Who Wrote Good Will Hunting?

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Everyone knows who wrote Good Will Hunting.

In fact, it’s a big part of the appeal of the movie and the mystique surrounding it: the story of two relative-unknowns who, through hard work and talent, would make it big and go on to achieve lasting fame and cinematic glory—the story of two guys sitting on a winning lottery ticket.

But who really wrote Good Will Hunting?

According to the credits, of course, Matt Damon and Ben Affleck wrote the screenplay for Good Will Hunting. They would go on to win an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay in 1997.

So who wrote what? Popular belief holds that Damon did the lion’s share of the work, with Affleck making only token contributions and then taking credit from his pal in the end—the screenplay was, after all, supposedly based on one of Damon’s collegiate short stories. (This Family Guy clip parodies the idea of Affleck’s meager contribution.)

And then there are those who dismiss the idea that it written by either young man, suggesting instead that their names were simply shrewdly tacked on to the script for marketing purposes by publicity-savvy producers. It was even the subject of an off-Broadway play called Matt & Ben, in which the two young protagonists mysteriously stumble across the unmarked script and go on to claim it as their own. William Goldman and Kevin Smith have both been put forward as the “real” screenwriters at various points.

Admittedly, if it was a publicity stunt, it wasn’t a bad idea. It makes a good story, after all: two hardworking, handsome young men working their way to fame and glory and positing themselves on the brink of superstardom through a story that stemmed from their working-class beginnings.

For those who think it’s unlikely that two pretty-boy amateurs could have written such a polished and successful script on their first try, perhaps their biggest argument is the mysterious absence of further collaborations from this seemingly very promising start.

To be fair, both Damon and Affleck have amassed additional writing credits under their belts since Good Will Hunting—Ben Affleck for two screenplays he adapted from novels, Gone, Baby, Gone in 2007 and The Town, currently in production. And Matt Damon, interestingly, would go on to collaborate with another Affleck—this time Ben’s brother, Casey Affleck, in the 2002 drama Gerry.

But in spite of these further accomplishments, there was a decided lack of another Good Will Hunting—certainly never another screenplay that was as beloved and universally celebrated, and never anything that brought them the acclaim (or the Oscars) that the Good Will Hunting screenplay garnered them.

So why is that? Perhaps it was the collaboration between them that created the spark, something that they couldn’t recreate on their own or with other collaborators. Or perhaps Good Will Hunting simply exhausted their creative resources. Perhaps it was the product of a time and a place that couldn’t be recreated: two optimistic and ambitious young men who had set out to accomplish their dreams and see the prize within their grasp, who create a story extracted from their collective backgrounds and experiences, and present it to a world that eagerly receives it. Maybe once they’d already achieved everything they could have possibly hoped for, there was no need for another Good Will Hunting. Why would you need to? And how could anything else live up to it?

Perhaps, sometimes, we simply only have one Good Will Hunting in us.

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Katherine gave a high school film studies class presentation on GWH and showed a scene from the movie on a VHS cassette tape from the library. However, instead of the scene in the NSA office, she inadvertently showed the end of the masturbation scene.

18 thoughts on “Who Wrote Good Will Hunting?”

  1. I have wondered this same thing: who really wrote it. I do believe it could have been them. Sometimes the first story 'out of the gate' is the one you've ruminated on all your life. I like to think that. But it also quite possible that uncredited writers were behind rewrites. I think we could find out by checking records at the Writers Guild/L.A. They determine who gets paid what and who gets credited based on what proportion of the script they wrote. But I adore this film and I am just happy it exists.

  2. I just came across the following quote on IMDb… Goldman explaining that he didn’t write the film, and that if he did, he wouldn’t have written the “It’s not your fault” scene.

