Jon Landau Dies: ‘Avatar’ & Oscar-Winning ‘Titanic’ Producer Was 63

Jon Landau Dies: ‘Avatar’ & Oscar-Winning ‘Titanic’ Producer Was 63

Jon Landau, the illustrious producer and COO of James Cameron‘s Lightstorm Entertainment, died July 5 in Los Angeles after a 16-month-long battle with cancer. He was 63.

Landau produced films generated by Cameron that include 1997’s Best Picture Oscar winner Titanic, which tied Ben-Hur for most Academy Awards, 11. That film for a time was the largest grossing film of all time until it was surpassed by another Cameron blockbuster, the 2009 Avatar, which Landau also produced. Other credits included Avatar: The Way of Water, Solaris, Alita: Battle Angel directed by Robert Rodriguez, and he co-produced Honey, I Shrunk the Kids and Dick Tracy.

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During his 27-year partnership with Cameron, having joined the director in the making of Titanic in 1995, Landau produced three of the five highest-grossing films of all time, Avatar, Titanic and Avatar: The Way of Water. His death was first divulged by Titanic actress Frances Fisher. Late last night she posted of his passing, writing simply: “Rest in power, Jon.”

Born July 23, 1960 in New York to producers Ely and Edie Landau (Long Day’s Journey Into Night, The Pawnbroker), Landau got his professional start as production manager on such films as Key Exchange (1985), F/X (1986), Manhunter (1986), and Making Mr. Right (1987). He earned his first producing credits on Campus Man (1987), Honey, I Shrunk the Kids (1989) and Dick Tracy (1990), which he co-produced with Warren Beatty.

RELATED: Leonardo DiCaprio Remembers ‘Titanic’ Producer Jon Landau

At the age of 29, Landau became EVP of Feature Productions at 20th Century Fox, where he oversaw many films, including Home Alone (1990), Home Alone 2 (1992), Mrs. Doubtfire (1993), Speed (1994), and Waiting to Exhale (1995). It was at Fox that Landau began his professional relationship with Cameron on True Lies (1994). When Landau decided to leave Fox, Cameron asked him if he wanted to read the script for a project code-named Planet Ice that would eventually become Titanic.

Last February, Landau recalled his first time working with Cameron when he was at Fox and assigned to the director’s 1994 action comedy True Lies. “I think Jim was a little skeptical. He said, ‘So I understand we’re gonna get to be pretty good friends. Or maybe not,'” he told Deadline’s Pete Hammond on Behind the Lens with a laugh.

(L-R) Jon Landau and James Cameron display the cement on their hands at their hand and footprint ceremony on January 12, 2023 at TCL Chinese theatre in Hollywood
(L-R) Jon Landau and James Cameron display the cement on their hands at their hand and footprint ceremony on January 12, 2023 at TCL Chinese theatre in Hollywood

Although Landau said they worked “on opposite sides of the fence” during that movie, Cameron later came to him with the script for Titanic after he left Fox, and Landau “fell in love” with the movie.

“We did that sort of as a one-off,” Landau recalled of joining Lightstorm. “And that worked, the relationship worked, and I think we built it up.”

In his role as head of Lightstorm Entertainment, Landau was responsible for expanding the company’s brand and reach through the development of new films, like Rodriguez’s Alita: Battle Angel and ancillary projects. Landau was instrumental in expanding the Avatar franchise into such areas as video gaming (Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora), the live experience (Cirque du Soleil’s Toruk) and was the driving force behind Walt Disney Resort’s popular attraction Pandora – The World of Avatar.

Following Laundau’s death, Cameron remembered his longtime producing partner.

“His legacy is not just the films he produced, but the personal example he set — indomitable, caring, inclusive, tireless, insightful and utterly unique,” Cameron said. “He produced great films, not by wielding power but by spreading warmth and the joy of making cinema. He inspired us all to be and to bring our best, every day. I have lost a dear friend, and my closest collaborator of 31 years. A part of myself has been torn away.”

The stars of Titanic and Avatar also mourned the late producer.

“Jon Landau was the kindest and best of men,” Titanic and Avatar: The Way of Water‘s Kate Winslet said. “He was a man who was rich with compassion and exceptional at supporting and nurturing teams of phenomenal creative people.”

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Added Titanic star Leonardo DiCaprio, “Jon, was an incredibly kind, wise, and empathetic soul, who wanted to create nothing but a positive impact on anyone or anything approached. His legacy and leadership will live on forever.”

Avatar franchise star Sam Worthington echoed Winslet and DiCaprio’s sentiment. “Jon was all heart,” he said. “He made everything and everyone he touched feel they could be better. He led with humor and strength, compassion and kindness.”

Said fellow Avatar star Zoe Saldaña of Landau, “Your wisdom and support shaped so many of us in ways we will always be grateful for…Your legacy will continue to inspire us and guide us in our journey.”

Landau is brother to Star Trek director Les Landau, Broadway director Tina Landau and Symphony Space executive director Kathy Landau. He is survived by his wife of almost 40 years Julie and their sons Jamie and Jodie.

Tina paid tribute to her late brother with a statement on X. “The best brother a girl could ever dream of- my brother Jon – has passed away. My heart is broken but also bursting with pride & gratitude for his most extraordinary life, and the love and gifts he gave me – and all who knew him or his films,” she wrote.

Alan Bergman, Co-Chairman of Disney Entertainment, which produces the Avatar franchise, remembered Landau as “a visionary whose extraordinary talent and passion brought some of the most unforgettable stories to life on the big screen” in a statement provided to Deadline.

“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,” added Bergman.

In 2010, Landau became a recipient of SCA’s Mary Pickford Foundation Award recognizing extraordinary alumni contributions to the cinematic arts. In 2023, Landau was honored at a ceremony where his handprints, footprints, and autograph were immortalized in cement at “Grauman’s” TCL Chinese Theater alongside Cameron’s.

“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, said Lord of the Rings director Peter Jackson and screenwriter Fran Walsh, whose digital visual effects and animation company Wētā FX worked with Landau on the Avatar movies.

Glenn Garner and Nellie Andreeva contributed to this report.

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