Matt Damon is one of the biggest names in Hollywood. He carved out a reputation as one of the greatest actors currently working in the industry, and throughout his career, Damon has proven he can excel in a wide variety of roles. He has a reputation as a full-fledged action star thanks to his brilliant performances in a number of action films, but he has also proven that he can play complex characters and can take on both good and evil roles. From Good Will Hunting to Saving Private Ryan, here are 10 of the award-winning actor’s greatest performances.
10. Rounders (1998)
In one of his early lead roles, Damon takes on the role of a gifted young poker player, Mike McDermott, in John Dahl’s cult drama Rounders. After losing his $30,000 bankroll in a game of Texas hold’em, Mike decides to stop playing poker and instead finish law school. But when his childhood friend Worm, played by Edward Norton, is released from prison, he convinces Mike to start up again to help clear his outstanding debt. Mike plays an honest game, whilst Worm wants to cheat to win, and this contrast in character is crucial in the story. Damon puts in an assured performance and clearly delved into the psyche of a professional poker player for the role (he has since played in World Series of Poker events). The tense poker scenes make for a gripping watch, but the film is powered by the performances of Damon and Norton.
9. Saving Private Ryan (1998)
Although he doesn’t appear until two thirds through the film, Matt Damon’s appearance in Steven Spielberg’s war drama Saving Private Ryan stands out. He plays the eponymous Private Ryan, who a squad of soldiers attempt to find and bring home after discovering his other three brothers were killed in action. Everything about the film has been universally praised, and it picked up 11 Academy Award nominations, winning five. Once the team finally reached Private Ryan, we see him struggle with the loss of his brothers, before telling Miller (Tom Hanks) that he intends to stay “with the only brothers I have left” in an emotional scene. He is then with Miller as he dies, and in present-day we see an elderly Ryan and his family visit the grave of Miller and deliver a salute. It may be a small role, but it is a powerful one from Damon.
8. The Rainmaker (1997)
Based on the 1995 novel of the same name, Francis Ford Coppola’s The Rainmaker was an early role for Damon that certainly helped to launch his career. In these early stages of his career, starring in a film that features veterans such as Danny DeVito, Danny Glover, Mickey Rourke and Teresa Wright (in her last role), as well as working with Coppola, will have aided him massively. He puts in a stellar performance as the lead character, Rudy Baylor, an idealistic young lawyer who takes a job with a corrupt personal injury lawyer who turns him into an ambulance chaser. His innocence and care for his clients amongst crafty veterans make him a character that you root for, and with such a solid cast and in the hands Coppola, it is much more than your average courtroom drama. With this performance, Damon was on the brink of stardom.
7. True Grit (2010)
The Coen brothers’ 2010 remake of the class Western True Grit was one of the best films of the year, and it also helped to re-spark an interest in the genre (furthered by Django Unchained in 2012). The gripping story is boosted by compelling performances from the cast, which stars Hailee Steinfeld as Mattie Ross, Jeff Bridges as Rooster Cogburn and Matt Damon as Texas Ranger LaBoeuf. LaBoeuf becomes a sidekick in the pursuit to track down the man that killed Mattie’s father, and he is a self-assured and honorable, yet equally cocky and fast-talking companion (with an impressive Southern accent). He clashes frequently with Rooster, and the dynamic the two have contribute to making this a highly entertaining film. When these performances are combined with the masterful direction of the Coen brothers, stunning cinematography and a wonderful score, it makes for a fantastic watch.
6. Dogma (1999)
Matt Damon is not particularly known for his comedy skills, but when called upon he has proven that he can excel at this with his excellent comedic timing (a rarity with action stars). This is most evident in the 1999 Kevin Smith film Dogma, which is the fourth in his popular View Askewniverse series. It reunited Matt Damon with Ben Affleck, seeing Damon play the role of Loki, whilst Affleck plays Bartleby, two fallen angels who are banished from heaven to Wisconsin for insubordination. The pair then scheme to get back into heaven in a scathing satire of organized religion for which the film causes plenty of controversies, particularly with the Catholic League. Due to Damon and Affleck being long-time friends and collaborators, they share a brilliant dynamic onscreen, which helps the humor and makes it a memorable film and an assured performance from Damon.
