Is The Plot Of James Cameron’s Avatar Plagiarized?

Published 6 years ago by

avatar header new1 Is The Plot Of James Camerons Avatar Plagiarized?

With the hoopla over James Cameron’s upcoming sci-fi blockbuster Avatar, you wouldn’t expect a spanner to be thrown in the works at this stage in the game, less than two months from its release. But that appears to be the case, with the aforementioned  trouble taking the form of an uncanny resemblance between Avatar‘s plot and the plot of a 1957 Poul Anderson novella called Call Me Joe.

Some sites – such as over at io9 where this story originated – are asking the question of whether or not Avatar is a rip-off of Anderson’s sci-fi story from over five decades ago. It seems a bit strong to say “rip-off” but the evidence of the similarities between the two plots is undeniable. One of io9‘s readers, “Goldfarb,” pointed them toward Call Me Joe – take a look at the plot synopsis for both it and Avatar, along with some artwork for both, and see if you think they bear more than a passing resemblance to one another:

Call Me Joe:

Call Me Joe centers on a paraplegic – Ed Anglesey – who telepathically connects with an artificially created life form in order to explore a harsh planet (in this case, Jupiter). Anglesey revels in the freedom and strength of his artificial created body, battles predators on the surface of Jupiter, and gradually goes native as he spends more time connected to his artificial body.


In the future, Jake, a paraplegic war veteran, is brought to another planet, Pandora, which is inhabited by the Na’vi, a humanoid race with their own language and culture. Those from Earth find themselves at odds with each other and the local culture.

avatar call me joe artwork comparison Is The Plot Of James Camerons Avatar Plagiarized?

Avatar & Call Me Joe - Too close for comfort?

Pretty striking, eh? One of the big things about Avatar – which is one of the biggest selling points for me personally – is the fact that it’s said to be a ‘totally original work from the mind of Cameron,’ the man who brought us such classic sci-fi classics as The Terminator, Terminator 2 and Aliens. There’s no previous brand to build off of, which will make it all the more interesting to see how well Avatar does at the box office when it opens.

But now that there’s a possibility that the plot might not be as original as we were first lead to believe kind of takes some of the wind out of the sails, at least for me. Of course, there are varying opinions on this matter, ranging from if Cameron was even aware of the novella at all when he came up with the story (i.e. it’s just a coincidence); to some saying it’s one influence but not “the” influence; and some are even going as far to say Cameron stole the idea and Anderson deserves a credit on the film.

io9 reminds us that Cameron doesn’t claim to be totally influence-free when it comes to Avatar – he’s cited the likes of Dances With Wolves, Rudyard Kipling and Edgar Rice Burroughs. But as io9 also says, it’s strange that he hasn’t cited Anderson’s Call Me Joe amongst those.

This isn’t the first time Cameron has run into a problem involving accusations of plagiarism: Back when he made The Terminator, writer Harlan Ellison sued the production company claiming the ideas were already in a couple of Outer Limits episodes. The matter was settled out of court, and Ellison got (and still has) a credit on The Terminator.

Apparently this isn’t the first time Avatar has been compared to Call Me Joe, with /Film doing some research that turned up comments from readers that are months old, pointing out similarities between the two. For some reason it’s taken this long for it to bubble to the surface and become a (semi-)real issue.

avatar new image2 Is The Plot Of James Camerons Avatar Plagiarized?

"Call me, Jake -- yes Jake..."

It’s up in the air at this point in time what affect this will have on Avatar, Cameron or 20th Century Fox. My bet is that it will turn out to have been an influence of Cameron’s all along, and they will have the permission to use some of the ideas. Kind of the way things turned out with the whole Pirates of the Caribbean 4 book source mess last month. I really don’t think that with a film as huge as Avatar that Cameron, Fox and everyone else at the top haven’t thoroughly covered their hindquarters.

Do you think Avatar is influenced or even based on the Call Me Joe novella? Are the similarities too great to ignore? What do you think this will mean for the movie, Cameron and 20th Century Fox?

Avatar hits theaters on December 18th, 2009.

Sources: io9 thanks to /Film

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  1. Einstein has also been called a plagiarist since his equation was also being developed by other scientists at the time. With Second Life, World of Warcraft, and other “avatar” programs, it is very easy to leap to this story line. Since I am a disabilities rights activist, and knowing the bionic man and woman series as well as being a Second Life addict, there isn’t a lot of originality these days to leap to this conclusion of a paraplegic wanting to escape and be “free” and “unbounded” and have a “working” body. Heck, people with no disabilities like to escape in MUVEs too. Even though Cameron claims it as original, it isn’t that creative, as many have thought this, but just didn’t get the opp to publish it…this can go back to the addage that nothing has been invented. There is no leap here…even so…I’m really looking forward to seeing the movie! Great for Poul Anderson to be so forward thinking in this subject matter and it would be nice he got press and acknowledgement on this. This appears to be another “Tesla” incident.

