5. Invictus (2009)
Following Matt Damon’s standout performance in the crime comedy The Informant!, a role that only narrowly didn’t make the top ten list here, he opted for a piece like nothing he had ever accomplished before- an unfamiliar sports biopic with a profusion of compassion and heart. Director Clint Eastwood gave Morgan Freeman the lead role of Nelson Mandela, a role the South African himself said could be portrayed by no one else, and the captain of the South African rugby team, Francois Pienaar, to Damon.
Aside from Good Will Hunting, Damon’s portrayal of the South African rugby star is his only other acknowledgment by the Academy in an acting category at the Oscars. An iconic national rugby player, Pienaar is asked by the newly elected President Nelson Mandela to try and win the upcoming 1995 Rugby World Cup in an attempt to boost morale and unity throughout the divided country that lacked the national harmony valiantly fought for by Mandela throughout his entire life.
Upon receiving the role, Damon visited Francois Pienaar at his home to ask for assistance in preparing for the role. It was at this point that Damon joked about his severe lack of height in comparison to the rugby player to break the ice, an issue that was overcome by Clint Eastwood cleverly positioning lighting rigs and cameras to aid the actor in looking much taller on screen.
After being welcomed into Pienaar’s home, he prepared a meal and the pair discussed the sport and its technical aspects, as well as the captain’s philosophy and mentality during the real-life events. The rugby player later confessed to being very fond of Matt Damon, describing him as having a great sense of humor and professional attitude.
To prepare for the role the actor took up intensive coaching sessions at the Garden’s Rugby Club under direction of Chester Williams, an athlete who was also a member of the winning 1995 rugby team. The result of Matt Damon’s fundamental preparation for the role resulted in a very human and touching story, full of profound emotion and moving sentiment.
4. The Departed (2006)
Despite the negative track record of American remakes of world cinema, the groundbreaking director Martin Scorsese’s courageous attempt at bringing the Hong Kong thriller Infernal Affairs to Hollywood was considered more than successful.
Audaciously taking the original’s breathtaking and bold narrative of corruption within enforcing bodies and organized crime and adding the director’s own unique tonal style, plus casting an army of A-list acting talent (Leonardo DiCaprio, Jack Nicholson, Mark Wahlberg, Martin Sheen, Ray Winstone, Vera Farmiga, Alec Baldwin and, the subject of this list, Matt Damon), brings the host of remarkable characters to life.
Taking place in Boston, the movie, renamed The Departed, focuses on the Irish mob and Massachusetts State Police, with both organizations planting a mole within each other’s ranks. The state police position undercover rookie officer Billy Costigan, played by DiCaprio, within the ranks of the Irish mob while, simultaneously, the gangsters place Matt Damon’s character, Colin Sullivan, a man groomed by criminals from a young age, within the police department.
It is only when each organization realizes the existence of a mole within their particular establishments that the pair desperately try and uncover each other’s identity before his respective counterpart.
A film that smartly utilizes a number of its actors against their typical type casting, Damon has the chance to undertake a villainous role, a rarity throughout his films, being both devious and cunning as the undercover criminal posing as a police officer, playing both sides of the scheming character with great ease.
Bringing the role of Colin Sullivan to life by not overplaying the potentially ham-fisted villainous aspects fills the part with depth and humanity. The Departed is without question the film that most significantly shows Damon’s towering ability to hold his own and excel in a heavily populated cast of high calibre actors.
3. The Martian (2015)
Ridley Scott’s 2015 science fiction masterpiece The Martian was no doubt a breathtaking return to top form for the diverse and frequently inconsistent director following a string of disappointments over the past few years with the likes of the divisive Alien prequel Prometheus, and the universally panned take on the prince of thieves in 2010’s Robin Hood, amongst other works, missing the mark of his former glory days.
The Martian, based on the bestselling novel of the same name by American author Andy Weir, was fundamentally carried by Matt Damon’s magnetic and enthralling lead performance as Mark Watney, an astronaut assumed to have been killed on a mission to Mars and subsequently left behind by his crew on the red planet.
An incredibly quotable film that offers more and more with each viewing, it centers on the simple concept of the human desire to live. Damon is flawless in portraying an intelligent man who uses both the power of the mind and science in an attempt to survive, even when it appears impossible.
Using rationalized thinking and ingenuity, as opposed to hysterical panic, Damon’s character moves from one doomed dilemma to the next and tackles it by any means necessary. Damon and The Martian will stand alongside the incredible Sam Rockwell in Moon as a critical, surviving-alone-in-space science fiction film of recent years.
