A brief timeline of life since the last Avatar movie – The A.V. Club

It took 13 years, but it happened at last: we finally got our long-gestating Avatar sequel. The original Avatar was released in 2009, and what a decade-plus it’s been, on and offscreen; while some things seem to logically follow from the time when we first visited Pandora—Barack Obama was president then and Joe Biden is president now, Lady Gaga stuck around, and Marvel succeeded in a manner that only its most bullish investors could have hoped—it would be an understatement to say that plenty of other things got pretty weird between then and now. Here is our loose attempt at making sense of the last 13 years—a unit of time heretofore known as an Avahiatus.
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In 2010, you’d have been reasonable to assume that the beloved Toy Story franchise was over. Toy Story 3 was the first entry into the series in over 10 years, and it certainly couldn’t have ended the era on a sweeter—or more acclaimed—note. Do you hear that sound? It’s the sobbing of millions of zennials as their childhoods ended. [Drew Gillis]3 / 28
As Toy Story 3 was breaking box office records, a ecological calamity was unfolding in the Gulf Of Mexico. Over nearly five months, some 210 million gallons of oil spilled into the sea as several British Petroleum tried—and failed—repeatedly to stop the leak. For pop culture context, as the oil leaked, Katy Perry’s whipped cream boobs, Lady Gaga’s meat dress, and Sex And The City 2 all became indelibly burnt on our collective hippocampi. [Drew Gillis]4 / 28
The twinkling strings. The tolling bells. That throaty, tortured alto hum. When Lana Del Rey arrived on the scene in 2011 with her breakthrough single “Video Games,” she ushered in a new sound in pop that fell aesthetically somewhere between Amy Winehouse, Lou Reed, and, yes, Nancy Sinatra. Love Lana or hate her, the world before and after “Video Games” (and its home made-style music video, which has garnered over 300 million YouTube views to date) was a different place, with a very different relationship to Americana. [Hattie Lindert]5 / 28
What we now know as the Arab Spring really kicked off in 2010, but the most famous event from the era, at least to your average American, was the death of deposed Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi. We can probably attribute this to Gaddafi’s outsized, villainous presence in U.S. popular culture, what with the Simpsons gags, the Beyoncé concerts, and the gaudy robes—a symbol of tacky opulence and a far cry from the final images the world saw of him. [Drew Gillis]6 / 28
On January 7, 2012, another very famous blue person was born. Beyoncé and Jay-Z’s first daughter, Blue Ivy Carter, was immediately dubbed the “most famous baby in the world” by TIME magazine, quickly became the youngest person to chart on the Hot 100, and eventually the second youngest Grammy winner. While Blue is way too young to have caught the first Avatar in theaters, we’re sure she’d have no issue snagging an invite to the Way Of Water premiere. [Drew Gillis]7 / 28
The cruise ship flipped over. The cruise ship flipped over. It really was a tragedy—over 30 people died—but that didn’t stop the internet from coming together for weeks to meme about how the cruise ship flipped over. Turns out it has very little to do with The Poseidon Adventure, but it might have something to do with Jenna Maroney; the 30 Rock character claimed responsibility for the disaster in a season 6 episode. [Drew Gillis]8 / 28
It’s kind of crazy that when Avatar was released in 2009, streaming as we know it now didn’t truly exist. Netflix dropped House Of Cards in early 2013, a big breakout for the streamer that also released Orange Is The New Black a few months later. HOC was the first TV show not to air on typical television to receive Emmy nominations and critical acclaim. In many ways, the show’s success didn’t just launch Netflix, it helped start the streaming wars. It’s funny to think that, whether or not James Cameron likes it, Avatar: The Way Of Water is going to be streaming on Disney+ for our viewing pleasure. [Saloni Gajjar]9 / 28
There have been a lot of elections between our beloved Avatars, but there was only one papal election. Pope Francis became pope—the first one from the Americas—on March 13, 2013, after his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, stepped down—the first pope to resign in centuries. Benedict’s reign didn’t even last the length of an Avatar gap, but based on Francis’ track record thus far, it seems safe to say he’ll be pope for Avatars to come. [Drew Gillis]10 / 28
North Korea has long occupied a strange spot in the American psyche as a place of fear, intrigue, and derision. Look no further than Seth Rogen and James Franco’s film The Interview and the real-world chaos it caused; after already editing the movie in an attempt to avoid the fury of the nation, a North Korean cybercrime group ultimately hacked Sony in November and threatened theaters that showed the movie, ultimately canceling the theatrical release. If fewer people actually saw the movie than the filmmakers hoped, it is worth mentioning that in the years since, South Korean cinema has reached unprecedented mainstream success in the United States. [Drew Gillis]11 / 28
