Jon Landau, Oscar-Winning ‘Titanic’ and ‘Avatar’ Producer, Dies at 63

Jon Landau

Jon Landau, the Oscar-winning producer of “Titanic” and both “Avatar” movies, died of cancer on Friday, July 5. He was 63.

Landau, a longtime producing partner to James Cameron, was behind three of the top four highest-grossing movies of all time. Landau helped make history with “Titanic,” the first film to cross $1 billion at the global box office. He topped that movie’s record-breaking grosses twice, with 2009’s “Avatar” and its sequel, 2022’s “Avatar: The Way of Water.”

Before his death, Landau was deeply involved in the production of the “Avatar” sequels. Cameron is planning to fill his blockbuster sci-fi franchise with five movies in total, with the fifth tentatively coming out in 2031.

Speaking to Variety at the “Way of Water” premiere, Landau recalled screening the movie for the principal cast. “When I saw them tearing up, I had to tear up,” he said.

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At age 29, Landau became the executive vice president of feature film production at 20th Century Fox, where he oversaw films such as “Die Hard 2,” “Power Rangers,” “The Last of the Mohicans” and 1994’s “True Lies,” on which he worked with Cameron. When Landau left Fox, Cameron asked him if he wanted to read the script for a project with the code name “Planet Ice,” which Landau boarded and which eventually became 1997’s “Titanic.”

Landau would go on to work with Cameron for the rest of his life, becoming chief operating officer at Cameron’s Lightstorm Entertainment banner. He additionally was the architect of Lightstorm’s ancillary projects, such as Dark Horse Comics and Penguin Random House’s various “Avatar” print spinoffs. Landau also advised the creation of “Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora,” the well-received Ubisoft game that released in December, as well as an online multiplayer role-playing game from Tencent Games’ Level Infinite called “Avatar: Reckoning.”

Landau’s other producing credits include 1987’s “Campus Man,” 2002’s “Solaris” and 2019’s “Alita: Battle Angel.”

In a 2022 interview with The Talks, Landau said of his career in Hollywood: “I could never just sit at 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 an influence. I want to be able to inspire people to go beyond what they think their own capabilities are, for them to feel pride in what we’re doing. I think that’s a very big thing. I never want to be that guy just at a desk anywhere in life.”

He leaves behind his wife, Julie Landau, to whom he was married for almost 40 years, as well as their two sons, Jamie and Jodie Landau. He is also survived by his siblings, Tina, Kathy and Les Landau.

Those who worked with Landau offered tributes, including co-chairman of Disney Entertainment Alan Bergman, who said, “Jon was a visionary whose extraordinary talent and passion brought some of the most unforgettable stories to life on the big screen. His remarkable contributions to the film industry have left an indelible mark, and he will be profoundly missed. He was an iconic and successful producer yet an even better person and a true force of nature who inspired all around him. Our thoughts are with Jon’s wife, Julie, and his family and loved ones during this difficult time.”

Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh, whose Wētā FX company was the visual effects house for the “Avatar” movies, also released a statement: “We speak for the entire Wētā FX team when we say we are devastated by the loss of Jon Landau. Jon was not only a monumental figure in the film industry but also a cherished collaborator and friend. Jon brought unparalleled passion to the projects he worked on and his influence will continue to inspire for years to come. Our deepest condolences are with Jon’s family and loved ones, as well as Jim and the Lightstorm Entertainment team.”

Joe Letteri, who was the VFX supervisor on the “Avatar” films, added in his own statement, “I am heartbroken at the loss of our friend Jon Landau. He was an amazing and generous man, and a world-class film maker who leaves a legacy that will last for generations. On behalf of all of us at Wētā FX, it was an honour to work beside him. His dedication to the art of filmmaking inspired us every day. Our thoughts are with his family and loved ones.”

Stephen Rivkin, an editor on the “Avatar” films, said in a statement to Variety, “Jon was our hero.  He is and will always be the greatest champion of the Avatar movies and the guiding light of the Avatar family who have worked and continue to work on these films. He was a one-of-a-kind giant in our industry. I am so fortunate to have known him and to have had him in my life, both professionally and as a dear friend. We will miss him beyond what words can express. He will continue to live in our hearts forever.”

“Titanic” VFX supervisor and collaborator Robert Legato wrote to Variety: “It absolutely breaks my heart to have to write this tribute to Jon. I was extraordinarily lucky to be involved in two of the biggest films ever made, and I could not believe my good fortune in getting a chance to work with a legendary figure like Jon. For me, loving film history as I do, it felt like working with David Selznick, Darryl Zanuck, Sam Spiegel, and Louis B. Mayer all wrapped into one. The highest-grossing films of all time, most Oscar wins—Jon is in that very small pantheon of the most successful producers this business has ever seen. Personally, he was a great friend, an encouraging colleague, and a master at making you feel like you were the most important voice in the room. He did this for everyone, and the collective contribution he fostered showed on screen as a gift for audiences the world over. The deep sadness I feel must pale in comparison to the loss felt by his wonderful and talented family that he just adored. We all just loved him.”

“Titanic” actor Frances Fisher paid tribute to Landau on X, writing, “Rest in Power Jon.”

Landau was born in New York, N.Y., on July 30, 1960, to Ely and Edie Landau, who were also both film producers. He attended USC’s School of Cinematic Arts.

From Variety US