James Cameron’s 2009 film Avatar marked a technological breakthrough in the world of computer generated filmmaking. But although Avatar received a lot of renown for its visuals, the Avatar script has largely fallen by the wayside. I don’t think it would be inaccurate to suggest most people who saw the film in 2009 don’t remember much of what the film was about. We’re going to break down the Avatar 2009 script to see if it stacks up against the film’s final visuals. We’ll explore the Avatar setting of Pandora through the written word of James Cameron to pick up on untouched details. By the end, we’ll know the world of Avatar like a true Na’vi.
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Avatar PDF Download
Click to view and download the entire Avatar script PDF below.
WHO WROTE avatar SCRIPT?
Written by James Cameron
James Cameron is a Canadian filmmaker who has written and directed some of the most financially successful films of all-time. In 1998, Cameron won three Academy Awards for Titanic. Eleven years later, he released Avatar – which became the highest-grossing film ever made until Avengers: Endgame dethroned it in 2019.
STRUCTURE OF THE AVATAR SCREENPLAY
Here is the story structure for the Avatar screenplay:
Jake Sully is a paraplegic war-vet, living in remote obscurity in the slums of an unnamed planet (presumably Earth).
Jake is recruited by mysterious agents to take the place of his deceased brother on a mission to colonize the alien moon of Pandora. Once Jake arrives on Pandora, he’s given control of the Na’vi Avatar originally designed for his brother.
Plot Point One
The humans aim to mine a rare material called unobtanium on Pandora. Chief scientist Grace hopes to find a diplomatic truce with the Na’vi by infiltrating their ranks with Avatars – aka pseudo Na’vi vessels piloted by humans. Colonel Quaritch wants Jake to use his marine skills to perform recon on the Na’vi – and he promises Jake he’ll get his legs back after the mission is completed.
Jake, Grace, and Norm venture out into the wilds of Pandora where they’re attacked by the local fauna. Jake gets lost in the scuffle but is later rescued by Neytiri, a tribal warrior. Neytiri brings Jake to her mother Mo’at and father Eytukan who decide they will spare him to study his motives.
Jake spends most days in his Avatar body training with Neytiri. The two develop a strong bond but Grace warns that he shouldn’t become too close. Grace also warns Jake that if he doesn’t collect recon soon, Quaritch will shut down the diplomatic mission.
Plot Point Two
Jake’s health begins to deteriorate from spending too much time in Avatar form. Quaritch demands Jake force the relocation of all Na’vi no matter the cost.
Jake passes the Dream Hunt right of initiation and becomes a full member of Neytiri’s tribe. Shortly after, Jake and Neytiri consummate their love and form a life bond.
Jake and Neytiri wake up the following morning to discover the humans have unleashed an assault. Quaritch detaches Jake and Grace from their Avatars and subsequently has them detained.
Jake and Grace are freed amidst the commotion and travel into the heart of Pandora: the Well of Souls. Grace is injured along the way and succumbs to her mortal wound.
The Na’vi, along with Jake, plan a defense strategy to save the Hometree from bombardment. Things go haywire – but when all hope seems lost, the flora and fauna fight back and protect the planet from the invaders. Jake kills Quaritch and fully embraces his Na’vi side.
The humans are forced to leave Pandora. Jake’s human body is laid to rest but he emerges conscious in his Avatar.
Avatar Script Takeaway #1
Avatar themes are moralistic
The Avatar screenplay has more than a few shortcomings (and we’ll get to those in a bit) but first, let’s analyze one area where the script is rather profound. We imported the Avatar screenplay into StudioBinder’s screenwriting software to take a closer look at what’s going on between the margins. In this next scene, we’ll see the true reason why the humans traveled to Pandora. Spoiler: it’s not for humanitarian reasons.
The two major themes of Avatar are:
Imperialism is bad.
It’s the responsibility of natives to protect local ecology (and vice versa).
