Obscure Popularity: While film critics have given both movies positive reviews and the films have both achieved tremendous success at the box office, the franchise as a whole does not really have much of a dedicated fandom or general discussion online. That's not to say they don't exist, but most of the discussion that is online is about their box office or declaring them So Okay, It's Average beyond the Visual Effects of Awesome and expressing confusion about this very topic, rather than any discussion of the contents of the films themselves. Promotional materials for The Way of Water rarely trended that high on Twitter and views for the trailers on YouTube were nothing particularly special compared to other big films like the Marvel Cinematic Universe or Star Wars. The crux of it is that the films seem to be more popular among general, casual audiences than dedicated film or sci-fi geeks, the types of people who are merely there to watch a movie and then leave the theater not thinking much about it until another one comes along. It's just that those people happen to be a very silent majority when it comes to these films in particular. This video byThe Film Theorists takes a look at the films' online presence and examines why that is in more detail.
The first movie
Alternative Character Interpretation: Eywa, the Nature Spirit ruling Pandora's biosphere. The lack of a clear communication with it through the film beyond its ambiguous actions, its sheer inhumanity and otherworldliness, and the multiplicity of interpretations of the story all raise questions about how benevolent Eywa is in reality and how it views both Na'vi and humans. For starters, is it a spirit of balance that persecutes offences against nature? A tribal deity that simply favors its own world's lifeforms? A truly unknowable entity that operates on Blue-and-Orange Morality? Perhaps even a caretaker AI left by Sufficiently Advanced Aliens whose people no longer understand its nature?
And You Thought It Would Fail: Like with Titanic, the movie had a number of skeptics before its release due to its enormous budget and a seemingly-difficult premise to sell tickets, with the 3-D angle being seen as little more than a gimmick. Afterward, it became the highest-grossing film of all time — twice — and led to the popular adage to never, ever doubt James Cameron.
Anvilicious: The film's way of expressing its ecologist, indigenist and anti-war message is usually perceived as too on-the-nose in negative reviews.
The film's general reception could be summarized as a Cliché Storm with Visual Effects of Awesome. Some believe that precisely because the strong points of the movie are its Worldbuilding and visual effects, and neither fails one bit, a rather unoriginal plot is forgivable. Many others however, both among fans and detractors, would have liked to see a more creative and less predictable story.
Another point of contention is about Jake Sully's defection to the Na'vi and his efforts to fight the RDA. Some see Jake as justified given that the anti-colonial aspects of the movie, while others decry it as Jake betraying humanity and becoming The Quisling to the Na'vi, while dooming humanity to a slow death as Earth runs out of resources.
Cliché Storm: Reviewers were (and still are) prone to point out that the film plays many colonial-themed tropes in varied degrees of straightness, with the main conclusion being that it could be basically synthesized as "PocahontasIN SPACE!" (with Dances with Wolves being another popular comparison). Now, whether Tropes Are Tools or this is too much to stomach is usually up to the viewer.
Dancing Bear: The whole fuss about the technological achievements necessary to pull this movie off: 3D digital film cameras, motion capture refinements, etc. Arguably the never-fully-disclosed but definitely astronomical budget and the marketing-induced hype contributed to this.
Draco in Leather Pants: Colonel Quaritch has a veritable legion of apologists and defenders who play up his pre-existing Benevolent Boss traits and exaggerate him into a hero to humanity attacking the "savage" Na'vi. Quaritch isn't bereft of admirable traits, but he's an unforgivably militant and racist warmonger who is more proactive than anyone else in the film about slaughtering the Na'vi—whom he provokes in the first place.
Fan-Preferred Cut Content: There's dozens of Deleted Scenes that were cut from the film in order to get the movie to be under a 3 hour runtime. Many of which people feel should have been in the theatrical release, such as Jake's scene on Earth that shows a glimpse of just how bad things are for humanity, or the people of the Avatar Program helping out the Na'vi in the Final Battle by attacking the RDA base's control center with their Avatars. In addition, Norm and Selfridge had a lot of scenes that didn't make it, which a lot of people wish they did as they feel that the cut scenes added a lot to their characters.
Grace Augustine's returning in her Avatar. While she is stated to have became one with Eywa, her Avatar was still intact and there is the possibility of being allowed to return and live on through this body. Considering getting voice-over acting is potentially easier, it's a possible way for Sigourney Weaver to make a return.
