesn’t have much of a cultural footprint, so The way of the water will have to rely on Cameron’s track record as a generational crowd pleaser to entice moviegoers. With early box office screenings highlighting The way of the water heading for an opening weekend in the Range of $150-175 millionthe film has an encouraging start.
Either way, you don’t have to like Cameron as a person to recognize that he’s a uniquely successful filmmaker. (His maniacal behavior is so notorious that Amy Poehler, in one of the funniest moments of the Golden Globes 2013compared Kathryn Bigelow’s marriage to Cameron to zero dark thirtyThere are few directors who can work with the biggest budgets on the planet without compromising their artistic integrity or being crushed by the weight of expectations, and Cameron might be the best of them all. The question is whether this is still enough to stem the tide of worrying developments in the industry.
Between Hollywood’s narrow-minded obsession with superheroes, the rise of streaming services, and a cinematic landscape that hasn’t fully recovered since the pandemic, many factors could lead to The way of the water disappointing compared to its huge price. But until one of his films explodes at the box office, Cameron has more than earned our trust. After all, if those who forget history are doomed to repeat it, then we shouldn’t doubt the titanic and enduring power of a James Cameron blockbuster. The King of the World is not yet ready to descend to earth.