The film was panned by critics upon release, with many reviewers citing inconsistencies between the plot, screenplay, and source material as well as deriding the acting, writing, casting, and dialogue. However, some praised the visual style, James Newton Howard's soundtrack, and the performances from Dev Patel, Aasif Mandvi, and Shaun Toub. The film swept the Golden Raspberry Awards in 2010, with five "wins" including Worst Picture; the film is sometimes considered one of the worst ever made. Despite the negative reviews, The Last Airbender opened in second place at the box office behind The Twilight Saga: Eclipse. Produced on a $150 million budget, the film grossed $131 million domestically and $319 million worldwide. It is currently the fourth highest grossing Nickelodeon film, behind The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water (2015), Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014), and The Adventures of Tintin (2011).
15-year-old Sokka and his 14-year-old sister, Katara, are near a river at the Southern Water Tribe, a small village in the South Pole. While hunting, they discover an iceberg that when broken open shoots a beam of light into the sky. Inside of the iceberg is a 12-year-old boy named Aang and a giant flying bison named Appa. Unknown to them, Aang is the long-lost Avatar — the only person capable of "bending" all 4 elements of Air, Water, Earth and Fire. A century (100 years) has passed since the Fire Nation has declared war on the other 3 nations of Air, Water, and Earth in their attempt to conquer the world.
Zuko is the scarred 16-year-old exiled prince of the Fire Nation on a quest to find the Avatar and bring him to his father, Fire Lord Ozai, so he can regain his honor. Seeing the light that appeared from Aang's release, Zuko and some Fire Nation soldiers arrive at the Southern Water Tribe to demand the villagers hand over the Avatar. Aang reveals himself and surrenders to Zuko on the condition that he agrees to leave the village alone. On the ship, Aang is tested by Zuko's paternal uncle Iroh to confirm he is the Avatar. After being informed that he is to be their prisoner for passing the test, Aang escapes using his glider and flies to his flying bison brought by Katara and Sokka. Aang and his new friends visit the Southern Air Temple where they meet a winged lemur, who Aang later names Momo. Aang also learns that he was in the ice for a whole century and that the Fire Nation wiped out all of the Air Nomads, including his guardian, Monk Gyatso. In despair, he enters the Avatar State and finds himself in the Spirit World where he encounters a Dragon Spirit. Katara's pleas bring Aang back out of the Avatar State.
To seek shelter, Aang's group arrives at a little Earth Kingdom village controlled by the Fire Nation, but are arrested and taken to a prison for Earthbenders surrounded by earth because Katara tries to help a young boy escape from Fire Nation soldiers. They incite a rebellion by reminding the disgruntled Earthbenders that Earth was given to them. Aang tells Katara and Sokka that he only knows airbending and must master the other three elements. Katara is given a waterbending scroll that she uses to greatly strengthen and hone her waterbending abilities and to help Aang learn as they make their way to the Northern Water Tribe (where Aang will be able to learn from waterbending masters) and liberate more Earth Kingdom villages in the process, weakening the Fire Nation's food and water supplies.
During a side track to the Northern Air Temple on his own, Aang is betrayed by a Southern Earth Kingdom peasant and captured by a group of Fire Nation archers, led by Commander Zhao, a Fire Nation Commander appointed by the Fire Lord. However, a masked marauder, the "Blue Spirit", helps Aang escape from his imprisonment, fighting off the Fire Nation soldiers under Zhao's command until the blue spirit realises they will be overwhelmed, at which point he takes Aang hostage to negotiate their way out. During the prison break, Zhao realizes that Zuko is the masked vigilante. He arranges to kill the prince, first by having a crossbowman fire a bolt over a huge distance that shatters the lower half of Zuko's mask and knocks him out, however Aang uses his skills to bend a cloud across the bridge connecting the prison to the other side of the valley, causing the Fire Nation soldiers in pursuit to stop in fear. With the cloud covering their escape, Aang escapes with an unconscious Zuko into a nearby forest and watches over Zuko until morning, when he leaves to reunite with Sokka and Katara. Zhao tries again to kill Zuko, this time by rupturing a gas pipe running through Zuko's quarters on Iroh's ship. Noticing the danger, Zuko manages to survive the attempt on his life with Iroh's help. He sneaks aboard Zhao's lead ship as his fleet departs for the Northern Water Tribe, which is a heavy fortress, to capture the Avatar. Upon arriving, Aang's group is welcomed warmly by the citizens of the Northern Water Tribe. Sokka quickly befriends the Northern Water Tribe princess, Yue. After a few agreements, a waterbending master, Pakku, teaches Aang waterbending. Katara also becomes a much stronger and more powerful waterbender due to her training with Master Pakku.