    “I would love to say that I wrote it. Here is the truth. In my obit it will say that I wrote it. People don’t want to think those two cute guys wrote it. What happened was, they had the script. It was their script. They gave it to Rob [Reiner] to read, and there was a great deal of stuff in the script dealing with the F.B.I. trying to use Matt Damon for spy work because he was so brilliant in math. Rob said, ‘Get rid of it.’ They then sent them in to see me for a day – I met with them in New York – and all I said to them was, ‘Rob’s right. Get rid of the F.B.I. stuff. Go with the family, go with Boston, go with all that wonderful stuff.’ And they did. I think people refuse to admit it because their careers have been so far from writing, and I think it’s too bad. I’ll tell you who wrote a marvelous script once, Sylvester Stallone. Rocky’s a marvelous script. God, read it, it’s wonderful. It’s just got marvelous stuff. And then he stopped suddenly because it’s easier being a movie star and making all that money than going in your pit and writing a script. But I did not write [Good Will Hunting], alas. I would not have written the ‘It’s not your fault’ scene. I’m going to assume that 148 percent of the people in this room have seen a therapist. I certainly have, for a long time. Hollywood always has this idea that it’s this shrink with only one patient. I mean, that scene with Robin Williams gushing and Matt Damon and they’re hugging, ‘It’s not your fault, it’s not your fault.’ I thought, Oh God, Freud is so agonized over this scene. But Hollywood tends to do that with therapists.”

  3. “…it’s easier being a movie star and making all that money than going in your pit and writing a script.” I like that line. I think that sums up my personal theory as to why we haven’t heard much from them since.

  4. Another good source of wacky fighting over who “really wrote” the film — http://ow.ly/Wbz8.

    An excerpt:

    “So you see the Zinn/Chomsky/Celeb left embracing ‘truther-ism’ around the fetishism of the lower classes, hatred of the banker class, and the justification of the WTC being a righteous target given its immense symbolism in the western economy and culture. When Damon attacked Bill Kristol — and I offered him $100k to debate him — one could see Damon channeling Zinn again. Zinn, Chomsky & Soros all represent a bizarre power axis of Israel bashing and Jewish self-loathing that is eerily represented in the cocky-in-their-lack-of-education Zinn-promoting Hollywood left. Glad there’s finally a place we can call out this crap.”

  5. Like what these people say anyone can write it and Damon and afleck wrote it. It’s a perfect script too and a really good story

  6. in William Goldman's second screenwriting book, Which Lie Did I Tell. He talks about this rumor. He actually says that he wrote every single word of the screenplay and was then paid very well to keep that quiet, because Harvey Weinstein wanted to spread the story of it being written by Ben and Matt. But then after saying all that he sprinkles in a little doubt can't remember how but in a way that made me think he was still under contract.

  7. I do not believe Matt or Ben wrote the script. At the time it was written, they simply did not have the maturity or experience needed to write something as deep and complex as that.

  8. I too feel the script must have been written by someone older and
    wiser than Matt or Ben, tho Matt and Ben were both clearly quite wise for their years.
    I hope we can get back to honestly ascribing true authorship to
    texts which heal and awaken people.

  9. I’m embarrassed that I ever believed that 20 year olds could have written such a script. Their story, sure, but a really smart writer made it very sophisticated.

  10. they wrote it technically because they started the script, but someone took it over and fell in love with it… I honestly …I mean was it really Goldman? I'll have to watch more of his stuff to see if I feel a connection. I believe they wrote a lot of it, but not the marvelous parts–

  11. Good Will Hunting was a complete steal from start to finish.
    It was based on a friend of mine, Scott Connors, who was a janitor at MIT back in the eighties.
    He frequented a legendary Cambridge MA dive known as the Cantab Lounge.
    Also there was permanent barfly fixture Ben Affleck's father, the town drunk.
    He related the story to young Ben.
    Ben told it to Matt.
    Then they attempted to "write" a screenplay while they were still students at Cambridge Rindge and Latin.
    It was a complete mess, given the fact that neither one of them can write anything other than checks.
    William Goldman wrote the whole thing, and Bob and Harvey Weinstein paid him off to keep his mouth shut.
    Their authorship is about as genuine as Affleck's ridiculous hairpiece.

  12. Bernard b Cohen MIT class of 1962 created the idea in an extensive but wshort treatment.. He delivered this to Chris Moore. Damon and Affleck then worked from the treatment.

  13. You should really read the book because Goldman does not say anything about it… probably because that book was published in 1983. He does mention Good Will Hunting in his second autobiography, "Which Lies Did I Tell", where he pokes fun at the notion. He says he spent one single day helping out Damon and Affleck, and that was it. He compares it to Rocky, another great script written by an unknown actor called Sylvester Stallone who never again wrote anything of interest.

  14. Goldman should probably get his facts straight about Stallone. He wrote the script for every Rocky movie he starred in, except for Creed. Certainly there’s room to question the scripts quality vs the original, but he didn’t stop writing once he became a movie star. In fact he’s kept himself a star by continuing to write roles for himself.

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