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Good Will Hunting

Good Will Hunting is a 1997 American drama film, directed by Gus Van Sant, and starring Robin Williams, Matt Damon, Ben Affleck, Minnie Driver, and Stellan Skarsgård. Written by Affleck and Damon, the film follows 20-year-old South Boston janitor Will Hunting, an unrecognized genius who, as part of a deferred prosecution agreement after assaulting a police officer, becomes a client of a therapist and studies advanced mathematics with a renowned professor. Through his therapy sessions, Will re-evaluates his relationships with his best friend, his girlfriend, and himself, facing the significant task of confronting his past and thinking about his future.

Good Will Hunting
Photo of Robin Williams (right, name superimposed at top left) and a smiling Matt Damon (left, name superimposed at top right)
Theatrical release poster
Directed byGus Van Sant
Produced byLawrence Bender
Written by
Music byDanny Elfman
CinematographyJean-Yves Escoffier
Edited byPietro Scalia
Be Gentlemen[1]
Distributed byMiramax Films[1]
Release date
  • December 2, 1997 (1997-12-02) (Bruin Theater)
  • December 5, 1997 (1997-12-05) (United States)
Running time
126 minutes[1]
CountryUnited States[1]
Budget$10 million[2]
Box office$225.9 million[3]

The film grossed over $225 million during its theatrical run, from a $10 million budget. It was nominated for nine Academy Awards, including the Academy Award for Best Picture, and won two: Best Supporting Actor for Williams and Best Original Screenplay for Affleck and Damon.

In 2014, it was ranked at number 53 in The Hollywood Reporter's "100 Favorite Films" list.[4]


Twenty-year-old Will Hunting of South Boston is a self-taught genius, though he works as a janitor at MIT and spends his free time drinking with his friends, Chuckie, Billy, and Morgan. When Professor Gerald Lambeau posts a difficult mathematics problem as a challenge for his graduate students, Will solves the problem anonymously, stunning both the students and Lambeau. As a challenge to the unknown genius, Lambeau posts an even more difficult problem. Will flees when Lambeau catches him writing the solution on the blackboard late at night. At a bar, Will meets Skylar, a British woman about to graduate from Harvard College, who plans on attending medical school at Stanford.

The next day, Will and his friends fight a gang who used to bully Will as a child. Will is arrested after he attacks a responding police officer. Lambeau sits in on his court appearance and watches Will defend himself. He arranges for him to forgo jail time if he agrees to study mathematics under Lambeau's supervision and participate in therapy sessions. Will tentatively agrees, but treats his therapists with mockery. In desperation, Lambeau calls on Dr. Sean Maguire, his college roommate, who now teaches psychology at Bunker Hill Community College. Unlike other therapists, Sean actually challenges Will's defense mechanisms, and after the first session where Sean threatens Will after he insults his deceased wife and a few unproductive sessions, Will begins to open up.

Will is particularly struck by Sean's story of how he met his wife by giving up his ticket to the historic game six of the 1975 World Series, after falling in love at first sight. Sean does not regret his decision, even though his wife died of cancer. This encourages Will to build a relationship with Skylar, though he lies to her about his past and is reluctant to introduce her to his friends or show her his rundown neighborhood. Will also challenges Sean to take an objective look at his own life, since Sean cannot move on from his wife's death.

Lambeau sets up a number of job interviews for Will, but Will scorns them by sending Chuckie as his "chief negotiator", and by turning down a position at the NSA with a scathing critique of the agency's moral position. Skylar asks Will to move to California with her, but he refuses and tells her he is an orphan, and that his foster father physically abused him. Will breaks up with Skylar and later storms out on Lambeau, dismissing the mathematical research he has been doing. Sean points out that Will is so adept at anticipating future failure in his interpersonal relationships that he deliberately sabotages them in order to avoid emotional pain. Chuckie likewise challenges Will over his resistance to taking any of the positions he interviews for, telling Will he owes it to his friends to make the most of opportunities they will never have, even if it means leaving one day without looking back. He then tells Will that the best part of his day is a brief moment when he waits on his doorstep thinking Will has moved on to something greater.