Soon, the Fire Nation arrives and Zhao begins his attack while Zuko begins his search for the Avatar on his own. After defeating Katara in a battle, Zuko captures Aang as he enters the Spirit World to find the Dragon Spirit to give him the wisdom to defeat the Fire Nation who tells him to let his emotions "flow like water". Returning to his body, Aang battles Zuko before Katara freezes him. Before leaving to join the battle, Aang lowers the ice so that Zuko can breathe. As the battle escalates, Iroh watches Zhao capture the Moon Spirit, with which its Ocean Spirit counterpart had assumed the form of a fish. Despite Iroh's pleas, Zhao kills the Moon Spirit to strip all of the waterbenders of their ability to waterbend. Iroh, enraged by Zhao's disrespect for sacredness and by his actions to unbalance the world, reveals the extent of his mastery of firebending by using his chi to create huge flame jets from his wrists, scaring Zhao and his entourage of Fire Nation Soldiers out of the sacred cave. Yue explains to everyone that the Moon Spirit gave her life and, with Iroh's help, realises she can give her life back to the Moon Spirit as she dies in the process. With the tables turned, Zhao finds out Zuko survived. They almost fight before Iroh appears and tells Zuko it's not worth it. Zhao attempts one more time to kill Zuko with a massive blast of fire, which Iroh manages to deflect. Zhao is drowned by waterbenders after Zuko and Iroh leave him to his fate. Aang remembers his life before being trapped in the ice, including when he left his home, seeing his master's face. With his waterbending powers and his emotions "flowing like water", Aang enters the Avatar State and raises the ocean into a gigantic wall to drive the armada back. Aang now fully embraces his destiny as the Avatar as he, Katara and Sokka prepare to continue their journey to the Earth Kingdom to find an earthbending teacher for Aang. The Fire Lord learns of the defeat; angry over the betrayal of his brother Iroh and the failure of his eldest son Zuko, he tasks his youngest daughter, Zuko's sister, Azula to stop the Avatar from mastering Earth and Fire before the arrival of Sozin's Comet.Noah Ringer as Aang
An airbender who disappeared from public sight a hundred years ago. While chronologically one hundred and thirteen years old, Aang still retains his biological age of twelve. He is the latest incarnation of the Avatar Spirit. Though he is capable of bending all four elements, at the beginning of the film he has only learned to airbend.
Dev Patel as Prince Zuko
Age sixteen. A Fire Nation prince who travels with his Uncle Iroh. The former heir to the throne, he was exiled by his father, Fire Lord Ozai, who caused him a facial scar following a battle with him and ordered to capture the Avatar (who had not been seen in almost a century, making the assignment a wild-goose chase) in order to regain his lost honor.
Nicola Peltz as Katara
Age fourteen. A girl of the Southern Water Tribe and its last remaining waterbender. Since the death of her mother, Kya, she has served as the motherly figure in her family, and is no stranger to responsibility despite her young age.
Jackson Rathbone as Sokka
Age fifteen. He is Katara's brother and a warrior from the Southern Water Tribe. He can be condescending, and has no waterbending abilities. He often takes up leadership roles by virtue of coming up with most of the workable plans and tactics.
Shaun Toub as Uncle Iroh
Zuko's paternal uncle and the brother of Fire Lord Ozai. He is very easy-going and friendly, and often acts as a surrogate father to Zuko. Formerly a great general of the Fire Nation, personal tragedies led to his retirement, and the role of heir-presumptive passed to his younger brother. He is the only firebender shown in the film who is advanced enough to bend fire using only his chi.
Aasif Mandvi as Commander Zhao
A hot-tempered Fire Nation Commander in pursuit of the Avatar. He is Zuko's principal rival. He has an obsession with libraries.
Seychelle Gabriel as Princess Yue
The princess of the Northern Water Tribe, who was Sokka's romantic love interest. In a tragic turn of events, she sacrificed herself to save the water tribe and the balance of the planet, by turning into the moon.
Cliff Curtis as Fire Lord Ozai
The mighty leader of the Fire Nation, the brother of Iroh, and the father of Prince Zuko and Princess Azula.
