At 69 years old, James Cameron has this physical status:
Cameron's directing career began in 1978. After borrowing money from a consortium of dentists, he learned to direct, write and produce his first short film, Xenogenesis (1978) with a friend. Learning as they went, Cameron said he felt like a doctor doing his first surgical procedure. He then served as a production assistant for Rock and Roll High School (1979). While educating himself about filmmaking techniques, Cameron started a job as a miniature model maker at Roger Corman Studios. He was soon employed as an art director for the science-fiction film Battle Beyond the Stars (1980). He carried out the special effects for John Carpenter's Escape from New York (1981), served as production designer for Galaxy of Terror (1981), and consulted on the design for Android (1982).
Cameron was hired as the special effects director for the sequel to Piranha (1978), titled Piranha II: The Spawning in 1982. The original director, Miller Drake, left the project due to creative differences with producer Ovidio Assonitis. Shot in Rome, Italy and on Grand Cayman Island, the film gave Cameron the opportunity to become director for a major film for the first time. However, Cameron later said that it did not feel like his first film due to power-struggles with Assonitis. Disillusioned from being in Rome and suffering from a fever, Cameron had a nightmare about an invincible robot hit-man sent from the future to assassinate him, which later led to the inspiration of The Terminator. Upon release of Piranha II: The Spawning, critics were not impressed; author Tim Healey called it "a marvellously bad movie which splices clichés from every conceivable source".
Inspired by John Carpenter's horror film Halloween (1978), in 1982 Cameron wrote the script for The Terminator (1984), a sci-fi action film about a cyborg sent from the future to carry out a lethal mission. Cameron wanted to sell the script so that he could direct the movie. Whilst some film studios expressed interest in the project, many executives were unwilling to let a new and unfamiliar director make the movie. Gale Anne Hurd, a colleague and founder of Pacific Western Productions, to whom Cameron was married from 1984 to 1989, agreed to buy Cameron's script for one dollar, on the condition that Cameron direct the film. He convinced the president of Hemdale Pictures to make the film, with Cameron as director and Hurd as a producer. Lance Henriksen, who starred in Piranha II: The Spawning, was considered for the lead role, but Cameron decided that Arnold Schwarzenegger was more suitable as the cyborg villain due to his bodybuilder appearance. Henriksen was given a smaller role instead. Michael Biehn and Cameron's future wife, Linda Hamilton, also joined the cast. The Terminator was a box office success, exceeding expectations set by Orion Pictures. The film proved popular with audiences and earned over $78 million worldwide. George Perry of the BBC praised Cameron's direction, writing "Cameron laces the action with ironic jokes, but never lets up on hinting that the terror may strike at any moment". In 2008, the film was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry, being deemed "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".
In 1984, Cameron co-wrote the screenplay to Rambo: First Blood Part II with Sylvester Stallone. Cameron moved onto his next directorial feature, which was the sequel to Alien (1979), a science fiction horror directed by Ridley Scott. After titling the sequel Aliens (1986), Cameron recast Sigourney Weaver as Ellen Ripley, who first appeared in Alien. Aliens follows the protagonist, Ripley, as she helps a group of marines fight off extraterrestrials. Despite conflicts with cast and crew during production, and having to replace one of the lead actors—James Remar with Michael Biehn—Aliens was a box office success, generating over $130 million worldwide. The film was nominated for seven Academy Awards in 1987; Best Actress, Best Art Direction, Best Film Editing, Best Original Score and Best Sound. It won awards for Best Sound Editing and Best Visual Effects. In addition, Weaver and the film made the cover of Time magazine in July 1986.
After Aliens, Cameron and Gale Anne Hurd decided to make The Abyss, a story about oil-rig workers who discover strange intelligent life in the ocean. Based on an idea which Cameron had conceived of during high school, the film was initially budgeted at $41 million, although it ran considerably over this amount. It starred Ed Harris, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio and Michael Biehn. The production process began in the Cayman Islands and in South Carolina, inside the building of an unfinished nuclear power plant with two huge water tanks. The cast and crew recall Cameron's dictatorial behavior, and the filming of water scenes which were mentally and physically exhausting. Upon the film's release, The Abyss was praised for its special effects, and earned $90 million at the worldwide box office. The Abyss received four Academy Award nominations and won Best Visual Effects.
