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Most of us saw Avatar when it came out back in 2009, which means most of us got to see Sam Worthington in the role. However, what you may not know is that Worthington competed against two other major names when the movie was initially coming together: Chris Evans and Channing Tatum. James Cameron revealed on the Empire podcast that there was one big reason Sam Worthington beat his competition, noting,
I really liked Channing’s appeal, I liked Chris’ appeal. The were both great, great guys. But Sam had a quality of voice and a quality of intensity. Everybody did about the same with all the material throughout the script except the final speech, where he stands and says, ‘This is our land, right now, go as fast as the wind will carry you.’ That whole thing, I would have followed him into battle and I wouldn’t have followed the other guys.
At the time Avatar was coming together, Channing Tatum had already been in movies like She’s The Man and Step Up and Chris Evans had the Fantastic Four movies under his belt. Sam Worthington had fewer memorable projects going before he landed Avatar, but James Cameron said Worthington's ability to put everything he had into a big speech moment was what put him ahead of the other two guys.
Of course, in the time since, Channing Tatum has had numerous hits and Chris Evans has made a name for himself playing Captain America. Obviously the other guys who tested have been very successful and it sounds like James Cameron put them through a bunch of rigors before landing on his choice. In fact, he told Empire:
I screen tested the hell out of these guys. I shot them in 3D with full up lighting; I shot them the way I was going to shoot the movie… That was Chris Evans and Sam [Worthington, who landed the role] and Channing Tatum. And that was my choice. And I couldn’t have gone wrong, really in that choice.
Intriguingly, a lot of movies may have looked different if Chris Evans or Channing Tatum had landed the roles. Tatum broke big a couple of years after Avatar with 21 Jump Street and Magic Mike. It was around the same time that Chris Evans broke big as Captain America in the MCU. If anything, Sam Worthington is the smaller name these days, but he is busy with the upcoming Avatar franchise films and James Cameron does not seem to regret his choice.
It’s been a long, hard haul to bring the Avatar franchise into fruition, and in a lot of ways James Cameron is still getting started. Although the popular director has one movie under his belt already, there are four more to go. We also know Sam Worthington is on board for Avatar 2 and 3, which are expected to hit theaters in 2020 and 2021 respectively.