Last year after Thanksgiving, I came back to Boston having unearthed the receipt for my 1998 purchase of the Good Will Hunting soundtrack.
This year I come to you (from my parents’ home, having dug through my teenage bedroom) with my original ticket stub from the first time I saw Good Will Hunting — January 31, 1998. (As it turns out, I truly throw nothing away.)
If I ever start a blog about Courage Under Fire, Saving Private Ryan, Jerry Maguire, or The Mighty Ducks 2, I also have those ticket stubs.
Which reminds me — remember how the unexpected success of Good Will Hunting sort of threw a wrench in marketing for Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan in 1998? Spielberg cast Matt Damon based on his impressive performance in Courage Under Fire, when he was still relatively unknown.
But when this previously little-known actor, who happens to be the title character of your film, becomes an Oscar-winning superstar, it becomes necessary to promote his forthcoming role. As I recall, there was supposed to be some dramatic tension as to whether Private Ryan was even alive and around to be saved. Damon doesn’t appear until the last act of the film, and at one point along the way Tom Hanks thinks he has found Ryan, when of course he hasn’t — because that guy was not Matt Damon.
That said, Matt did have a starring role in The Rainmaker, a big John Grisham film, which came out before Good Will Hunting (a couple months before). (According to the book Down and Dirty Pictures, it was this big break that ensured Miramax would give Good Will Hunting the final green light, despite a couple of kids insisting on director approval and leading roles.)
Still, when I saw Saving Private Ryan in the summer of 1998, I wasn’t worried at all about whether Tom Hanks would find Ryan — I knew he was going to show up, and was going to be played by Matt Damon (and not the-star-of-The-Rainmaker Matt Damon). Without Good Will Hunting‘s success he would have been just another emerging actor in an ensemble war film, and not someone who needed to be promoted on the poster as the-Matt-Damon-starring-as-Private-Ryan.
Think about it — what if Rosebed had won the Best Supporting Sled Oscar four months before Citizen Kane had been released? Orson Welles would have been pissed.