Avatar Stephen Lang Quaritch Jake
Stephen Lang as Colonel Quaritch with Sam Worthington's Jake Sully. 20th Century Fox

Avatar director James Cameron has revealed that the 2009 film's villainous Colonel Quaritch, played by Stephen Lang, won't just be returning from the grave for the upcoming sequel – but will also be in Avatar 3, 4 and 5 as each film's chief antagonist.

Cameron revealed the detail in an interview with Empire magazine as he and his team gear up to film Avatar 2 and 3 back-to-back ahead of their planned December 2020 and 2021 release dates.

"The interesting conceit of the Avatar sequels is it's pretty much the same characters," he revealed.

"There are new characters and a lot of new settings and creatures, so I'm taking characters you know and putting them in unfamiliar places and moving them on this greater journey. But it's not a whole bunch of new characters every time.

"There's not a new villain every time, which is interesting. Same guy. Same motherfucker through all four movies. He is so good and he just gets better. I know Stephen Lang is gonna knock this out of the park."

Released in 2009, Avatar borrowed elements from a ton of other famous tales (Fern Gully, Dances with Wolves, Pocahontas) to tell a story and environmentalism, as humans arrived on the alien planet of Pandora to mine for a precious resource while endangering native species the Na'vi.

The film follows Jake Sully (Sam Worthington), a paraplegic former Marine, who uses the titular avatar programme to inhabit and assume control of a genetically-created na'vi body so he and team of others can ingratiate humankind with Pandora's natives.

It's here that Jake falls for na'vi Neytiri (Zoe Saldana) and eventually fights on their side as the humans threaten their existence.

Worthington and Saldana will return, as will Sigourney Weaver – presumably as Dr Grace Augustine, who like Quaritch also seemingly died in the original.

Cameron's sequels have been subject to numerous delays, with an initial two sequels becoming three and then four over the years. As it stands, Avatar 2 is set for 2020, which will be 11 years after the original. There were 12 years between Avatar in Cameron's last film before that, 1997's Titanic.

Considering the director's box office pull – Titanic and Avatar are the two highest-grossing films of all time, with each drawing over $2bn – studio 20th Century Fox clearly wants to give him all the time in the world.

Avatar was celebrated as a technical landmark in cinema, with pioneering 3D effects. The sequels will reportedly offer cinemagoers the chance to view 3D without the need for glasses. Last week it was revealed that special effects team Weta Digital has already begun work on the sequels.