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Avatar sequels finally heading into production early next year

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Or so James Cameron claims

The sequels to director James Cameron's monster-hit 2009 film Avatar — all three of them — will finally enter the production phase starting early 2016, the director recently announced.

"The writing is ongoing, but almost finished," he told the Montreal Gazette. "Technical development is done. Stages are done. Infrastructure. So we're really poised to start after the first of the year."

Cameron, who's also currently working on an adaptation of the anime Alita: Battle Angel, reiterated that the second film in the budding Avatar franchise is still eyeing a Christmas 2017 release. He first confirmed that premiere window earlier this year, when he said that the three films would be pushed back from their original 2016, 2017 and 2018 release dates.

Instead, Avatar 2, 3 and 4 will arrive starting in Dec. 2017, with each subsequent film to premiere just one year after the last. This is thanks to the shooting schedule, which will find Cameron directing each film simultaneously.

When it debuted in 2009, the 3D spectacle's popularity ballooned to unforeseen heights; it remains the highest-grossing film ever made, having made more than $2.7 billion worldwide. Which movie takes the number two slot? Another Cameron work, Titanic.

There's one film threatening to overtake them both, though — Star Wars: The Force Awakens, which recently crushed several box office records, namely those for biggest Thursday preview nightopening weekend and Monday earnings.

We'll have to wait until 2017 to see if the ambitious Avatar franchise — each film of which will operate both as an overarching narrative and a standalone, according to Cameron — can repeat its box office success.