And we regard these themes as novel because we don’t often see them represented in big-budget cinema. It’s one thing to say imperialism is bad; it’s another to show us why imperialism is bad.
Fortunately, Avatar does a great job of showing us the calamitous effect imperialism has on the beautiful setting of Pandora. Check out this next clip to see Pandora visualized by James Cameron before the destruction.
Quaritch and administrator Selfridge refer to the Na’vi as savages, but aren’t the humans the real savages for pillaging sacred land simply for financial gain? Ah yes, if this conflict structure sounds familiar, it’s because it’s deeply embedded in our planet’s history. Sadly, human history is riddled with hundreds of years of displacing natives in order to mine rare materials.
Cameron simply took our tragic history and put it into an alien setting – but the result is ultimately an act of introspection: maybe we should protect our neighbors more viciously than we plunder for gold and silver.
Avatar Script Takeaway #2
Avatar dialogue is sometimes cringey
The dialogue in Avatar often teeters on the edge of cringe. I know it’s not easy to write dialogue (trust me I’ve cringed at my own writing too) but it’s inexcusable that some of the bad dialogue in a production as big as Avatar made it through the rewrite process.
This next excerpt from the beginning of the script contains more than a few lines of dialogue that either contain too much exposition or simply too little originality. Challenge: as an exercise, read through this excerpt and mark down areas where you think the dialogue should have been edited.
Okay, nobody and I mean nobody would ever say, “I became a Marine for the hardship. To be hammered on the anvil of life.” Right? The anvil of life? It’s just so unnatural for a character to say – even if it is in (V.O.).
This scene takes place at the beginning of the script, meaning it has an enormous impact on how we regard Jake’s character. For all of Avatar’s strengths, Jake’s character isn’t one of them.
Cameron tried to make us empathize with Jake by having him attack the guy at the bar… but it didn’t quite work. Perhaps that’s why the scene was cut from the film. But alas, you can check out the deleted scene here:
In the end, the dialogue in Avatar fails to match-up to the lofty themes in the story. But there is one exchange that works surprisingly well.
Here it is; from page 84 of the Avatar screenplay:
Why does this exchange work so well? Well, because it demonstrates growth in Jake and Grace’s characters. It also says a lot about the Na’vi and the impact that humans have had on them, all in a short moment. Honestly, it’s a surprisingly poignant moment in a script rife with eye-rolling dialogue.
Avatar Script Takeaway #3
What is Avatar 2 going to be about?
It’s no secret that James Cameron has big plans for the future of Avatar, with (forgive my LeBron James impression) not one, not two, not three, but four sequels. As of now, who knows how many Avatar movies there are going to be.
The first Avatar was a sensational box-office success – so much so that 20th Century Fox gave the go-ahead for four sequels! But what is the next Avatar going to be about?
To answer that question, we have to go back to the script. Let’s break down the very end of the Avatar screenplay to see where the next film might begin.
The Avatar ending brings the story full-circle. Remember in the opening scene how Jake describes flying in his dreams but when he wakes up he finds himself enfeebled. Well, the transfer of Jake’s soul from his human body to his Avatar means he can finally fly. His eyes opening directly juxtapose the somber tone of the opening with gleeful vitality.
So, it’s fair to assume Avatar 2 is going to pick up with the story of Jake and Neytiri. In May 2020, Avatar 2 producer Jon Landau said, "Jake and Neytiri have a family in this movie, they are forced to leave their home, they go out and explore the different regions of Pandora.” Kate Winslet, Vin Diesel, and Oona Chaplin have been chosen to join the cast of Avatar 2, with Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana, and Stephen Lang reprising their roles. As of now, Avatar 2 is scheduled for release on December 16, 2022.
Read and download more scripts
Avatar is an ambitious story of enduring righteousness in the face of imperialist invaders. If you want to continue reading screenplays, we have similar titles like Star Wars: A New Hope, Jurassic Park, and The Lion King in our screenplay database. Browse and download PDFs for all of our scripts as you read, write and practice your craft to become the next great screenwriter.