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The $250 Million Movie Role Matt Damon Turned Down

We have a distinct feeling Matt Damon doesn't like these apples.

Since breaking into the Hollywood mainstream with 1997's Oscar-winning drama Good Will Hunting, Damon has established himself as one of the most recognizable actors in the world. He's done so by lending his talents to blockbuster franchises (like The Bourne trilogy and the Ocean's 11 trilogy) and smaller-scaled projects (such as The Talented Mr. RipleyGerry, and Syriana) in equal measure. Along the way, he's had his share of hits and misses, but he's also become one of those actors who can pretty much make whatever movie he wants. 

While Damon has undoubtedly passed on dozens of movie roles in his career, it seems there's one in particular that's likely had him asking himself the very question his character from Good Will Hunting famously taunted a rival with: "How you like them apples?"

Asked in a recent interview with GQ UK while promoting his upcoming movie Ford v Ferrari whether there were any movies or roles he regretted not taking, Damon answered the question surprisingly candidly. Turns out, the missed opportunity that continues to haunt him was legit the biggest movie in history for a full decade: James Cameron's groundbreaking sci-fi spectacular Avatar. And to hear Damon tell the story, Cameron even made the actor a mind-bogglingly lucrative offer to take on the lead role. 

"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 percent of,'" said Damon before trailing off. 

If interviewer Stuart McGurk is to be believed, Damon's Ford v Ferrari co-star Christian Bale took advantage of Damon's pause to make "the cartoon sound of someone shaking their head with their lips warbling, like Wile E Coyote trying to shake off an anvil to the head." 

McGurk wisely pressed Damon on the matter, and the actor went on to confirm that Cameron had, in fact, offered him ten percent of Avatar's box-office take to play the lead. Avatar went on to clear a cool $2.7 billion in world-wide box office — which means that if Damon had appeared in the film, he would have personally netted north of $250 million. (Of course, the actor couldn't have known at the time that the film would be such a massive success.)

That really is "Matt Damon saves the world" kind of money

Knowing his co-star's affinity for charitable causes, the former Batman Bale dryly responded to the news by stating, "It would be 'Matt Damon saves the world' had you said yes there." We can't help but imagine that Damon has indeed been turning that number over in his head on the regular in the decade since Avatar opened in theaters, if only to wonder just how much good he might've done with it. 

If you're wondering what led Damon to pass on Avatar, it turns out he'd already committed to re-teaming with Paul Greengrass for a pair of high-profile projects: the trilogy-closer The Bourne Ultimatum and the political drama Green Zone. While the actor doesn't regret making those movies, he clearly hasn't forgotten what a massive payday he missed with Avatar. He told McGurk that he's "left more money on the table than any actor," before comically adding, "But my kids are all eating. I'm doing OK." 

Payday aside, it seems Damon's biggest regret in turning down the lead role in Avatar was that he may have missed his chance to ever work with James Cameron.

"Cameron said to me in the course of that conversation, 'Well, you know, I've only made six movies.' I didn't realize that. He works so infrequently, but his movies, you know all of them. So it feels like he's made more than he has," Damon shared. "I realized 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."

It's worth noting that Cameron hasn't released a feature film since Avatar broke the box office back in 2009. And given that the Oscar-winning director is currently neck-deep in his four planned Avatar sequels for the foreseeable future, Damon may be right in thinking he's missed his chance to jump aboard a Cameron project — though there could potentially be a spot for the actor in the rapidly expanding Avatar universe. Either way, it seems highly unlikely Cameron would be offering ten percent of anything this go-round. 

Regarding the actor who eventually claimed the lead in Avatar, Cameron handed the role over to a then-unknown Sam Worthington. It's a safe assumption that Worthington did not get the same back-end offer from the director that Damon did, and it's even been reported that his co-star Sigourney Weaver was payed considerably more than Worthington himself. As Worthington is very much on board for Cameron's return to Pandora, we can only hope his agent cut a better deal for all those sequels.  

As for when we'll get to see the new Avatar movies, Cameron is only now in principal photography on the films, the first of which is tentatively (and we do mean tentatively) slated to premiere in December of 2021. And don't feel too bad for Matt Damon, 'cause even if he never gets to appear in a James Cameron flick, he's still managed to work with many of the greatest filmmakers in Hollywood and beyond. He'll next be seen in James Mangold's Ford v Ferrari, a film that may well land him back in the awards season hunt. That film races into theaters on November 15.