Will walks in on a heated argument between Sean and Lambeau over his potential. Sean and Will share and find out that they were both victims of child abuse. Sean helps Will to see that he is a victim of his own inner demons and to accept that it is not his fault, causing him to break down in tears. Will accepts one of the job offers arranged by Lambeau. Having helped Will overcome his problems, Sean reconciles with Lambeau and decides to take a sabbatical. When Will's friends present him with a rebuilt Chevrolet Nova for his twenty-first birthday, he decides to pass on his job offer and drive to California to reunite with Skylar. Some time later, Chuckie goes to Will's house to pick him up, only to find that he is not there, much to his happiness.




Matt Damon started writing the film as a final assignment for a playwriting class he was taking at Harvard University.[5] Instead of writing a one-act play, Damon submitted a 40-page script.[5] He wrote his then-girlfriend, medical student Skylar Satenstein (credited in the closing credits of the film), into his script.[6] Damon said the only scene from that script that survived — "it survived verbatim" — was when Will Hunting (Damon) meets his therapist, Dr. Maguire (Robin Williams).[5] He then came to Ben Affleck and asked him to develop the screenplay together, and the two completed the script in 1994.[5] At first, it was written as a thriller about a young man in the rough-and-tumble streets of South Boston who possesses a superior intelligence and is targeted by the government with heavy-handed recruitment.[5]

Castle Rock Entertainment bought the script for $675,000 against $775,000, meaning that Damon and Affleck would stand to earn an additional $100,000 if the film was produced and they retained sole writing credit.[citation needed] Castle Rock president Rob Reiner urged them to drop the thriller aspect of the story and to focus on the relationship between Will and his therapist. Terrence Malick told Affleck and Damon over dinner that the film ought to end with Will's decision to follow his girlfriend Skylar to California, not them leaving together.[7]

At Reiner's request, screenwriter William Goldman read the script. Goldman consistently denied the persistent rumor that he wrote Good Will Hunting or acted as a script doctor. In his book Which Lie Did I Tell? Goldman jokingly writes, "I did not just doctor it. I wrote the whole thing from scratch," before dismissing the rumor as false and saying his only advice was agreeing with Reiner's suggestion.[8]

Affleck and Damon proposed to act in the lead roles, but many studio executives said they wanted Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio.[9] Meanwhile, Kevin Smith was working with Affleck on Mallrats and with both Damon and Affleck on Chasing Amy.[10] Castle Rock put the script in turnaround, and gave Damon and Affleck 30 days to find another buyer for the script who would reimburse Castle Rock the money paid, otherwise the script reverted to the studio, and Damon and Affleck would be out. All the studios that were involved in the original bidding war for the screenplay now turned the pair down, taking meetings with Affleck and Damon only to tell them this to their face. As a last resort, Affleck passed the script to his Chasing Amy director Kevin Smith, who read it and promised to walk the script directly into Harvey Weinstein's office at Miramax. Weinstein read the script, loved it, and paid Castle Rock their due, while also agreeing to let Damon and Affleck star in the film. In his recollection of the meeting, Weinstein asked about an out-of-place, mid-script oral sex scene, which Damon and Affleck explained was a test to see which studio executives had actually read the script.[11][5]

The Baskin-Robbins/Dunkin' Donuts, in front of which Will mocked Harvard student Clark (as seen in 2013; as of 2019, it is a ramen restaurant).

After buying the rights from Castle Rock, Miramax put the film into production. Several well-known filmmakers were originally considered to direct, including Mel Gibson, Michael Mann, and Steven Soderbergh.[citation needed] Originally, Affleck asked Kevin Smith whether he was interested in directing. He declined, saying they needed a "good director" and that he only directs things he writes and is not much of a visual director, but still served as one of the film's executive producers. Damon and Affleck later chose Gus Van Sant for the job, whose work on previous films like Drugstore Cowboy (1989) had left a favorable impression on the fledgling screenwriters. Miramax was persuaded and hired Van Sant to direct the film.


The Au Bon Pain in Harvard Square where Skylar asked Will to explain his "photographic memory" to her (as seen in 2013; it has since been redeveloped by Harvard).

