Apologies To James Cameron: It Turns Out ‘Avatar’s Unobtanium Is A Real Thing

Apologies To James Cameron: It Turns Out ‘Avatar’s Unobtanium Is A Real Thing

20th Century Studios

James Cameron’s 2009 smash-hit Avatar was recently re-released in theaters, bringing audiences back to the world of Pandora (and also back to the world of arguing over whether or not anyone actually remembers the name of the dude from Avatar).

Look, there’s a lot to make fun of about Avatar; from the fact that it kind of cribbed its story from FernGully: The Last Rainforest, to the way the Na’vi seemingly use the same “neural appendage” for sex that they do for shoving into wild space-horses and dragon-things in order to control them.

But, arguably drawing the most ridicule, is good old “Unobtanium,” the ultra-valuable mineral found on Pandora. Why would the MacGuffin that drives the entire plot of this $200 million dollar movie be given a half-assed name that sounds like it took all of 4 seconds to come up with? Was “HardToGetium” never considered? What about “PainInTheButtToMineBecauseOfTheseDamnBlueAliens-ium?”

Well in a shocking twist, it turns out that we’re the jerks, because apparently unobtanium, not only wasn’t created by Cameron, it’s a real term that existed long before the days of Avatar. It was used by actual aeronautical engineers to describe a theoretical ideal material, dating back to at least the ‘50s – although to be fair, the first recorded use of the word did refer to it as “lugubriously-humorous.”

Unobtanium was even defined in 1958’s Interim Glossary of Aero Space Terms as: “A substance having the exact high test properties required for a piece of hardware or other item of use, but not obtainable either because it theoretically cannot exist or because technology is insufficiently advanced to produce it.” No mention of a giant blue cat people or a magical tree though. 

There have also been later attempts to graft the name “unobtanium” onto new, groundbreaking materials; so the idea that people in Avatar’s future would casually use the term seems especially plausible. We can’t find any historical justification for that Stanford tank-top, though.

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Thumbnail: 20th Century Studios 

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