On this day in 1997, Good Will Hunting, a movie that will earn childhood friends Ben Affleck and Matt Damon a Best Screenplay Oscar and propel them to Hollywood stardom, premieres in Los Angeles.
Good Will Hunting, which opened in wide release across America on January 9, 1998, featured Damon in the title role as a troubled math genius from South Boston. Directed by Gus Van Sant (Drugstore Cowboy, My Own Private Idaho), the film co-starred Robin Williams as Will’s psychologist and Minnie Driver as Will’s girlfriend; Affleck played Will’s best friend, Chuckie. A big box-office success, Good Will Hunting received nine Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor (Damon) and Best Supporting Actress (Driver) and won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar (Williams) in addition to the gold statue for Best Original Screenplay.
Before the success of Good Will Hunting, Damon and Affleck had achieved some notice in Hollywood but were far from household names. Matthew Paige Damon, who was born on October 8, 1970, in Cambridge, Massachusetts, attended Harvard University but left before graduating in order to pursue an acting career. He made his big-screen debut with a small role in 1988’s Mystic Pizza, which co-starred a then up-and-coming Julia Roberts. Damon went on to rack up acting credits in such films as School Ties (1992), with Brendan Fraser, Chris O’Donnell and Affleck; Courage Under Fire (1996), in which he lost some 40 pounds to portray a heroin-addicted former soldier; and director Francis Ford Coppola’s The Rainmaker (1997) which was based on a John Grisham novel and released shortly before Good Will Hunting.
After Damon’s star-making turn in Good Will Hunting, he appeared in such critically and commercially acclaimed movies as director Steven Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan (1998), with Tom Hanks; The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999), in which he played a bisexual murderer opposite Jude Law and Gwyneth Paltrow; Syriana (2005), with George Clooney; and director Martin Scorsese’s The Departed (2006), with Leonardo DiCaprio and Jack Nicholson. Damon also co-starred along with Clooney and Brad Pitt in the popular caper film Ocean’s Eleven (2001) and its two sequels, Ocean’s Twelve (2004) and Ocean’s Thirteen (2007). In 2002, Damon took on the role of the amnesiac spy Jason Bourne in the action-thriller The Bourne Identity (2002), which spawned two hit sequels, The Bourne Supremacy (2004) and The Bourne Ultimatum (2007). Damon married Luciana Bozan Barroso in 2005; the couple has three daughters, including one from Barroso’s first marriage.
Born on August 15, 1972, in Berkeley, California, Benjamin Geza Affleck-Boldt was raised in the Boston area, where he became involved with acting as a child. His early film credits include writer-director Richard Linklater’s 1993 cult comedy Dazed and Confused (which also featured the then relatively unknown Matthew McConaughey) and writer-director Kevin Smith’s slacker comedies Mallrats (1995) and Chasing Amy (1997). After Good Will Hunting, Affleck co-starred in such Hollywood blockbusters as Armageddon (1998), with Bruce Willis, and Pearl Harbor (2001), with Josh Hartnett, Jon Voight and Alec Baldwin. He made his directorial debut to positive reviews with 2007’s Gone Baby Gone, a drama about the investigation of a Boston-based child kidnapping that Affleck adapted from a Dennis Lehane novel of the same name. The film co-starred Affleck’s younger brother Casey (Good Will Hunting, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford), along with Morgan Freeman, Ed Harris, Michelle Monaghan and Amy Ryan, who earned a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination for her performance.
In addition to his hit films, Affleck has made such notorious clunkers as Gigli (2003), which co-starred his then-girlfriend Jennifer Lopez; the media dubbed the high-profile couple “Bennifer.” In 2005, Affleck became part of “Bennifer II” when he married the actress Jennifer Garner (TV’s Alias, Catch Me if You Can, Juno), his co-star in the 2003 superhero movie Daredevil. The couple’s first daughter, Violet, was born in late 2005, and a second daughter, Seraphina, was born in January 2009.
Both Damon and Affleck have had the honor of being named People magazine’s “Sexiest Man Alive”–Affleck in 2002, and Damon in 2007.