Filming took place between April and June 1997. Although the story is set in Boston, and many of the scenes were done on location in the Greater Boston area, much of the interior shots were filmed at locations in Toronto, with the University of Toronto standing in for MIT and Harvard University. The classroom scenes were filmed at McLennan Physical Laboratories (of the University of Toronto) and Central Technical School. Harvard normally disallows filming on its property, but permitted limited filming by the project after intervention by Harvard alumnus John Lithgow.[12] Likewise, only the exterior shots of Bunker Hill Community College were filmed in Boston; however, Sean's office was built in Toronto as an exact replica of one at the college.[13]

The interior bar scenes set in "Southie" were shot on location at Woody's L St. Tavern.[14] Meanwhile, the homes of Will (190 West 6th Street) and Sean (259 E Street), while some distance apart in the movie, actually back up to each other on Bowen Street, the narrow street Chuckie drives down to walk up to Will's back door.[15][16]

The Bow and Arrow Pub, which was located at the corner of Bow Street and Massachusetts Avenue in Cambridge, doubled as the Harvard bar in which Will met Skylar for the first time.[17] The Baskin-Robbins/Dunkin' Donuts featured in the "How do you like them apples?" scene was next door to the pub at the time of the film's release.[16]

The Tasty, at the corner of JFK and Brattle Streets, was the scene of Will and Skylar's first kiss.[18] The Au Bon Pain, where Will and Skylar discuss the former's photographic memory, was at the corner of Dunster Street and Mass Ave.[19]

The Boston Public Garden bench on which Will and Sean sat for a scene in the film became a temporary shrine after Williams' death in 2014.[20]


Box officeEdit

In the film's opening weekend in limited release, it earned $272,912. In its January 1998 wide-release opening weekend, it earned $10,261,471. It went on to gross $138,433,435 in North America for a total worldwide gross of $225,933,435.[3]

Critical responseEdit

Review aggregation website Rotten Tomatoes gives the film a rating of 97% based on 74 reviews and an average rating of 8.05/10. The site's critical consensus reads, "It follows a predictable narrative arc, but Good Will Hunting adds enough quirks to the journey – and is loaded with enough powerful performances – that it remains an entertaining, emotionally rich drama."[21] At Metacritic, the film has a score of 70 out of 100 based on 28 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews".[22] Audiences surveyed by CinemaScore gave the film a grade "A" on scale of A to F.[23]

Roger Ebert gave the film three out of four stars, writing that while the story is "predictable", it is "the individual moments, not the payoff, that make it so effective".[24]

Academic responseEdit

Several scholars have examined the film as a portrayal of residual Catholic–Protestant tensions in Boston, as Irish Catholics from Southie are aligned against ostensibly Protestant characters who are affiliated with Harvard and MIT.[25]


70th Academy Awards[26]
Won: Academy Award for Best Supporting ActorRobin Williams
Won: Academy Award for Best Original ScreenplayBen Affleck & Matt Damon
Nominated: Academy Award for Best PictureLawrence Bender (producer)
Nominated: Academy Award for Best DirectorGus Van Sant
Nominated: Academy Award for Best Actor – Matt Damon
Nominated: Academy Award for Best Supporting ActressMinnie Driver
Nominated: Academy Award for Best Film EditingPietro Scalia
Nominated: Academy Award for Best Original Dramatic ScoreDanny Elfman
Nominated: Academy Award for Best Original Song – "Miss Misery" (music and lyrics by Elliott Smith)
55th Golden Globe Awards
Won: Golden Globe Award for Best Screenplay – Ben Affleck & Matt Damon[27]
Nominated: Golden Globe Award for Best Motion Picture – Drama[28]
Nominated: Golden Globe Award for Best Actor – Motion Picture Drama – Matt Damon[28]
Nominated: Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actor – Motion Picture – Robin Williams[28]
4th Screen Actors Guild Awards[29]
Won: Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Supporting Role – Robin Williams
Nominated: Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture
Nominated: Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Leading Role – Matt Damon
Nominated: Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Supporting Role – Minnie Driver
Other Major Awards / Nominations
Won: Silver Bear for Outstanding Single Achievement – Matt Damon[30]
Won: Humanitas Prize for Feature Film – Matt Damon & Ben Affleck[31]
Nominated: Directors Guild of America Award for Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Motion Pictures – Gus Van Sant[32]
Nominated: Writers Guild of America Award for Best Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen – Ben Affleck & Matt Damon[33]


