20 Movies 20 Years Later

One Award-Winning Film Teaches That Your Potential Shouldn’t Be Hindered By Your Past

"Good Will Hunting" turns 20 this year.

20 Movies 20 Years Later remembers and explores the films that touched us back then and still resonate today. Join A Plus as we rewatch movies released in 1997 and celebrate their contributions to pop culture.

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Matt Damon and Ben Affleck quickly became household names following the release of their 1997 blockbuster film Good Will Hunting, which was set in their hometown of Boston and tells the story of Will Hunting (Damon), a street kid with a genius-level IQ who should be taking classes at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology but instead works as a janitor at the university. There are even moments where Damon's character tries to hide just how smart he is, but not before one professor (Stellan Skarsgård) eventually recognizes his potential and challenges him to live up to it. 

Damon and Affleck teamed up to write the screenplay for the Gus Van Sant-directed flick — which was almost directed by Mel Gibson, who was on fire at the time after Braveheart, but Damon asked him to step down because he wasn't moving fast enough on the project — with Affleck joining Damon as a member of the by playing Hunting's best friend Chuckie.

The script was originally written as Damon's final project for a drama class while he was attending Harvard. That 40-page project evolved into the movie's script, though the story was tweaked several times after Damon finished school, moved to Los Angeles, and found a home on Affleck's couch before it was finally ready for the big screen.

But back to the in-front-of-the-camera story, Hunting's brilliance is overshadowed by his lengthy rap sheet of assault charges and he needs the help of a psychologist, Dr. Sean Maguire — played by the late Robin Williams — to gain clarity on life and what he truly deserves out of it.

The back-and-forth between the two men reveals much about their personalities, bringing to the forefront that Williams' character also has potential he's not fulfilling, and that both of them are hindered in life by being stubborn and defensive.

Damon put on a great performance in the award-winning drama, but Williams arguably stole the show. His role as the nurturing professor garnered him an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor, the only Academy Award he ever won during the course of his illustrious career. But not to have their efforts discounted, the childhood filmmaking buddies shared an Oscar and Golden Globe for Best Screenplay.

After Williams' tragic death, the iconic park bench located in Boston's Public Garden — where he and Damon filmed one of the most touching scenes in Good Will Hunting — become a spot where fans memorialized him as fans grieved his untimely loss.

For Damon and Affleck, the film set them on the path they'd always dreamed of, succeeding both in front of and behind the scenes of filmmaking. Aside from Damon confessing he couldn't help but cry at the start of shooting Good Will Hunting because he was so happy to see their project come to fruition, the duo practiced one of the final scenes hundreds of times before filming it several times over because they just didn't see it end. It's a lucky guess that you won't either.

What Good Will Hunting goes on to reveal is how much we can put roadblocks on our own progress. Whether it's Will's defensiveness or Sean's seeming inability to move on from past pain, these emotions can cripple us as we strive to reach for our potential. It's not to say that we can't remember, and definitely not to say that we can't learn from past experiences, but Good Will Hunting demonstrates that in order to determine our future, our pasts must play a role in guiding our paths, not determining them. 

Good Will Hunting is available on Amazon, Google Play, iTunes, Netflix, and YouTube.

Cover image: Miramax Films

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