Summer Bishil as Princess Azula
Age fifteen. She is the daughter of Fire Lord Ozai and sister to Prince Zuko. She appears once at the battle where Zuko refuses to fight and again at the end where she accepts the role as hunter of her older brother and uncle, and destroying the Avatar.
Francis Guinan as Master Pakku
A waterbending master of the Northern Water Tribe, who taught Aang to waterbend.
Randall Duk Kim as Old man in temple
An Earth Kingdom villager, who often visits the remains of the Northern Air Temple.
Isaac Jin Solstein as Haru
He started the prison uprising by earthbending a pebble to the back of the lead Fire Nation soldier's head.
Keong Sim as Tyro
He and other earthbenders in his occupied village agreed to be imprisoned in exchange for the non-benders being allowed to live in peace.
John Noble as Dragon Spirit
A new composite character taking over the roles of Avatar Roku, Fang, Koh and Guru Pathik from the cartoon series.
According to an interview with the co-creators in SFX magazine, Shyamalan came across Avatar when his daughter wanted to be Katara for Halloween. Intrigued, Shyamalan researched and watched the series with his family. "Watching Avatar has become a family event in my house ... so we are looking forward to how the story develops in season three," said Shyamalan. "Once I saw the amazing world that Mike and Bryan created, I knew it would make a great feature film." He added he was attracted to the spiritual and martial arts influences on the show.
Avatar: The Last Airbender co-creators Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko voiced their opinion within an interview regarding Shyamalan writing, directing, and producing the film. The two displayed much enthusiasm over Shyamalan's decision for the adaptation, stating that they admire his work and, in turn, he respects their material. Producer Frank Marshall explained that they have high hopes to stick to a PG rating. "I'm not even sure we want to get in the PG-13 realm. Furthermore, Shyamalan said, "A lot of the inspiration for the direction we took comes from a friend of mine. A Nathan Blackmer helped shape this Idea into the film it became. I took away a little bit of the slapsticky stuff that was there for the little little kids, the fart jokes and things like that...We grounded Katara's brother...and that really did wonderful things for the whole theme of the movie." Paramount's president Brad Grey said that despite the director's career being inconsistent, he "believed in [Shyamalan's] vision and that he could execute it," adding that "It's a bold step because he had to create a potential new franchise." The studio was willing to spend $250 million in a trilogy of films, one for each season. The Last Airbender's budget wound up being $150 million, with later over $130 million being spent on marketing costs, making it Shyamalan's most expensive film. During production, the name Avatar was removed from the title to avoid confusion with the highly-successful 2009 film Avatar.
Shyamalan originally offered the roles of Aang to Noah Ringer; Sokka to Jackson Rathbone; Katara to Nicola Peltz; and Zuko to Jesse McCartney. In an interview with People, Shyamalan claimed that he did not want to make The Last Airbender without Nicola Peltz, "I said that only once before in my career, and that was when I met Haley in The Sixth Sense auditions." In February 2009, Dev Patel replaced Jesse McCartney, whose tour dates conflicted with a boot camp scheduled for the cast to train in martial arts. Katharine Houghton played "Gran Gran", the grandmother of Katara and Sokka, and Seychelle Gabriel portrayed Princess Yue, another of Sokka's love interests and princess of the Northern Water Tribe. Isaac Jin Solstein played an earthbending boy. Comedian Aasif Mandvi played Commander Zhao, Cliff Curtis played Fire Lord Ozai, and Keong Sim was cast in the role of an Earthbender.
Ringer began practicing Taekwondo - the martial art and national sport of Korea - at the age of 10. His skills later garnered accolades, including the title of American Taekwondo Association Texas State Champion. He began shaving his head during his martial arts training to help cool off, which gave him the nickname "Avatar" due to his resemblance to Aang from the animated series. When he heard about the film adaptation, he made an audition tape with his instructor and sent it to the filmmakers. He hadn't worked on a film before, but his resemblance to Aang—enhanced by painting a blue arrow on his already shaved head, swung him the role. Having not acted before, Ringer was required to attend acting school a month before filming commenced. Peltz was familiar with the character before submitting for the part of Katara, having faithfully watched Avatar: The Last Airbender, the animated series on which the film is based, with her younger twin brothers. She describes her character as being a big role model with young girls and women, "She's really mentally and physically strong, strong-willed and -minded, but she's also caring and compassionate... The movie has a lot of values, but it's also fun. It's fantasy, but it's also a really cool battle between good and evil." She explained that she initially didn't know about Rathbone starring in the Twilight films until after she met him and said that working with Shyamalan was an amazing experience. Rathbone, who originally auditioned for the role of Zuko, was approached by Shyamalan to audition for the film. After waiting for six months, he received a call informing him that he was cast as Sokka. Rathbone stated that his favorite scenes were the fight sequences, which he prepared for by stickfighting.
