Movie Structure Breakdown: Avatar


Format: Movie

Released: 2009

Written and Directed By: James Cameron

Run Time: 155 minutes

Character: Jake Sully


A character in an Imperfect Situation faces Oppressive Opposition as he pursues an Initial Goal. But when there is a Disturbance to his routine, he faces a Dilemma regarding his situation, and must assume a New Role.

Jake Sully, a wheelchair-bound ex-marine, arrives on a hostile alien world (imperfect situation), and is ridiculed for his disability and lack of intelligence (oppressive opposition) while trying to fill in for this recently deceased, scientist brother (initial goal). But when Jake is assigned to Dr. Grace Augustine’s avatar team as security detail (the disturbance), The Colonel of the security forces offers to get Jake’s legs fixed in exchange for gathering intel on the Na’vi and their weaknesses (the dilemma) by becoming a spy for the company (the new role).

The Imperfect Situation: The wheelchair-bound Jake arrives at the most hostile environment known to man. Due to his disability, he no longer fits in with the soldiers as he once would. He is totally ignorant of life on Pandora, the Na’vi and science in general. Grace despises him because of his lack of knowledge.

We also discover the scientists and the company have poor relations, and the humans and the Na’vi have been fighting each other for quite some time.

Initial Goal: Jake goes to Pandora to fill in as a researcher for his dead, twin brother.

Oppressive Opposition: Jake is ridiculed by the other mercenaries for being in a wheelchair. They see him as useless. Shortly after, he is chastised by Grace for knowing nothing about Pandora or the Na’vi, unlike his brother. She also sees him as useless. Jake is all like, “I flew halfway across the galaxy for this?”

Turning Point Catalyst – The Disturbance: Jake meets Grace, whose day-to-day operations are disrupted by his arrival in the place of his more knowledgeable, but less existent brother. She immediately confronts the head company man, Parker Selfridge, about this. Much to her chagrin, Selfridge assigns Jake to her research team as security detail. Grace is displeased. It would appear the company’s day-to-day ebb and flow has been disrupted by Jake’s arrival.

Turning Point One – The Dilemma: Start Time: 20 of 155 minutes (12.9%) – At the Disturbance it was established the humans on Pandora are split into two opposing factions: the nature-loving scientists and the money-grubbing company. At the Dilemma, the colonel asks Jake to step into his office. So to speak. He offers Jake “an opportunity both timely and unique”. He asks him to spy on the Na’vi, requiring Jake to decide which side of The Preexisting Conflict he will align himself with. He must choose whether he will remain a paralyzed ex-marine “doing science” for Grace, or become a spy for the Colonel and get his legs fixed.

You been skipping leg day?
“You been skipping leg day, son?”

The New Role: If Jake accepts Quaritch’s offer, he will become a spy for the Company.

Act Run Time: : 24 of 155 minutes (15.5%)


The character Learns the Rules of an Unfamiliar Situation and faces Incidental Opposition in pursuit of a Transitional Goal. But when he receives a Reality Check, he makes a Commitment to his New Role.

Act Start Time: : 24 of 155 minutes (15.5%)

Jake goes into the Pandoran wilderness for the first time with little knowledge or training (the unfamiliar situation) and is nearly killed by the local wildlife (incidental opposition) while trying to spy on the Na’vi and gain intel on their weaknesses (the transitional goal). But when he is separated from the group by the fauna of Pandora (the reality check), he is rescued by a Na’vi woman and taken to her village where he convinces the Omaticaya clan to teach him their ways (the commitment).

The Unfamiliar Situation: Jake goes into the Pandoran wilderness for the first time with little knowledge or training. Hilarity ensues.

Transitional Goal: Jake sets out to spy on the Na’vi and gather intel on their weaknesses.

Incidental Opposition: Within minutes of stepping into the Pandoran jungle, Jake earns the ire of a herd of hammerhead titanotheres and one hungry thanator. He’s separated from the research group, loses all his equipment and is hunted down by a pack of snarling viperwolves.