  2. ive just seen the movie, i havent read the book you talk about,but i have seen the kids animated movie “fern gully”. if you want to talk about plagiarism, take a look at that movie, and compare with avatar!

  3. If Cameron plagiarized the story the question would be did he do it consciously? Everyone is a product of their environment and the input they receive from it. The question I have is, is it possible in our day and age of information saturation to possibly come up with something purely original? Can the mind be that abstract or is it fooling itself by pulling forgotten material out of its subconscious and thinking it original? The noble savage and solitary hero myths that Avatar uses have been around since the start of civilization.
    – Avatar similarities to other movies I noticed:
    – The Dark Crystal
    – Pocahontas
    – The mission
    – Dances with wolves

    • Avatar is also similar to: Little Big Man, Fern Gully and The Dragon Riders of Pern novels by ann McCaffery. Although no fiction idea can be totally original in evewry possible way, Avatar is just a poorly done mish-mash of all of the above and then some. I was so bored, I cleaned my purse (always a bad sign). the characters were either predicatble: Main character and his avatar girlfriend, or cardboard (Weaver’s character and in particular the stereotyped tough, mean,facially-scarred Marine commander who is bent of nothing but e-e-e-evil).
      It is also full of scientific contraditions, like mountains that “float” but people that don’t.
      Cameron’s ego is the size of Pandora. Too bad his “original” vision wasn’t.

  4. Maybe Cameron read Aldous Huxley ‘The Island’ at some stage also, lovely novel, here’s the basic synopsis:

    Will Farnaby, a journalist whose boss also owns Southeast Asia Petroleum, finds himself shipwrecked on this island. Under two motivations, Farnaby asks and is given permission to stay for a month. Farnaby, or Huxley, is genuinely interested in learning the culture, not only for literary reasons, but to find out more about himself. His second motive is to negotiate a lease between Southeast Asia Petroleum and the Palanese government, for which he will earn a large sum of money. At several points throughout the novel Farnaby feels guilty about betraying his guests. Farnaby comforts himself with the thought that if he didn’t do it, somebody else would. The forces of history are working. (84) As in the Hindu philosophy outlined in the Bhagavad Gita when Krishna explains to Arjuna that he is an instrument of the action, it is his fate or destiny to fight; the same holds true for Farnaby, his destiny has brought him to Pala for a reason.

  5. And Ferngully. And Pocahontas. Especially Pocahontas.

  6. Agreed.

  7. I bet you feel like a right knob now!

  8. thanks for your post,it is best.

  9. Thanks for the article man, it was driving me crazy when I watched that piece of crap, and had a feeling of deja vue but could remember where did see that staff before

  10. why don't you say that the story Call Me Joe (1957) was stolen from the Hans Christian Andersen's Fairy tale “The Little Mermaid” ?

  11. why don't you say that the story Call Me Joe (1957) was stolen from the Hans Christian Andersen's Fairy tale “The Little Mermaid” ?

  12. Umm… ok. I understand that the “Call Me Joe” novella have obvious similarities to the movie “Avatar”, but did anyone think of “Pocahantas”(forgive me for incorrect spelling) similarities? Jake Sully (Guy in pocahantas who is trying to help the indians) (sorry for not knowing specific names :), goes to explore a new, unknown land in hopes of becoming trusted so that he can take their land/get that really expensive rock s***… theres also this master spiritual tree thing in Pocahantas called “mother willow”/tree of souls in Avatar…(also consider the similarities in the the two trees (if you havent seen Avatar the tree resembles a willow tree). There are many more things that are shocking like the fact the Governor whatsisname? doesnt agree with Johns/Jakes idea to try and cooperate with the Navi/Indians and just wants a hostile takeover. Like I've said, there are more similarities that you can look into and I would highly recommend that. I also want to say that I do not disagree with the fact that the novel things played a part in the obvious plagiarism which we call Avatar. Think about it :) bai

