Avatar is a 2009 American science fiction epic film written and directed by James Cameron and starring Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana, Sigourney Weaver, Michelle Rodriguez and Stephen Lang. The film is set in the year 2154, when humans are mining a precious mineral called unobtanium on Pandora, a lush moon of a gas giant in the Alpha Centauri star system. The expansion of the mining colony threatens the continued existence of a local tribe of Na'vi—a sentient humanoid species indigenous to Pandora. The film's title refers to the genetically engineered Na'vi and human hybrid bodies used by several human characters to interact with the natives of Pandora.
Development on Avatar began in 1994, when Cameron wrote an 80-page scriptment for the film. Filming was supposed to take place after the completion of Cameron's 1997 film Titanic, for a planned release in 1999, but according to Cameron, the necessary technology was not yet available to achieve his vision of the film. Work on the language for the film's extraterrestrial beings began in summer 2005, and Cameron began developing the screenplay and fictional universe in early 2006.
Avatar was officially budgeted at US$237 million. Other estimates put the cost between $280 million and $310 million for production, and at $150 million for promotion. The film was released for traditional two-dimensional projectors, as well as in 3-D, using the RealD 3D, Dolby 3D, XpanD 3D and IMAX 3D formats, and also in 4-D. The stereoscopic filmmaking was touted as a likely breakthrough in cinematic technology.
Avatar premiered in London on December 10, 2009, and was released overseas on December 16 and in North America on December 18, to critical acclaim and commercial success. The film broke several box office records during its release and became the highest-grossing film of all time in North America and worldwide, surpassing Titanic, which had held the records for the previous 12 years. It also became the first film to gross more than $2 billion. Following the film's success, Cameron stated that there will be a sequel. Avatar was nominated for nine Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Director, and won three, for Best Cinematography, Best Visual Effects and Best Art Direction.