Apparently, the highest grossing movie of all-time is Avatar, which is wild because not a single person I know could tell you what happens in Avatar.
The people are blue. Duh. They speak Na’vi. But after that…? Tell me Sam Worthington’s character’s name. A million dollars if you can tell me right now.
Contrast that to, say, the specificity with which any among of us could recreate the entire “So Long, Farewell” sequence from The Sound of Music—my Brigitta is to die for—or sheer volume of lines from Gone With the Wind that have infiltrated our daily modern lexicon. Ah, yes, the most famous line from Avatar: “Get away from my Avatar!” (That is not a line from Avatar. Were there lines in Avatar?)
Sound of Music and Gone With the Wind, along with the first Star Wars, are the highest grossing films when adjusted for inflation. That’s significant because it means lots of people bought tickets to these movies, not just that the prices of tickets were high. But then again, James Cameron’s other epic, Titanic, is the second highest grossing movie of all time. That’s significant because Titanic is the tits. People actually like, remember and, unlike with Avatar, re-watch Titanic.
It’s also significant because it was announced Tuesday that Titanic’s heroine, Kate Winslet, will reunite with Cameron for the first time in two decades for the first of—wait, let me check that again… it can’t be true…—four planned Avatar sequels. She’ll play a character named Ronal, a name we’ll get around to making fun of once we’re done processing the idea of four damned Avatar sequels.
Can you believe it?
Avatar is the most flabbergasting pop culture phenomenon, in that is not a phenomenon at all. There is no fervent fan base. People aren’t learning to speak Na’vi, like they do Elvish or Klingon. It’s unlikely that anyone is hoarding Sigourney Weaver Avatar action figures in their original packaging. (Actually, that’s amazing. I kind of want that.) It’s not like there is a Harry Potter World-like amusement park dedicated to the indelible universe the film created.
Wait. Excuse me?
Continuing the grand tradition of Avatar-related things that nobody asked for, there is indeed a Walt Disney World theme park dedicated to the film. Work on Florida’s version of Pandora—apparently the name of the space FernGully from the film—began long before anyone predicted that no one would give a shit about Avatar. (That’s a lie. I could have predicted that.)
From what I’ve read, the amusement park is quite something. Dazzling and inventive. It might be worth checking out one day, which, if I correctly recall, was precisely the attitude the entire nation had about Avatar when it hit theaters in 2009. And the reaction afterward: Was that not just Disney’s Pocahontas, but with aliens? And then: Cool.
It’s hardly the inferno of enthusiasm that would justify four goddamn sequels, which have haunted the zeitgeist for the better part of a decade with false starts, production rumors, and tiny Cameron tidbits about development dropped here and there—all menacing threats that one day soon, we’d have to get it up for listening to Zoe Saldana talk about the difficulty of acting in motion capture on a press tour once again.
In fact, we’re evidently doomed to that experience for the next eight years, with, at this point, release dates scheduled from 2020 through 2025, pushed back from the original release date of 2014. And then 2017. Which, fool me once, James Cameron…actually, just keep fooling us forever because nobody wants these movies.
Ostensibly the big announcement that our beloved Rose Dewitt Bukater will be springing from that floating door straight to the bioluminescent skies of Pandora was meant to kindle a little bit of excitement to justify the GDP of a moderately sized country that is going toward producing these sequels.
It was certainly no small decision for Kate Winslet to agree to take on the role of Ronal (that name, LOL). For one, she’ll undoubtedly be subjected to a litany of Titanic questions on her press tour. For two, James Cameron seems like a dick.
That might be harsh. But he does seem like a bit of a nightmare, and that’s straight from Winslet’s mouth.
Winslet has spent 20 years talking about what a difficult time she had shooting Titanic and working with Cameron, some of which Kate Halliwell recounts for The Ringer. Winslet spends several minutes detailing it on a 2004 episode of Inside the Actors Studio, but that wasn’t the only time she brought it up. In fact, she’s spoken so much at length about it that Cameron groaned in a 2012 interview, “It’s been 16 years. Like, come on, Kate. Get over it. Take the win, girl!”
Take the win, girl. This seems like a good moment to revisit the greatest awards show burn of the last decade, in which Amy Poehler talked about director Kathryn Bigelow at the Golden Globes in 2013: "I haven’t been really following the controversy over Zero Dark Thirty, but when it comes to torture, I trust the lady [Kathryn Bigelow] who spent three years married to James Cameron."
Clearly we’re mystified by Avatar’s simultaneous omnipresence and utter and complete absence from pop culture in the years since it made all that money. Aside from the technological advancements it made in cinema—and we, with all our snark here, have no desire to undersell or erase any of that—it has made almost no influence on culture at large, aside from the fact that there is incessant, intangible news that more from its universe might one day come.
We’re also not the only ones fascinated by this. Last week’s Saturday Night Live premiere was highlighted by a digital short in which Ryan Gosling plays a character who can’t get over the fact that the font for Avatar’s promotional material was Papyrus, and not some carefully designed font befitting such a technologically advanced film.
The entire internet made a version of the same one-liner, that they’d rather see that sketch blown out into a feature-length film that see an actual sequel to Avatar. At least that’s one contribution the film has made to society: it’s our greatest pop culture joke.