Matt Damon turned down Avatar – and it cost him millions. Throughout the star’s career, Damon has had numerous notable success stories - particularly his Oscar for Good Will Hunting’s screenplay, which he shared with Ben Affleck in 1997.
From that point onward, it seemed that Damon’s name became synonymous with box office hits and critical acclaim. The mid to late 1990s were a particularly important time for the famed Boston native, whose turns in the aforementioned Good Will Hunting, as well as Francis Ford Coppola’s The Rainmaker, Saving Private Ryan and The Talented Mr. Ripley helped to greatly elevate his status as one of Hollywood’s biggest up and coming talents. Then, in the early 2000s, Damon found what arguably remains his most widely known role, as the amnesiac super soldier Jason Bourne in the high octane Bourne franchise. The series helped to revolutionize the action film genre, and some would even argue that it was the impetus the venerable James Bond franchise needed to send it in a successful new direction.
Despite the lengthy list of recognizable films that Damon has been in, however, every actor has their share of films they passed on. Some of these are films that never found the success they'd been expected to, and some are films that exceeded everyone’s expectations. For Damon, he recently revealed during an interview with GQ that he happened to turn down a role in one of the biggest films of all time - Avatar. Though director James Cameron assured Damon that he didn’t need him for a role in what would go on to become a global smash hit, a very tempting financial offer was also made to sweeten the deal. Said Damon:
Jim Cameron offered me Avatar. And when he offered it to me, he goes, “Now, listen. I don’t need anybody. I don’t need a name for this, a named actor. If you don’t take this, I’m going to find an unknown actor and give it to him, because the movie doesn’t really need you. But if you take the part, I’ll give you ten per cent of...” So, on the subject of money...
Unfortunately for curious Damon fans, GQ didn’t specifically reveal if Damon was talking about ten percent of the film’s profits or gross. However, the publication did do the math on the more likely of the two options, determining that had he taken ten percent of the film’s gross, Damon would've received something in the neighborhood of a quarter of a billion dollars. It’s an unthinkable amount of money to take in off the film, but of course, neither Damon nor Cameron had any way of knowing exactly how big Avatar would go on to become. As it stands, the role that Damon was offered was not revealed either, though the smart money would be on the lead role of Jake Sully, which ended up going to Sam Worthington.
With Avatar having gone on to such unfathomable success worldwide, and with four more Avatar films on their way, Damon’s decision not to take the role denied him what would have been the biggest role of his career. It’s especially agonizing when when one considers the films that Damon released instead in 2009, when Avatar arrived: The Informant! and Invictus. Neither is likely to take a top spot in even the staunchest of Damon fans’ film rankings, but in the end, what's important is that Damon has always taken the projects that he feels work best for him, and money isn’t always the deciding factor in that process.
- Avatar 2 (2021) release date: Dec 17, 2021
- Avatar 3 (2023) release date: Dec 22, 2023
- Avatar 4 (2025) release date: Dec 19, 2025
- Avatar 5 (2027) release date: Dec 17, 2027