Did James Cameron Steal the Idea for Avatar?

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There were whispers and rumors about it before, but now James Cameron has actually been sued for stealing the idea for Avatar. TheWrap reports that Eric Ryder claims that he had an informal agreement with Cameron’s Lightstorm Entertainment to adapt his story “KRZ 2068” into a film. Ryder says he worked for two years on his project when Lightstorm told him to stop because there would be no audience for it. Imagine his surprise when a film that he alleges is almost exactly the same as his own became a worldwide multibillion dollar blockbuster.

There are definitely similarities between the story and movie Ryder says he was working on and Avatar. According  to the lawsuit, his story was an “environmentally themed 3-D epic about a corporation’s colonization and plundering of a distant moon’s lush and wondrous natural setting.”  Moreover, the corporation that brings the protagonist to this luscious place was to be a mining company.  And the 3D aspects were not just to be tacked on, but integral to the feel of the story.  Lightstorm says that Cameron passed around a scriptment for Avatar before they entered into the agreement wih Ryder, but Ryder says it isn’t so.  His lawsuit claims Lightstorm only went forward with Avatar after telling him to stop working on his film and used so many elements from his film that it violates that agreement.

Now, obviously, Ryder could just be tryin to cash in on Avatar‘s success. It’s not unheard of for Hollywood studios and production companies to be sued for “idea theft” and copyright infringement, but sometimes those suits do have pretty good grounds (see the case of The Matrix and ‘The Third Eye’). The case will likely take the path of most such suits and settle out of court but, if it doesn’t, it might be interesting to see how the case affects production of Avatar‘s sequels.


  1. In the Stewart vs Matrix/Terminator suit, there was no ruling as *no evidence* was submitted.. so I don’t think that counts as “good grounds.”  Anyone can claim anything hoping that someone might settle before it goes to trial but as it turns out Stewart did not appear in court on the day she had fought to get because there was no evidence for her to appeal with.

    I’ve had to deal with a very low-intensity version of this in the last year, as I had to invoke the DMCA to protect a work of mine still in progress since 2008, & I can say this – as a writer & a designer, if someone were to infringe me, I could offer them up so much evidence as to that being the case that I would have no problem convincing a judge/jury of the offender’s invalidity with tons of written/dated documents & witnesses…. SO, if this guy is telling the truth, he will have a lot to show for it.  I also would not have waited to take action!  He should have filed this suit immediately! It has been quite a long time since Avatar came out now…. probably enough time to forge documents.

  2. Mc says:

    Kevin Costner could sue Cameron. Avatar is just a complete rework of Dances With Wolves –  IN SPAAAAAACCE

  3. Msears908 says:

    There’s also Poul Anderson’s 1957 short story “Call me Joe”.

    A paraplegic man’s mind is electronically transferred into an engineered alien body in order to explore a world with a hostile environment. He eventually “goes native” and abandons his human body in favor of his new one.

  4. Orgasmo123 says:

    And Ferngully (really, same movie, guys), and Red Scorpion and about 100 other movies.

  5. retired guy says:

    Oh H*ll he stole from everybody. Let’s see, check out “The Jesus Incident” by Frank Herbert, The writings of Fereidoun M. Esfandiary, philosophers Nick Bostrom, and David Pearce. How about we reach back to the “Epic of Gilgamesh”? On and on we go…

  6. F.Me says:

    Avatard is nothing more than a sci-fi version of Dances with Wolves.

  7. Silversurfer741 says:

    This is what James Cameron stole from to make Avatar.

  8. Silversurfer741 says:

    Reposting so that you won’t have to click on the link. If James Cameron stole from anything, it was this.

  9. retired guy says:

    Interesting linkage but I think it goes back much much further than that. Besides ask yourself what did Azurik steal from? Check where the word Avatar itself came from. You’ll find the word referenced to Hinduism. It means descent and refers to the descent of a deity. You’ll notice that a number of these Hindu Avatars are colored blue in art work too.
    Storytellers have been recycling this stuff forever. Best not to get hung up on some recent similarities.

  10. Bub says:


    Watch it and you’ll s**t bricks at the almost identical plot.

  11. Mike says:

    A lot of people mentioning similarities that Avatar has with other movies.  The fact is, most movies and most ideas in general are built upon other people’s ideas.  The tricky part is determining where the draw the line for how much of an entire idea is based on another idea or combination of ideas.  If half of a movie’s ideas came from one guy, and the other half came from the producer of the film it is hard to say how much credit is due each party.  The value of those two halves may be completely different.

    Also, if an idea is basically a collaboration of other people’s ideas, there is still a big element of creativity made by the person who successfully combines all of those ideas.  I think each case has to be examined very carefully to determine how much credit for an idea should be awarded to each party involved. 

    You’d never get sued over creating a film that used talking animals, even though someone had that idea first.  You’d never get sued over creating a film that involved a love triangle, even though that idea had to come from somewhere.  In Avatar the main character’s mind is transferred into a different body, determining whether that concept is intellectual property is a small example of why a lawsuit like this would be very complicated.

  12. justin says:

    It’s pochahotas with nine foot blue cat people….