This was not in the brochure.
“This was not in the brochure.”

Turning Point Catalyst – The Reality Check: Jake is separated from the group and left for dead, as they are forbidden from running night ops to look for him. He is subsequently attacked by a pack of viperwolves.

Turning Point Two – The Commitment: Start Time: 37 of 155 minutes (23.8%): Jake is rescued by the Na’vi female, Neytiri, and taken to her village. There he convinces the Omaticaya clan to teach him their ways. Jake throws himself into his New Role as an Avatar driver for Grace and a spy for Colonel Quaritch. In doing so, he places himself in the middle of the Central Conflict.

Act Run Time: : 25 of 155 minutes (16.1%)


The character stumbles into the Central Conflict and faces Intentional Opposition in pursuit of a False Goal. But when there is a grave Turn of events, he has a Moment of Truth.

Act Start Time: : 49 of 155 minutes (31.6%)

Jake begins to go against the directives of the colonel and the company (the central conflict) and is antagonized by both the Na’vi and his fellow humans (intentional opposition) as he learns about Na’vi culture in attempt to convince them to leave Hometree (the false goal). But when he mates with Neytiri and Selfridge demolishes Willowglade (the turn), Jake attacks the bulldozer and attempts to come clean to the Omaticaya people about what the humans really want (the moment of truth).

The Central Conflict: Jake and the Na’vi face off with the Colonel and the Company’s army of mercenaries

False Goal: Jake attempts to learn the ways of the Na’vi to convince them to leave Hometree

Intentional Opposition: Tsu’tey and the other Na’vi boys give Jake a hard time as he tries to learn how to be Na’vi. When Grace learns Jake is spying for Quaritch, she moves the operation to a secluded outpost in the Hallelujah Mountains. When Selfridge demolishes Willowglade, Jake attacks the bulldozer. Quaritch learns of this and pays Jake a visit… With his fist.

Turning Point Catalyst – The Turn: Jake and Neytiri are mated for life. 

Brown chicken brown cow
Brown chicken brown cow

Selfridge demolishes Willowglade prompting Jake to attack the bulldozer. Quaritch watches the surveillance video, realizes it was Jake, and shuts down the avatar project.

Turning Point Three – The Moment of Truth: Start Time: 85 of 155 minutes (54.3%) – Jake attempts to finally be truthful with the Omaticaya “people”, given a heartfelt speech about how he has come to appreciate the beauty of Pandora. Unfortunately, he is interrupted when his connection to his avatar is killed by the Colonel, but he now knows what he believes in and will fight to protect it.  

Act Run Time: 42 of 155 minutes (27%)


The character implements a Doomed Plan and faces Self-Inflicted Opposition in pursuit of a Penultimate Goal. But when an unthinkable Lowpoint occurs, he pulls himself together and discovers a Newfound Resolve.

Act Start Time: 91 of 155 minutes (58.7%)

Jake uses his avatar to return to Hometree (the doomed plan) and is shunned by both the Na’vi and the company (self-inflicted opposition) for trying to convince the Na’vi to leave before Quaritch destroys their village (the penultimate goal). He is excommunicated by the Omaticaya and left for dead (the lowpoint), but rises from the ashes, becomes Toruk Makto and rallies the whole planet to his cause (the newfound resolve).

The Doomed Plan: Jake and Grace reenter their avatars to convince the Na’vi to leave before Quaritch drops the hammer. They are tied up by the Na’vi and forced to watch as Hometree is destroyed.

Penultimate Goal: Jake attempts to save the Omaticaya people by convincing them to leave Hometree.

Self-Inflicted Opposition: Jake rushes back to Hometree to help but is captured and tied up by the Na’vi instead. He nearly dies trying to accomplish his goal but is ultimately powerless to stop the destruction of Hometree. Afterward, he is arrested by the Company and imprisoned along with the rest of the avatar team. With the help of Trudy, the pilot, the group manages to escape but is nearly shot up by the Colonel. Jake next puts himself in mortal danger by attempting to bond with the flying monster and become Toruk Makto.