Before Slumdog Millionaire was released, Patel auditioned for the role of Zuko by submitting a tape to the studio. Shyamalan called Patel personally to inform him that he got the part. Training for the film was intense, as he had to learn Wushu and different martial arts. Patel recalls fighting, punching, and throwing and said the experience was "truly amazing." While he was filming Slumdog in India, he would finish a take and turn one of the channels over to the animated series. Even though it is based on a cartoon, he wanted to bring as much of himself as possible to the character he was portraying. Shaun Toub, who was cast as Iroh, describes his character in the first film as "loose" and "free". He compares Zuko's "obsession" to his childhood memories and how kids are always looking for their parents' approval, saying that Zuko just wants his father's. "He isn't necessarily bad, he just has a great deal of built up anger and forgets to consider others. I think people will understand that he's not bad, he's just angry and hurting because he really wants his father to love him, but his father is too busy with other things." He says that Patel is an "18 year old with all this energy," and that Patel was able to influence him into appreciating the business of filmmaking more. While comparing the animated series to the film, he says the film is much more serious. He attributed this change to the director trying to relate to every age group, rather than just kids.
Pre-production began in late 2008, while filming began in March 2009 in Greenland. After two weeks, the cast and crew moved to Reading, Pennsylvania, where production designers and special-effects crews worked for several weeks, preparing the local site for the film. A production team scouting the area found the pagoda on Mount Penn, which served as an ancient temple in the film. Reading mayor Tom McMahon explained that crews made road improvements and buried electrical lines surrounding the structure.
Filming also took place in Ontelaunee Township and at the William Penn Memorial Fire Tower in Pennsylvania after the production crew finished at the Pagoda. When asked about shooting the film in Reading, Pamela Shupp, vice president of Berks Economic Development said, "They needed buildings to shoot all the interiors, and were looking for a group of buildings with high ceilings and specific column spacing. We showed them a number of buildings, but we couldn't come up with enough to meet their requirements. So the interiors will be shot in Philadelphia."
With a film as technologically advanced as Avatar, the expectations of realistically throwing balls of fire and water were pushed to the limit on The Last Airbender. Pablo Helman, who previously worked on Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones, was the visual effects supervisor for the Industrial Light and Magic team on the film. He worked closely with Shyamalan, reviewing each scene and talking about the visual effects needed to tell the story, and ultimately worked with about 300 people to reflect the director's vision, who he said planned it all in a story-board book.
Industrial Light and Magic was posed with visualizing the elemental tribes of Air, Water, Earth, and Fire; most importantly creating the "bending" styles of these elements. Additionally, they were required to animate creatures and enhance stunt work with digital doubles. "The work was challenging," shares Helman. "We had to figure out what "bending" is for fire, water, air and earth." The project was started without the desired technology needed to create the effects. Rather than software, computer graphic cards were the basis for "bending" the elements, allowing previews to be viewed more swiftly. This resulted in Shyamalan having to direct more than sixty takes before the effect was finished and lined up with his visions.
Due to reality-based expectations, fire and water were the hardest elements to effectively bend, and because of particle work which was unable to be rendered in hardware, earth bending also was difficult to create. With water, the variety in different scales required Helman and his team to create different techniques. The concept for air was derived from the animation of the television series. To create the air bending effect, visual effects art director Christian Alzman and digital matte department supervisor Barry Williams explained that seeing dust and snow particles, rather than seeing the air itself, helped shape the real world effect of bending the element. Before the bending effects could be applied though, the actor's movements had to be matched; Shyamalan therefore wanted each character's bending styles to be unique to fit with their unique personalities.
The challenge for fire didn't come with making it look realistic, but rather making the fire behave in an unrealistic way that would be believable to the audience. The film that inspired The Last Airbender's fire style was the sixth Harry Potter film, which was re-engineered to reflect two-dimensional simulations. Helman's team referenced images of flames being pushed through the air by giant fans for certain shots needed throughout the film. The team also considered using a meshed image of real and digital fire, but in the end, went with the richer, deeper texture of computer generated flame.