5. Invictus (2009)
For his acting, Matt Damon has received two Academy Award nominations, with Invictus (Best Supporting Actor) being his most recent. He would lose to Christopher Waltz in Inglourious Basterds, but Damon’s performance as Francois Pienaar is still celebrated and one of his best performances to date. The biographical drama film, directed by Clint Eastwood, is about the events in South Africa during the 1995 Rugby World Cup. South Africa hosted the competition that year following the dismantling of apartheid. It is hard to look past Morgan Freeman’s captivating performance as Nelson Mandela (also earning a nomination), but Damon as the South Africa team captain plays a huge role too. He is told by Mandela that a Springboks win would unite the nation, and Pienaar is inspired by this and motivates his team to a historic victory. He also manages to pin down a tricky South African accent for bonus points.
4. The Departed (2006)
Martin Scorsese’s fantastic crime-drama The Departed is one of the most compelling and engrossing films of recent times. It must have been a somewhat daunting experience for Damon to perform alongside legendary actors including Jack Nicholson, Mark Wahlberg, Martin Sheen, Alec Baldwin, and Leonardo DiCaprio, but Damon more than holds his own. With each character putting in a magnificent performance, it makes this a standout film that picked up four Academy Awards. A remake of Internal Affairs, the film follows an Irish mob boss who plants a mole (Damon) in the Massachusetts Police Department, whilst the police assign an undercover state trooper (DiCaprio) to infiltrate the mob boss’s crew. Damon’s character is villainous, which is not something we see often, and there are some unforgettable scenes between him and DiCaprio’s character, which prove why they are two of the best actors of their generation.
3. The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999)
Playing the title role, this is perhaps the darkest and complex character that Matt Damon has played to date. He more than rises to the challenge in the early stages of his career, and many would state it is the role that saw him break through to become a star. The psychological thriller, directed by Anthony Minghella, is an adaptation of the 1955 novel of the same name. It also features Jude Law, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Cate Blanchett, but it is Damon’s stirring performance that makes this an unforgettable watch. The story follows Ripley, a psychopathic yet charming con artist, who is paid to travel to Europe to persuade a wealthy shipbuilder’s son, Dickie, to return home. After befriending Dickie, Ripley ends up killing him and stealing his identity. It is a gripping and absorbing watch and a departure from the wholesome character which Damon is perhaps best known for.
2. The Bourne Movies (2002, 2004, 2007, & 2016)
In order to allow for more great Matt Damon films, we will condense the Bourne series into one entry. This is the series that turned Damon into a full-fledged action star, and he mastered the role of Jason Bourne from the get-go in the first installment, The Bourne Identity (2002). This is a slightly more complex role than your average action film, as it sees Jason Bourne suffering from extreme memory loss and struggling to put together his identity as he attempts to work out the complex Government conspiracy he is intertwined in. The first three films in the series are all exceptional and fun, stylish and action-packed, and the cohesive story keeps the audience engaged throughout. There were no better action films throughout the 2000s, largely thanks to Damon’s brilliant performances, and even after almost a decade away, he barely misses a beat in the latest film in the series, Jason Bourne.
1. Good Will Hunting (1997)
One of the greatest films of modern times, Good Will Hunting set Matt Damon on the path to success. Directed by Gus Van Sant, it was also written by Damon and Ben Affleck (seeing them win an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay), with Damon playing the title role and Affleck playing his best friend, Chuckie. It also stars Robin Williams in one of his greatest roles. The wonderful story follows 20-year-old Will Hunting, who is a self-taught genius with a photographic memory, yet he works as a janitor at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. His brilliance is soon discovered, but the pressures of putting his talents to use and resistance to opening upset him back until therapist Dr. Sean Maguire (Williams) is called upon. Williams and Damon have a mesmerizing dynamic, and there are many unforgettable scenes that show Matt Damon at his best. He was rightfully awarded a Best Actor nomination for the role.