Dune vs. Avatar — Which Galactic Epic Should You Watch?

Dune, released in two parts (so far), is a massive, sprawling sci-fi epic that heavily features themes of ecology, rebellion, and nature. Avatar, released in two parts (so far), is a massive, sprawling sci-fi epic that heavily features themes of ecology, rebellion, and nature.

Clearly, there is some shared DNA here. But that doesn’t answer the question: which is better? And in what ways are these two stories alike (and different)? Well, this article aims to answer those questions.


Basic Info

Dune

Year: 2021-2024
Runtime: 2h 35m – 2hr 46m
Size of Series: 2 movies
Rating: R

Avatar

Year: 2009-2022
Runtime: 2h 35m – 3h 12m
Size of Series: 2 Movies
Rating: PG13

Similarities

  • Similarity 1 – Incredible Worldbuilding: Both Dune and Avatar have put painstaking details into their worlds, making both Dune’s Arrakis and Avatar‘s Pandora feel alive and real in ways which very few stories match.
  • Similarity 2 – Fantastic Performances: The performances in Dune and Avatar (especially the second Avatar movie, The Way of Water) are phenomenal, and the actors are so well cast that they glue watchers to the screen quickly. While the style of characters vastly differ (Dune tends to favor more subtle characters, compared to Avatar’s more archetypal characters), the cast of both knock it out of the park.
  • Similarity 3 – The Best VFX in the Industry: Both Dune and Avatar are some of the best-looking sci-fi franchises in history, both on the backs of incredible VFX and camerawork (amongst other creative decisions). Jaw-dropping visual feasts are in store with either film.
  • Similarity 4 – Plotline: Featuring plotlines that see a hero become outcast from their society and then ingratiate themselves with the native population in order to wage war against those who wronged them, the plotlines of both Avatar and Dune have some remarkable similarities.
  • Similarity 5 – One with Nature: While focusing on different parts of the environment, both Dune and Pandora take place on planets that are brimming with nature (of very different sorts), and the main character learning to become one with the nature of their respective planets are key plot points.

Differences

  • Difference 1 – Morality: Dune is incredibly concerned with big questions like “what does it mean to be a leader?” and “how is religion used by the powerful?”, and those questions echo throughout the story, even to the point of making the audience question the main character, Paul. Avatar, meanwhile, is focused more on the social and ecological impact of an empire on a world, with more clear messages centering on that.
  • Difference 2 – Life in the Galaxy: Dune takes place in a galaxy that only contains humans, in a universe that has surprisingly minimal technology (or, rather, where technology developed in only certain directions) Avatar not only has more than humans in its world, but the heroes of the story are the blue, cat-like Navi, who live amongst and interwoven with a dense, lively nature.
  • Difference 3 – Opposite Worlds: The settings for Dune and Avatar could not be more opposite. While Avatar takes place on the vibrant jungle planet of Pandora, filled with life and incrediblye biodiversity, Dune takes place primarily on Arrakis, an inhospitable desert planet with very little surface life, where survival is difficult and the only large lifeforms aside from humans are gigantic sandworms.

Quality

Dune

Letterboxd: 3.94.5
IMDB: 8.08.8
Rotten Tomatoes (Critic): 83%93%
Rotten Tomatoes (Audience): 90%95%

Avatar

Letterboxd: 3.6 – 3.6
IMDB: 7.6 – 7.9
Rotten Tomatoes (Critic): 76% – 82%
Rotten Tomatoes (Audience): 82% – 92%

In every category, both Dune movies slightly outperform both Avatar movies in terms of critical reception. However, the scores are close to each other, rarely being more than 1 point or 10% away from each other (depending on the platform). This indicates that, while Dune is slightly favored, the difference in quality is not overwhelming, and many people will subjectively prefer Avatar despite these ratings.

You would do best to look at each series’ other qualities to determine which you prefer, as their quality is similar.

Recommendation

If you are deciding whether you should watch Dune or Avatar, you should determine what to watch based on which seems more interesting to you. Avatar is lighter-in-tone, filled with jaw-dropped effects and action, and has a much more vibrant palette. Dune is more dour and philosophical, has slower (but still incredible) camera work, and takes place on a significantly less lively world.

If you liked Dune or Avatar, you are likely to like the other, depending on why you enjoyed them. Similar in scope, visual splendor, epic scale, and great performances, these two movies complement each other well. However, if you enjoy the tone of either movie, you are unlikely to find that in the other — whereas Dune is more critical and harsh, Avatar is a rich world of drama and more clear-cut morals. It’s also worth noting that their settings — Pandora and Arrakis — could not be more opposite each other.

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Graves
Graves

Graves is an avid writer, web designer, and gamer, with more ideas than he could hope to achieve in a lifetime. But, armed with a mug of coffee and an overactive imagination, he’ll try. When he isn’t working on a creative project, he is painting miniatures, reading cheesy sci-fi novels, or making music.

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