Matt Damon's 10 best film performances
(Credit: Nicolas Genin)

From Martin Scorsese to Steven Soderbergh: Matt Damon’s 10 best films

Success is not something I’ve wrapped my brain around.” – Matt Damon

American actor and screenwriter Matt Damon has established himself as one of the biggest names in Hollywood with wonderful performances in films like Good Will Hunting and The Martian among others. Over the years, he has garnered commercial success as well as critical acclaim, including an Academy Award and two Golden Globe Awards. Apart from acting, Damon has been involved in social activism with various organisations and his commitment has seen the actor become the founder of H2O Africa Foundation, the charitable arm of the Running the Sahara expedition.

“It’s the work. It’s the process itself. I have done enough movies now — movies that have failed, movies that have been successful,” Damon once commented. “All we have as the people making it is the love of the doing of it. I am aware of the results because I have to be; it has an impact on my career so I can’t be ignorant of the movies that I am doing. But it’s really about feeling that I did my best work, the best work I could do under the circumstances, feeling that we told the story we wanted to tell in the way we wanted to tell it. That’s really the definition of success.”

He added, “The journey is everything! It’s a cliché, but I have really felt it in my own life, in the 25 or 30 years I’ve been in this… The goal is the process, really enjoying the process. You can’t really predict what is going to happen with movies… I have made movies that I thought were really going to be well received and successful, and they failed miserably. And I have made movies that were very successful that I didn’t see coming.”

Working with some of the biggest names in the business and establishing himself as one of the most popular names in Hollywood, on his 50th birthday we take a look at some of the best film performances in Matt Damon’s illustrious career.

See the full list, below.

Matt Damon’s 10 best film performances:

10. True Grit (Coen Brothers – 2010)

Based on Charles Portis’ 1968 novel of the same name, True Grit is 2010 American Revisionist Western and perhaps one of the simpler films that the Coen Brothers have made over the years. On a quest to find her father’s killer, a 14-year-old girl (played by Hailee Steinfeld) and the US Marshall (Jeff Bridges) she hires are joined by a Texas Ranger (Matt Damon). The film earned 10 Oscar nominations, including two for Steinfeld and Bridges.

“It’s a very simple story, it’s just a girl going to avenge her father’s death,” Ethan Coen said. “But actually, like No Country For Old Men, it’s a pursuit story. They are going after the bad guy and it just seemed like very promising material for a movie. It’s funny and it has really strong characters, particularly the young girl, who is a very determined character who refuses to give up.”

9. Invictus (Clint Eastwood – 2009)

Eastwood’s 2009 biopic of Nelson Mandela (Morgan Freeman) explores the social conditions of the time through the outcome of the 1995 Rugby World Cup. The result is a gripping sports film where Damon stars as Francois Pienaar, the team’s captain who joins Mandela in his mission to unite the people by winning the cup. Both Freeman and Damon earned Oscar nominations in lead and supporting actor, respectively.

Damon recalled, “The first thing I did when I read the script was call Clint and say, ‘I can’t believe this happened. I can’t believe this is true.’ And, he said, ‘I couldn’t either, but this is true.’ So, I went immediately and looked up Francois Pienaar online and I said, ‘Clint, this guy is huge. We’ve never met but I’m 5’10.’”

8. Ford v Ferrari (James Mangold – 2019)

This 2019 sports drama features Damon as American automotive designer Carroll Shelby who teams up with British race car driver Ken Miles (played by Christian Bale) as they launch a fight against institutional interference in order to create a unique racing machine for Ford. The extremely well-made film won two Academy Awards for film editing and sound editing this year.

Co-star Christian Bale commended Damon, “I don’t have many friends and people don’t talk to me, so nobody had really told me what it was like to work with Matt. But I’d bloody admired him for years.”

7. The Oceans Trilogy (Steven Soderbergh – 2001, 2004, 2007)

Steven Soderbergh’s blockbuster heist trilogy is a hilarious and engaging interpretation of the genre. The first film introduced film featured Brad Pitt as Robert ‘Rusty Ryan, the right-hand man of Danny Ocean who is played by Pitt’s close friend George Clooney. Damon is compelling as pickpocket Linus Caldwell in this all-star ensemble cast.

“Eight or nine months out, Steven [Soderbergh] sent us all a script with a note attached saying call me with ideas, suggestions,” Damon said. “And Steven tends to be really, the environment’s incredibly relaxed, so it’s kind of fair game that you take a shot with stuff and see if you get a reaction from him and if he starts chuckling, then you stay with it. And if not, you go running back with your tail between your legs to the script.”

