Matt Damon may have become a household name with the Jason Bourne franchise, that is after winning an Oscar for Good Will Hunting and playing the titular soldier in Saving Private Ryan, but he also almost starred in one of the biggest movies of all time. Speaking at the Cannes film festival after the premiere of his new movies Stillwater, Damon revealed that he turned down the movie and that when he did it he turned down the biggest paycheck of his life. "I was offered a little movie called Avatar, James Cameron offered me 10% of it," Damon said. "I will go down in history… you will never meet an actor who turned down more money."
For a bit of math, Avatar would gross over $2.7 billion upon its initial release and would become the highest grossing movie of all time for a decade. Taking into account the metrics and trickery of Hollywood accounting, Damon might have missed out on a $200 million pay day, and that's not even considering his pay out for sequels and home media releases. According to Deadline someone at the same event pointed out to Damon that there are multiple sequels to the film on the way, to which he replied: "There's sequels? Oh my god."
This isn't the first time that Damon has opened up about turning down the part and the money, revealing to GQ back in 2019 that director James Cameron told him: "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 10 percent."
Damon revealed that his commitment to the Bourne franchise is why he had to turn down the role in Avatar (which eventually went to Sam Worthington) but said that in the end he's doing okay.
"I couldn't do it – but Cameron said to me in the course of that conversation, 'Well, you know, I've only made six movies.' I didn't realise that. He works so infrequently, but his movies, you know all of them. So it feels like he's made more than he has. I realised in having to say no that I was probably passing on the chance to ever work with him. So that sucked and that's still brutal. But my kids are all eating. I'm doing OK."
Matt Damon can next be seen in Stillwater on July 30, with Avatar 2 scheduled to be released on December 16, 2022.