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Predicting When James Cameron Will Become The Highest-Grossing Director

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Avatar: The Way of Water has made James Cameron’s battle to become the highest-grossing director of all time far more realistic and imminent. While James Cameron has only directed nine feature films since 1982, the filmmaker is notable for his prowess at the box office, beginning with the success of The Terminator (1984). Since then, Cameron has directed three of the four highest-grossing films of all time with Titanic (1997), Avatar (2009), and Avatar: The Way of Water (2022) – each of which has accumulated over $2 billion at the box office. While these movies have brought James Cameron’s total box office gross to over $8.6 billion, he still has one filmmaker to beat before becoming the highest-grossing director.

Before the release of Avatar: The Way of Water, Cameron held the title of fifth-highest-grossing director, but quickly surpassed the MCU’s Russo brothers to take the second slot. James Cameron’s box office total stands behind only that of legendary blockbuster filmmaker Steven Spielberg, whose massive franchises like Jurassic Park and Indiana Jones have given him a total box office gross of over $10 billion. Considering James Cameron’s Avatar: The Way of Water still has a long life in theaters and the director already has multiple sequels to the box office smash on the theatrical release schedule, it won’t be long before he surpasses Spielberg as the highest-grossing director ever.

Related: 10 Fastest Movies To Gross Over $1 Billion At The Box Office


What James Cameron’s Box Office Accumulation Will Be After Avatar 2

James cameron Avatar way of water box office data

Since premiering in December 2022, Avatar: The Way of Water has gone on to earn over $2.25 billion at the worldwide box office, and isn’t expected to leave theaters anytime soon. Projections for how much Avatar 2 will total in box office revenue place it around $2.5 billion, but it could potentially see a higher gross. However, if sticking to this estimation, James Cameron’s total box office accumulation would be around $8.85 billion by the time Avatar: The Way of Water’s theatrical run comes to an end.

Still, $8.85 billion is a low estimate for how high James Cameron’s earnings will be, as the filmmaker is simultaneously adding to his box office gross with the 25th-anniversary theatrical re-release of Titanic. The re-release of Titanic has already added another $52 million worldwide to Cameron’s total after only two weeks, indicating that – with conservative estimates – at least another $15-20 million can be added before its limited release concludes. As such, by the time both Titanic and Avatar: The Way of Water are out of theaters in 2023, James Cameron’s box office total will likely be nearing $8.9 billion.

How Much More Money James Cameron Needs To Pass Steven Spielberg

Avatar 2 Hints Cameron Can Beak Spielberg's Director Box Office Record

According to The Numbers, James Cameron’s box office gross as of writing is $8.626 billion, while Steven Spielberg holds a total of $10.669 billion. As such, James Cameron still needs $2.043 billion before he can surpass Spielberg to become the world’s top-grossing director. This can’t be accomplished with the remaining theatrical runs of Avatar: The Way of Water and Titanic, meaning James Cameron won’t be able to defeat the Jurassic Park director until his next major film releases. Considering Cameron hasn’t directed a feature film grossing under $2 billion since True Lies in 1994, the odds that he breaks the box office yet again are excellent.

James Cameron Could Become The Highest-Grossing Director In 2025 After Avatar 3

Avatar way of water 2023 box office

The next feature film release from James Cameron is Avatar 3, the sequel to Avatar and Avatar 2, which are the top-grossing and third-highest-grossing films of all time, respectively. Arriving in December 2024, Avatar 3 has the potential to earn even more than Avatar 2, as the filmmaker has teased another epic scale with previously unseen lands and species in the franchise’s next movie. Consequently, unless some unforeseen circumstances regarding the movie should interrupt this feat, Avatar 3 is expected to earn $2 billion and pull James Cameron ahead to become the highest-grossing director of all time.

Related: Avatar 2’s $2 Billion Box Office Breaks 3 Wild Movie RecordsWhile Avatar 3 premieres on December 20, 2024, it likely won’t be until early 2025 that its global box office will cross the $2 billion mark. It took Avatar 2 six weeks to earn $2 billion, so Avatar 3’s box office gross could make James Cameron the highest-grossing director by late January or early February 2025. Still, Avatar 3 doesn’t even need to make $2 billion for James Cameron to become the highest-grossing director of all time, as he’s expected to earn another $300 million from Avatar: The Way of Water before it leaves theaters in 2023. Therefore, Avatar 3 may only need to make around $1.7 billion in early 2025 in order for Cameron to dethrone Spielberg.

Could Steven Spielberg Beat James Cameron Again If He Is Overtaken?

Steven_Spielberg

While Steven Spielberg has held the title of highest-grossing director for a long period of time, it won’t be easy for him to earn it back once James Cameron beats him. Spielberg continues to be a strong contender during the awards season with the Oscars, but he hasn’t been a box office powerhouse since 2018’s Ready Player One, which grossed approximately $583 million. Meanwhile, Cameron hasn’t had a mediocre box office performance since The Abyss in 1989.

Additionally, Steven Spielberg isn’t set to direct any upcoming films that could possibly compete with the box office prowess of James Cameron’s Avatar franchise. This makes it nearly impossible for Spielberg to take back his box office crown from Cameron, as the gap is only set to widen as Cameron releases the sequels Avatar 4 in 2026 and Avatar 5 in 2028. Unless Steven Spielberg comes into one of the most profitable franchises of all-time in the 2030s, it’s nearly impossible for the director to overtake James Cameron again.

Could Another Director Ruin James Cameron’s Battle Against Spielberg?

James Cameron and Steven Spielberg in James Cameron's Story of Science Fiction

While James Cameron is set to dethrone Steven Spielberg, there’s still the unlikely potential for another filmmaker to overtake both as the highest-grossing director. After being surpassed by Cameron, the MCU’s Russo brothers are now the third-highest-grossing directors with $6.84 million accumulated at the box office. This was largely due to their successes in Marvel superhero movies with Captain America: Civil War, Avengers: Infinity War, and Avengers: Endgame, though the director duo won’t be back in the franchise for at least another five years. Rather, they have been focusing more on directing streaming-exclusive films for Netflix, which doesn’t pose any realistic threat at the box office.

Related: Will Avatar: The Way Of Water Become #1 At All-Time Box Office?

Peter Jackson is next at $6.54 billion worldwide, though he also isn’t expected to be any significant competition for James Cameron at the box office. While Warner Bros. has announced that there will be new Lord of the Rings movies, Jackson hasn’t been confirmed to direct, and there’s no genuine possibility that he would be able to beat Cameron to the top-grossing director title before 2025 anyway. As of the current theatrical release slate, it’s unlikely that any director will be able to catch up to James Cameron’s box office total until at least the 2030s.

Next: Titanic Is Still James Cameron’s Greatest Achievement (Not Avatar 1 Or 2)

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