Nickelodeon’s “Avatar: The Last Airbender” started airing in February 2005, over four years before James Cameron’s “Avatar” opened in theaters and began its run to becoming the highest-grossing film of all time worldwide with $2.9 billion (unadjusted for inflation). And yet, Nickelodeon was blocked from naming the animated series simply “Avatar” because Cameron already had the rights to the title. Fans have often wondered if a connection between the two titles existed, and now they have their answer courtesy of animator Giancarlo Volpe, who directed 19 episodes of the Nickelodeon series.
“In 2004 we learned that we had to change the name of our show from ‘Avatar’ to ‘Avatar: The Last Airbender’ because James Cameron already had the rights to a movie called ‘Avatar,'” Volpe wrote on Twitter. “Now the sequel is called ‘The Way of Water.’ If part 3 is called ‘The Firebending Masters,’ we riot.”
Volpe was referring to how the element of water plays an important role in the animated series, and now it’s the centerpiece of Cameron’s sequel. The director, whose other credits include “Star Wars: The Clone Wars” and “The Dragon Prince,” won an Annie Award for helming the second season “Avatar: The Last Airbender” episode “The Drill.”
Cameron started developing the original “Avatar” in 1994. He wrote an 80-page treatment for the story that year, and in 1996 he announced plans to direct “Avatar” after “Titanic.” The motion capture technology needed to direct the film did not advance as fast as Cameron expected, so the movie never officially got off the ground until 2006. Cameron always maintained the rights to the title, however, forcing the Nickelodeon series to add “The Last Airbender” to its name.
Both “Avatar” franchises are now set for major comebacks. Cameron’s long-awaited sequel, “The Way of Water,” opens in theaters Dec. 16 and will be followed by at least one more sequel. If the box office is strong enough through “Avatar 3,” Cameron will make good on his plan for “Avatar 4” and “Avatar 5.”
“Avatar: The Last Airbender” will also be coming to theaters with its first feature film on Oct. 10, 2025. The movie, which will be released from Paramount Pictures, is the first project to come from the newly-created Avatar Studios, which original series creators Michael DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko founded with the goal of expanding the universe of the flagship series and its sequel series “The Legend of Korra.”