Matt Damon is one of the highest-grossing Hollywood actors of all time. That’s according to data from Forbes, which says the movies that the 52-year-old has appeared in have raked in over $3.88 billion at North American box offices alone. Damon studied at Harvard University before making the bold leap of faith into acting in 1988, with a single-line appearance in rom-com Mystic Pizza.
In the last 35 years, Damon has risen rapidly through the Hollywood ranks to cement his place as a genuine A-list performer. As he celebrates more than three decades in the movie business, we look back at five of his most impressive performances in ascending order.
Matt Damon’s appearance in the 1998 classic of Rounders proved to be a game-changer, not just for Damon but the poker industry. Three years later, Damon was recruited for a role in another gaming-themed movie, which would be the start of the Ocean’s Trilogy between 2001 and 2007.
Rounders didn’t get immediate rave reviews from film critics, but card players soon gravitated towards it as the most authentic replication of the range of emotions that the game of poker can evoke. That last-ditch heads-up game between Mike McDermott (Matt Damon) and Teddy “KGB” (John Malkovich) makes you feel every decision and every turn of the cards.
The 2015 sci-fi adventure movie, The Martian, proved to be a huge hit both commercially and within the industry. It secured significant critical acclaim, with the Ridley Scott-directed movie proving to be a successful adaptation of the best-selling novel. Damon plays the role of Mark Watney, an astronaut who is presumed dead following a deadly storm on the planet of Mars.
Once NASA discovers that Watney is still alive, their crack team of experts plan a way to bring him back to Earth. In the meantime, Watney has to survive off only modest supplies, eventually learning how to thrive amid this planet’s hostile conditions. Watney doesn’t have it all his own way, which helps to portray his bleak and lonely position. The film grossed $228.4m in the US alone and Damon won Best Actor at the Golden Globe Awards for this performance.
The Bourne Identity
What is it they say – the old ones are always the best? The original Bourne Identity movie in 2002 was one of Damon’s breakthrough performances. Assuming the now-iconic role of Jason Bourne, Damon immersed himself fully into the brief. So much so that he insisted upon performing many of his own stunts, mastering the use of weaponry as well as boxing and eskrima techniques.
Prior to The Bourne Identity, Damon had been out of work for half a year, and he was desperate to make his mark in what would become a five-part Bourne film series, inspired by the 1980 novel from Robert Ludlum. Entertainment Weekly said the film was the best example of “brawn and brains” in the 2000s and we’re inclined to agree.
Good Will Hunting
The 1997 release of Good Will Hunting was one of the first screenplays to be written by Damon, in partnership with his long-time friend, Ben Affleck. The psychological drama was directed by Gus Van Sant. Both Damon and Affleck also acted in the movie, alongside Robin Williams, who played a starring role as Dr. Sean Maguire.
Bizarrely, studio executives that saw the script from Damon and Affleck were keen to get Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio to play the roles Damon and Affleck wanted to assume. Unsurprising when you consider DiCaprio is one of the world’s most popular actors. Eventually, the script was approved by Miramax, who provided a $10m budget. It went on to gross more than 20 times that figure, with this powerful story focused on Will Hunting (Damon) and his untapped potential as a misguided youth.
Saving Private Ryan
12 months on from the success of Damon’s performance in Good Will Hunting, perhaps the pinnacle of his early career was in Steven Spielberg’s authentic war movie, Saving Private Ryan. Although Tom Hanks assumes the lead role and does a masterful job as Captain John Miller, Damon is the man Miller and his troops are after, Private James Ryan, playing a man who lost his three brothers in action as part of the 101st Airborne Division.
Ryan (Damon) shows immense courage and stoicism in the face of adversity, with Miller’s troops killed in their quest to recover him; he eventually survives the Normandy invasion and returns home. The sombre ending, with Ryan visiting Miller’s grave at the Normandy Cemetery, showcases the sacrifices millions of people made during those years.