8 Ways Cameron’s Avatar is eerily similar to Titanic

So the news is out: Avatar has officially surpassed Titanic as the highest grossing movie (worldwide) of all time and will soon surpass it in the United States as well. If my predictions are correct, it will be the first film to break $2 billion in worldwide box office revenue. To celebrate, I thought it might be time to take a look at some striking similarities between the newest biggest thing and its Titanic predecessor. Enjoy.

Big shit breaks apart

Both films feature enormous structures breaking and falling. In Titanic the biggest ocean liner the world has ever seen hits an iceberg, begins to sink, and breaks in half before our eyes. In Avatar, we see the largest tree ever put on film get blown to hell, break, and fall down and crush everything beneath it. Both of these are defining moments in each film and one of the major reasons audiences keep/kept flocking to see them.

No money, no problems

In Titanic, Rose, a rich young woman in 1st class, learns that the poor in 3rd class are happier than anyone she knows. She begins to resent her wealthy, predetermined life and prearranged marriage. Quickly, she longs to be with Jack, who embodies the free life she doesn’t have. In Avatar, this theme is even more literal. Jake is a paraplegic marine who, with the help of technology, enters the body of an alien/human hybrid with full motor functions. He’s stronger and faster than he ever was as a human. Through Neytiri, he learns about the Na’vi people and that their technology-less way of life isn’t primitive, it’s a more free way to live. He literally goes through the Na’vi right of passage and is accepted as one of them.

Tied up and bound

In both movies, at least one of the main characters is tied up and bound in the midst of a huge disaster. In both cases, neither really deserves to be there. In Titanic, Billy Zane (who isn’t up to much lately) falsely accuses Jack of stealing. Rose then descends the decks of the sinking ship and gets all wet to save him. In Avatar, Jake (sounds like Jack, no?) and Dr. Grace Augustine are tied up on wooden sticks/crosses after the Na’vi learn that the army is going to attack Hometree. They are freed as Hometree is destroyed.

“I see you” and “I trust you”

Anyone who knows Titanic knows of its key lines “I’m the king of the world” and “I’ll never let go.” However, the main thematic lines throughout were variations on Jack and Rose saying and asking if they trust one another. “Do you trust me?” Jack asks Rose when they’re at the bow of the ship. And when she’s about to swing at his cuffs with an axe Jack says back “I trust you.” Careful observers will find many more examples of this. In Avatar, Neytiri tells Jake “I see you” and explains that it means to see someone completely, beyond the skin. The two repeat this line many times throughout the film. Both of these lines basically mean “I love you.”

(“Do you trust me?” is actually kind of taken from Aladdin, but Cameron likes borrowing things from cartoon adventures. Avatar is basically Ferngully: The Last Rainforest.)

James Horner

I’m a fan of James Horner, but even casual listeners will notice the similarities between his scores for Cameron’s two films. The love themes in both films even begin with the same few notes. The first time I heard it, I thought Horner and Cameron were actually going to reuse the Titanic love them. Check out samples of Avatar‘s soundtrack here. And to listen to Titanic‘s soundtrack, click here.

Two act plot structure

While Avatar is a science fiction fantasy and Titanic is rooted in historical fact, the two films share a remarkably similar overall plot structure. Here’s the chain of events, as I see them.

First Cameron shows his huge epic new location, unlike anything ever seen before. Then the films have two main acts: first the main characters explore and learn this new world together whilst falling in love. Then big shit goes down and their world is threatened, and their love is tested in climactic fashion.

In Titanic, Jack and Rose’s love takes them throughout the entire ship, showing audiences the beauty of the vessel that sank and the growing bond between them. In Avatar, Jake and Neytiri immerse us deep in the jungles of Pandora. Neytiri teaches Jake about her peoples’ way of life and the world they live in harmony with.

The situation surrounding its release

There are plenty of connections within the films, but even the situations surrounding the box office release of Cameron’s epics are similar, as AC points out.

Both Avatar and Titanic have followed the exact same pattern heading into their release dates. They were both highly anticipated films that promised an epic love story, mixed with state-of-the-art effects. But in both cases, they had epic costs and backlash before they ever even came out. In the case of Titanic, the budget ballooned, the release date was pushed back, and Cameron was accused of going overboard. In the case of Avatar, the budget also ballooned to record heights, and Cameron faced tons of criticism before the film was finished. In both cases, pundits and critics were ready to tear apart these movies before they saw it.

With both movies, Titanic and Avatar overcome months of bad buzz to get rapturous reviews. Both films were described as a new leap forward for movie spectacle, and proclaimed Cameron a genius after all.

Even odder, both films have almost the exact same Rotten Tomatoes score. Avatar has an 82%. Titanic has an 83%. Coincidence?

The ending song

The ending credits song in Titanic was Celine Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On.” The song was a last minute addition, but ended up being one of the biggest pop singles ever and a huge boost to the movie. Not to miss another opportunity to sell soundtracks, Cameron included a song “I See You,” sung by Leona Lewis, who does her best Celine Dion impersonation. At first, I actually thought it was Dion. Lewis’s single isn’t yet tearing up the charts like Dion’s, but the intent is there. I’ve linked to them both below.

