In 1998, when “Titanic” won the Best Picture award, James Cameron famously exclaimed “I’m the king of the world.”
However, with “Avatar: The Way of Water” finally being released 13 years after the original, Cameron can legitimately be called the king of the sequel, joining the likes of “Aliens” and “Terminator 2: Judgment Day” as successful sequels he has directed.
Each of these films arrived seven years after the initial movies and paved the way for multiple sequels. Cameron, who wrote or co-wrote the screenplay for all three, skillfully expanded on the existing storylines instead of simply replicating them. “Aliens” was especially impressive as it was based on a film directed by Ridley Scott, not Cameron himself.
In “Aliens,” Cameron introduced a more adventurous and muscular battle by bringing in the Marines to combat the alien creatures, which also included the addition of the complex bug-like dynamics of the alien world. Similarly, in “Judgment Day,” Cameron turned his original villain into the hero and introduced a new mechanized threat for Arnold Schwarzenegger’s famous catchphrase-spouting cyborg to confront.
The second installment of the “Terminator” franchise represented a significant advancement in the world of computer-generated visual effects, thanks to its shape-shifting liquid robot. This breakthrough laid the groundwork for “Jurassic Park” and the subsequent technological explosion that followed. “Avatar” further pushed the boundaries, and “The Way of Water” appears to have taken digital filmmaking to new heights.
“Jim Cameron is the ultimate pioneer in this field,” noted Stan Winston, who designed the special makeup effects on “Terminator 2” and numerous other films, during a conversation about the film’s 25th anniversary.
In “Aliens,” there is still a reminder of the gruesome possibility of being turned into an alien host. However, the bulk of the movie is more of a thrilling adventure than a horror film, with Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley taking on the role of an action hero and surrogate mother, adding a deeper emotional layer to the story.
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In the new “Avatar” sequel, the major developments involve giving the central couple a family and exploring the dynamics of that family, including the struggles of children trying to measure up to older siblings and their warrior parents. The film also introduces an entirely new clan with their own unique culture and adaptations.
Although celebrating movies with a “2” in the title may not appear to be particularly innovative, creating sequels is more than just an academic exercise. In an industry that is overwhelmed with options, filmmakers often rely on familiarity and replicating what has worked before. Therefore, sequels are an essential aspect of filmmaking that cannot be ignored.
Cameron understands these dynamics and does not treat sequels as merely another product to be consumed. Instead, he continuously strives to innovate and build upon previous successes. While this may not technically make him the king of anything, it positions him as a certain kind of royalty within the current landscape of Hollywood.