Is The Plot Of James Cameron’s Avatar Plagiarized?

Published 5 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. Every story has been told in the past one way or another so they should just leave it alone. He’s done it before and admitted it but we should all be so lucky that Cameron takes other stories and turns them into masterpieces.

  2. This is going to turn out to be another over-hyped CGI-fest that will have a good opening weekend, and then die. This looks like just another effects-driven action film which, at least at first, will appeal to the average moviegoes. But the story is going to take those who are there for an action movie out of it. This is going to be the next Watchmen, with some people loving it, most finding it just to be a three-hour waste of time.

  3. Disagree all you want but Avatar will easily surpass the $500 million mark. For Cameron that might be a disappointment but any other director would be jumping up and down for joy.

  4. How can you say this will make $500 million? This film won’t benefit from cast, since almost everyone is an unknown, save for Sigourney Weaver. Most people will look at Sam Worthington and think “Terminator”, which most people didn’t like, and Zoe Saldana and think “the new Uhura”. But that probably won’t happen since the actors’ faces are covered in CG. Most people I know, who are huge nerds, people who went to see Transformers 2 at midnight, don’t even know what this movie is about, let alone want to see it. Believe me, this film will be mildly successful at best, and gain a cult following. Maybe in 20-30 years it will be like Blade Runner, but when this comes out, don’t be surprised if the theater you’re in seems a bit empty.

  5. This is why Avatar will surpass $500 million:

    -James Cameron
    -New Technology with 3D (good or bad people will want to experience it)
    -Titanic was a love story, on a boat the whole movie, everyone knew the ending already because it was a story everyone knew and it still made a gazillion dollars.
    -Once the advertising starts in November saying “from the director of Titanic and Terminator 2″ boom you have instant tickets being sold
    -Sam Worthington is only the biggest name in Hollywood right now. every producer wants him in their movies even if Terminator wasn’t very good – he was one of the only good parts
    -Cameron movies appeal to kids and adults
    -its fantasy or sci-fi so you have those crowds coming too
    -Sigourney Weaver

    And don’t ever compare a Cameron movie with a Michael “douchebag” Bay movie

  6. Sounds like he just took the story and added a war scenario to it.

    So far this film is just complete hype.
    I have to laugh when people gush over Cameron like he’s some kind of movie god. Personally the guy is a complete jerk who owes alot to the people around him. He has been doing a lot of work on his own recently because a lot of industry people won’t work for him.

    Personally I hope this film tanks! Mainly because of the 3D technology and the problems I have with that.
    The movie competition that will be out around that time and the economic slumping Christmas environment will hurt this film. I think Avatar would do a lot better as a summer release. But hey that’s ok with me,,, 500 mil, worldwide sure but not domestic.

  7. Didn’t they get sued for copying Delgo as well?

  8. Can’t say I will see it, but then again I never saw titanic either. Just looks boring and weird to me.

  9. Yeah, but at least Bay doesn’t try to make his films seem significant and groundbreaking, he makes pointless action films and he knows it. Cameron deserves none of his acclaim whatsoever.

  10. I don’t even want to comment… but I guess I will. Fact is: no one is going to take the steam out of this movie. Copyright matters will be swept under the rug (probably with massive payouts under the table.) Did anyone really believe Watchmen wouldn’t have its opening night, even after the last-minute lawsuit was announced? Every huge movie attracts litigious attention. Everyone wants a slice of the pie.

    But will it be worth it? I can’t say. Maybe Avatar will be the mind-blowing epic Cameron wants us to believe it’s going to be… but I haven’t seen anything yet to convince me that it is. All that CG… *sigh* It gives me horrid flashbacks to the Star Wars prequel films — movies so dominated by soulless computer generated corpses that, taken as a whole, they seem like a seven hour-long trailer for a video game.

    I can’t get past the Na’vi. I suspect they’ll look better in IMAX, but the hi-res screen grabs look like concept art for a “Warcraft” game.

  11. Don’t get me wrong guys. I’m not saying it will be great or even that I’ll like it but it will make a ton of money. Whether he stole the story or not is up for debate.

  12. I don’t think it will M Cat. I think its going to do ok its opening weekend (60mil) and then drop off sharply.
    The reported budget is over 200 mil and I’m sure the marketing expense will rise up over a few hundred mil as well. My point, Cameron better hope the films a huge success because anything else will be looked on as a huge failure… I’m actually looking forward to seeing how its received then actually watching the film.
    Again with most trailers these days I can pretty much see where Avatar is headed.

    Btw those assault helicopters look exactly like the ones in Halo 3.

  13. Looks suspicious but there is lots of room for interpretation. It’s really hard to come up with something completely new. I even don’t expect that.