In 1990, Cameron co-founded the firm Lightstorm Entertainment with partner Lawrence Kasanoff. In 1991, Cameron served as executive producer for Point Break (1991), directed by Kathryn Bigelow, to whom he was married between 1989 and 1991. After the success of The Terminator, there were discussions for a sequel. In the late 1980s, Mario Kassar of Carolco Pictures secured the rights to the sequel, allowing Cameron to begin production of the film, Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991). Written by William Wisher Jr. and himself, Schwarzenegger and Linda Hamilton reprise their roles. The story follows on from Terminator, depicting a new villain (T-1000), with shape-shifting ability and hunts for Sarah Connor's son, John (Edward Furlong). Cameron cast Robert Patrick as T-1000 because of his lean and thin appearance—a sharp contrast to Schwarzenegger. Cameron explained, "I wanted someone who was extremely fast and agile. If the T-800 is a human Panzer tank, then the T-1000 is a Porsche". Terminator 2 was one of the most expensive films to be produced, costing at least $94 million. Despite the challenging use of computer-generated imagery (CGI), the film was completed on time and released on July 3, 1991. Terminator 2 broke box office records (including the opening weekend record for an R-rated film), earning over $200 million in the North America and being the first to earn over $300 million worldwide. It won four Academy Awards: Best Makeup, Best Sound Mixing, Best Sound Editing, and Best Visual Effects. It also received nominations for Best Cinematography and Best Film Editing, but lost both to political thriller JFK (1991).
In subsequent years, Cameron planned to do a third Terminator film but plans never materialized. The rights to the Terminator franchise were eventually purchased by Kassar from a bankruptcy sale of Carolco's assets. Cameron moved on to other projects and, in 1993, co-founded Digital Domain, a visual effects production company. In 1994, Cameron and Schwarzenegger reunited for their third collaboration, True Lies, a remake of the 1991 French comedy La Totale! The story depicts an American secret agent who leads a double life as a married man, whose wife believes he is a computer salesman. The film co-stars Jamie Lee Curtis, Eliza Dushku and Tom Arnold. Cameron's Lightstorm Entertainment signed a deal with 20th Century Fox for the production of True Lies. Budgeted at a minimum of $100 million, the film earned $146 million in the United States and Canada. The film was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Visual Effects and Curtis won a Golden Globe Award for Best Actress. In 1995, Cameron co-produced Strange Days, a science fiction thriller. The film was directed by Kathryn Bigelow and co-written by Jay Cocks. Strange Days was critically and financially unsuccessful. In 1996, Cameron reunited with the cast of Terminator 2 to film T2 3-D: Battle Across Time, an attraction at Universal Studios Florida, and in other parks around the world.
His next major project was Titanic (1997), an epic film about RMS Titanic, which sank in 1912 after striking an iceberg. With a production budget of $200 million, at the time it was the most expensive film ever made. Starting in 1995, Cameron took several dives to the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean to capture footage of the wreck, which would later be used in the film. A replica of the ship was built in Rosarito Beach and principal photography began in September 1996. Titanic made headlines before its release for being over-budget and exceeding its schedule. Cameron's completed screenplay depicts two star-crossed lovers, portrayed by Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet, from different social classes who fall in love amid the backdrop of the tragedy; a radical departure from his previous work. The supporting cast includes Billy Zane, Kathy Bates, Frances Fisher, Gloria Stuart, Bernard Hill, Jonathan Hyde, Victor Garber, Danny Nucci, David Warner and Bill Paxton.
