James Cameron’s The Abyss is a sci-fi epic but presented many production challenges that could have prevented the director from creating Avatar 2. Set in 1994, The Abyss unfolds as an underwater adventure where a crew of divers encounters a dangerous alien species. While receiving optimistic reviews from viewers and critics, Cameron’s The Abyss earned a decent box office return of $90 million against a budget of $47 million. Additionally, the science fiction drama also got four Oscar nominations and even won the Academy Award for Best Visual Effects.


Considering how James Cameron conceived the foundational idea for the film when he was 17 and came up with a full-fledged script over the years using concepts and filming lessons from shooting films like Aliens, The Abyss‘ critical and commercial success was not surprising. Following the completion of The Abyss‘ script, even its filming process was no less fascinating and awe-inspiring. However, beyond its spectacle and sense of wonder, The Abyss‘ shooting was marred with many challenges and conflicts, especially because nearly 40% of it was filmed underwater.

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The Abyss Nearly Put Cameron Off Water Movies Forever

A character reaching out to touch a water alien in The Abyss

Besides technical glitches involving leaks in the main tank where the movie was shot, The Abyss‘ cast had to endure grueling underwater filming sessions. Reportedly, there were times when actors like Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio and Ed Harris even broke down because of The Abyss‘ intense filming requirements and Cameron’s dictatorial directing style. During the shooting of an underwater sequence, Cameron had a brush with doom when his tank ran out of oxygen, and he had to punch a safety diver in the face to swim his way to the top. So many unforeseeable pitfalls were enough to nearly put James Cameron off water movies.

It is also believed that James Cameron pushed so many boundaries during The Abyss‘ filming that it affected his marriage with producer Gale Anne Hurd and led to their divorce when the film was in pre-production. Looking back at his experience, James Cameron even quoted (via Ian Blair’s Underwater in The Abyss), “I knew this was going to be a hard shoot, but even I had no idea just how hard. I don’t ever want to go through this again.” Given how filming The Abyss was such a terrible episode for everyone involved, it is surprising that it did not kill the auteur’s obsession with water.

Why Cameron Is Still Obsessed With Water (Despite The Abyss)

Water-centric scenes from James Cameron's The Abyss and Avatar 2

From his feature directorial debut Piranha II: The Spawning to his blockbuster record-shattering sequel Avatar 2, nearly every James Cameron movie has an element of wetness. By making a solo voyage to the Challenger Deep of the Mariana Trench in a submarine in 2012, the director further nailed down how much he admires the oceans. In an interview, James Cameron explained his undying love for the planet’s water bodies by recounting how it traces back to his childhood. He recalled how he spent thousands of hours underwater, watching reefs degrade and the oceans suffer.

By creating movies like Avatar 2 that portray the beauty of the vast deep blue waters, he hopes to “make people feel connected to the ocean,” and maybe even “make them think a little bit.” He wants his movies to inspire change and coerce audiences to protect and preserve “this wonderful, beautiful, amazing thing that we have right here on planet Earth.” Therefore, while James Cameron might have been a little too ambitious with his vision of depicting water in movies like The Abyss and Avatar 2, his heart was always in the right place.

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