Matt Damon and Ben Affleck captured our hearts back in 1997 with Good Will Hunting. But they didn’t just star in the movie — they wrote it, too. And when they were nominated for an Oscar, both twenty-somethings knew exactly who to bring as a date: their moms.
How ‘Good Will Hunting’ Came to Be
Matt Damon began writing Good Will Hunting for a playwriting class at Harvard University, penning a 40-page draft of the scene where Will hunting first meets therapist Sean Maguire (Robin Williams). Eventually, Damon teamed up with his lifelong buddy Ben Affleck to finish the script — but the development process was long and drawn out.
In their original draft, Good Will Hunting was a thriller. Will Hunting was still a genius from the rough side of Boston, but in that version, his skills were a target of the government. But then the project was purchased by Castle Rock Entertainment and then-president Rob Reiner urged the boys to drop the action-style elements. Slowly, the Good Will Hunting we all know emerged.
Affleck and Damon also received writing advice from another celeb, director Terrence Malick who suggested the film’s ending: Will following Skylar (Minnie Driver) off to California. The character, Skylar, was inspired by Damon’s real girlfriend at the time: Skyler Satenstein, a medical student. Swoon.
By 1994, the story solidified… but the future of the production remained unknown. The movie was in stasis at Castle Rock for some time, and no director was secured. Kevin Smith, who’d risen to prominence with his debut Clerks, seemed like an obvious choice. He’d collaborated with Affleck previously on Mallrats. But Smith passed. “I wouldn’t dare direct this movie, this is so beautiful,” Smith said. Immediately sensing the potential of Good Will Hunting, Smith personally took the script to his old Clerks producer… the infamous Harvey Weinstein.
At that time, Weinstein ruled independent cinema. The sex criminal had major influence over Hollywood as the head of Miramax Films, the powerhouse studio which defined the ’90s. By the time Affleck and Damon were pursuing their first feature, Weinstein had been turning low-budget, obscure projects into awards-recognized masterpieces for nearly a decade. After reading Good Will Hunting, Weinstein immediately made a play for the distribution rights. He then sought out Gus Van Sant to direct.
By this point, Good Will Hunting had been in the pre-production stage for years. And while it’s remembered as a breakthrough for Damon and Affleck, both actors had built a reputation by the time it all came together. In 1997 alone, Damon starred in The Rainmaker and Affleck in Smith’s Chasing Amy. So, when Good Will Hunting finally premiered in December of 1997, the stars were aligned for a massive hit.
The film went on to earn $225 million at the box office along with nine Academy Award nominations and two wins: Best Supporting Actor for Robin Williams and the award for Best Original Screenplay which, famously, went to Matt and Ben.
Ben Affleck and Matt Damon’s Acceptance Speech
When Matt Damon and Ben Affleck won their first Oscar, they were just 27 and 25, respectively. Obviously a catch for any young woman. But when it came time for the ceremony, both boys brought their mothers along — and called them out during a legendary acceptance speech: “[Thank you to] my mother and Matt’s mother, the most beautiful women here,” Affleck said.
Their mothers, Christopher Anne Boldt and Nancy Carlsson-Paige, sat beaming in the audience.
Robin Williams’ Acceptance Speech
The win for Ben Affleck and Matt Damon was iconic. But Robin Williams’ Oscar for Good Will Hunting is even more historic — it remains the only Academy Award ever won by the late actor. He was nominated three times previously, for Good Morning, Vietnam, Dead Poets Society, and The Fisher King.