Does Disney Own Avatar?

TPU reader Jim wrote in to ask, “We all know Avatar at Animal Kingdom is behind schedule, but why did Disney decide to make four more sequels to a movie that many people have already forgotten about? Will the sequels be represented in the park?”


Here’s the thing… Disney does not own the Avatar movie, its characters or spin-off offerings in any way. Just take a moment to wrap your head around that for a moment. Generally speaking, every attraction or character you see in a Disney park is fully owned by the Mouse with rare exceptions like American Idol, The Twilight Zone, Star Wars or Indiana Jones.

Star Wars Land

Yes, Star Wars has now been fully engulfed by Mickey when they acquired Lucasfilm in October 2012. This eventually lead to the green light for the multiple Star Wars films we are about to get, in addition to the new land opening at Disney’s Hollywood Studios and Disneyland. However, the agreement with Avatar is a licensing deal where Disney has exclusive theme park rights to build attractions, offer food and beverage, and merchandise with permission from 20th Century Fox and Lightstorm Entertainment, James Cameron’s production company. While the exact terms of the deal are confidential, usually this means that Lightstorm and 20th Century Fox can get a yearly fee, a percentage of sales from food and merchandise, and even a cut of ticket sales for Animal Kingdom itself (though sources say the percentage of the gate won’t happen here).

Harry Potter Universal

Which leads to the question: why? Why would Disney, who owns a ton of intellectual properties, pay money for someone else’s?  The answer actually opened down the street in June 2010 when The Wizarding World of Harry Potter debuted at Islands of Adventure. According to rumors, Disney was in negotiations with J.K. Rowling before Universal ended up acquiring rights to the boy wizard. For various reasons, the deal fell apart and it ended up in the hands of Universal Creative and well… you know how well that went.

Avatar Concept Art 1

A little over a year later in September 2011, Disney announced a deal with 20th Century Fox saying they had theme park rights to Avatar. Now do I have definitive proof that Disney sought out the highest-grossing movie of all time because it felt that Harry Potter slipped through their fingers? Naturally, I do not… and there’s no way I could get anyone involved to go on record as saying such. However, it would be one of the biggest coincidences in themed entertainment history to think that those two events aren’t connected in some way.

Avatar Construction

One final thing that’s worth addressing is how far behind Pandora’s construction is at Disney’s Animal Kingdom. Keep in mind, when the agreement was signed back in 2011, there were to be two Avatar sequels heading to theaters in 2014 and 2015 respectively. Here we are in 2016 empty handed and James Cameron recently announced a total of four more sequels (five movies total) that will start being released in 2018, 2020, 2022 and 2023. When the original press release came out, it said that the new theme park land in Animal Kingdom was “expected to debut in 2016” and well… here we are. Disney has said that Pandora will open in 2017, a year after it was originally announced, which isn’t pushed back nearly as far as people perceived it to be.


There ya have it, Jim.  I hope this clears some things up. While many people in internet land tend to poo poo the idea of a land themed around Avatar, I will wait to pass judgement until the land opens and I see it for myself. At the end of the day, even if the movie (and its scheduled sequels) aren’t that good, a land in a theme park could be very solid as we have seen with many attractions in the past like Dinosaur and Waterworld. Here’s hoping for the best.

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Images Copyright: The Walt Disney Company, Universal Orlando Resort – All Rights Reserved

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