English in Blockbuster Movies: Avatar


Welcome to the next part of our free English class series about English in Blockbuster Movies! Today we’re going to look at one of the most popular science fiction movies ever made: Avatar!


  • Learn how to talk about movie-making technology
  • Learn new general English and movie-related vocabulary
  • Learn how to use prepositions of time
  • Discover interesting facts about the Avatar franchise

Difficulty Level: Intermediate

Time: Approximately 15 minutes


Reading Passage

If you’re a fan of the science fiction genre, you’ve probably heard of James Cameron’s 2009 film, Avatar. The movie is set over one hundred years in the future after humanity has used up almost all of the Earth’s natural resources. It tells the story of Jake Sully, a paraplegic soldier who is recruited to help scientists explore a distant planet, Pandora. They hope to find a rare material called Unobtainium that will solve Earth’s energy crisis. 

The planet is poisonous to humans, so Jake must work as an “avatar.” In the film, an avatar is a hybrid of a human and the blue, humanoid species (called Na’vi) who inhabit Pandora. Once Jake befriends the Na’vi, he struggles to choose between preserving Pandora and finishing his mission.


Years in the Making

Director James Cameron began working on the screenplay for Avatar in 1994. Though he planned to start filming Avatar after finishing Titanic, computer animation technology had not advanced enough to match Cameron’s vision for the film. Pre-production for the film officially began in 2006, though it would take Cameron several years to plan, shoot, and edit the film. Finally, on December 10th of 2009, the much-anticipated movie premiered in the UK and London.


Changing Filmmaking Forever

Avatar was a revolutionary film for several reasons. The groundbreaking visual effects stunned both critics and audiences. The Na’vi were created using advanced motion-capture technology and the film was made available for both traditional and 3D viewing.

At the time of its making, Avatar was also the most expensive movie ever made, with an estimated budget of $237 million. It would also be the highest-grossing film of all time with nearly $3 billion in revenue (it held this record for almost a decade). However, it wasn’t just a financial success. Avatar was nominated for a total of nine Academy Awards, of which it won three. Thanks to its overwhelming popularity, James Cameron is currently working on multiple sequels.


Youtube Links:




Word Focus

Let’s take a closer look at some of the words in bold from the passage:

  • Genre – (noun) – A category of style, form, or subject attributed to an artistic composition.

My favorite movie genre is horror, but I also like romantic comedies.

  • Natural resource – (noun) – Materials that come from the Earth and can be used to make profits.

The planet has a limited supply of natural resources.

  • Paraplegic – (adjective) – Unable to move the legs or muscles in the lower half of the body.

In Avatar, futuristic technology allows a paraplegic soldier to use his legs again.

  • Hybrid – (noun/adjective) – A combination of two different things; the characteristic of being composed of two different elements.

Jake must work as a hybrid species to gain access to Pandora.

  • Humanoid – (adjective/noun) – Resembling human beings; a non-human species that shares certain physical characteristics with humans.

The Na’vi are humanoid beings that stand upright.

  • Befriend – (verb) – To become friends.

Jake’s mission was compromised as soon as he befriended the Na’vi. 

  • Screenplay – (noun) – A script; the story, actions, and dialogue of a movie or play in written form.

It took James Cameron over a decade to finalize the screenplay for Avatar.

  • Computer animation – (noun) – A type of CGI (computer-generated imagery); the process of using digital images in a movie or television series.

Avatar required highly advanced computer animation technology.

  • Vision – (noun) – Imagination; the plan for a future project.

James Cameron had a very specific vision for this movie.

  • Premiere – (noun/verb) – The first performance or showing of an artistic project; to give the first performance or exhibition of a play or movie.

The premiere of Avatar left audiences stunned.

  • Revolutionary – (adjective) – Dramatically different from what already exists.

Avatar was revolutionary for its special effects.

  • Groundbreaking – (adjective) – Innovative; the first of a certain kind.

Avatar’s groundbreaking visuals greatly influenced Hollywood filmmaking in the years since its release.

  • Motion-capture – (noun) – Digitally-recorded movements used to create computer-generated images that mimic real-life movement.

James Cameron used motion-capture to make the Na’vi move like real people.

  • Sequel – (noun) – The second movie in a series; a continuation of an existing story.

The Avatar sequels are expected to make even more money than the first film.


Grammar Center

Take a look at the following sentences from the passage:

Pre-production for the film officially began in 2006, though it would take years for Cameron to plan, shoot, and edit the film.

Finally, on December 10th of 2009, the much-anticipated movie premiered in the UK and London.

Both of these sentences use prepositions of time. Here is a full list of prepositions of time in English:

  • On
  • In
  • At
  • Since
  • For
  • Before
  • Ago
  • Past
  • Until
  • By
  • From

While all of these prepositions serve their own specific purposes, the three most common time prepositions are on, in, and at. All three of these prepositions specify when the action of a sentence takes place. However, they are each used for certain categories of time.



“On” is used for days of the week and specific dates. Here are a few examples:

  • The movie premiered on Friday.
  • The crew started filming on June 10th.
  • CNN interviewed James Cameron on Monday, January 4th. 



“In” is used for parts of the day (except night), months, seasons, and years. Here are some examples:

  • Filming started in the morning.
  • The actor needed to take a break in the afternoon.
  • The director went home in the evening.
  • Most of the editing was done in December.
  • They want to finish the movie in the spring.
  • The next Avatar movie is expected to come out in 2021.



“At” is used for specific times of the day and “night.” Here are a few examples:

  • We went to the set at 9:00 AM.
  • The director took a break for lunch at noon.
  • It’s difficult to shoot outdoors at night.


Now you know how to use the most common prepositions of time!



Now, let’s look at a few questions to review the passage, vocabulary, and grammar:


1. Which of the following statements most accurately captures the central idea of the passage?

A. Avatar is a popular science fiction movie about a marine who travels to a distant planet to get a rare material called Unobtainium
B. James Cameron is a famous director who made films like Avatar, Titanic, and The Terminator. 
C. It took James Cameron years to finish writing, filming, and editing Avatar.
D. Avatar is one of the most successful movies of all time.

2. How long did it take James Cameron to finish Avatar once shooting had started?

A. Less than a year
B. One year
C. Two years
D. Three years

3. Which two terms are closest in meaning?

A. Sequel and Genre
B. Hybrid and Humanoid
C. Computer Animation and Motion-Capture
D. Revolutionary and Groundbreaking

4. Which of the following is an example of a natural resource?

A. Cars
B. Oil
C. Movies
D. Screenplays

5. Which preposition of time is used with “night?”

A. In 
B. On
C. At
D. Ago

6. Fill in the blanks: “Avatar was released __ 2009.”

A. In
B. On
C. At
D. Until


Correct Answers:

  1. A
  2. D
  3. D
  4. B
  5. C
  6. A
Jake Pool

Jake Pool

Jake Pool worked in the restaurant industry for over a decade and left to pursue his career as a writer and ESL teacher. In his time at Magoosh, he's worked with hundreds of students and has created content that's informed—and hopefully inspired!—ESL students all across the globe. Jake records audio for his articles to help students with pronunciation and comprehension as he also works as a voice-over artist who has been featured in commercials and on audiobooks. You can read his posts on the Magoosh blog and see his other work on his portfolio page at jakepool.net. You can follow him on LinkedIn!
Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on reddit
Share on whatsapp