After months of delay, Titanic premiered on December 19, 1997. The film received strong critical acclaim and became the highest-grossing film of all time, holding this position for 12 years until Cameron's Avatar beat the record in 2010. The costumes and sets were praised, and The Washington Post considered the CGI graphics to be spectacular. Titanic received a record-tie of fourteen nominations (tied with All About Eve (1950)) at the 1998 Academy Awards. It won 11 of the awards, tying the record for most wins with 1959's Ben-Hur, and 2003's The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, including: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Art Direction, Best Cinematography, Best Visual Effects, Best Film Editing, Best Costume Design, Best Sound Mixing, Best Sound Editing, Best Original Score, and Best Original Song. Upon receiving Best Picture, Cameron and producer Jon Landau asked for a moment of silence to remember the 1,500 people who died when the ship sank. Film critic Roger Ebert praised Cameron's storytelling, writing "It is flawlessly crafted, intelligently constructed, strongly acted, and spellbinding". Authors Kevin Sandler and Gaylyn Studlar wrote in 1999 that the romance, historical nostalgia and James Horner's music contributed to the film's cultural phenomenon. In 2017, on its 20th anniversary, Titanic became Cameron's second film to be selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry.
After the huge publicity of Titanic, Cameron kept a low profile. In 1998, he and his brother, John, formed Earthship Productions, a company to allow streaming of documentaries on the deep sea, one of Cameron's interests. He had planned to make a film about Spider-Man, a project developed by Menahem Golan of Cannon Films. Columbia hired David Koepp to adapt Cameron's ideas into a screenplay, but due to various disagreements, Cameron abandoned the project. In 2002, Spider-Man was released with the screenplay credited solely to Koepp. In 2000, Cameron made his debut in television and co-created Dark Angel with Charles H. Eglee, a television series influenced by cyberpunk, biopunk, contemporary superheroes and third-wave feminism. Dark Angel starred Jessica Alba as Max Guevara, a genetically enhanced super-soldier created by a secretive organization. While the first season was moderately successful, the second season did less well, which led to cancellation of the series.
In 2002, Cameron served as producer on the 2002 film Solaris, a science fiction drama directed by Steven Soderbergh. The film received mixed reviews and did poorly at the box office. Keen to make documentaries, Cameron directed Expedition: Bismarck, about the German Battleship Bismarck. In 2003, he directed Ghosts of the Abyss, a documentary about RMS Titanic which was released by Walt Disney Pictures and Walden Media, and designed for 3D theaters. Cameron told The Guardian his intention for filming everything in 3D. In 2005, Cameron co-directed Aliens of the Deep, a documentary about the various forms of life in the ocean. He also starred in Titanic Adventure with Tony Robinson, another documentary about the Titanic shipwreck. In 2006, Cameron co-created and narrated The Exodus Decoded, a documentary exploring the Biblical account of the Exodus. In 2007, Cameron and fellow director Simcha Jacobovici, produced The Lost Tomb of Jesus. It was broadcast on Discovery Channel on March 4, 2007; the documentary was controversial for arguing that the Talpiot Tomb was the burial place of Jesus of Nazareth.
By the mid-2000s, Cameron returned to directing and producing another mainstream film since Titanic. Cameron had mentioned two projects as early as June 2005; Avatar (2009) and Alita: Battle Angel (2019), the latter which he produced, both films were to be shot in 3D technology. He wanted to make Alita: Battle Angel first, followed by Avatar but switched the order in February 2006. Although Cameron had written an 80-page treatment for Avatar in 1995, Cameron stated that he wanted the necessary technology to improve before starting production. Avatar, with the story line set in the mid-22nd century, had an estimated budget in excess of $300 million. The cast includes Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana, Stephen Lang, Michelle Rodriguez and Sigourney Weaver. It was composed with a mix of live-action footage and computer-generated animation, using an advanced version of the performance capture technique, previously used by director Robert Zemeckis in The Polar Express. Cameron intended Avatar to be 3D-only but decided to adapt it for conventional viewing as well.
