Missed opportunities come a dime a dozen in Hollywood. Will Smith turned down playing Neo in The Matrix trilogy to do Wild Wild West, of all things. John Travolta turned down the titular role of Forrest Gump. And Sean Connery said, “No thanks” to – get this – Gandalf in Lord of the Rings, John Hammond in Jurassic Park, both Morpheus and The Architect in The Matrix, as well as Dumbledore in Harry Potter (just to name a few). Over this past weekend, Matt Damon admitted he himself passed on James Cameron’s Avatar, which wouldn’t ordinarily be that big of an issue – if it weren’t for the fact this also meant passing on 10% of the profits from history’s highest-grossing film.
“I was offered a little movie called Avatar – James Cameron offered me 10% of it,” Matt Damon said during a panel event at this year’s Cannes Film Festival.
“I will go down in history… You will never meet an actor who turned down more money.”
From the year of initial release back in 2009 to present day, Avatar has comfortably been slouching in the throne for largest global box office gross – despite Marvel’s Avengers: Endgame unsuccessfully campaigning for the top spot a decade later, missing the mark by $50 million or so. By last reports, Avatar’s entire take has amounted to US$2.85 billion / AU$3.81 billion. Assuming the Jason Bourne actor’s deal involved 10% directly off the top: that’s US$285 million or $381 million domestic.
The term ‘profit’, however, implies it wasn’t a straight percentage of the gross. Deducting the production’s budget of US$237 million from the billions, then doubling said budget to account for whatever marketing costs set 20th Century Fox back, that’s still around US$230 million or well in excess of $300 million domestic.
As much as it is a kick in the nuggets, Damon isn’t exactly reeling back from this one, either. Financially, the bloke has zero complaints, and he’d eventually end up going on his own little cinematic excursions beyond Earth’s stratosphere in Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar, Ridley Scott’s The Martian, and on some level, Taika Waititi’s Thor: Ragnarok.
Later on at the very same panel event, in between sharing some laughter with the audience in attendance, he recounted making the jaw-dropping reveal to The Office US star, Amazon’s Jack Ryan, and Quiet Place director, John Kransinski. What was Jim’s take on the whole affair?
“Nothing would be different in your life if you had done Avatar… except you and me would be having this conversation in space.”
The lead role of Jake Sully would, of course, eventually go to Australian unknown Sam Worthington, who obviously wasn’t provided the same 10% backend option. Though you’d be lying if you said he wasn’t practically set for life with the coming 32 sequels we’re in for, which are apparently taking just as many years to complete.