Avatar 2's Massive $1 Billion-Plus Expenses Revealed (New Data)

By Sam Hargrave Posted:
Avatar 2 Na'vi

Avatar: The Way of Water racked up over $1 billion in expenses under director James Cameron in a variety of ways.

After an insane 12 years in development since the 2009 release of the James Cameron original, Avatar: The Way of Water, now under Disney, arrived to take the world and box office by storm in December.

The Pandoran sequel broke countless records, marking a box office milestone for James Cameron, and beat Avengers: Infinity War to become the third-highest-grossing movie of all time.

The movie sported some of the greatest VFX ever brought to screens and plenty of it thanks to its insane runtime. Obviously, this was no cheap affair, with The Way of Water being made on a massively expensive $350 to $400 million budget.

How Avatar 2 Cost Disney Over $1 Billion

Avatar The Way of Water

As the finale of its "2022 Most Valuable Blockbuster" article series, Deadline revealed Avatar: The Way of Water to be the most successful release of last year, even with over $1 billion in expenses.

The $1.087 billion total expenses come from production costs ($400 million), prints and ads ($400 million), video costs ($100 million), residuals ($40 million), interest and overheads ($72 million), and participation ($300 million).

Five of 2022's other most expensive movies from Deadline's "2022 Most Valuable Blockbuster" series can be seen below. For comparison purposes, Avatar 2 more than doubled the cost of the average MCU blockbuster: 

  • Top Gun: Maverick - $753.9 million
  • Thor: Love and Thunder - $547 million
  • Jurassic World: Dominion - $520.3 million
  • Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness - $496 million
  • Black Panther: Wakanda Forever - $491 million

Avatar 2's huge box office haul saw it take home $2.32 billion worldwide, including $683 million domestically, $1.39 billion internationally, and $246 million from China, making it the third-highest-grossing movie ever and surpassing Avengers: Infinity War.

Once the theaters took their cuts, Disney took home $1.27 billion from The Way of Water's theatrical run before generating a further $150 million from home entertainment sales and $200 million from television and streaming deals.

The data appears to contract director James Cameron's pre-release statements claiming the movie was "very f***ing expensive" and maybe “the worst business case in movie history.” As such, he indicated the sequel would “have to be the third or fourth highest-grossing film in history" to "break even," which would amount to around $2 billion gross.

Even Variety's box office analysts indicated The Way of Water may need to take home around $1.5 billion to make its money back. And yet, Deadline's data revealed the total expenses, and therefore the threshold to turn a profit was $1.09 billion, around $400 million less.

Avatar 2: 'The Worst Business Case in Movie History'

While James Cameron saying that Avatar: The Way of Water needed to gross around $2 billion to break even may have been an overstatement, he's certainly right that it might represent “the worst business case in movie history.” After all, $1 billion in expenses is a huge amount of money for any blockbuster.

Among these expenses comes a massive payday for James Cameron, who reportedly took home at least $95 million from the flick in a deal that was "backend-heavy with bonuses for crossing certain box office thresholds."

The Wrap revealed in 2009, via a Fox spokesperson, that the costs of Avatar apparently amounted to around $387 million ($544 million adjusted for inflation) including $237 million in production ($333 million today) and $150 million in marketing ($211 million today).

If the figures shared by The Wrap and Deadline are accurate, the expenses almost doubled between the sequels with inflation factored into things.

Disney is now developing Avatar 3, 4, and 5, with production around "70%" done on the third installment, The Seed Bearer. The expenses increase for The Way of Water may come down to its massive 12-year development, with Avatar 3 set for 2024, perhaps the next will be a slightly cheaper affair.

Avatar: The Way of Water is available now on digital platforms, with the Blu-ray and Disney+ release dates yet to be set.

- About The Author: Sam Hargrave
Sam Hargrave is the Associate Editor at The Direct. He joined the team as a gaming writer in 2020 before later expanding into writing for all areas of The Direct and taking on further responsibilities such as editorial tasks and image creation.