  13. George Hopper says:

    Many posters are listing movies that are similar to this one. I’d like to add that there is a reason for this. Avatar’s plot and the themes within the film are very archetypal (almost too much so for my taste at times) and so will seem very similar to many, many stories. Just to be clear, this comment is just regarding other comments, not the issue on which the article is based. 

  14. Andi says:

    Avatar ripped more off of Edgar Rice Burroughs, “John Carter of Mars” series than ANYONE. 

  15. Bazman32 says:

    and Eric Ryder stole the idea from Alan Dean Foster!!

    Read Midworld! ‘nuf said!

  16. Anonymous says:

    There are a TON of other outright thievery elements of Avatar.  First of all, the whole concept of multi-legged alien monsters and two-legged humanoid ones that can bond with each other as well as their home planet was pioneered in John Varley’s TITAN trilogy.  VERY similar plot elements.  And the whole army of MECHA-equipped former military mercenaries in Avatar was nearly identical to similar plot elements in numerous Japanese anime productions, graphic novels, and movies.   And Wayne Barlowe more or less entirely sold out his entire set of Science Fiction of creature concepts from the 1980s (e.g., Barlowe’s Guide to Extraterrestrials) and worked directly on Avatar.  Moreover, the entire concept of a planet like Pandora with Barlowe’s creations was pioneered in the 80’s and 90s with the “Expedition” graphic novel.  There’s actually very little unique in Avatar….he borrowed the entire thing from other SciFi books of the past, and based some of the culture on New Zealand Maori culture, where some of the movie was filmed.  It kills me when James Cameron claims he had the idea for “Avatar” for years, but couldn’t make the movie “he envisioned” until technology caught up with him.  Nonsense…he stole almost every element of the movie from existing SciFi stories.

  17. Bernice Dodd says:

    Surely Avatar was almost a straight copy of Fern Gully a cartoon movie that my children watched years ago…virtually the same story…just a different way of creating the characters but even there there are similarities….even some of the scenes are similar…..

  18. its all just a copy of disney’s pocahontas…same story line!

  19. Jim says:

    cameron stole the idea from pocahontas

  20. maxiaguirredotcom says:

    hell yes! is the most expensive remake of POKAHONTAS i´ve ever seen!

  21. A Guest says:

    They also stole it from Albion, a 1996 PC-RPG: Tall, thin catlike creatures, a military presence from another world…

  22. Mickamandac says:


  23. Mike Block says:

    Ferngully, Pocahontas, and BATTLE FOR TERRA!! Hell, even Star Trek 2008 stole the design of the Romulan mining ship from Battle for Terra. Watch it, you’ll agree.

  24. Stoo1701 says:

    Obv’s.. 😀 Shoulda been called “Dances with Smurfs”…

  25. lingers says:

    Did you
    really enjoy Avatar for its plot? C’mon! The plot is a joke! The movie was all
    about visuals-assisted mayhem and preteen-style puppy love.

    But just to
    summarize, this is the list of works Avatar most definitely borrowed from

    1) Pocahontas, both the legendary one and the Disney cartoon

    2) Ferngully (a number of similar key plot elements, lots of near-identical
    scenes, characters and lines of dialogue, especially my favorite “Welcome to
    the food chain!”, present both in Ferngully and uttered by what will be
    Sigourney Weaver’s character in Cameron’s EARLY
    DRAFT of Avatar – http://sfy.ru/?script=avatar
    . This is probably exactly the script about which wikipedia says: “In 1994,
    director James Cameron wrote an 80-page treatment for Avatar”. FYI, Ferngully is
    from 1992, so if Cameron watched it on VHS in 1993, it all, you know, makes
    perfect sense.)

    3) Starship
    Troopers, both the book and the flick, though in different ways (the military
    and technological aspects)

    4) Dances with Wolves (the living with, and fighting for, the Indians part)

    5) Marvel’s
    Timespirits comics from the 80’s (seems too good to be true, so it just might
    be a web prank, but check it out anyway – http://themonkeymind.livejournal.com/35638.html

    directly, probably even without being aware of it, Cameron was influenced by a number
    of sci-fi of sci-fi works, such as:

    6) Call Me
    Joe, by Poul Anderson

    7) The Winds of Altair, by
    Ben Bova

    8) Desertion, by Clifford Simak

    9) Judgment on Janus, by Andre Norton

    of these feature some variation on the concept of a avatar – either transforimg
    a human body into something more durable, or hooking up a person to some sort
    of a ‘surrogate’.

    The World of Noon, by the Strugatsky brothers (has Planet Pandora in it,
    inhibited by the Nave natives)

    11) John Carter of Mars, by Edgar
    Rice Burroughs
    (acknowledged by Cameron himself, though I’m not sure what for, exactly. I’m
    kinda having truble beliving James Cameron actually read this 1912 antediluvian
    stuff, much less was much affected by it.)

  26. liquidcactus says:

    I wonder how long it took to render avatar ^_^

  27. steel says:

    There are so many books out and about that one will not find many new “ideas” but ideas are not copyrighted, it is the words and how it is portrayed. These comparison’s are too general and one has to prove he ever read any of these books as well. These are frivolous lawsuits in my opinion.