It is hard to imagine a world in which Matt Damon never became an actor. For the better part of the past 25 years, the Academy Award winner has proven time and time again just why he’s not only one of the best actors of his time but also one of the most beloved, even when he’s playing despicable, good-for-nothing characters with psychotic and sociopathic tendencies. Perhaps it’s that balance (and that charm of his) that has made Damon one of the most successful names in Hollywood.
Picking a list of the 10 best Matt Damon movies is a monumental task, not because there’s a lack of choices but because of the abundance of notable dramas, comedies, action films, and thrillers that have featured one of Boston’s favorite sons. But, someone has to be up to task and so we’ve put together a rundown of Damon’s best movies and where you can find them, whether it be on a streaming service or a physical release (which is the only way you can watch a certain movie of his).
Good Will Hunting (1997)
Written by Matt Damon and Ben Affleck, the Academy Award-winning Gus Van Sant drama Good Will Hunting follows Will Hunting (Damon), a once-in-a-generation genius who walks the halls of M.I.T., not as a student or professor but as a janitor from the south side of Boston. When the troubled youth has a run-in with the law, Professor Gerald Lambeau (Stellan Skarsgård) gives Will a way out of jail and puts him in contact with therapist Sean Maguire (Robin Williams), a meeting that will not only change his life but everyone around him.
The Martian (2015)
Ridley Scott’s Golden Globe-winning “comedy” The Martian, which is based on Andy Weir’s novel of the same name, follows astronaut/botanist Mark Watney (Matt Damon) as he struggles to survive after the other members of his space crew believe he died in a dust storm on the surface of Mars. Armed with the power of science, more potatoes than anyone would care to eat, some ketchup, and a playlist consisting of the top disco tracks, Watney tries to pull off the impossible: survive long enough for NASA (with the help of other space programs) to send a crew back to rescue him.
Saving Private Ryan (1998)
Following the death of three out of the four Ryan brothers, who are all killed in action during World War II, the United States Army sends a group of soldiers to find and rescue the youngest of the pack: Private James Ryan (Matt Damon). Steven Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan follows Captain John Miller (Tom Hanks) and his group of men as they go behind enemy lines to find and bring the young soldier home to his grieving mother before she loses all of her children in the brutal conflict.
Despite being very early on his career (Good Will Hunting had not yet been released when production began), Matt Damon stands toe-to-toe with acting heavyweights like Tom Hanks and Tom Sizemore in this brutal and realistic depiction of war.
The Departed (2006)
Martin Scorsese’s 2006 crime tragedy The Departed (a remake of the Hong Kong thriller Internal Affairs) follows two Boston police officers who are opposites in just about every way imaginable. On one side there is Billy Costigan (Leonardo DiCaprio), an honest cop who goes undercover in Frank Costello’s (Jack Nicholson) criminal organization in attempt to bring it down from the inside. Then there is Colin Sullivan (Matt Damon), Costello’s mole in the Boston Police Department who has been funneling information to his mentor for years.
Despite only sharing very little time together on screen, the lives of the two cops at the center of The Departed are connected in more ways than they could ever know.
The Ocean’s Movies (2001 - 2007)
With exciting and clever scenarios, a large ensemble cast (that grows with each subsequent film), and an all-around fun vibe, the Ocean’s movies are three of the best heist films of the 21st Century. Whether Danny Ocean’s (George Clooney) gang of master thieves, conmen, and colorful characters are robbing a Las Vegas casino (Ocean’s Eleven), planning elaborate jobs in Europe (Ocean’s Twelve), or returning to the scene of the crime (Ocean’s Thirteen), it’s always an enjoyable time.
Matt Damon’s Linus Caldwell, a young pickpocket and son of an infamous con artist, is one of the youngest and greenest members of the central gang, but this doesn’t stop him from trying, time and time again, to show he has what it takes to be one of the leaders of the group.
