Distributors who signed up at the American Film Market to handle the foreign theatrical and home video release of 1997’s Good Will Hunting found themselves with a winner on their hands.
Produced by Miramax, with its Miramax International handling oversees sales, the drama about a working-class math whiz was produced on a $10 million budget and went on to gross $225.9 million worldwide, winning a supporting actor Oscar for Robin Williams, who plays an empathetic shrink, and the original screenplay trophy for Matt Damon and Ben Affleck.
But the project’s success was far from preordained. Damon and Affleck, childhood friends from Cambridge, Massachusetts, were struggling young actors in Los Angeles when they began working on the screenplay, which, after several years and hundreds of pages of rewrites, they sold to Castle Rock in 1994 for $675,000. Castle Rock, though, eventually put the script in turnaround, giving the two just 30 days to find a new home for it. Enter Kevin Smith, who first cast Affleck in 1995’s Mall Rats and was writing a lead role for him in his 1997 romantic comedy Chasing Amy. Smith took the screenplay to Miramax’s Harvey Weinstein, who agreed to buy it from Castle Rock and let Damon and Affleck play the leads.
Smith “is the reason Good Will Hunting got made. We were dead in the water, all the offers had evaporated,” Damon would later tell Entertainment Weekly. Once Gus Van Sant came on board as director, the film shot in Cambridge, Boston and Toronto in the spring of 1997 and arrived in theaters that December.
At the 70th Academy Awards the following March, Affleck, then 25, became the youngest winner of the original screenplay prize — by then, Damon was 27. As both hoisted their Oscars aloft, Affleck began his acceptance by cracking, “I just said to Matt losing would suck, and winning would be really scary and it’s really, really scary.”
This story first appeared in The Hollywood Reporter’s Nov. 1 daily issue at the American Film Market.
This story originally appeared on HollywoodReporter