  13. The charge of plagiarism is not important here. The screenplay follows the stock pattern of many Hollywood productions. Stranger rides into town and is rebuffed but wins the populace over and galvanises them to beat the baddies – it is basically ‘Seven Samurai’. Many other influences are evident – ‘War against the Rull (Van Vogt) gave Cameron a six-legged feline predator (ezwal in the book). ‘Case of Conscience (Blish) gave him a planet-wide tree-based communication system and ‘The Girl who was plugged in’ (Ann Sheldon writing as James Tiptree Jnr) gave him the idea of ‘wireless’ neurally controlled ;dumb terminal; body. ‘SPR’ has a bit part and every Vietnam War film, too. It is visually stunning but intellectually moribund. One has suspend disbelief vigorously to enjoy the visual magnificence. The Na’vi are so obviously American Plains Indians it becomes risible. The only device that affected me was the last but one scene where Neytiri saves human Jake. Yet again why would that tenderness for an unknown human manifest? And she shows huge awareness and intelligence in realising that this crippled tiny man is her love. In summation it’s a feast for the eyes but pap for the brain.

  14. You could take this movie in a more positive way. Just take it as a remake. Maybe the movie “call me joe” wasn’t really popular, but they found the idea, the thematic and the story interesting, so they did a look-a-like story. Of course Avatar has been a wonderfull movie, they did make a lot of money, and it has been watched so many times in theaters, and even the soundtrack is amazing(which I bought). But, if you stop thinking about Avatar, and turn yourself at all the american “girly” movies that are coming out by dozen in a year. “The girl fall in love with the boy, but he’s not interested, but then he will change idea” or Whatever romantic cheap story that you already know the end, I think they are all plagiarized. Come on! And they’re so borring, because we’ve seen too many of them. Avatar looks like Pocahantas, (I don’t know the movie “Call me joe”) but we haven’t see these kind of stories too many times ’til now. But of course, if every body write look-a-like stories, then, we’ll be used to it, and there will be no more originality. I think Avatar has something special, maybe they wanted to bring this magical feeling in it, which “Call me joe” probably didn’t have, or they only wanted to do a eary version. OR , Maybe they haven’t thought about this at all! I think we shoudln’t make a big deal with it. Just admit you loved it, even if it looks like pocahantas. Who cares after all? Enjoy.

  15. I know for a FACT that my sketches and ideas for the native people and planet, dragons… everything…. were stolen. This is MY idea. Have been drawing these characters since I was 9 years old or so.
    I’m a 38 year old mother of 2 now, but you could have knocked me over with a feather when I saw this characters.

  16. When I was about thirteen (years before the release of Avatar) I came up with a story with a similar plot to James Cameron’s Avatar. I even began to write some of it. Of course, when there are so many people in the world coming up with there own ideas, you can’t possibly know whether your idea is unique. The chances of coming up with your own idea just don’t favour you.
    I don’t believe that James Cameron copied this book. It was just a coincidence. It might be a very big one, but I still believe that it was a coincidence nonetheless. However, I still don’t believe Avater was in any way original, even if you forget about Call Me Joe. There are that many other books, films, etc. that Cameron may have copied for either the plot or other aspects, and many of these have been pointed out.

  17. Everyone is missing the big picture. He clearly got the idea for Avatar from an old cartoon movie from 1992 Fern Gully.

  18. It is so simple!!

    You smoke some DMT and avatar is what you see.
    People ho did know what i am talking about, the others should google it if they´re interrested ±D

  19. I’ve seen the rumours around the net about Jim Cameron’s having been accused of plagiarism, and I’m beginning to suspect that there’s less to this than meets the eye. This article references the idea that Harlan Ellison sued Jim Cameron for plagiarizing The Terminator. This turns out not actually to be true–Harlan Ellison never did sue Cameron for plagiarism, though it’s possible to read how much the case was settled for, etc. There is an L.A. Times retraction for having repeated this false rumour, and that retraction is from over 20 years ago.

    So, to quote the article here, I read ‘Harlan Ellison sued the production company claiming the ideas were already in a couple of Outer Limits episodes. The matter was settled out of court, and Ellison got (and still has) a credit on The Terminator.’ And no, Harlan Ellison never ‘sued the production company’. Now, there was a lawsuit over Aliens, the Heinlein estate claimed it was plagiarized from Starship Troopers, and this case went to court, and the Heinlein estate lost.

    Of course, I may seem like a captive fan of Cameron, I’m actually curious, as it seems to me that never once, has Cameron ever settled a plagiarism lawsuit for a nickel, or lost a plagiarism case, and again, Ellison never sued him.

  20. Seriously, it’s stolen from Ferngully.