Intended for release in May 2009, Avatar premiered on December 18, 2009. This delay allowed more time for post-production and the opportunity for theaters to install 3D projectors. Avatar broke several box office records during its initial theatrical run. It grossed $749.7 million in the United States and Canada and more than $2.74 billion worldwide, becoming the highest-grossing film of all time in the United States and Canada, surpassing Titanic. It was the first film to earn more than $2 billion worldwide. Avatar was nominated for nine Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Director, and won three: Best Art Direction, Best Cinematography, and Best Visual Effects. In July 2010, an extended theatrical re-release generated a worldwide $33.2 million at the box office. In his mixed review, Sukhdev Sandhu of The Telegraph complimented the 3D, but opined that Cameron "should have been more brutal in his editing". That year, Vanity Fair reported that Cameron's earnings were US$257 million, making him the highest earner in Hollywood. As of 2020, Avatar and Titanic hold the achievement for being the first two of the five films in history to gross over $2 billion worldwide.
In 2011, Cameron served as an executive producer for Sanctum, a disaster-survival film about a cave diving expedition which turns deadly. Although receiving mixed reviews, the film earned a fair $108 million at the worldwide box office. Cameron re-investigated the sinking of RMS Titanic with eight experts in a 2012 TV documentary special, Titanic: The Final Word with James Cameron, which premiered on April 8 on the National Geographic Channel. In the feature, the experts revised the CGI animation of the sinking conceived in 1995. In March 2010, Cameron announced that Titanic will be converted and re-released in 3D to commemorate the centennial anniversary of the tragedy. On March 27, 2012, Titanic 3D premiered at the Royal Albert Hall, London. He also served as executive producer of Cirque du Soleil: Worlds Away and Deepsea Challenge 3D in 2012 and 2014, respectively.
Cameron starred in the 2017 documentary Atlantis Rising, with collaborator Simcha Jacobovici. The pair go on an adventure to explore the existence of the city of Atlantis. The programme aired on January 29 on the National Geographic channel. Next, Cameron produced and appeared in a documentary about the history of science fiction. James Cameron’s Story of Science Fiction, the six-episodic series was broadcast on AMC in 2018. The series featured interviews with guests including Ridley Scott, Steven Spielberg, George Lucas and Christopher Nolan. He stated "Without Jules Verne and H. G. Wells, there wouldn't have been Ray Bradbury or Robert A. Heinlein, and without them, there wouldn't be [George] Lucas, [Steven] Spielberg, Ridley Scott or me".
Alita: Battle Angel was finally released in 2019 after being in parallel development with Avatar. Written by Cameron and friend Jon Landau, the film was directed by Robert Rodriguez. The film is based on a 1990s Japanese manga series Battle Angel Alita, depicting a cyborg who cannot remember anything of her past life and tries to uncover the truth. Produced with similar techniques and technology as in Avatar, the film starred Rosa Salazar, Christoph Waltz, Jennifer Connelly, Mahershala Ali, Ed Skrein, Jackie Earle Haley and Keean Johnson. The film premiered on January 31, 2019, to generally positive reviews and $404 million at the worldwide box office. In her review, Monica Castillo of RogerEbert.com called it "an awe-inspiring jump for [Rodriguez]" and "a visual bonanza" despite the bulky script. Cameron returned to the Terminator franchise as producer and writer for Tim Miller's Terminator: Dark Fate (2019).
In August 2013, Cameron announced plans to direct three sequels to Avatar simultaneously, for release in December 2016, 2017, and 2018. However, the release dates have been postponed to December 16, 2022, with the following three sequels to be released, respectively, on December 20, 2024, December 18, 2026, and December 22, 2028. Deadline Hollywood estimated that the budget for these would be over $1 billion. Avatar: The Way of Water and Avatar 3 began simultaneous production in Manhattan Beach, California on August 15, 2017. Principal photography began in New Zealand on September 25, 2017. The other sequels are expected to begin production as soon as The Way of Water and Avatar 3 have finished. Although the sequels 4 and 5 have been given the green-light, Cameron stated in a 2017 interview, "Let's face it, if Avatar 2 and 3 don't make enough money, there's not going to be a 4 and 5".
Lightstorm Entertainment bought the film rights to the Taylor Stevens novel, The Informationist, a thriller set in Africa; Cameron plans to direct. In 2010, he indicated he would adapt the Charles R. Pellegrino book The Last Train from Hiroshima, which is about the survivors of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Cameron met with survivor Tsutomu Yamaguchi before his death in 2010.