Good Will Hunting: Music from the Miramax Motion Picture[34]
Soundtrack album by
Various artists
ReleasedDecember 2, 1997
GenreSoundtrack, indie rock, acoustic rock, indie folk

The musical score for Good Will Hunting was composed by Danny Elfman, who had previously collaborated with Gus Van Sant on To Die For and would go on to score many of the director's other films.[35] The film also features many songs written and recorded by singer-songwriter Elliott Smith. His song "Miss Misery" was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Original Song, but lost to "My Heart Will Go On" from Titanic.[36] Elfman's score was also nominated for an Oscar, but lost to Titanic as well. On September 11, 2006, The Today Show used Elfman's song "Weepy Donuts" while Matt Lauer spoke during the opening credits.

A soundtrack album for the film was released by Capitol Records on November 18, 1997, though only two of Elfman's cues appear on the release.[37][38]

  1. Elliott Smith – "Between the Bars" (Orchestral)
  2. Jeb Loy Nichols – "As the Rain"
  3. Elliott Smith – "Angeles"
  4. Elliott Smith – "No Name #3"
  5. The Waterboys – "Fisherman's Blues"
  6. Luscious Jackson – "Why Do I Lie?"
  7. Danny Elfman – "Will Hunting" (Main Titles)
  8. Elliott Smith – "Between the Bars"
  9. Elliott Smith – "Say Yes"
  10. Gerry Rafferty – "Baker Street"
  11. Andru Donalds – "Somebody's Baby"
  12. The Dandy Warhols – "Boys Better"
  13. Al Green – "How Can You Mend a Broken Heart?"
  14. Elliott Smith – "Miss Misery"
  15. Danny Elfman – "Weepy Donuts"

"Afternoon Delight" by the Starland Vocal Band was featured in the film, but did not appear on the soundtrack album.

Good Will Hunting: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack
Soundtrack album by
Danny Elfman, Elliott Smith
ReleasedMarch 3, 2014
LabelMusic Box Records

A limited edition soundtrack album featuring Elfman's complete score from the film was released by Music Box Records on March 3, 2014. The soundtrack, issued in 1500 copies, includes all of Elfman's cues (including music not featured on the rare Miramax Academy promo) and also contains the songs by Elliott Smith. One of the tracks is Smith's songs with Elfman's arrangements added into the mix.[39]

  1. Main Title (2:44)
  2. Genie Mopper (0:37)
  3. First Calculation (1:08)
  4. Theorem (0:42)
  5. Kick Ass Choir (0:59)
  6. Mystery Math (2:28)
  7. Them Apples (0:57)
  8. Jail (1:13)
  9. Second Shrink (1:14)
  10. Any Port (1:25)
  11. Times Up (1:14)
  12. Oliver Twist (1:58)
  13. Staring Contest (0:49)
  14. Secret Weapon (0:57)
  15. Retainer (Part A) (0:58)
  16. Retainer (Part B) (0:20)
  17. Tell You Something (0:48)
  18. No Love Me (0:47)
  19. Fire Music (1:11)
  20. Whose Fault (2:34)
  21. End Titles (3:50)
  22. Between the Bars (Orchestral) (1:09) – Performed by Elliott Smith / Arr. by Elfman
  23. No Name #3 (3:04) – Performed by Elliott Smith
  24. Say Yes (2:15) – Performed by Elliott Smith
  25. Between the Bars (2:21) – Performed by Elliott Smith
  26. Angeles (2:55) – Performed by Elliott Smith
  27. Miss Misery (3:12) – Performed by Elliott Smith


