20th Century Fox wanted to cut Avatar short before its release

The massive success Avatar, which after almost 15 years still tops the list of the highest-grossing films of all time, might not have been the same success if the film company had decided. 20th Century Fox believed that director James Cameron needed to shorten the film to get the green light, but he stood his ground and had one of his other films, Titanic, to help him. Because even though Avatar introduced Cameron to a younger movie audience, he was nevertheless extremely respected in his field in Hollywood. It was still the director behind both Terminator films and Aliens and in 1997 20th Century Fox just released Titanic, which until Avatar was Cameron’s most successful film and it was a film that was over three hours long.

In an interview with The New York Times (pay link) he tells how he was able to use his previous work to convince the studio that it would be wrong to cut Avatar. That the building they were now in was funded by the success of that movie. One of the parts they wanted to cut was the many and long flight scenes around Ikran, something that would later prove to be one of the most appreciated elements of Avatar. In Cameron’s own words:

“I think I felt, at the time, that we clashed over certain things. For example, the studio felt that the film should be shorter and that there was too much flying around on the ikran—what the humans call the banshees. Well, it turns out that’s what the audience loved the most, in terms of our exit polling and data gathering. And that’s a place where I just drew a line in the sand and said, ‘You know what? I made ‘Titanic.’ This building that we’re meeting in right now, this new half-billion dollar complex on your lot? Titanic paid for that, so I get to do this.'”

So it was words and no rhymes. He put his foot down and put an end to the powerful film company’s plans, something few directors of course had the opportunity to do. We don’t know exactly why 20th Century Fox wanted to shorten the film, but one theory is that they could have more simultaneous screenings and thus sell more tickets. Now it turned out that the cinemas sold out anyway and maybe it was because the director had to deliver his entire vision and not a cut down one. Of course, we will never know, but one thing is certain, and that is that in the face of the upcoming sequel Avatar: The Way of Water, no one has questioned James Cameron’s ability to make the right decision.

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