The Bourne Identity (2002)
Jason Bourne (Matt Damon) is a man with an extraordinary set of skills (hand-to-hand combat, guns, driving, you name it,) but no memory, after being brought back from the brink of the death by the crew of a fishing boat in the middle of the sea. As Bourne attempts to piece together the events that led to him being in the middle of the ocean, he finds himself also battling a group of elite assassins sent in to make sure he doesn’t uncover his past, in Doug Liman's 2002 spy thriller The Bourne Identity.
The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999)
Anthony Minghella’s 1999 psychological thriller The Talented Mr. Ripley centers on Tom Ripley (Matt Damon), a charming and handsome young man who is also a narcissistic pathological liar who will do anything to get want he wants. When asked by a wealthy businessman to bring his errant son, Dickie Greenleaf (Jude Law) home from the Italian coast, Ripley kicks off an elaborate scheme filled with envy, broken trust, brutal and senseless murder, and stolen identity by the time everything is said and done. A monster behind a handsome face, Mr. Ripley gives a whole new meaning to the term psychopath in this thrilling adaptation of Patrica Highsmith’s iconic novel.
True Grit (2010)
In the aftermath of her father’s murder at the hand of Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin), 14-year-old Mattie Ross (Hailee Steinfeld) hires U.S. Marshal Rooster Cogburn (Jeff Bridges) to help her find the vicious outlaw and bring him to justice. The pair is soon joined by Texas Ranger LaBoeuf (Matt Damon), a man who also has his own reasons for tracking down the wanted man. Together, the three unlikely friends embark on an epic journey in hopes of stomping out evil out in the Old West, in the Coen Brothers’ 2010 remake of the classic western True Grit.
Steven Soderbergh’s 2011 triller Contagion is a terrifyingly accurate depiction of a pandemic that follows a diverse cast of characters as they try to make sense of the deadly virus that has the potential of wiping out the entire human race. One of the more prominent stories is that of Mitch Emhoff (Matt Damon), a man who lost his wife and son to the mysterious virus, though he and his daughter seem to be immune to its effects. Much of the breakdown of society is shown through Mitch’s eyes, as he tries to make a better life for his daughter and survive not just the pandemic but the collapse of the natural order of the world around them.
John Grisham’s The Rainmaker (1997)
Francis Ford Coppola’s 1997 adaptation of John Grisham’s The Rainmaker centers on struggling attorney Rudy Baylor (Matt Damon) as he teams up with Deck Shifflet, a paralegal who means well but has a checkered past, to take on the Great Benefit insurance company that refuses to cover procedures for its clients that could potentially save their lives. If Baylor and Shifflet are to be successful in the case, they will have to outwit the massive corporation and their ice cold attorney, Leo. F Drummond (Jon Voight), in a heated legal argument.
On top of all of Matt Damon’s great leading roles, the multi-talented actor has also made played some amazing supporting roles throughout his career, some that just have to be mentioned before we wrap this up. First, there is Damon’s surprise appearance as the crazed astronaut known as Mann in Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar, which adds an extra dimension of drama to the 2014 sci-fi epic.
And then there are all of Damon’s appearances in the various Kevin Smith movies that definitely deserve some recognition (Dogma would have been included in the main list if it were not for the movie being impossible to find without spending an arm and a leg). And, last but not least, is Damon’s cameo in Thor: Ragnarok, when he played Loki in the dramatization of the God of Mischief’s “sacrifice.”
These movies should be more than enough to give you a taste of what Matt Damon has to offer as an actor. And, who knows, maybe The Last Duel will be on this list before too long. In the meantime, check out CinemaBlend’s list of all the 2021 movie premiere dates to find out where you’ll see Damon and your other favorite actors on the big screen.
Philip grew up in Louisiana (not New Orleans) before moving to St. Louis after graduating from Louisiana State University-Shreveport. When he's not writing about movies or television, Philip can be found being chased by his three kids, telling his dogs to stop yelling at the mailman, or yelling about professional wrestling to his wife. If the stars properly align, he will talk about For Love Of The Game being the best baseball movie of all time.
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