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.