Making a name of Matt Damon and Ben Affleck as the most unlikely writing duo in all of Hollywood, Good Will Hunting became a critical and commercial sensation when it was released in 1997. Directed by Gus Van Sant who had long pioneered independent cinema with the likes of My Own Private Idaho and To Die For earlier in the 1990s, Good Will Hunting received nine Oscar nominations at the 70th Academy Awards.
Following a reserved foster child named Will (Damon), who works as a janitor at MIT and who happens to be an undiscovered genius, the film was elevated to commercial acclaim by the ever-charming Robin Williams, who plays the protagonist’s mentor. Winning Best Screenplay for the writing duo at the 1998 Academy Awards, the film wasn’t always destined for success, with the project initially “dead in the water” as reported by Damon.
Speaking to Entertainment Weekly, Ben Affleck and Matt Damon credit the fellow Hollywood writer and filmmaker Kevin Smith as being integral to the release of the film. “Kevin saved Good Will Hunting,” Damon told the magazine, with the Mallrats and Clerks director convincing the studio that the writing duo also deserved to star in the film they helped to create. As Ben Affleck explained, “The whole thing was we wanted to be actors. And he [Smith] got it to [executive producer] Jon Gordon and got people to believe in it”.
Having worked closely with Kevin Smith on the set of the 1997 film Chasing Amy, the director had a great rapport with the pair as well as with studio executives who trusted the filmmaker after his success with Clerks in 1994 and Mallrats in 1995. Fond of both Affleck and Damon, Smith made it possible that they could find success following the release of Chasing Amy by facilitating their Oscar-win in 1998.
Despite his pivotal role in making Good Will Hunting the success it was, Smith was never acknowledged for his efforts on the project. As Ben Affleck told Entertainment Weekly, “I promised him I would thank him if we ever got an Oscar, and promptly forgot”. Failing to publicly recognise Kevin Smith for his efforts, Affleck thought ‘better late than never’, telling the publication: “So I owe him very much, and he did that. He believed”.
Attached to direct the project at one point, Kevin Smith, known for his wacky comedies and surreal horrors decided to turn down the film in favour of his own ventures, telling Variety in 2020, “I still don’t think I would be good at making Good Will Hunting”. Rather self-deprecating in his recollection, Smith continues, adding, “I did not have enough talent to pull it off then. Even now, I don’t think I do. I was happy to help them get their stuff made. And can you believe it? At one point in my life, I had enough juice to help somebody else?”.
God bless Kevin Smith.