Turning Point Catalyst – The Lowpoint: Hometree is destroyed. Jake arises from the smoldering ashes and realizes he is now “in the place the eye does not see”.

Turning Point Four – The Newfound Resolve: Start Time: 115 of 155 minutes (74.1%) – Jake shows up at the Na’vi sacred place riding the flying monster thing, and all the Na’vi bow before his Caucasoid awesomeness. 

Who's your daddy?
“Who’s your daddy?”

He has made the decision to side with the Na’vi and stop the Sky People from turning Pandora into Earth.

Act Run Time: : 35 of 155 minutes (22.5%)


The character tries a Longshot and faces Ultimate Opposition while trying to accomplish the Ultimate Goal. But just when it seems All is Lost, he makes a Final Push against the forces of antagonism and either succeeds or fails.

Act Start Time: 126 of 155 minutes (81.2%)

Jake and the Na’vi go to war with the technologically superior humans (the longshot), and must overcome their advanced death machines (ultimate opposition) to send them back to Earth and reclaim Pandora (the ultimate goal). But when the Na’vi and the avatar team are overpowered (all is lost), Eywa calls in the whole planet as reinforcements, and Jake and Neytiri fight to the death with the Colonel (the final push).

The Longshot: The Na’vi are outgunned by the humans, but attempt to use the magnetic distortion of the flux vortex to their advantage. Additionally, Jake solicits the aid of Eywa.

Ultimate Goal: Jake and the gang want to defeat the humans and take back Pandora.

Ultimate Opposition: The Company and its mercenaries send all their warships to the last remaining sacred place of the Omaticaya people with intentions of turning it into a smoldering, beautifully rendered CGI crater.

Turning Point Catalyst – All is Lost: During the battle for Pandora, Quaritch gets Jake and his flying monster in the sights of his warship. The renegade pilot, Trudy, flies between them instead of just shooting the Colonel’s ship down while she held the tactical advantage. After flying around Quaritch’s ship like an annoying mosquito, she takes an inevitable shot to the engine and is too busy flipping random switches on the control panel to continue whatever it was she was trying to do to in the first place. Neytiri is shot down. Tsu’tey is shot down. Norm is shot down. Trudy is shot down. The whole plan is shot down.

Turning Point Five – The Final Push: Start Time: 139 of 155 minutes (89.6%) – Just as it seems the humans have won, Eywa, the spirit of the planet, sweeps in to even the score with an army of space creatures. Jake destroys the last few warships with his bare hands (albeit, he has grenades in them).

Afterward, Neytiri and Quaritch have a duel, which she loses. Before Quaritch can deliver his death blow, Jake swoops in to save the day. But when Quaritch smashes up the mobile lab where Jake’s human body lies, Jake nearly asphyxiates on the atmosphere of the planet he has chosen to call home. Neytiri draws on her last reserves, kills Quaritch, and makes a final effort to revive Jake. When he awakens, Neytiri still loves him despite seeing his small, pasty, earthling body.

Yeah, I don't think this is gonna work.
“Yeah, I don’t think this is gonna work.”

Act Run Time: : 26 of 155 minutes (16.7%)


Having accomplished (or failed to have accomplished) the Ultimate Goal, the character is shown living in a New Situation.

Act Start Time: : 152 of 155 minutes (98.1%)

Jake and a few “lucky” humans live on Pandora and Jake becomes a Na’vi.

The New Situation: All but a few chosen humans are sent packing. The time of great sorrow has ended. Jake goes to his birthday party and officially becomes one of the people by discarding his useless human body and transferring his consciousness into his avatar. Everyone lives happily ever after… until the sequel.

Act Run Time: 3 of 155 minutes (2%)

To learn more about six act structure, purchase your copy of “Actions and Goals: The Story Structure Secret” today!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *