James Cameron is finally hard at work on his fabled Avatar sequels — four of them, to be precise — but, like any franchise, this one will also depend primarily on audience response. The first Avatar became the highest-grossing film of its time, and audiences were dazzled by its innovative special effects, but in the ensuing years it’s become more of a punchline than a respected film. Can its sequels clear that hurdle? It’s up to us, Cameron says.

In a candid interview with Vanity Fair, Cameron explained that if audiences didn’t warm to Avatars 2 and 3, then the fourth and the fifth movies probably wouldn’t see the light of day.

The scripts took four years. You can call that a delay, but it’s not really a delay because from the time we pushed the button to really go make the movies [until now,] we’re clicking along perfectly. We’re doing very well because of all the time that we had to develop the system and the pipeline and all that. We weren’t wasting time, we were putting it into tech development and design. So when all the scripts were approved, everything was designed. Every character, every creature, every setting. In a funny way it was to the benefit of the film because the design team had more time to work. . . . Most of the actors, the key principals, have all read all four scripts, so they know exactly what their character arcs are, they know where they’re going, they know how to modulate their arc now across the first two films,” Cameron explained. “We all know where we’re supposed to be dramatically in the saga, and that’s great. Let’s face it, if Avatar 2 and 3 don’t make enough money, there’s not going to be a 4 and 5. They’re fully encapsulated stories in and of themselves. It builds across the five films to a greater kind of meta narrative, but they’re fully formed films in their own right, unlike, say, The Lord of the Rings trilogy, where you really just had to sort of go, ‘Oh, shit, all right, well I guess I better come back next year.’ Even though that all worked and everybody did.

It sounds like Cameron’s giving the series some leeway, just in case the final installments don’t pan out. Each movie will stand on its own, but all will be part of an overarching narrative theme. He elaborated on that a little too:

It will be a natural extension of all the themes, and the characters, and the spiritual undercurrents. Basically, if you loved the first movie, you’re gonna love these movies, and if you hated it, you’re probably gonna hate these. If you loved it at the time, and you said later you hated it, you’re probably gonna love these.

So, there you have it. If you’re excited for these movies, better hope that enough people are also just as excited as you are.

Avatar 2 will hit theaters on December 18, 2020, Avatar 3 on December 17, 2021, Avatar 4 on December 20, 2024; and Avatar 5 on December 19, 2025.

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