Jon Landau, producer of ‘Titanic’ and ‘Avatar’, dies at 63

Jon Landau, an Oscar-winning producer who worked with director James Cameron on three of the highest-grossing films of all time, “Titanic” and the two “Avatar” films, died Friday in Los Angeles. He was 63.

His death was announced by his family in a statement released by Disney Entertainment. No cause was given.

Mr. Landau and Mr. Cameron’s decades-long partnership made box office history. Their first film together, “Titanic,” became the first to gross more than $1 billion worldwide upon its release in 1997. The record for total grosses, $1.84 billion, was broken by their next film, the science-fiction epic “Avatar” (2009).

“Titanic” was nominated for 14 Oscars and won 11, including Best Picture, a prize shared by Mr. Cameron and Mr. Landau.

“I can’t act, I can’t compose and I can’t do visual effects, so I guess that’s why I produce,” Mr. Landau said in his acceptance speech.

Jon Landau was born on July 23, 1960, in New York City. His first exposure to filmmaking came through his parents, Ely and Edie Landau, who together produced ambitious independent films for mass audiences, including adaptations of plays by Eugene O’Neill, Edward Albee, and Bertolt Brecht.

Many of these adaptations were released through a subscription service the Landauers founded, the American Film Theater, which provided audiences with regular access to film versions of plays.

Mr. Landau attended the University of Southern California School of Cinematic Arts in Los Angeles and later worked as a production manager on such films as “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids” (1989) and “Dick Tracy” (1990).

He became executive vice president of feature film production at 20th Century Fox, where he oversaw films including “Home Alone” (1990), “Mrs. Doubtfire” (1993) and “Speed” (1994).

It was during this time that he met Mr. Cameron, who was directing “True Lies” (1994), an action comedy distributed by 20th Century Fox. When Mr. Landau decided to leave the company, Mr. Cameron asked him to read the script for a project code-named “Planet Ice.” That project would become “Titanic” and begin their long partnership.

“Titanic” was not expected to be a box office success. The film runs more than three hours, and before its release there was widespread critical news about production delays, which cost $200 million, far exceeding the film’s $110 million budget.

During the production of the film, Mr. Landau felt like the mayor of a city.

“I had all these constituents, including heads of various departments such as special effects, props, wardrobe, who needed help and support — sometimes moral support, sometimes financial support,” he told The Los Angeles Times in 1998.

And when it came to the stress of going over budget by tens of millions of dollars, he said, it was “easy to fight for the things we asked for because we believed they were necessary to create the original vision of the film.”

Mr. Cameron told The Los Angeles Times that “most producers produce a budget, not a movie,” but not Mr. Landau.

“The hardest part is balancing the extra costs against the aesthetic gain of the film — you have to get into the director’s mind a little bit,” Cameron said. “Landau understood what a filmmaker needed.”

Their second film, “Avatar,” grossed nearly $3 billion worldwide and was nominated for nine Oscars, winning for best art direction, best cinematography and best visual effects. A sequel, “Avatar: The Way of Water,” was released in 2022.

Mr. Landau served as chief operating officer of Mr. Cameron’s production studio, Lightstorm Entertainment, and was the driving force behind a Walt Disney World attraction based on the “Avatar” films.

The family’s statement said he is survived by his wife Julie Landau, their two sons Jamie and Jodie, his sisters Tina and Kathy Landau and his brother Les.

Shortly before the release of “Avatar” in December 2009, Mr. Landau told the digital magazine Salon how he justified making such expensive films by saying it gives investors a return on their capital, creates jobs and gives audiences “something they can’t get anywhere else.”

“If they go see our movie, and we may have spent more money than everybody else, you know what? The audience gets more bang for their buck,” Mr. Landau said. “They don’t pay more money to see our movie than they pay to see ‘Paranormal Activity.'”

He also said he made films for the audience, not for critics or award voters.

“We want to entertain people, and that’s the most important thing,” Mr. Landau said. “If there’s something else that comes along, that’s great. But we want people to enjoy the movies, not just viscerally but emotionally.”

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