The perplexing, topsy-turvy career arcs of Matt Damon and Ben Affleck

Based on what decade you’re in, asking somebody to evaluate the careers of actors Matt Damon and Ben Affleck would elicit very different responses.

Their co-written late ’90s hit, Good Will Hunting, which put them on the fast track to stardom, guaranteed that the two will always go hand-in-hand. Plus they’re besties in real life.

Good Will HuntingBut what’s strange is that the perception behind each of them, at any given time, has always been different. When one flounders, one excels. When one has a breakthrough, the other falls into monotony. It’s bizarre.

I thought of this topic because I was watching last night’s People’s Choice Awards for like 10 minutes (and I’m not just saying 10 minutes to make myself seem more cool — it was because I was watching American Idol instead), and Affleck was honored with some humanitarian award.

He gave his speech, which contained some fairly moving remarks about how small acts of kindness can go a long way in the world, blah blah blah, but most of all, it got me thinking: this guy is everywhere now. And we haven’t even seen him as Batman yet.

And where the hell is Matt Damon?

It’s amazing it’s come to this when you consider the not-too-distant past.

But let’s start from the beginning. It was 1997 when the duo, in their mid-20s, won Academy Awards for writing Good Will Hunting. Their acceptance speech reflected their youthful exuberance, complete with a high-pitched squeak in Affleck’s voice. But it was endearing and together they captured the hearts of America.

If you asked anyone at this time, no one would have denied that they’d both be stars. It’s just that no one would have guessed the paths they took to get there. Saving Pvt Ryan

Flash forward five years later. Matt Damon already had classics like Saving Private Ryan and Ocean’s Eleven under his belt, and was just getting started on the Jason Bourne trilogy. His peak saw no limits.

Affleck, meanwhile, in addition to a few unsuccessful romantic comedies, sunk with Michael Bay to the bottom — with style over substance disaster thrillers Armageddon and Pearl Harbor. If he was wasn’t the butt of jokes yet, he would be very soon.

In the next two years, Affleck’s career was all but dead. Gigli was an unmitigated disaster. Daredevil and Surviving Christmas didn’t do him any favors, either.

Damon, meanwhile, continued his role in the Bourne and Ocean films, and starred in another collosal hit, The Departed. He was as A-list as it gets.

At this point, the script had been written. Damon won. Not that it was a competition, but it was general consensus Invictusthat since Good Will Hunting, one career went straight to the top, the other flatlined. No one saw any reason for that to change.

By the end of the decade, Damon secured his third Oscar nomination for his supporting role in Invictus. Affleck, meanwhile — whether by choice or by Hollywood shunning — was not in a major blockbuster. Instead, he had a leading role in the underrated political-thriller State of Play, and quietly started his filmmaking career, directing the critically acclaimed Gone Baby Gone, which starred his brother.

Things were starting to look up for Ben.

Nobody saw what would happen next.

Damon opened the next decade with a supporting rule in the acclaimed Coen Brothers’ 2010 film, True Grit, but since then, it’s been flop after flop: We Bought a Zoo, Promised Land, Elysium and Monuments Men came and went with a whimper.

Affleck, meanwhile, continued to establish himself as an elite director, while also using the platform to resurrect his acting career, with The Town, and Academy Award-winning Best Picture, Argo. Another poignant acceptance speech,movies-ben-affleck-argo-award 15 years after his last, won back America’s hearts.

While Damon had a small role in Interstellar this year, Affleck was the lead in the fall’s biggest hit, Gone Girl. His next projects involve playing Bruce Wayne in the Batman/Superman crossover, which promises to be huge, while directing (and starring in) his fourth feature film.

Seriously, who saw this coming 10 years ago?

People say Matthew McConaughey’s career underwent a huge rebirth last year. But his never died like Affleck’s did. And what’s most shocking is his meteoric rise is coinciding with Damon’s fall from grace.

How about dem apples?

2 thoughts on “The perplexing, topsy-turvy career arcs of Matt Damon and Ben Affleck

  1. I like to think that Matt Damon is totally okay with this. He’s doing humanitarian projects as well (, anyone?). He has a wife, and kids. I think he’s happy to be a little more settled. Also? Are we totally gonna over look “Stuck on You”? I think major actors and celebs sometimes grow out of that life, and that’s okay. He was my first major-major actor crush, so I’ll always love him, unless he does something really seedy like date Miley Cyrus. 🙂 Don’t discount him yet, I’m sure he’ll either come back strong, or not give a fuck.

    • Oh I have no doubt Matt will come back strong. It’s just startling what a resurgence Affleck has had recently, and how it’s coincided with Matt’s miniature rut. If anything, I think Matt Damon’s best work has yet to come.

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