Plenty of fans continue to speculate that Trudy survived her apparent death in the final battle, even after the casting announcements for the sequels did not mention her.
Quaritch, even though he was stabbed by two highly toxic arrows, in this case, it's outright confirmed that the character will return. The question is... How?
2022 finally gave us a trailer for the sequel, and it would seem the answer to that question, as an Avatar that seems to be based on Quaritch appears.
In the final battle, Trudy's gunship uses the call signal "Rogue One", and she also dies in the end.
Disney/Pixar has another movie featuring Sully, a heroic blue monster who lives in another world. Once Disney acquired the rights to Avatar from acquiring Fox, another tall blue hero named Sully joined the lineup.
It's Popular, Now It Sucks!: Once this movie became the highest grossing film of all time (not counting re-releases or adjusting for inflation), it pretty much became the definitive example of this trope on the internet.
Jerks Are Worse Than Villains: Colonel Quaritch has the benefit of being a charismatic Rated M for Manly badass as our main antagonist, and Parker Selfridge is an enjoyable Deadpan Snarker in spite of being a Hate Sink. Many viewers apply Ron the Death Eater to the Na'vi for not being nice to Jake at first, even though he's part of an invading army that's routinely blowing up their home for resources and was even sent to gain their trust to make the process easier.
"It's just Aliens but in reverse!"Explanation Sigourney Weaver plays Dr. Grace Augustine, who is trying to study a race of benevolent aliens while her superiors seek to destroy them. This has had fans contrasting her older role as Ripley from Aliens, who is trying to destroy a race of hostile aliens while her superiors seek to study them. Also, both Aliens and Avatar are directed by James Cameron.
With Zoe Saldana portraying both Neytiri and Gamora from Guardians of the Galaxy (2014), it's gotten fans to joke about her tendency to portray multicolored aliens, or call Neytiri and Gamora as "Blue Gamora" or "Green Neytiri", respectively. Hilarious in Hindsight when Avatar finally lost its ten-year highest-grossing film title to Avengers: Endgame...which also stars Zoe Saldana as Gamora. Also in both films, her father dies, and her love interest is an Earthling.
"How to make a top-grossing movie of all time: Step 1.) Make Zoe Saldana a weird color"
And with her role in Star Trek, as Uhura, a captain in a red attire, fans have joked that she now completes a Red-Green-Blue theme in all her roles set in space.
Jake seemingly ditching his Ikran for the mighty Toruk, even after it returns to him after both the Na'vi and the humans have forsaken him, has led fans to jokingly portray the Ikran as a jilted girlfriend.
Quaritch’s “How does it feel to betray your own race?” is usually used in situations when a member of a fandom also likes something from a rival fandom.
Being nature-oriented blue people who live in the forest and are hunted by power-hungry humans, the Na'vi are often compared to Smurfs.
Sam Worthington also portraying Perseus in Clash of the Titans drew some jokes of him really selling out on big-budget 3D movies, or fans musing that Perseus became crippled.
"A horse with six legs, how creative."Explanation Quite a number of fans have criticized the creature designs, complaining that they don't look "alien" enough and are too easily recognizable as familiar Earth animals. In particular are the buffalo-like sturmbeest hunted by the Na'vi on horseback, which some fans think only serves to make the Native American analogy all the more blatant.
Many love to joke about the Sequel Gap between the first movie and the next.
Calling it the Blue Avatar movie to avoid confusion with another Avatar.
"Isn't it funny how this movie made so much money and yet left no cultural impact?"Explanation A recurring question around the internet, often on Twitter, referencing that Avatar was the highest grossing movie in the world for years but, unlike other similarly big films, had no franchise, particularly significant merchandise, or real fandom presence in pop culture.
"Jake Soo-Lee"Explanation The Na'vi's, particularly Neytiri's prononunciation of Jake's name has become so iconic among fans that they just flat out pronounce and even spell his name like that.
“Yo whaddup? It’s me Doug/John Avatar” Explanation Some of the films detractors, hell even some fans, don’t remember the main character’s name, Jake Sully. So many joke that his name is just the title of the film.
Blue Guy Falling Explanation Tsu’tey’s death shows him falling out of an aircraft after getting shot. The slow motion and wailing vocals of the soundtrack accompanying his fall has made this scene gain some attention by being compared to any joke related to falling.