In an early version of the script, Will Hunting was going to be a physics prodigy, but Nobel Laureate in Physics Sheldon Glashow at Harvard told Damon the subject should be math instead of physics. Glashow referred Damon to his brother-in-law, Daniel Kleitman, a mathematics professor at MIT. In the spring of 1997, Damon and Affleck asked Kleitman to "speak math to us" for writing realistic dialogue, so Kleitman invited postdoc Tom Bohman to join him giving them a "quick lecture". When asked for a problem that Will could solve, Kleitman and Bohman suggested the unsolved computer science P versus NP problem, but the movie used other problems. Columbia University's physics and math professor Brian Greene at the Tribeca Sloan retrospective explained that for physics, "Having some deep insight about the universe [⁠ ⁠.⁠ ⁠.⁠ ⁠.⁠ ⁠] typically [⁠ ⁠is ⁠] a group project in the modern era," while "doing some mathematical theorem is a singular undertaking very often."[40][41]

Patrick O'Donnell, professor of physics at University of Toronto, served as mathematical consultant for the film production.[42]

The main hallway blackboard is used twice to reveal Will Hunting's talent, first to the audience, second to Professor Lambeau. Matt Damon based it on his artist brother Kyle visiting MIT's Infinite Corridor and writing "an incredibly elaborate, totally fake, version of an equation" on a blackboard which lasted for months. Kyle returned to Matt saying MIT needed these blackboards "because these kids are so smart they just need to, you know, drop everything and solve problems!"[43]

The first turning point in the plot occurs when Will sets aside his mop in a hallway and studies a difficult blackboard graph theory problem posed by Professor Lambeau.[44] The question is to find the number of 3-step walks in a given graph. Will chalks up the adjacency matrix

  To answer the question, he finds the third power matrix:

