Zoe Saldana Sam WorthingtonUPDATED: Avatar stars Sam Worthington and Zoë Saldana will reprise their roles in the next three sequels to James Cameron‘s 2009 sci-fi fantasy blockbuster, Fox announced today. Worthington returns to the franchise as Jake Sully, the wheelchair-bound Marine who finds new life on the alien world of Pandora with the Na’vi people and Neytiri, a Na’vi huntress, in the first $2.8 billion-scoring film. Saldana will reprise her Neytiri role joining Worthington in Avatar 2, Avatar 3, and Avatar 4 which Cameron and Jon Landau will produce via Lightstorm Entertainment. These are new deals for Worthington and Saldana but are basically in line with their previous deals, Deadline is hearing. When a third sequel was added to Cameron’s grand plan, renegotiations were in order.

Avatar sequelsThe currently untitled sequels will be filmed back to back with Avatar 2 set to release in December 2016. The subsequent sequels will follow in December 2017 and 2018, respectively. A start date is still TBA but Fox is eyeing December 2014/January 2015 to begin filming through March 2015. They have to give the actors four months of prep. Deadline hears the plan is to shoot the films’ extensive motion capture scenes first, then film all the live-action footage. But a source with knowledge of the production says it’s ultimately up to Cameron to decide if that’s how they play it. Economical back-to-back sequel shooting worked for Peter Jackson’s recent Hobbit sequels. And with WETA running point on the sequels it will streamline VFX continuity from film to film, especially given the introduction of new and different creatures and worlds. Meanwhile Cameron is scripting Avatar 2 with Josh Friedman (War of the Worlds), Avatar 3 with Rick Jaffa & Amanda Silver (Rise of the Planets of the Apes), and Avatar 4 with Shane Salerno (Savages, Salinger).

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