In matte paintings, this was the biggest show that Helman had ever done. The paintings had to be in 3D because the visual style included long duration shots in which the camera always moved. The climax, which was enacted on a 200 by 200 feet (61 m × 61 m) set, had to be incorporated with still of the landscapes shot in Greenland, as well as the low-angle lighting that was captured on location there. The camera was animated to get angles needed for different shots in the film by importing these stills into the computer. Multiple cameras were used to capture the different wire-work and animation that was used to create the creatures and many fight scenes within the film. In creating these creatures, the team referenced nature. In order for them to be believable, they looked for examples of the same size and weight as the animated character and then developed hybrids from different animals to make each species unique. This was done by observing actual animals to get a take on how they would act. Shyamalan's take on the personality of each creature also influenced the creation stage of the creatures. For example, the lemur Momo has flying mechanics based on a giant fruit bat. Other elements, such as texturing, hair or scale simulation, and light and shadow complimentary to the live action, were added to make the final animation appear as real as possible during the later stages of character development.
Paramount Pictures made an announcement in late April 2010, revealing that The Last Airbender would be released in 3D. This decision came after an increasing number of films being made or converted to 3D, such as Avatar, Alice in Wonderland and Clash of the Titans, made a decent profit at the box office. Although Helman stated that Shyamalan's way of shooting without fast edits and the film's visuals could lend itself to the 3D conversion well, James Cameron voiced his disapproval on any film being converted using this process, saying, "You can slap a 3-D label on it and call it 3-D, but there's no possible way that it can be done up to a standard that anybody would consider high enough." Despite this, Shyamalan opted to work with Stereo D LLC, the company who worked on James Cameron's own Avatar. The conversion process for the film cost between $5 million and $10 million, adding to the reported $100 million that already went into the film.
In December 2008, James Newton Howard was announced as the composer for The Last Airbender. The film marks the seventh collaboration between Howard and M. Night Shyamalan, after the 2008 film The Happening. Howard had received acclaim for his work with Hans Zimmer on The Dark Knight. On May 13, 2009, producer Frank Marshall announced that Howard was recording music for the teaser trailer that was later released that summer; it was later confirmed by Frank Marshall that all of the film's trailers featured original music by Howard himself. The soundtrack, released by Lakeshore Records on June 29, 2010, required Howard to hire a 119-member ensemble. Running at about 66 minutes, it contains eleven tracks ranging from three to seven minutes, with a twelfth track, called "Airbender Suite" running at nearly eleven minutes. Reviews for the score were overwhelmingly positive.
The casting of white actors in the East Asian and Inuit-influenced Avatar universe triggered negative reactions from some fans marked by accusations of racism, a letter-writing campaign, and various protests. "To take this incredibly loved children's series, and really distort not only the ethnicity of the individual characters but the message of acceptance and cultural diversity that the original series advocated, is a huge blow," said Michael Le of Racebending.com, a fan site calling for a boycott of the martial-arts fantasy. As a result of the casting, the Media Action Network for Asian-Americans urged a film boycott for the first time in the organization's 18-year history. "This was a great opportunity to create new Asian-American stars...I'm disappointed." stated Guy Aoki, president of the organization. After a casting call specifically looking for "Caucasians and other ethnicities," Shyamalan explained that "Ultimately, this movie, and then the three movies, will be the most culturally diverse tent-pole movies ever released, period." Furthermore, Paramount provided a statement about the casting choices, "The movie has 23 credited speaking roles — more than half of which feature Asian and Pan Asian actors of Korean, Japanese and Indian descent. The filmmaker's interpretation reflects the myriad qualities that have made this series a global phenomenon. We believe fans of the original and new audiences alike will respond positively once they see it."
Shyamalan commented on the issues regarding fans' perceptions of the casting in an interview with Washington Post columnist Jen Chaney, saying, "Anime is based on ambiguous facial features. It's meant to be interpretive. It's meant to be inclusive of all races, and you can see yourself in all these characters...This is a multicultural movie and I'm going to make it even more multicultural in my approach to its casting. There's African-Americans in the movie...so it's a source of pride for me. The irony that [protesters] would label this with anything but the greatest pride, that the movie poster has Noah and Dev on it and my name on it. I don't know what else to do." In this quote, Shyamalan's reference to Noah Ringer can be explained by Noah's self-identification of his ancestry as "American Indian," although critics of the film's casting have presumed that the actor is simply "white" when making their complaints.