Pandemics are a scary thing by nature, but, as anyone who had to read The Hot Zone in high school can tell you, Ebola is one disease you really don’t want to mess with. The outbreak technically lasted a few years, but it was in 2014 that it peaked in interest Stateside when there was an isolated outbreak in Texas. One person died, but everyone else recovered. Phew, that was a close one—good thing we have an adequate medical system to keep an outbreak from getting really bad. [Drew Gillis]12 / 28
Summer 2015 brings to mind the peaceful, easy feeling of Obama-era pop culture, when people still respected Chance The Rapper and nobody had heard of QAnon. Reigning triumphant over the peacetime was Fetty Wap, whose single “Trap Queen” dominated the airwaves by painting a wholesome, lived-in picture of modern romance: getting high with your baby, getting fly with your baby, and even joining together in the kitchen to bake pies on occasion. If the lyrics weren’t infectious enough on their own, the rapper’s emotive, almost yodel-like delivery made up for it. In a stacked year for rap music (If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late? To Pimp A Butterfly? Rodeo? At.Long.Last.A$AP?) Fetty Wap still managed to carve a triumphant space in the cultural membrane. [Hattie Lindert]13 / 28
For better or worse, Donald Trump coming down that escalator in Trump Tower on June 15, 2015, is one of the defining images of American culture in the 2010s. Of course, Trump immediately leaned to racism, infamously calling Mexicans rapists and drug dealers. Most of us were correctly appalled, but it was nothing to really worry about—this dude doesn’t have a snowball’s chance in hell of becoming president, right? This is why we have checks and balances and whatnot. [Drew Gillis]14 / 28
In the first half of the 2010s, the internet decided that Leonardo DiCaprio’s lack of an Oscar was a huge injustice—one, about which something needed to be done. His 2016 win for The Revenant was his fifth attempt at an acting award, hardly the harshest example of the Academy ignoring an actor (here’s looking at you, Glenn Close). But, hey, never underestimate the power of a meme campaign. [Drew Gillis]15 / 28
Shit. This wasn’t supposed to happen. It was a lesson we should have learned months prior: never underestimate the power of a meme campaign. [Drew Gillis]16 / 28
In 2017, we got the exciting news that the Knowles-Carter clan would be growing by two with an iconic Instagram post from Beyoncé herself. The post would quickly become the most liked photo on Instagram and inspired parodies (including an ill-advised one from frequent internet main character James Charles). After the drama of Lemonade the year prior, it seemed like maybe things were finally looking up for this wildly rich and successful couple. [Drew Gillis]17 / 28
We’re still very much dealing with the fallout from the event now known as the #MeToo movement, which gained widespread attention with the October 5, 2017, publication of The New York Times exposé “Harvey Weinstein Paid Off Sexual Harassment Accusers For Decades.” The article helped spark necessary, if often painful, discussions and actions in Hollywood and beyond that have since been absorbed into popular culture; 2022’s She Said follows the publication of the Times expose, hitting theaters barely five years after the initial article. [Drew Gillis]18 / 28
House Of Cards helping kickstart the streaming era is a huge deal. But how the show itself closed out? Well, that’s emblematic of another major news story in the decade since Avatar came out. Hollywood’s #MeToo movement in 2017 began around the same time that sexual misconduct allegations against Kevin Spacey put an end to his time on HOC (but sadly not his career). The show’s sixth and final season, led by Robin Wright and Michael Kelly, aired in 2018. [Saloni Gajjar]19 / 28
In 2018, the world was glued to a terrifying story in Thailand, where a soccer coach and his team of 12 teens got trapped in a cave due to heavy rainfall. It took an international team 18 days to complete an evacuation and safely rescue everyone involved. The saga was covered breathlessly by media from across the globe, while audiences waited for updates in real time. Not surprisingly, multiple film and TV projects about the rescue operation have since followed—and yes they obviously took less time to make than it did to create an Avatar sequel. [Saloni Gajjar]20 / 28