Director Ridley Scott makes it appear easy to spin such a complex and enriched tale of survival. With a lot of help thanks to Damon (in one of his finest turns of all time), who essentially anchors the film and fills it with wisdom and compassion, Scott took what could have been essentially a downbeat tale of survival and incomprehensible science terminology and approached it in a light-hearted and comedic manner that is nothing but pure enjoyment from start to finish.
While all would seem to be lost for our lead astronaut, Matt Damon is consistently hilarious, never in doubt of his slim chances of making it back home, fluently joking his way through each scenario that the planet’s environmental conditions throws at him.
Remaining in high spirits throughout, this is a performance virtuously glowing with charisma and charm by a man who never met the rest of the cast and filmed all his scenes alone within a five week window. He never fails throughout the film to remain an interesting character as we follow his gripping and fascinating tale of survival. The Martian will no doubt stand as one of Matt Damon’s greatest career achievements.
2. Good Will Hunting (1997)
When childhood best friends Matt Damon and Ben Affleck wrote the screenplay for Good Will Hunting, they were still very much struggling actors looking for their big break in Hollywood with nothing to lose. Living together in a dilapidated flat, the pair, with the help of friend and director Kevin Smith, got their script to Miramax.
So impressed with the screenplay, the film was immediately put into production, even allowing its two writers to undertake several of the lead roles (which turned out to be a stroke of genius with regards to expert casting). It was at this point in time that the pair got the fundamental breakthrough roles in their careers that they had been chasing up until now.
While Affleck took on the humorous sidekick role, Damon undertook the titular role of Will Hunting, a more-than-content and immature student with some questionable psychological demons matched only by his immense intellect and unparalleled potential to succeed, who was happily living an ordinary day-to-day life of getting drunk with friends and struggling by.
It is only under the influence of several key figures in his life, including a MIT professor, a psychologist and a recent love interest, played by Stellan Skarsgard, Robin Williams and Minnie Driver respectively, that he pulls himself out of his mundane gray existence, faces his past demons and puts his good potential to use.
Directed by Gus Van Sant, the emotional drama full of compassion and heart resonated with audiences in a positive and uplifting manner, leading to critical acclaim upon its release. It has since stood as one of not only Matt Damon’s best, but also as one of the rest of the phenomenal cast’s greatest achievements in film.
The smart and soulful drama is like nothing else and, to this day, is still held as a fundamental work of art nearly 20 years later, earning Damon a nomination for Best Actor and winning the award for Best Original Screenplay at the 70th Academy Awards.
1. The Jason Bourne Franchise (2002-Present)
The Bourne saga is undoubtedly an innovative and enthralling action series that upon its creation has shaped all films within the genre that has had to follow it.
The success of the chronicles of Jason Bourne has since moulded the future of action films, including that of original action pioneer James Bond, whose recent reimagining in a gritty and realistic style under the direction of Sam Mendes and Daniel Craig is no doubt thanks to Jason Bourne, a truly ground breaking series that is fundamentally controlled by Matt Damon’s staggering and enigmatic performance as the titular character.
It’s difficult to remember a time before Damon was an undisputed action hero. He is now heading into his fourth turn as the amnesiac CIA assassin on the run, starring in The Bourne Identity in 2002, The Bourne Supremacy in 2004 and The Bourne Ultimatum in 2007, the fifth film in the series set for release in summer 2016 with Damon reprising his role following a short hiatus in the fourth entry The Bourne Legacy, a spinoff set in the same universe but with Jeremy Renner as the lead.
Going up against a shadowy government agency known as Treadstone that is trying to hide Jason Bourne’s mysterious past, not only from him but from being uncovered by other parties involved, the saga is shrouded in intrigue and conspiracy.
Based on the novels written by American author Robert Ludlum, the Bourne films are witty action movies with a lot of brains that opt for smart storytelling, minimalistic action sequences, and flawless hand-to-hand combat choreography, as opposed to the usual lack of narrative and explosion porn that generally fills the action genre.
Each film spawns a number of contrasting scenarios, seminal set pieces and memorable assassin enemies for Bourne to go toe-to-toe with from the likes of Clive Owen, Karl Urban and Edgar Ramirez. Helmed firmly as the saga’s lead, Matt Damon has never looked more controlling and charismatic in front of the camera. Jason Bourne was his first and no doubt most important action hero role, a character that will stand as a flagship for the actor for the rest of his professional life.
Author Bio: Dan Carmody: born and raised in Doncaster, England. When not working full time as a civil engineer, his one true passion is cinema, relating back to the early 1990s when his mum showed him a lot of horror films way before he should have been allowed. An avid follower of all film genres, both classical and modern, he is also enthusiastic about video games, traveling, making lists and cheese.