Misaimed Fandom: Quaritch is understandably subject to this, being an example of both Evil Is Cool and Colonel Badass. It is when people try to defend destroying the Na'vi home and killing several Na'vi in the process that the extent of said fandom gets disturbing.
People would accuse Avatar of being a ripoff of something fairly recent when James Cameron had publicly stated that he had been inspired by something far older. Oddly enough, no one would have said John Carter of Mars. Though it does not contain the environmentalism aspects Avatar has. (Cameron also reportedly said the film was sort of a sci-fi King Lear.) The script also predates many of the stories that people complain are too similar.
"In the Walls of Eryx" (1939) is a story by H. P. Lovecraft and Kenneth J. Stirling where greedy humans invade the planet Venus in search of a powerful source of energy in the form of crystals, and come into conflict with the planet's native race.
Strugatsky Brothers' Noon Universe (a saga debuted in 1961) had a similar planet, complete with wildlife and the native tribes. The planet's name was... Pandora! Russian readers have drawn much attention to this, and Boris eventually commented: "The Americans borrowed our idea. That's quite unpleasant, but we wouldn't sue them for that, now would we?"
A human team sent to an exotic, savage world filled with dangerous creatures, whose inhabitants harbor spiritual wisdom and many things that glow. The main lead is one of the few who can communicate culturally with them and strikes a bond with The Chief's Daughter, who teaches them about their culture, while his superior is a seemingly reasonable older figure who turns out to be a General Ripper and becomes the main villain by trying to destroy the world's source of power. At the end, the team sides with the hero and the villain is trounced in an battle with a lot of flying things, after which the hero decides to stay. In the team there are also a Spicy Latina and a cynical old lady. Are we talking about Avatar or Atlantis: The Lost Empire? (Note the curiosity that Atlantis itself was almost sued for plagiarism, in this case from the makers of Nadia: The Secret of Blue Water, although the similarities in question doesn't extend to Avatar.)
Several aspects of the plot and setting are weirdly similar to Alan Dean Foster's 1975 novel Midworld; it takes place on an alien world where everything wants to kill you, yet the natives live In Harmony with Nature (in this case, they're indicated to be the descendants of human colonists rather than an alien species), all people there have a bond creatures, they live in a giant tree called Home Tree, they have a way of communicating with plants and believe their dead are absorbed into a planet-wide network between the trees, and upon discovering that the human explorers are planning on exploiting their world's natural resource for profit they wage war upon them with help from the forest.
A blue-skinned, vaguely feline humanoid race of noble savages living In Harmony with Nature, fighting against a militaristic and technologically advanced empire, intent on expanding into the forest to exploit its resources? An alien world including Horse of a Different Color and Fantastic Flora? A soldier of the aforementioned militaristic empire falling in love with the The Chief's Daughter thus having a Heel–Face Turn? This is actually Aida of the Trees, an Italian fantasy animated movie made in 2001, very loosely based on the opera Aida by Giuseppe Verdi. Aside from plot elements, even the aesthetic similarities are pretty much undeniable. This didn't go unnoticed among Italian viewers, some of which saw this as an interesting curiosity, while others thought it further proof that Cameron's work was unoriginal and derivative, and others outright accused Cameron of consciously plagiarizing Aida of the Trees knowing that he would get away with it due to the work's relative obscurity. Whatever the truth is, Cameron got word about this, though, and the matter was peacefully solved between 20th Century Studios and the animation studio Lanterna Magica: Cameron agreed to mention Aida of the Trees in the credits of Avatar and to include the animated movie itself in some DVD and Blu-ray releases.
Popular with Furries: This film has many elements for this. It features humans who can uplink to Na'vi Avatars, the Na'vi in general have cat-like ears, noses and tails and Jake Sully not only gets to become a Na'vi but also gains a Bond Creature to become a defacto Dragon Rider and romances Ney'tiri in his Na'vi form; outside the film, there have been elaborate Na'vi cosplays.
Popularity Polynomial: It became the highest-grossing movie ever upon release, with glowing reviews and passionate fans. But as the years went on, between the promised sequels being frequently delayed, Sam Worthington not becoming a star, the 3D craze dying down, and the backlash against the derivative story and ham-fisted environmental message, the film ended up mostly forgotten, leading to frequent thinkpieces on how such a smash hit wound up instead not creating much of a cultural footprint. Still, the Disney World area, people revisiting Avatar by the end of The New '10s, and the follow-ups finally getting into production seem to have led to a resurgence.
