In an era of cinema where the blockbuster reigns supreme and most movies feel like a capital-e Event, there’s still only one true king of spectacle: James Cameron. He’s released two of the highest-grossing films of all time, and he didn’t need decades of comic book IP and years of cinematic universe building to do it. Sure, the Avatar movies are expensive and the amount of long-gestating sequels can seem baffling at times. But when you have a track record like that, you deserve a blank check–at least, that’s what Cameron himself thinks.
In a new interview with The New York Times, the filmmaker admits he “clashed over certain things” with 20th Century Fox while making the first Avatar. “For example, the studio felt that the film should be shorter and that there was too much flying around on the ikran—what the humans call the banshees. Well, it turns out that’s what the audience loved the most, in terms of our exit polling and data gathering,” he explains. “And that’s a place where I just drew a line in the sand and said, ‘You know what? I made Titanic. This building that we’re meeting in right now, this new half-billion dollar complex on your lot? Titanic paid for that, so I get to do this.’”
That is what we in the business call a really baller move. And at the end of the day, not only was he right to say so, but his creative vision paid off in spades–so much so that the studio thanked him afterward. (Duh!) Cameron is business-minded about this approach, however: “I feel that my job is to protect their investment, often against their own judgment. But as long as I protect their investment, all is forgiven.”
The director still feels the original movie holds up years later. But the real question is, can he capture lighting in a bottle a third time? “I was a little concerned that I had stretched the tether too far, in our fast-paced, modern world, with Avatar 2 coming in 12 years later. Right until we dropped the teaser trailer, and we got 148 million views in 24 hours,” he shares. “There’s that scarce-seen-but-wondered-at-principle, which is, ‘Wow, we haven’t seen that in a long time, but I remember how cool it was back then.’ Does that play in our favor? I don’t know. I guess we’re going to find out.”