Rathbone was also one to dismiss the complaints in an interview with MTV, saying, "I think it's one of those things where I pull my hair up, shave the sides, and I definitely need a tan. It's one of those things where, hopefully, the audience will suspend disbelief a little bit." The controversy was poorly received by critics as well. Film critic Roger Ebert was one of the critical voices against the casting. When asked about casting a white cast to portray the characters, he said, "The original series Avatar: The Last Airbender was highly regarded and popular for three seasons on Nickelodeon. Its fans take it for granted that its heroes are Asian. Why would Paramount and Shyamalan go out of their way to offend these fans? There are many young Asian actors capable of playing the parts." Jevon Phillips of the Los Angeles Times noted that despite Shyamalan's attempts to defuse the situation, "this is definitely not an issue that will fade away or be overlooked" and that this film exemplifies the need for a debate within Hollywood about racial diversity in its films.
In July 2013, series co-creator Bryan Konietzko responded to an online comment about skin color in The Legend of Korra. Konietzko wrote that his work on the two series "speaks for itself which obviously does not include the gross misinterpretations and misrepresentations of our work in [Shyamalan's] work."
The teaser trailer for the film was attached to Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, released in theaters on June 24, 2009. The teaser trailer was also shown exclusively on the June 22, 2009 episode of Entertainment Tonight. The trailer shows Aang airbending in a temple which is being attacked by a multitude of Fire Nation ships. A trailer was to be released around Christmas 2009, but it was pushed back until February 2010 because not enough visual effects shots were completed. This trailer was attached to the first Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief film released on February 12, 2010. A trailer was later released on March 25, 2010. It was then attached with How to Train Your Dragon. The last theatrical trailer is attached to Iron Man 2 which was released May 7, 2010.
The first TV spot aired during Super Bowl XLIV on February 7, 2010. It showed parts of the film that were not shown in the teaser trailer and had no diagetic dialogue, but merely narration. On February 10, the theatrical trailer was released online. It shows multiple scenes from the film and is an expanded version of the first TV spot. McDonald's sold Happy Meals to promote the film.
On February 9, 2010, Nickelodeon Consumer Products also debuted the upcoming line of toys based on The Last Airbender. It includes various 3 3⁄4-inch action figures, as well as larger, action-enabled figures, costumes and other props. Among the toys featured in the line were figures based on Aang, Prince Zuko, Sokka, Katara, and a fully ride-able Appa the Sky Bison. "We worked very closely with M. Night, the rest of the Paramount team and our in-house design team, along with our partner Spin-Master, to come up with the right assortment, the right size for these action figures and make sure we had representation of all the nations within the 'Airbender' series," said Nickelodeon's Lourdes Arocho. The Last Airbender action figures are expected to be released in three "waves"; wave one on June 1, wave two near the film's July release date, and wave three near the 2010 holiday season. THQ Studio Australia also developed a video game based on the film. Titled The Last Airbender, it was released on June 29, 2010 for the Wii and the Nintendo DS.
Two original black-and-white graphic novels, entitled The Last Airbender Prequel: Zuko's Story and The Last Airbender, drawn in the manga style, were written by Dave Roman and Alison Wilgus. "We're excited to be working with Nickelodeon to bring these great stories to the manga audience", says Dallas Middaugh, Associate Publisher of Del Rey Manga. "Avatar: The Last Airbender has shown incredible crossover appeal with manga fans. The release of The Last Airbender movie and original tie-in manga gives us the chance to share completely new stories with Avatar fans looking for more about Aang, Zuko, and their favorite characters." The second manga, The Last Airbender, illustrated by Joon Choi, was released on June 22, 2010. The plot, like the film, is a condensed version of the first season of the series.
The prequel, Zuko's Story, is co-written by Alison Wilgus and Dave Roman and illustrated by Nina Matsumoto and was released on May 18, 2010. The synopsis for the graphic novel was released in early 2010, "When Prince Zuko dared to question authority, his father, Fire Lord Ozai, banished him from the Fire Nation. Horribly scarred and stripped of everything he held dear, Zuko has wandered the earth for almost three years in search of his only chance at redemption: the Avatar, a mystical being who once kept the four nations in balance. Everyone he encounters believes that this is an impossible task, as the Avatar disappeared a century ago. But Zuko stubbornly continues the search. He must regain his honor, so his quest is all he has left."
