Matt Damon Turned Down 'Avatar' And A Metric Ton Of Money

Thought you were having a bad day? Boy, do I have the pick-me-up for you.

When it comes to "missed opportunities," it'll be all but impossible to top Matt Damon's personal story of roads not taken and should-have-beens. While speaking at a Cannes Film Festival masterclass, Damon explained how James Cameron himself offered Damon a lead role and a sizable percentage of a film's gross...only for the actor to have to say no, due to scheduling conflicts. Of course, the film in question turned out to be the one and only Avatar.

Could've, Should've, Would've

As we all know, Cameron's little project went on to shatter box office records around the globe on its way to earning a cool $2.85 billion while becoming a pop culture sensation to boot...for a brief window of time, at least. Luckily (or not, in Damon's case), money tends to last a little longer than popularity. May we all have such success in our respective fields that we can get away with politely turning down our very own Cameron-equivalent. In the actor's own words (via Deadline):

"I was offered a little movie called Avatar, James Cameron offered me 10% of [its profits]. I will go down in history... you will never meet an actor who turned down more money."

As it happens, Damon's schedule was to blame here. Already committed the Bourne movies, Damon cited "moral" reasons for why he couldn't simply abandon those movies when Cameron came calling. That's the kind of franchise loyalty we can grudgingly respect around here. Oh, and Damon has a pretty amusing (and relatable!) response to the ambitious plans for all things Avatar in upcoming years. Damon jokingly remarked, "There's sequels? Oh my god."

Interestingly enough, he also spoke up about another near-miss we've previously known about with a slightly lower-profile film (in terms of box office, at least): Kenneth Lonergan's heart-wrenching and Oscar-darling Manchester by the Sea. In this case, however, Damon would've directed and starred. But one look at Lonergan's script was all he needed to realize that the screenwriter simply had to take directing duties as well, settling for producing credit:"Kenny, you have to direct this, this is you." Things probably worked out here, for the most part.

Hollywood is littered with the stories and rumors of "What-ifs", enough to fill an entire volume of books on its own. Damon's near-miss with Avatar is an all-timer though, and ultimately there's something bizarrely perfect about such a global hit starring none other than Sam Worthington. Of all the endless alternate universes out there, personally I'm glad to be in this one.