If you’ve ever discussed Avatar with someone, then I’ve no doubt you’ve seen at least one variation on these stunningly brave comments: ‘Name the main character in Avatar?’ ‘Can you describe three scenes from Avatar?’ ‘Avatar is just Dances with Wolves with blue people.’
For whatever reason, there’s a certain type of film fan who just cannot wait to tell you they don’t like Avatar. Like someone with an unfortunate case of norovirus looking for a bathroom in a train station to drop their rancid effluence, these people can’t wait to spray the porcelain bowl that is the internet with the fact (in their mind at least) that Avatar left zero cultural impact.
It’s gotten to the point where Cameron has reacted to the so-called trolls’ repeated attempts to remind you that no one ever thinks about Avatar (except when they’re thinking about how much they don’t think about Avatar). “The trolls will have it that nobody gives a shit, and they can’t remember the characters’ names or one damn thing that happened in the movie,” he told Empire magazine. “Then they see the movie again and go, ‘Oh, okay, excuse me, let me just shut the fuck up right now.’ So I’m not worried about that.”
And I’ll be honest, Cameron is right not to worry about the naysayers. Why? Well, he’s been dealing with people’s doubts his entire career. As silly as it sounds, with the benefit of hindsight, there was a time when people doubted that Terminator (Cameron’s second film) would be a success.
In an interview with GQ, Arnold Schwarzenegger said that studio executives treated the whole thing like a cheap B-movie. Even Arnie didn’t quite have 100% faith in his director, believing it to just be another cheap action movie.
“The year before came out Exterminator, now it was Terminator, and what else is gonna be next, type of thing, right?” Schwarzenegger explained. “But, when I shot the film, and James Cameron showed me some of the footage, and then we had like 20 minutes edited, and I saw the film, I said to myself, ‘Wait a minute, this is really intense, this is really wild.'”
Terminator became one of the biggest movies of 1984. Still, you may think it’s understandable at this point in Cameron’s career that people doubted him. After all, he’d only made one film before, Piranha 2, an absolute stinker that’s widely considered one of the worst films of all time.
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Cameron followed up Terminator with a string of hits, including Aliens, The Abyss, Terminator 2, and True Lies. Yet despite this, people couldn’t quite wrap their heads around his ambition and expected him to come unstuck, most notably when he started work on Titanic.
Titanic had an enormous budget of a reported $200 million (making it the most expensive movie ever made) and an extremely troubled production. The cast got sick, Cameron threw temper tantrums, and several people reportedly walked away from the film. With the disaster movie seemingly sinking, people got out their knives, predicting that Cameron was about to hit an iceberg of his own.
Even Cameron doubted the project, believing the film was going to lose money on release. “We laboured the last six months on Titanic in the absolute knowledge that the studio would lose $100m,” he reportedly said [via Times Online]. “It was a certainty.”
Well, Cameron and his critics were wrong. How wrong? Well, Titanic was a titanic success. The film was number one at the box office for an unprecedented 15 consecutive weeks in North America, a feat that’s never been replicated. It was the highest-grossing movie ever until the release of Avatar and is still the third highest-grossing film ever released, right behind Endgame.
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Not bad for a film everyone expected to flop. By now, the pattern is clear: people doubt Cameron, and then he proves them all wrong. Even now, you can see history repeating itself with doom-mongers getting together to forecast failure for Avatar 2. Like with Titanic, Cameron’s started thinking The Way of Water will bomb. But you know what? Cameron hasn’t missed yet, and history is on his side.