Roman and Wilgus, who developed comics based on the series for Nick Magazine, consulted series creators Mike Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko, and head writer for the show Aaron Ehasz while they were developing Zuko's Story. The four wanted to try a comic that would fit into with the continuity of the show. The prequel, though mostly associated with the film, was meant to be a prequel to the series. Roman explained, "In a lot of ways, it's like an expanded origin. With the film and the series, there are differences and there are places where they split off, but the setup for both is exactly the same — so when you're introduced to the characters, that's the part where they're completely identical." The prequel allowed the expansions of different details told in the series; for example, an episode called "The Blue Spirit" in the series was seen in the film. However, since explaining everything that happened in that episode was hard to translate onto film, the prequel allowed for them to "delve" into that specific story. What more, when asked about whether he answered some questions that were left open at the end of the series, Roman stated that, while he had a strong relationship with the show's creators and got their blessing for his project, it wasn't his plot to address.
The Last Airbender was rumored to be released in the summer of 2010 before it received a formal release date of July 1, 2010. To avoid confusion with James Cameron's Avatar, the title was changed from Avatar: The Last Airbender to simply The Last Airbender. On June 16, 2010, it was revealed that the film would be released on July 1, 2010, and after questions about the definition of the release being limited or wide, was later confirmed by the studio to be a full nationwide release. The film premiered in New York City on June 30, 2010, and opened the following day in 3,169 theaters, against The Twilight Saga: Eclipse which also stars Jackson Rathbone.
The Last Airbender was released on DVD and Blu-ray on November 16, 2010. At the same time, a Blu-ray 3D version was also made available exclusively at Best Buy locations. The Last Airbender grossed $12,757,094 and sold a total of 750,859 units in its first week on DVD.
The Last Airbender had grossed $131,772,187 in the United States, and $187,941,694 in other countries, making for a total of $319,713,881 worldwide.
On its opening day in the United States, The Last Airbender made $16,614,112, ranking fifth overall for Thursday openings. For its opening three-day, Fourth of July weekend, The Last Airbender accumulated a total of $40,325,019. The following Monday, it grossed $11,479,213. 54% of its total gross was from 3D presentations at 1,606 screens. On Thursday, July 1, 2010, its opening day, it debuted at #2 behind The Twilight Saga: Eclipse. It stayed #2 until Monday, July 5, 2010, when it went down to #3 now behind Eclipse and Toy Story 3. On July 9, it went down to #5 behind Despicable Me, The Twilight Saga: Eclipse, Predators, and Toy Story 3. By Friday, July 23, it was down to #9 behind Inception, Salt, Despicable Me, Ramona and Beezus, The Sorcerer's Apprentice, Toy Story 3, Grown Ups, and Eclipse.
Opening overseas in 923 sites, the film grossed an estimated $9 million, $8 million of which was from 870 sites in Russia, making it the number one film there. The film grossed $9.4 million from its second weekend in overseas markets.
The film was the twentieth highest-grossing film of 2010.
The film was panned by critics and fans of the TV show alike. Review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes gave a 6% approval rating based on 183 reviews with an average rating of 2.8 out of 10, making it the lowest rated film ever produced by Nickelodeon Movies, and Shyamalan's worst-reviewed film to date. The consensus was "The Last Airbender squanders its popular source material with incomprehensible plotting, horrible acting, and detached joyless direction." By comparison, Metacritic, which assigns a normalized rating based on reviews from the top mainstream critics, calculated an average score of 20 out of 100, based on 33 reviews, indicating "generally unfavorable reviews". CinemaScore polls reported that the average grade moviegoers gave the film was "C" on an A+ to F scale.
Liam Lacey of The Globe and Mail stated the film had little chance to develop its characters and therefore suffered, with the overall storyline of the film becoming a run-on narrative. According to Owen Gleiberman from Entertainment Weekly, who gave the film a C, "The Last Airbender keeps throwing things at you, but its final effect is, in every way, flat." Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times gave the film half a star in his review, stating that it "bores and alienates its audiences," and notes the poor use of 3D among the film's faults. Keith Phipps of The A.V. Club gave the film an F, criticizing the performances of the child actors, overuse of exposition, and shoehorned 3D special effects, calling it the worst summer blockbuster of 2010. Kirk Honeycutt of The Hollywood Reporter said that the lack of correct casting caused the film to lose substantial credibility in regard to its source material, but did praise the casting and acting of Noah Ringer as Aang. Peter Debruge of Variety criticized the casting and the score, saying that the overall effect of each play into making the film a bore. Rifftrax put the film at number 5 of The top 10 Worst Movies of All Time, saying "We CAN state for the record that it is quite easy to detest this movie even if you've never seen a frame of the TV show."
