There's no denying the success of "Avatar," James Cameron's groundbreaking 2009 blockbuster, which still holds the record as the highest-grossing movie of all time worldwide, with a whopping $2.79 billion in the bank. But its long-planned sequels have been anything but successful so far: An ambitious shooting schedule has still not begun; the initially promised two follow-ups suddenly morphed into three; and the films' planned release dates have all been pushed back multiple times, before being abandoned altogether.

Will these films ever see the light of day? (Or better yet, even begin production at all?) Cameron still claims the answer is yes, and has revealed that he's now adding a fourth sequel to the mix.

Cameron's surprising announcement came on Thursday during a panel at CinemaCon, in which the director proclaimed that the four flicks -- "Avatar 2," "Avatar 3," "Avatar 4," and "Avatar 5" -- would be hitting theaters around Christmastime in 2018, 2020, 2022, and 2023, respectively.

"We're making four epic films, each one of which stands alone but together form a complete saga," Cameron told the crowd, adding that it became clear after beginning work on the first two sequels that there was a larger tale to be told.

"There is too much story and visionary ideas for two sequels," the writer-director explained. "So we talked to Fox and expanded it to three sequels. Now that the script work is finishing up, it's not three. It looks like four. So after talking it through with our partners at Fox and giving it a lot of thought, we decided to embark on a truly massive cinematic project."

Massive is certainly the right word for it. But can anyone believe Cameron at this point? Sure, the director took his time making "Avatar," his eagerly-awaited follow-up to 1997's "Titanic" which needed 12 years to materialize. But that flick eventually actually started production, and actually was released.

In the sequels' case, the first follow-up was tentatively scheduled to hit theaters in late 2016, before moving to late 2017, and then moving off the schedule entirely. (That was after a third flick was added to the mix; back in 2012, when there were still only two planned sequels, "Avatar 2" was optimistically slated for release sometime in 2014.) And the last update on the project noted that production (set for back-to-back-to-back shooting in New Zealand -- perhaps now back-to-back-to-back-to-back?) still hadn't begun. So forgive us if we remain more than a little skeptical at this point.

Stay tuned to see if this ambitious plan pans out. We suppose if anyone is up for the challenge, it's Cameron. Just don't be surprised if those release dates change yet again -- or if "Avatar 6" is announced soon after.

[via: WSJ Speakeasy]