James Cameron Stole From Avatar: The Last Airbender?

By Nathan Kamal | Published

james cameron

According to one of the key creatives behind the influential Nickelodeon series Avatar: The Last Airbender, filmmaker James Cameron is lifting literal elements from the show. Giancarlo Volpe, a writer, director, and artist on the influential animated show recently posted a Tweet in which he revealed that the show Avatar only had “The Last Airbender” added because the Terminator director already had the rights to the name. He further points out that the upcoming James Cameron Avatar sequel references water, which could be taken to be lifted from the show’s themes of air, water, fire, and earth elements.

This should be taken with a grain of salt and likely that Giancarlo Volpe is at least speaking a little in jest, rather than he thinks James Cameron is literally taking ideas whole cloth from Avatar: The Last Airbender. After all, it is not as though the Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko show invented the concepts of themes based on these elements; Greek philosophers were debating on them before Socrates and the Hindu concept of ​​Pancha Bhoota has existed for thousands of years. So, sure, James Cameron may have called his movie The Way of Water, but it is fair to say that it is public domain at this point. 

avatar the last airbender leaving netflix

It has been a point of irritation among Avatar: The Last Airbender fans that their beloved cult show shares a name with the single most commercially successful film of all time. As Giancarlo Volpe’s Tweet indicates, by the time the show was in development, James Cameron had already laid claim to the name; in fact, the director has been developing his science fiction opus since 1994 and is clearly a man who plans ahead.

In fact, when Avatar: The Last Airbender finally released a live-action movie adaptation in 2010, it was deemed necessary to drop the “Avatar” part entirely so as not to be confused with James Cameron’s 2009 movie. The resulting movie (directed by M. Night Shyamalan) was a critical disaster; it currently holds a miserable 5% on Rotten Tomatoes and received significant blowback for casting white actors for roles portrayed as POC in the show. While it ended up making over $300 million at the box office, plans for a sequel were predictably shut down quickly.

Currently, Netflix is developing a new live-action adaptation of Avatar: The Last Airbender, this time as an eight-episode limited series. Original series creators Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko were initially involved in the new show, but have since departed due to “creative differences,” which might make fans a little nervous to see what happens this time around. 

However, before the new Avatar: The Last Airbender goes to streaming, James Cameron’s Avatar: The Way of Water is being released in theaters. According to the filmmaker, he has numerous sequels already in various stages of development or production, so there actually is a good chance he will be making some fire, earth, or air-themed Avatar movies, even if that angers fans of the Nickelodeon series.