There is once again bad news for anyone who decided to bet against James Cameron at the box office: "Avatar: The Way of Water" is on the verge of breaking even with a current global tally of $1.38 billion (per Variety).

If you're doing a double take at the idea that a movie can make $1.38 billion at the box office and still not be profitable yet, you're right in thinking that the bar usually isn't anywhere near that high, even for major blockbusters. Hollywood accounting is notoriously murky, but a general rule of thumb for a movie's break-even point is 2-3x its production budget (to account for the costs of marketing and distribution). The budget for "Avatar: The Way of Water" is rumored to be as high as $460 million. Cameron himself has been coy about the true number, only saying that the movie was "very f***ing [expensive]."

According to Variety's sources, the break-even point for "The Way of Water" is estimated to be around $1.4 billion — in which case, it's just a couple of million dollars away from being in the black. Cameron set the target even higher, saying that the sequel needs to be "the third or fourth highest-grossing film in history … That's your threshold. That's your break even." A quick consultation with the list of highest-grossing movies of all time therefore puts Cameron's bar for success somewhere between $2.2 billion ("Titanic") and $2.06 billion ("Star Wars: The Force Awakens").

'The Worst Business Case In Movie History'

The budget for "Avatar: The Way of Water" is more complicated than most blockbusters, because it was never designed as a solo film, but as the next building block in a much bigger franchise. As early as 2006, three years before the release of "Avatar," Cameron floated the idea of shooting two sequels back-to-back if the first movie was successful (it was).

When multiple films are given the green light at once, it's often more cost-effective to shoot them all in one go; that's how Peter Jackson's "Lord of the Rings" trilogy got so much production value out of an average budget of less than $100 million per movie. Similarly, "Avatar: The Way of Water" was shot back-to-back with "Avatar 3," along with the first chunk of "Avatar 4." As such, it's difficult to precisely parse out the budget for each individual sequel.

Cameron has called his budget demands for the "Avatar" sequels "the worst business case in movie history," and he's probably the only director on the planet who could have made such a pitch successfully. But he isn't biting his nails over the box office numbers for "The Way of Water," since he believes the budget was well spent regardless of how much money the movie ultimately makes.

"If I can make a business case to spend a billion dollars on a movie, I will f***ing do it. Do you want to know why? Because we don't put it all on a pile and light it on fire. We give it to people. If the studio agrees and thinks it's a good investment, as opposed to buying an oil lease off of the north of Scotland, which somebody would think was a good investment, why not do it?"

It's All About The Greater Good

The big spending on "Avatar: The Way of Water" and the other sequels has benefits beyond creating jobs for hundreds of people. Cameron's secondary goal was to create new tools that could be used again in the future — like the cutting-edge 3D technology of the first "Avatar" movie, and the breakthroughs in ocean science that were made in the process of filming "Deepsea Challenge" (he also donated his $10 million submarine to a non-profit organization for oceanographic research after he returned from the bottom of the Mariana Trench).

The "Avatar" sequels benefited from advances that Wētā FX had made with movies like the groundbreaking "Planet of the Apes" prequel trilogy, and Cameron was intent on paying that forward, telling that "the rising tide of technique raises everybody together." For the first "Avatar" movie, the focus was on advances in motion capture and 3D filming. For "The Way of Water," Cameron tackled the challenges of shooting motion capture underwater, which had never been done before, as well as creating convincing CGI water. As he explained to IBC:

"The beauty of it is, if you can solve water for this movie, you can do all water anytime until the end of time … So, these tools become incredibly important for the effects industry at large."

In other words, even if "Avatar: The Way of Water" had bombed at the box office, the endeavor still would have been worth it in the director's eyes.

But bombing is firmly off the table now. Variety reports that "The Way of Water" grossed another $63.4 million dollars domestically over the three-day New Year's weekend box office, and is expected to bring in $82.4 million by the end of Monday. The movie's running total stands at $421.6 million domestically and $956.9 million worldwide, so it will probably cross the $1 billion mark in international markets early next week. The box office king is back, baby.

Read this next: The 10 Best Moments In Avatar: The Way Of Water

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