Director signs up for two more 'Avatar' pics

The far-reaching pact for two more “Avatar” pics keeps James Cameron at 20th Century Fox for at least five more years in a sizeable coup for the studio.

As first reported by Variety.com, “Avatar 2″ and “Avatar 3″ will be Cameron’s next films. He’s hoping to begin production in late 2011, and could shoot the films back-to-back. He’s expected to begin writing early next year.

It’s only the second time in his career that Cameron has directed an original and a sequel — “The Terminator” and “Terminator 2: Judgment Day,” came out nearly 20 years ago (he directed “Aliens,” but not the original “Alien”).His commitment to an “Avatar” sequel and three-quel underscores Cameron’s avid interest in revisiting the world he created for “Avatar” and continuing the storyline.

For Fox, it provides two cornerstone tentpoles that are expected to hit theaters in December 2014 and December 2015, respectively.

A global sensation that proved the power of 3D if done right, “Avatar” cumed $2.8 billion at the global box office to become the top grossing film of all time, toppling Cameron’s “Titanic” ($1.8 billion).

Negotiations for the sequel and three-quel began in earnest over the summer, according to insiders. Cameron has a close relationship with Fox Filmed Entertainment co-chair Jim Gianopulos, who shares the top job with Tom Rothman.

Cameron also has a long relationship with Fox, beginning with “Aliens” in 1985 and 1997’s “Titanic.”

One unique provision of the deal is that Fox will help co-fund with Cameron a nonprofit org, the Avatar Foundation, which will support indigenous rights and the environment, including the fight against global warming. Certain proceeds from future “Avatar” pics will go to the foundation.

“Avatar 2″ and “Avatar 3″ will be produced by Cameron and his partner Jon Landau for Cameron’s Lightstorm Entertainment. Lightstorm partner Rae Sanchini negotiated the deal on behalf of the company.

“In the second and third films, which will be self-contained stories that also fulfill a greater story arc, we will not back off the throttle of ‘Avatar’s’ visual and emotional horsepower, and will continue to explore its themes and characters, which touched the hearts of audiences in all cultures around the world,” Cameron said. “I’m looking forward to returning to Pandora, a world where our imaginations can run wild.”

Fox and Cameron have always said the cost of any follow-up films will be offset by the original investment made in creating the groundbreaking technology used in “Avatar.”

“Avatar,” released by Fox in December, grossed $760.4 million domestically and $2 billion overseas and helped fuel the boom in 3D feature production. It’s also the top-selling Blu-ray disc.

“‘Avatar’ is not only the highest grossing movie of all time, it created a universe based on the singular imagination and daring of James Cameron, who also has raised the consciousness of people worldwide to some of the greatest issues facing our planet,” Gianopulos and Rothman said. “We had no greater priority, and can feel no greater joy, than enabling Jim to continue and expand his vision of the world of ‘Avatar.’ ”

Cameron penned “Avatar” from an idea he nurtured for more than a decade, all the while developing cutting-edge technology to make the 3D film, with the help of Peter Jackson’s Weta Digital.

“It is a rare and remarkable opportunity when a filmmaker gets to build a fantasy world, and watch it grow, with the resources and partnership of a global media company,” Cameron said. “With two new films on the drawing boards, my company and I are embarking on an epic journey with our partners at 20th Century Fox.”

The announcement for the two “Avatar” tentpoles answers the question of what Cameron will do next. Other projects he was rumored to be considering included “Cleopatra” for Sony.

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