The Death of the Avatar Producer Jon Landau Marks the End of an Era When Shareholders Didn’t Make Movies

In addition to working with James Cameron, Landau’s career includes movies such as The Last of the Mohicans and Power Rangers.

The death of the Avatar producer Jon Landau marks the end of an era when shareholders didn’t make movies
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Jon Landau’s death has shocked Hollywood in unexpected ways. He was one of the industry’s most beloved producers, responsible for some of its greatest successes. But it also means something else: The Hollywood of a few years ago, driven by people and interests relatively connected to creativity and culture, is disappearing.

His death at 63 leaves James Cameron, for whom he produced Titanic and the two Avatar movies released to date, without his primary partner. In other words, Landau was behind three of the five highest-grossing films in history. Among other records, he produced Titanic, the first film to gross over $1 billion at the international box office.

Landau was known for his deep involvement in the films he produced. He and Cameron had already thoroughly planned the three remaining Avatar films yet to be released. Landau was also heavily involved in developing Ubisoft’s video game, inspired by the franchise, and the Dark Horse comic books based on it. But those weren’t the only projects attached to his name

At just 29, Landau was executive vice president of production at 20th Century Fox, which led him to oversee hits such as The Jungle 2, Power Rangers, The Last of the Mohicans, and True Lies, where he met Cameron. When Landau left Fox, he talked to Cameron about tinkering with his Planet Ice script and turning it into Titanic. Their collaboration went so far that Landau eventually became the head of operations for Cameron’s production company, Lightstorm Entertainment.

Landau’s Legacy

Many figures in Hollywood expressed their grief at his death and stated that the implication he put in his films is an outlier. It's no longer the norm. 

In 2022, Landau told The Talks, “I could never just sit up a desk and sign off on anything, not just as a producer but in life. I want to participate, I want to have a voice, I want to have influence. I never want to be that guy just at a desk anywhere in life.”

In this way, Landau’s death also marks the end of an era in Hollywood that is quite different from what we see today, where production companies are business conglomerates, and films are just another one of their tentacles. Hollywood has proven repeatedly to be risk-averse and deadly to creativity. Corporations control it and don't bother to put down roots in classic filmmakers’ companies, which have been absorbed by media or telecommunications giants like Warner Bros., Fox, and Universal.

Although Landau, like all great Hollywood producers, produced sequels and remakes and was involved in the entire industry, his way of understanding movies was far from the shareholder desk that signs off on movie after movie of sagas that have lost all their spirit. His career with Cameron is an excellent example of this. Although he has twice broken the record for the highest-grossing film in history with the Avatar productions, they’re original films with specific mythology and personality.

That explains why Landau was so involved in press conferences and presentations worldwide for the Avatar movies and why he fought to keep the franchise’s comics, books, and video games true to the original concept he worked on with Cameron. For Landau, movies were valuable, and that’s why the industry is mourning him so passionately.

Image | Wikimedia | Disney

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