    As for BO numbers: yeah, the movie will tank! This won’t be our next Star Wars BO-wise, it will be the next Watchmen! Great movie but a BO bomb…

  14. For those of you who say that this movie is all hype, I say… it’s JAMES CAMERON. This guy has an incredible track record for making amazing movies.

    I don’t expect this film to surpass Titanic. (Come on, even my grandmother who can’t speak English wanted to see that movie because she knows the history.) I’m hoping for T2-level greatness.

    I agree the film looks really weird, but unless the reviews are completely awful, I plan to shell out for an IMAX showing.

  15. You know what – “ridiculously naive” are the wrong the wrong words. I should have said “bold and brash”…sorry M-Cat.

  16. word on the street is its set to make a billion dollars worldwide doubt it though

  17. @ Paul Young

    Ridiculously naive? I am not offended by your statement and you should not be offended with what I’m about to say. Have you not been watching the box office for the past year or two? Even in a down economy the BO has thrived compared to other things. Transformers 2 (crap, though I like crap) easily destroyed $500 million as did Harry Potter. What was the last thing Cameron did? Made a ton. How long has he been working on Avatar? Years. He will make sure it is an experience to remember. Will he be changing cinema with new technology? Probably not, but directors will still follow his lead after this movie.

    And Paul, those movies you mentioned were in a different time and don’t even compare to how things are now with movies. It’s a whole different ballgame now. If T3 made $434 million then money means nothing.

  18. Forrester your comment:
    ” Its JAMES CAMERON, This guy has an incredible track record for making amazing movies” has been said over and over on these Avatar threads. Nothing personal but that line is getting old real fast around here.

    (IMO) Avatar will not have the impact T2 had or even Aliens for that matter. As for Titanic, it was a cinematic anomaly.
    The times were different there were no dvds, and the film had a built in worldwide audience.

    How many women saw the film over and over fulfilling an empty void in their dreary romantic lives. Lots!!!!!
    Kinda like the Twilight anomaly.
    I just don’t see how Avatar is going to break the mold and be the biggest film of the year based on what I’ve seen and read about the story…
    The hype at this point is having the opposite effect on me…
    Has anyone been to Toys r Us lately and seen all the Avatar action figures. Kinda disgusting as it appears they are expecting all the kids to buy up this crap…

    I love the eco-green hypocracy this film represents. Earth has been resourced to death. Yeah well the action figure carbon footprint doesn’t help the enviroment. I had the same problem with Wall£. Here’s a film that’s core message is go green before its too late, meanwhile the dvd is avilible in 4 versions one even had the cardboard sleve that you really don’t need on a dvd. Ah the hypocracy,!!!
    Howb many Wall£ action figures are already in landfills? Whata joke.

  19. Forrester

    That’s exactly what I’m looking for too. A movie on the level of T2! That would be awesome!

    And definitely IMAX is the way to go!

  20. What’s going on? Everytime I start writing a comment, the page refreshes over and over again. ARRRGH!! It is irritating! What does SR have on this freaking page!!!???

    So I’ll make this short and sweet.

    This conversation is pointless. I don’t see any copyright issues, much less any plagiarism here. James Cameron may have been influenced by the book. He might not have. One cannot steal an idea. As it is, it looks like comparing apples and oranges to me. Or even lettuce heads.

  21. I have never had any interest in this movie at all.

  22. @angeldust
    From the bits and pieces of what i saw from the second trailer theres some sort of mineral or item that pandora( the planet) has and the humans want it. The guy transfers himself into the avatar to try and donnie brasco his situation into the Na’vi ( blue dudes). That way he could get the inside info of where the mineral/item the humans want. The Na’vi though feel that the humans are trying to “Colombus” they’re way into Pandora… So what do people usually do when they feel threatened, they either flee or fight back. The guy that transfers his body into the avatar feels disgusted on how the humans are treating the Na’vi and their homeland so he and a group of other “avatars” join the Na’vi to help them against the humans.

    Now i’m not defending this movie… Just explaining what i understood from viewing both trailers but i will see it.

  23. @ Bob D

    are you kidding me? Michael Bay thinks he is the greatest thing since sliced bread.


    are you saying that T2 and Aliens were crappy movies because they used a bunch of special effects? Actors and actresses can’t act because a movie uses CGI? get a clue.

  24. angeldust

    there wasn’t a person here that said people will go see this because it’s in 3D. do you even read the comments? I said it’s another reason why people will be interested.

  25. I’m not even gonna bother reading the rest of the comments. It’s sad how accusations can be made so easy and the uniformed opinions that are used in situations that aren’t even opinion based but factual matters.

    The movie is not complete hype. That is, however, a completely misinformed comment.