It was made by Lightstorm Entertainment and released by 20th Century Fox on December 18, 2009. The film is set in the year 2154 on Pandora, a fictional Earth-like moon in a distant planetary system. Humans are engaged in mining Pandora's reserves of a precious mineral, while the Na'vi — the sapient and sentient race of humanoids indigenous to the moon — resist the colonists' expansion, which threatens the continued existence of the Na'vi and the Pandoran ecosystem. The film's title refers to the remotely controlled, genetically engineered human-Na'vi bodies used by the film's human characters to interact with the natives.
By 2154, humans have severely depleted Earth's natural resources. The Resources Development Administration (RDA) mines for a valuable mineral – unobtanium – on Pandora, a densely forested habitable moon orbiting the gas giant Polyphemus in the Alpha Centauri star system. Pandora, whose atmosphere is poisonous to humans, is inhabited by the Na'vi, 10-foot tall (3.0 m), blue-skinned, sapient humanoids who live in harmony with nature and worship a mother goddess called Eywa.
To explore Pandora's biosphere, scientists use Na'vi-human hybrids called "avatars", operated by genetically matched humans; Jake Sully (Sam Worthington), a paraplegic former marine, replaces his deceased twin brother as an operator of one. Dr. Grace Augustine (Sigourney Weaver), head of the Avatar Program, considers Sully an inadequate replacement but accepts his assignment as a bodyguard. While protecting the avatars of Grace and scientist Norm Spellman (Joel David Moore) as they collect biological data, Jake's avatar is attacked by a thanator and flees into the forest, where he is rescued by Neytiri (Zoe Saldana), a female Na'vi. Witnessing an auspicious sign, she takes him to her clan, whereupon Neytiri's mother Mo'at (C. C. H. Pounder), the clan's spiritual leader, orders her daughter to initiate Jake into their society.
Colonel Miles Quaritch (Stephen Lang), head of RDA's private security force, promises Jake that the company will restore his legs if he gathers intelligence about the Na'vi and the clan's gathering place, a giant arboreal called Hometree, on grounds that it stands above the richest deposit of unobtanium in the area. When Grace learns of this, she transfers herself, Jake, and Norm to an outpost. Over three months, Jake grows to sympathize with the natives. After Jake is initiated into the tribe, he and Neytiri choose each other as mates, and soon afterward, Jake reveals his change of allegiance when he attempts to disable a bulldozer that threatens to destroy a sacred Na'vi site. When Quaritch shows a video recording of Jake's attack on the bulldozer to Administrator Parker Selfridge (Giovanni Ribisi), and another in which Jake admits that the Na'vi will never abandon Hometree, Selfridge orders Hometree destroyed.
Despite Grace's argument that destroying Hometree could damage the biological neural network native to Pandora, Selfridge gives Jake and Grace one final chance to convince the Na'vi to evacuate before commencing the attack. While trying to warn the Na'vi, Jake confesses to being a spy and the Na'vi take him and Grace captive. Seeing this, Quaritch's men destroy Hometree, killing Neytiri's father (the clan chief) and many others. Mo'at frees Jake and Grace, but they are detached from their avatars and imprisoned by Quaritch's forces. Pilot Trudy Chacón (Michelle Rodriguez), disgusted by Quaritch's brutality, carries them to Grace's outpost, but during the escape, Quaritch fires at them, hitting Grace.
To regain the Na'vi's trust, Jake connects his mind to that of Toruk, a dragon-like predator feared and honoured by the Na'vi. Jake finds the refugees at the sacred Tree of Souls and pleads with Mo'at to heal Grace. The clan attempts to transfer Grace from her human body into her avatar with the aid of the Tree of Souls, but she dies before the process can complete.
Supported by the new chief Tsu'tey (Laz Alonso), who acts as Jake's translator, Jake speaks to unite the clan and tells them to gather all of the clans to battle against the RDA. Noticing the impending gathering, Quaritch organizes a pre-emptive strike against the Tree of Souls, believing that its destruction will demoralize the natives. On the eve of battle, Jake prays to Eywa, via a neural connection to the Tree of Souls, to intercede on behalf of the Na'vi.
During the subsequent battle, the Na'vi suffer heavy casualties, including Tsu'tey and Trudy; but are rescued when Pandoran wildlife unexpectedly join the attack and overwhelm the humans, which Neytiri interprets as Eywa's answer to Jake's prayer. After Jake destroys a makeshift bomber before it can reach the Tree of Souls; Quaritch escapes from his own damaged aircraft, wearing an AMP suit and breaks open the avatar link unit containing Jake's human body, exposing it to Pandora's poisonous atmosphere. Quaritch then prepares to slit the throat of Jake's avatar, but Neytiri kills Quaritch and saves Jake from suffocation.
With the exceptions of Jake, Norm, Max and a few other scientists, all humans are expelled from Pandora and sent back to Earth, after which Jake is transferred permanently into his avatar with the aid of the Tree of Souls.
- Sam Worthington as Corporal Jake Sully. Sully is a disabled former Marine who becomes part of the Avatar Program after his twin brother is killed.
- Stephen Lang as Colonel Miles Quaritch. Quaritch is the head of the mining operation's security detail.
- Sigourney Weaver as Dr. Grace Augustine. Augustine is an exobiologist and head of the Avatar Program.
- Michelle Rodriguez as Trudy Chacón. Chacón is a combat pilot assigned to support the Avatar Program who is sympathetic to the Na'vi.
- Giovanni Ribisi as Parker Selfridge. Selfridge is the corporate administrator for the RDA mining operation.
- Joel David Moore as Dr. Norm Spellman. Spellman is a xenoanthropologist who studies plant and animal life as part of the Avatar Program.
- Dileep Rao as Dr. Max Patel, a scientist who works in the Avatar Program and comes to support Jake's rebellion against the RDA.
- Zoe Saldana as Neytiri, the daughter of the leader of the Omaticaya, the Na'vi clan central to the story. She serves as both the film's main Na'vi protagonist and Jake's love interest.
- C. C. H. Pounder as Mo'at. Mo'at is the Omaticaya's spiritual leader, Neytiri's mother, and consort to clan leader Eytukan.
- Wes Studi as Eytukan. Eytukan is the Omaticaya's clan leader, Neytiri's father, and Mo'at's mate.
- Laz Alonso as Tsu'tey. Tsu'tey is the finest warrior of the Omaticaya.
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