Matt Damon Reflected On The Massive Avatar Payday He Turned Down

It cost him “something awful like” $250 million.

LONDON, ENGLAND - JULY 13: Matt Damon attends the "Oppenheimer" UK Premiere at Odeon Luxe Leicester ...
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Starring in one of the summer’s most explosive blockbusters has forced Matt Damon to confront his own past. While recently promoting Oppenheimer on CNN’s Who’s Talking to Chris Wallace prior to the SAG-AFTRA strike, the actor revisited his costly decision to turn down a role in Avatar, along with director James Cameron’s offer for 10% of the 2009 movie’s profits. Raking in $2.9 billion worldwide, Avatar would eventually become (and currently remains) the highest-grossing film of all time, and Damon lost out on a reported $250 million paycheck. “It’s something awful like that,” the Oscar winner lamented, confirming the amount. “I’m sure it’s the most money an actor ever turned down.”

However, Damon had good reason for declining the role of Avatar’s Jake Sully, which eventually went to actor Sam Worthington: He already “had a contract” tying him to play Jason Bourne in the Bourne film franchise. “I was in the middle of shooting the Bourne movie, and I would have to leave the movie kind of early and leave them in the lurch a little bit and I didn’t want to do that,” he explained to Wallace.

His “favorite reaction” to the costly decision came from friend John Krasinski while they were writing 2012’s Promised Land. “We were in my kitchen and it was a Saturday morning and we were on a break and I ... tell him about Avatar, and he launches himself out of the chair,” Damon recalled. “He starts pacing the kitchen, he goes, ‘OK, OK, OK. OK, OK. Nothing in your life would be different today if you had done that movie, except you and I would be having this conversation in space.’ ... I would have been the same guy, I just would have had a space station.”

Damon previously told a similar story at the 2021 Cannes Film Festival, and finally prompted a response from Cameron the following December. “He’s beating himself up over this,” the Oscar-winning director joked to the BBC during a press junket for 2022’s Avatar: The Way of Water. “And I really think you know, ‘Matt you’re kind of like one of the biggest movie stars in the world, get over it.’ But he had to do another Bourne film which was on his runway, and there was nothing we could do about that. So he had to regretfully decline.”

With several more Avatar film sequels in the works, Damon’s chances of visiting Pandora aren’t entirely out the window. In fact, Cameron replied that he “must do” a cameo at some point, when the BBC reporter pitched the idea. “We have to do it so the world is in equilibrium again,” the director quipped, before adding one caveat: “But he doesn’t get 10% — f*ck that.”