Charlie Jane Anders in the review by io9 criticized "the personality-free hero, the nonsensical plot twists, the CG clutter, the bland romance, the new-age pablum...", concluding that "Shyamalan's true achievement in this film is that he takes a thrilling cult TV series, Avatar: The Last Airbender, and he systematically leeches all the personality and soul out of it — in order to create something generic enough to serve as a universal spoof of every epic, ever." Anders summarized the experience of watching the film by stating that, "Actually, my exact words when I walked out of this film were, 'Wow, this makes Dragonball Evolution look like a masterpiece.'" Ain't It Cool News' review questioned why Shyamalan was allowed to write the script, as well as why he was even chosen to direct such a high-profile film after a string of previous flops: "Burdened by [a] never-ending onslaught of expository dialogue awkwardly delivered by actors giving career-worst performances across the board, The Last Airbender is so outrageously bad it's a wonder it ever got before cameras."
Scott Bowles of USA Today gave a generally favorable review, claiming that Shyamalan delivered on fight scenes and the film worked as a kid's film, although he also added that poor scriptwriting made some of the performances sound wooden. Another favorable review came from Stephanie Zacharek of MovieLine, who praises the way Shyamalan captures the art of action and human motion. David Roark of Relevant Magazine accused other critics of having a bias against Shyamalan and gave the film a positive review, stating that its visuals and heart far outweighed the clunky plotting and "awful" dialogue.
Peter Bradshaw of The Guardian noted an unfortunate linguistic problem that reduced British viewers to "a state of nervous collapse" due to laughter. In British English, 'bent' is a slang term for gay, with 'bender' meaning a gay man, giving an entirely different meaning to lines such as, "I could tell at once that you were a bender." Bradshaw commented that the response from the audience to such lines was "deafeningly immature" and would "inevitably be repeated in every cinema in the land showing The Last Airbender."
In a Reddit AmA thread by Dante Basco, the original voice of Prince Zuko, when he was asked what he thought of the Last Airbender film, he responded by saying that Konietzko and DiMartino told him not to see it.
The creators officially said that they would like to pretend the film does not exist. Bryan and Mike spoke extensively about how the project was given the go-ahead without their approval, and when they tried to provide input it was ignored.
In a Vulture interview, Shyamalan argued that his style and art-form of storytelling resulted in the negative reviews of the film and compared it to asking a painter to change to a different style: "I bring as much integrity to the table as humanly possible. It must be a language thing, in terms of a particular accent, a storytelling accent. I can only see it this certain way and I don't know how to think in another language. I think these are exactly the visions that are in my head, so I don't know how to adjust it without being me."
Shyamalan also addressed criticisms about the barely 90 minute runtime of the film, which was considered bizarre given that it had to condense a 20-episode TV season into one film, and is a far shorter runtime than is typical for summer blockbusters. Shyamalan's response was that all of his previous films were 90 minutes, because they were small-scale supernatural thrillers, and as a result his instinct for the pacing of the film was to edit it down to 90 minutes. This short runtime indirectly led to several other problems which multiple critics listed above objected to: characters frequently resort to giving long speeches of exposition to summarize entire scenes that were cut for time, and a running voiceover commentary by Katara was added in which she summarizes entire subplots (e.g. Sokka's relationship with Yue) that barely appear on screen.
The Last Airbender received nine nominations at the 31st Golden Raspberry Awards including Worst Picture. The film went on to sweep the Razzies with five awards: Worst Picture, Worst Director (Shyamalan), Worst Screenplay (Shyamalan), Worst Supporting Actor (Jackson Rathbone), and a special award, "Worst Eye-Gouging Mis-Use of 3D."
Shyamalan or Paramount/Nickelodeon did not immediately confirm the "go-ahead" or whether the plug will be pulled on the trilogy. While filming The Last Airbender, Shyamalan mapped out a rough draft for a second film that is "darker" and includes Azula, portrayed by Summer Bishil, as the main antagonist. In a July 2010 interview with New York Magazine, Shyamalan commented "In the next few months we'll be able to know whether we have that opportunity or not" when asked about the sequel. No such announcement was made and in a September 2010 interview when asked if he knew when the sequel will be made, he replied, "I don't, because there are so many factors they take into account", adding, "I guess it will get into an area where it becomes a discussion—like pros and cons." In September 2015, Shyamalan confirmed to Metro UK that he may work on the sequel after completing his next thriller, which started shooting in November 2015.