The other characters are astounded that a janitor could show such facility with matrices applied this way.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b c d "Good Will Hunting (1997)". AFI Catalog of Feature Films. Retrieved 2018-01-19.
  2. ^ "Good Will Hunting (1997) - Financial Information". The Numbers. Retrieved April 17, 2016.
  3. ^ a b "Good Will Hunting (1997)". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved January 27, 2015.
  4. ^ "Best Hollywood Movies of All Time - Hollywood Reporter". The Hollywood Reporter.
  5. ^ a b c d e f "Good Will Hunting: An Oral History". Boston. January 2, 2013. Retrieved July 13, 2017.
  6. ^ "The Unlikely Link Between Metallica And Matt Damon". MTV News. 1998-03-11. Retrieved 2018-05-08.
  7. ^ "THESE VIOLENT DELIGHTS: Malick gave Good Will Hunting its ending". THESE VIOLENT DELIGHTS. 2011-01-05. Retrieved 2018-05-08.
  8. ^ Goldman, William (2001). Which Lie Did I Tell?: More Adventures in the Screen Trade. Vintage Books. pp. 332–333. ISBN 9780375703195.
  9. ^ Juul, Matt (January 6, 2016). "'Good Will Hunting' Might've Been Very Different Without Sylvester Stallone". Boston Magazine. Retrieved March 11, 2018.
  10. ^ Smith's comments on the Mallrats DVD audio commentary
  11. ^ Harvey Weinstein - The Graham Norton Show. BBC America. Mar 15, 2015 – via YouTube.
  12. ^ Ba Tran, Andrew. "Then and Now: Revisiting 'Good Will Hunting'". The New York Times Co. p. 2. Retrieved January 25, 2017.
  13. ^ Ba Tran, Andrew. "Then and Now: Revisiting 'Good Will Hunting'". The New York Times Co. p. 21. Retrieved January 25, 2017.
  14. ^ Dunn, Gabrielle (June 3, 2010). "Famous Movie Locations: Woody's L Street Tavern in 'Good Will Hunting' (Boston)". Retrieved January 25, 2017.
  15. ^ Ba Tran, Andrew. "Then and Now: Revisiting 'Good Will Hunting'". The New York Times Co. p. 6. Retrieved January 25, 2017.
  16. ^ a b "Behind the Scenery". The Boston Globe. November 25, 2007. Retrieved January 25, 2017.
  17. ^ Ba Tran, Andrew. "Then and Now: Revisiting 'Good Will Hunting'". The New York Times Co. p. 8. Retrieved January 25, 2017.
  18. ^ Ba Tran, Andrew. "Then and Now: Revisiting 'Good Will Hunting'". The New York Times Co. p. 20. Retrieved January 25, 2017.
  19. ^ Ba Tran, Andrew. "Then and Now: Revisiting 'Good Will Hunting'". The New York Times Co. p. 23. Retrieved January 25, 2017.
  20. ^ "‘Good Will Hunting’ Bench in Boston Public Garden Becomes Robin Williams Memorial" -, August 12, 2014
  21. ^ "Good Will Hunting – Rotten Tomatoes". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango. Retrieved April 26, 2019.
  22. ^ "Good Will Hunting Reviews, Ratings, Credits, and More at Metacritic". Metacritic. CBS Interactive. Retrieved January 7, 2012.
  23. ^ "Cinemascore". CinemaScore. Archived from the original on 2018-12-20.
  24. ^ Ebert, Roger (1997-12-25). "Good Will Hunting Movie Review (1997)". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved 2013-09-01.
  25. ^ Herlihy-Mera, Jeffrey (2012). "Revisioning Migration: On the Stratifications of Irish Boston in Good Will Hunting". ALIF: Journal of Comparative Poetics. 32: 1–22. ISBN 9789774165283. Retrieved 2013-09-01.
  26. ^ "70th Annual Academy Awards Nominees & Winners". Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Retrieved August 27, 2016.
  27. ^ Sterngold, James (January 19, 1998). "'Titanic' Wins Top Golden Globe Award". The New York Times. Retrieved August 27, 2016.
  28. ^ a b c "Nominees for Golden Globe Awards". CNN. 1997. Retrieved August 27, 2016.
  29. ^ "The 4th Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards | Screen Actors Guild Awards". Retrieved 2018-05-10.
  30. ^ "Berlinale: 1998 Prize Winners". Retrieved 2012-01-16.
  31. ^ Olson, Eric J. (1998-07-10). "Damon, Affleck win Humanitas pic prize". Variety. Retrieved 2018-05-10.
  32. ^ "DGA Announces Five Nominees for Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Feature Film for 1997 -". Retrieved 2018-05-10.
  33. ^ "Screenwriter-Director-Actor Ben Affleck to Receive WGAW's 2015 Valentine Davies Award". Retrieved 2018-05-10.
  34. ^ "Good Will Hunting: Music from the Miramax Motion". Retrieved 2013-05-23.
  35. ^ "Filmmaker Gus Van Sant and composer Danny Elfman talk of their collaborations". Retrieved 2018-05-11.
  36. ^ "How Elliott Smith's Music Transformed Good Will Hunting – Boston Magazine". Boston Magazine. 2013-01-10. Retrieved 2018-05-10.
  37. ^ "Good Will Hunting – Original Soundtrack". AllMusic. All Media Network, LLC. Retrieved February 20, 2014.
  38. ^ "Cinema Sounds: Good Will Hunting". Consequence of Sound. 2009-08-26. Retrieved 2018-05-11.
  39. ^ "Good Will Hunting – Danny Elfman". Music Box Records. Retrieved March 3, 2014.
  40. ^ "One of Matt Damon's Harvard professors gave him a small note that completely changed 'Good Will Hunting'". Business Insider. Retrieved 2018-05-10.
  41. ^ London, Jay. "How an MIT Professor Helped Good Will Hunting Get the Math Right—and Landed a Tiny Role in the Film". MIT Alumni - Slice of MIT. Retrieved 2018-05-10.
  42. ^ O'Donnell relied on Graph Theory and Theoretical Physics by Frank Harary where at page 63 P.W. Kasteleyn wrote on "Graph theory and crystal physics".
  43. ^ "Matt Damon's Commencement address". MIT News. Retrieved 2018-05-11.
  44. ^ Burkard Polster & Marty Ross (2012) Math goes to the Movies, Johns Hopkins University Press, page 9, ISBN 1-4214-0483-4

External linksEdit