Rooting for the Empire: Being that the villains are humanity, a number of viewers found themselves rooting for the RDA. These rooters state that the RDA's goal is benevolent, saving a dying Earth that has been stricken by resource shortages and disasters, and that Jake is a traitor for betraying them.
Ship Mates: For canonically possible ships, there's Jake/Neytiri, Norm/Trudy and Grace/Max. After the deaths of Grace and Trudy, there's Norm/Max to consider.
So Okay, It's Average: Even though this film managed to be the highest grossing in history for a full decade, the general consensus seems to be that, while it's not a bad film, it's not a particularly memorable one aside from the Visual Effects of Awesome and impressive usage of 3D — the latter of which is mostly lost on modern audiences, due to the 3D fad it helped popularize dying out by the late 2010s. This is exemplified in this video by Jacksfilms where random people were asked if they could name any character from Avatar. Of the 17 people asked, only one managed to do it, and even he only knew one character's name.
They Wasted a Perfectly Good Plot: The movie could've explored the fact that Jake and Neytiri found themselves in roles they didn't expect to have and weren't prepared for in more depth, which could've added more depth to their relationship as it gives them something more in common, especially with the angle of them both having to fill the shoes of a dead sibling. The Extended Edition restores deleted scenes revealing Neytiri's older sister was supposed to be the future tsahik of the Omaticaya, only for her to be killed and the role passing to Neytiri (even though she appears more comfortable as a hunter/warrior), while Jake was forced to retire as a Marine due to his injury and then took his brother's place in the Avatar Program after he was killed (despite the mission revolving around science and diplomacy, which he has little experience in). However, they never bring this up.
Unintentionally Sympathetic: While Quaritch himself is pretty devoid of sympathy (though not completely, having shades of Benevolent Boss and other qualities a viewer might come to appreciate), the majority of faceless troops working for RDA Security Operations can evoke a sense of pity akin to real life war veterans, even despite being presumably voluntary mercenaries and solely on the basis of the situations they routinely face in Pandora. Stationed on a veritable Death World where everything wants certainly to kill them, working for the sake of corporations that hardly care about anything more than their own benefits, and confronted by the certainty that there's not enough payment to compensate the very likely probability that they will never return to Earth, the point of view of a single RDA soldier might be enough to make an entire film more in the vein of Apocalypse Now or Letters from Iwo Jima.
Say what you will about the film. But one thing no one can deny is that Avatar depicts one of the coolest and most realistic spaceships in fiction. The ISV Venture Star is so realistic, it even has radiators. Just the sheer level of physics put in place to not only the Venture Star, but the Valkyrie and hell, even the angle of the rotorblades of a Scorpion is laid out in extreme mathematical detail. Hell, just anything from the RDA, even the AMP suits are within the realm of possibility. The Hard Sci-Fi elements is just pure nerdgasm.
There had been lots of motion-capture characters in film, but the Na'vi are probably the first ones that approximate human form and emotions with such intricate detail.
The holographic maps Parker uses and all the other screens in the base.
And the forest, particularly at night in a world full of Bioluminescence, and the flying machines and creatures, and Sam Worthington's convincingly atrophied legs.
One of the most impressive things about the effects was the way the CG characters interacted with the live action ones. In particular the sequence between Jake and Neytiri when she sees Jake's human body for the first time. Jake touches Neytiri's Face and Neytiri holds Jake's hand, and it looks perfectly seamless.
The 3D was simply revolutionary. This was the first 3D movie with a truly progressive depth of field to fully exploit the effect as opposed to a succession of fairly flat layers with a few gimmicky objects being waved in the audience's face. Easily the biggest leap forward in Visual Effects (and, arguably, film-making in general) since 1977, if not 1939.
An often-overlooked visual effect are the exopack masks. All of them are digitally created because real ones would have shown cameras and microphones in their reflections. The natural-looking glare on the plastic, and the extraordinarily detailed reflections in the masks are amazing, and is likely part of the reason many people don't know that particular fact about this movie.
Vocal Minority: While perhaps few people really loved the movie, both critical and audience responses were favorable overall. Despite this, a few very loud internet reviewers absolutely hate the movie and give the impression that everyone hates the movie too.