Leave it to James Cameron to create new rules. That’s the perk of directing three of the four biggest movies of all time at the worldwide box office — 2009’s Avatar2022’s Avatar: The Way of Water and 1997’s Titanic.
On Tuesday, Disney revealed that Cameron and his team need more time to make the next three installments in the blockbuster franchise. The news wasn’t exactly a surprise, considering that release dates for the various Avatar pics have already shifted numerous times.
Most immediately, Avatar 3 is being pushed back by a year from Dec. 20, 2024 to Dec. 19, 2025.
While that move was normal enough, many in Hollywood distribution circles couldn’t believe it when Disney revealed that the fourth Avatar, which had been set to debut in theaters on Dec. 18, 2026, will instead go out Dec. 21, 2029, while Avatar 5, previously set for release on Dec. 22, 2028, is now dated for Dec. 19, 2031. The jokes started flying, considering that films are rarely dated beyond three or four years out, much less by more than eight years, as in the case of Avatar 5.
“I started sending people emails asking what they are doing in 2031,” says one veteran distribution executive. “I told them, ‘Mark your calendars!'” Adds another distributor, “I didn’t even know what to say.”
Humor aside, building a release calendar is serious business in the arms race to grab up the most desirable dates for franchise installments and other event fare. In addition to known movies, it’s also become commonplace for a studio to date an untitled project before someone else claims a coveted weekend or a holiday.
“If planning ahead is a sign of confidence in movie theaters, then studios have clearly gone all-in on planting their flags in the sand for their highest profile, and in some cases still untitled, big-screen releases,” says box office analyst. Paul Dergarabedian of Comscore, which is the official recorder of additions to the calendar, as well as any changes.
The Avatar The lineup was one of many high-profile moves Disney made to its calendar as the studio upped the stakes in terms of how and when it dates future movies, or reveals major course corrections.
Disney and Lucasfilm have not had a Star Wars feature in theaters since 2019’s Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker. At April’s Star Wars Celebration, Lucasfilm teased a feature to star Daisy Ridley, another from The Mandalorian’s Dave Filoni and one from James Mangold that will take place thousands of years earlier in the timeline. On Tuesday, Lucasfilm moved a previously dated Star Wars movie from December 2025 to May 22, 2026. The Ridley feature is furthest along in development and is likely to open on that date. And Lucasfilm revealed in Tuesday’s announcement that it has added a new Star Wars feature for just five months later: Dec. 18, 2026. (Another Star Wars movie is staying on its current date of Dec. 17, 2027, thus was not mentioned in the announcement).
On the Marvel Studios front, Avengers: The Kang Dynasty has been pushed a year to May 1, 2026. The feature has embattled actor Jonathan Majors, who faces assault charges in New York, attached in the lead role. The follow-up, Avengers: Secret Warshas also been pushed a year, to May 7, 2027.
Disney is the first major Hollywood studio to date movies for 2027 and beyond. But it may not be long before another studio joins in the fun.
Notes Dergarabedian: “In an extended timeframe that will see potential moviegoers go from middle school to college while waiting for Avatar 5the release calendar chess board is already filling up.”
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