6. The Departed (Martin Scorsese – 2006)

The film that finally won Martin Scorsese his first Academy Award for best director.

A remake of the 2002 Hong Kong film Internal Affairs, Damon plays Colin, a protege of mob boss Frank Costello (Jack Nicholson) who has infiltrated the police force. On the other hand, Leonardo DiCaprio stars as Billy, a cop who somehow makes it into Costello’s gang.

While speaking about the film, Scorsese said, “It’s about the reality of being a witness to violence. Let’s say you have a close friend who you have known for 25 years. Even if you are not in the underworld, if they are hit by a car they are dead, gone, finished, over. Death comes in a flash, and that’s the truth of it, the person’s gone in less than 24 frames of film.”

5. The Bourne Series (Paul Greengrass, Doug Liman – 2002, 2004, 2007, 2016)

Probably one of Matt Damon’s most famous roles, the Bourne series cast him as iconic Jason Bourne. With little memory of his past life, Bourne slowly discovers that he is a deadly assassin trained by the CIA but his own organisation wants him dead. This franchise established Damon’s capability of shining in thrillers.

While speaking about the series, Damon said, “It’s incalculable how much these movies have helped my career. Suddenly it put me on a short list of people who could get movies made and so directors called me and that’s the best part of it.”

4. The Martian (Ridley Scott – 2015)

Another gem from the master of cinematic sci-fi, Ridley Scott’s 2015 film stars Damon as Mark Watney, an astronaut who becomes stranded on Mars when his team assumes he’s dead. In spite of all the odds, he uses his intelligence to make the alien terrain hospitable in order to survive. For his performance, Damon won the Golden Globe for Best Actor.

“We (Ridley Scott) had that conversation very early on,” Damon said. “We talked about how rigorous you have to be building a world. Science fiction is fiction, but you have to make rules. You have to make rules and stick to them. Your world will entirely fall apart if you don’t do that.”

3. The Informant! (Steven Soderbergh – 2009)

Soderbergh’s 2009 biographical crime comedy film featured Damon as Mark Whitacre, a whistle blower in the lysine price-fixing conspiracy of the mid-1990s. Constantly trying to figure out a way to outsmart everyone, Damon’s performance is unexpectedly hilarious and engaging. The role brought Damon a Golden Globe nomination as Best Comedy/Musical Actor.

“What he did was incredibly bold and courageous,” Matt Damon, said of Whitacre. “The case fell apart because ultimately he was an unreliable witness – but I really empathise with him. He is both the protagonist and the antagonist of this movie.”

He added, “All the situations he finds himself in are of his own creation and yet he has a really good heart. Even the people who worked with him, and who were so frustrated and exasperated by his behaviour, to this day have a real fondness for him.”

2. Good Will Hunting (Gus Van Sant – 1997)

One of the greatest cult classics of the ‘90s, Good Will Hunting is a brilliant examination of the unfair world that we live in, a world where geniuses are relegated to the status of janitors and snobbish pseudo-intellectuals get into top universities because they can afford to pay the tuition. Damon stars as a janitor working at MIT who is smarter than everyone around him.

However, only a psychology professor (Robin WIlliams) can get through to the troubled genius. Williams won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor while Damon and Ben Affleck picked up an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay. Damon also earned his first Best Actor nomination.

Damon recalled how the script originated, “I was in my fifth year at Harvard, and I had a few electives left. There was this play-writing class and the culmination of it was to write a one-act play, and I just started writing a movie.

“So I handed the professor at the end of the semester a 40-some-odd-page document, and said, ‘Look, I might have failed your class, but it is the first act of something longer.’”

1. The Talented Mr. Ripley (Anthony Minghella – 1999)

“It’s better to be a fake somebody than a real nobody,” this is the motto of Damon’s character Tom Ripley in this 1999 crime thriller. Based on Patricia Highsmith’s classic novel, Ripley cons his way into the elite rich circles of society by lying, cheating and murdering. For his chilling performance, Damon earned a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actor.

“Someone cool would have distanced the audience,” explained the director. “But Matt has a credibility, and warmth and generosity – such winning qualities – that make you want to go on that journey with him inch by inch. We’ve all at some stage known what it’s like to feel excluded.

“We might even have pretended to be someone we’re not in order to be accepted. But not many of us are flawed enough to kill for it. After I saw Good Will Hunting I was convinced he had the goods. And being a writer himself, he would better understand the issues at stake.”

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