Cameron said he expects the films to be released on the previously announced dates of December 2016, December 2017 and December 2018.
The filmmaker made the announcement at a press conference in Wellington, N.Z., with the New Zealand’s prime minister John Key.
The three films will spend at least $412 million (500 million in New Zealand dollars) in that nation as a condition of an agreement between Fox, Cameron’s Lightstorm Entertainment and the government of New Zealand. In return, the films will receive a film industry tax rebate of 25% — a figure which was recently increased from 15%.
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“The ‘Avatar’ sequels will provide hundreds of jobs and thousands of hours of work directly in the screen sector as well as jobs right across the economy,” Economic Development Minister Steven Joyce said in a statement.
“Avatar” producer Jon Landau and Paul Hanneman, Fox’s co-presidents of worldwide theatrical marketing and distribution, were also on hand for the announcment. “New Zealand offers unparalleled support to films of this scale,” Hanneman said.
Cameron praised the New Zealand production crews and special effects houses.
“Avatar,” released in 2009, is the highest-grossing movie with $2.78 billion worldwide. The sci-fi actioner was shot in Los Angeles and New Zealand.
Peter Jackson’s three “Hobbit” films were shot back-to-back-to-back in New Zealand with the final lensing taking place this fall. “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” grossed over $1 billion and “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug” totaled $205 million in its opening weekend.
Cameron also said work on the “Avatar” sequels was already underway with Jackson’s Weta.
The deal for the three films receiving the 25% rebate was outlined in a memorandum of understanding between the New Zealand government, Cameron’s Lightstorm Entertainment and Twentieth Century Fox Film Corp. It specified that at least $412 million would be spent on production in New Zealand, including most live action filming and visual effects.
The memorandum of understanding also spells out that 90% of live action crew are expected to be New Zealanders; an internship program will be supported; New Zealand will host at least one official red carpet premiere; and a featurette on New Zealand will be included in DVDs and Blu Rays.
The memorandum also states that Cameron and Landau have offered to serve as founding members of a new screen advisory board to provide advice and guidance to New Zealand filmmakers looking to succeed internationally.
During an October interview, “Avatar” star Sam Worthington said he believed production on the sequel would begin by next October. Cameron had announced in August there would be three sequels and that screenwriters Josh Friedman (“War of the Worlds”), Rick Jaffa & Amanda Silver (“Rise of the Planets of the Apes”), and Shane Salerno (“Savages,” “Salinger”) would collaborate with him on screenplays for “Avatar 2,” “Avatar 3″ and “Avatar 4.”