Matt Damon Reflects on the Real Reason He Turned Down ‘Avatar’: ‘I Had No Choice’

Matt Damon has famously admitted that he turned down the lead role in Avatar, which caused him to lose out on $250 million. In an interview with The Talks, the actor reflected on why his hand was forced. But despite his reasoning at the time, Damon still feels he’s “the dumbest businessman in the world.”

Matt Damon poses at the 'Stillwater' premiere.
Matt Damon | Theo Wargo/Getty Images

Matt Damon says he ‘had no choice’ but to turn down ‘Avatar’

When it came out that Damon had been offered the lead in Avatar, and more importantly that he lost out on $250 million, the story blew up. How could someone turn that down?

“I know, I know…” he told The Talks writer Rüdiger Sturm, laughing. “The cat is out of the bag on that story. I like telling it because it’s the proof that I am the dumbest businessman in the world! But really, at the time, I had no choice.”

When the offer came in, he’d already signed on to be in The Bourne Ultimatum.

“I would have had to screw over the people working on The Bourne Ultimatum and I couldn’t do that ethically,” he said. “So it’s not like I wasn’t doing anything and I just passed on Avatar. That never would have happened.”

The worst part, to Matt Damon, about not being in ‘Avatar’

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Damon says he can at least find comfort in the fact that he made the ethical decision. But it’s not even the money that he’s most bummed about.

“For me, the biggest tragedy of that story was that I was missing out on a chance to work with James Cameron,” he said. “He was on top of the list of directors that I wanted to work with! When I was talking to him, he said that he had only made six movies. And I remember being shocked by that. I knew all of his films back to front and it felt like he had done much more. He works very infrequently. Now another ten years will have gone by before he is doing another one.”

How Matt Damon measures a film’s success

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There’s no question that Avatar was a huge success financially. But Damon doesn’t measure the success of a film by how it is received.

“It’s the work,” he said. “It’s the process itself. I have done enough movies now — movies that have failed, movies that have been successful. All we have as the people making it is the love of the doing of it. I am aware of the results because I have to be; it has an impact on my career so I can’t be ignorant of the movies that I am doing. But it’s really about feeling that I did my best work, the best work I could do under the circumstances, feeling that we told the story we wanted to tell in the way we wanted to tell it. That’s really the definition of success.”