It turns out that rumors of Toy Story’s death were greatly exaggerated; in fact, Toy Story 4 started developing not long after Toy Story 3. Some (at least this writer) were not that jazzed about the prospect of a fourth movie after the pitch-perfect ending of the third installment, but Toy Story 4 managed to surpass (at least for this writer) expectations and deliver a smart, new installment into a beloved franchise—even with a nine-year gap between movies. Perhaps there was hope for a smart, new Avatar yet. [Drew Gillis]
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In December 2019, a virus called COVID-19 was discovered in Wuhan, China. So? They discover new viruses all the time, and it’s just a way to encourage people to wash their hands, right? Remember SARS? Swine flu? Zika? Sure, Ebola was kind of bad a few years ago, but not in the States, and COVID is all the way in China. Why is anyone even talking about this? [Drew Gillis]22 / 28
10 years after Avatar’s debut, Bong Joon-ho’s Parasite was released in 2019 to critical and public acclaim. The South Korean thriller took Cannes by storm that year, and eventually went on to win four Oscars in 2020—our last film treat before a pandemic changed the world. Bong Joon-ho won Best Director (James Cameron was nominated for Avatar in 2010, and he won in 1998 for Titanic) and Parasite was the first non-English language film to win Best Picture. The historic victory set a new benchmark for the category. Now to see how many nominations and wins Avatar: The Way Of Water picks up. [Saloni Gajjar]23 / 28
Oh. This could be bad. By March 2020, we were all pretty scared, even if we thought (gesturing vaguely) all this would be over in two to three weeks (six, tops). Of course, we all know what happened next; though, by now, lots of things have quote-unquote “returned to normal”—we can eat out again, we can go see Avatar: The Way Of Water in a crowded movie theater—COVID never really “ended.” [Drew Gillis]24 / 28
Everyone loves an It Girl, and 2021 kicked off with Olivia Rodrigo’s smash single “Driver’s License,” one of the best examples to date of the star-making power of a well-placed TikTok sound. Rodrigo was only six when the original Avatar came out, so she was a bit too young to sit through the nearly three-hour movie, but hopefully she saw it on Disney+ (home to her series, High School Musical: The Musical: The Series) sometime between then and now. Isn’t that fun to think about? Olivia Rodrigo watching Avatar in, like, 2015? [Drew Gillis]
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When the first Avatar came out, the date January 6 meant little more than Rowan Atkinson’s birthday and an early benchmark to decide whether or not to give up on your New Year’s resolutions. In 2021, to cap off the noxious dumpster fire that was Donald Trump’s time in the Oval Office, the date gained a new meaning: that time a bunch of white people invaded the Capitol (or as Azealia Banks put it, engaged in “meth behavior”). Trump’s refusal to concede the 2020 election to Joe Biden led to an insurrection in Washington, buoyed by the virulent internet misinformation campaigns and pandemic isolation that catapulted too many into conspiracy-based cults like QAnon. Many involved went to prison, something Trump still manages to evade—maybe by the time Avatar 3 comes out there will have been some stronger headway on that front. [Hattie Lindert]26 / 28
The Oscars haven’t fared especially well in the Avatar years, from the embarrassment of the La La Land/Moonlight Best Picture debacle of 2017 to ongoing critiques of the unflappable white maleness of the whole endeavor. But no moment captured more “Holy shit, did that just happen?” energy than watching the typically hyper-polished Will Smith suddenly take the stage on Oscars night in 2022, slapping presenter Chris Rock after he made a joke about Jada Pinkett Smith’s hair. (Scientists have determined that this is the largest emotional reaction a human being has ever had to a G.I. Jane reference.) Sitting at an intersection between race, masculinity, “cancel culture,” violence, comedy, etc., take your pick, “The Slap” was a nigh-perfect Rorschach test for a culture just barely emerging from the cabin fever of COVID-19. [William Hughes]27 / 28
England’s longest-reigning monarch ended her record-setting run on September 8, 2022, sending a nation into mourning (and the writers of The Crown into emergency planning mode). While many of the entries on this list serve to remind us of the sheer magnitude of the gap between Avatar films, the Queen’s death has the opposite effect: 13 years might seem like a long time when you’re making movies, but it’s a drop in the bucket compared to 70 years of royal continuity. Sadly, a cursory Google search for “Did Queen Elizabeth like Avatar the movie not the cartoon” coughed up zero hits, but it’s not impossible to imagine: According to actor Brian Blessed (who was awarded the OBE by the Queen in 2016), she was apparently a huge fan of his ’80s sci-fi cheese-fest Flash Gordon, so the idea of her sitting back with some popcorn for a trip to Pandora isn’t entirely out of the question. [William Hughes]28 / 28


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