Celine Dion, “My Heart Will Go On”

Leona Lewis, “I See You”


James Cameron knows what he’s doing. I’m not sure if he wants the money or really wants to make something that appeals to almost everyone. Probably both. In any case, he’s succeeded. He’s handcrafted both of these films to appeal to the widest audience possible by cutting to the core of what a big movie is all about. Both films are criticized for their simple dialogue and story, but they are both films almost everyone wants to see at least once.

With Avatar, Cameron built on the Titanic formula by adding science fiction, fantasy, and giant battles to the mix, while retaining enough love and exploration to intrigue the rest of the country. Add in the visuals and 3D novelty and it’s a recipe for, well, $2+ billion dollars.

Before its release, I was openly bothered by Cameron’s attitude and the way he was hyping the film. He knew something I didn’t. Avatar is a visceral experience that hits all its notes right and then plays a few more, just like Titanic. I can’t wait to list the ways his next film is similar to this one, or Pocahontas.

  • jacobwod

    Nice read Greg. And finally, you got THE LOVELY BONES in your top 10. You should read Harry's review on AICN. He paints a different picture than the “smart, commercial thriller” you had mentioned a few times earlier. But well, lets wait for the London screening this week.

    Also, about INVICTUS, you should read the 2 articles Danny K. pointed out. They are good, and sort of confirm my suspicions from the trailer.

    Also, about AVATAR. I sort of agree with you. Its gonna be hard for this to find a way in to the top 10…. I just feel that a scifi movie with blue CGI aliens along with a million-times-told environmentalist story doesn't have the same ring as a doomed romance set aboard one of the most famous disasters ever. As much as 20th Century Fox hopes, this doesn't seem to resemble TITANIC.

  • http://www.hd-trailers.net/ Krunk

    When I first heard Leona Lewis' “I See You”, there were parts that reminded me of Celine Dion's “My Heart Will Go On”. What really got me was the following.

    In “I See You”, when she sings “I see you through my eyes”, the “I see” sounded very similar in pitch/rhythm to the 1st 2 words from the following phrases of “My Hear Will Go On”: “Near, far, wherever you are”, “Once more, you open the door”, “You're here, there's nothing I fear”

    Both stress and elongated those 2 words with an increasing pitch. I was so expecting Leona Lewis to continue with that melody from “My Heart Will Go On”, but it changed after those first 2 notes.

  • Henry

    Hmm… Interesting points!

    But wait… with such insightfull analysis now it looks so easy for anyone to make similar movie(just following these rules) and major Oscars, critics praise and billions in box-office guaranteed!!!!


  • http://www.cinemasoldier.com JeffreyVC

    Ha, that's true Henry. I think there is definitely a formula for mega movie success. But it also takes someone skilled enough to mix that formula enough so people don't know what they're watching. Or perhaps these are all just coincidences…

  • danik29

    jack tells rose “i see you” in Titanic also! they're looking at his drawings and she says something like “you have a gift, you see people” and then he says “I see you”.

  • Michelle Bias

    The quote “I see you” is from Titanic….Jack says this to Rose on the upper class deck after showing her his drawings… =)

  • kevinhile

    I noticed the parallel between Avatar and Ferngully, too. I really enjoyed this analysis. Spot on, Jeffrey.

  • http://www.r4ds.co.uk/ r4i cards

    I would like to say after a decade, Cameron sets the avatar of our new generation….The visuals in this pieces was ground breaking. He did it with the Terminator series and then Titanic, so one would expect James Cameron to deliver the goods.I love it.

  • Greg

    If you watch Titanic, Jack says “I see you” to mean “I understand who you are” That's exactly what they use it to mean in Avatar as well. It means, “I recognize you. I acknowledge you.” How did the article author not get that?!

  • Fred

    I found Avatar to be much closer to being a remake of Ferngully the Last Rainforest. I mean, it even had the bulldozer.

  • http://www.facebook.com/135BPM Rich Fil

    I lol’d reading Avatar’s wiki page and Horner saying this is the toughest musical project he’s ever had to do for Cameron….”toughest project ever” must have meant slightly tweaking Titanic’s main theme for Avatar. Regardless I still love the soundtracks for both movies.

  • Freacls

    yeah i thought the 2 movies erealmost identical and Jake is Jack  also Jack and Rose have a lot in commen with Jake and Neytiri  their strong love for each other  despite their back grounds  and what their familys say  and the destruction of the beautiful Home tree is like the Sinking of Titanic and had the same emotion level too all those innicont lives lost dosent matter if they were humans  fleeing for the life boats or Na”vi  fleeing for their lives i seen it was the same and the sound tracks were almost identical toobut 2 great movies

  • Tree farmer

    When Avatar’s couple recounts their flying reptile adventure, it’s reminiscent of Dances with Wolves when the group re-tells their adventure of the buffalo hunt. Both movies involve a military man defecting to a foreign culture.

  • dickbutt

    What brand of toaster did you write this article on? It’s fucking terrible.