Twenty-five years after Good Will Hunting made them Oscar winners and stars, Ben Affleck and Matt Damon are back together on the big screen in Air — and they're officially business partners in their new production company venture, Artists Equity.
Here, we look at their journey from childhood pals, who bonded over baseball and acting, to movie stars and makers with a deep and enduring bond.
1980: Affleck, 8, and Damon, 10, meet as boys in Cambridge, Mass.
"I was 8, he was 10," Affleck said on the Smartless podcast in April. "He played baseball. He was really cool. He had a bowl cut, it was a little feathered, that we all wanted, of course. And he was nice to me... Just kids who grew up two blocks apart and both wanted to be actors for whatever reason" and were "dumb enough to think, 'Oh, it will pan out for us.'"
Affleck and Damon took acting classes together at school with Affleck telling Parade in 2007, "Before Matt, I was by myself. Acting was a solo activity where I'd just go off and do something, act in a little TV show or something, and no one understood it. None of the other kids knew what it was I did, how it worked, or anything. All of a sudden, I had this friend, Matt, and he gets it and wants to do it and thinks it's interesting and wants to talk about it. Soon both of us are doing it."
1986: The aspiring actors have "business lunches" in their high school cafeteria and start sharing their acting paychecks in joint bank account
By the time Affleck was 14 and Damon was 16, they'd audition together in New York City.
"We'd take the train," Affleck told Parade. "Or sometimes we’d even [fly], back when there was the Eastern Shuttle or People's Express. It cost like $20 to fly and you could smoke on the plane. We were smoking like idiots because we thought we were really supposed to be grown-up. It was pitiful."
"We really split the money," Affleck said. "At the time, I was making the lion's share of the money," pointing to 1984's The Voyage of the Mimi on PBS and a 1989 Burger King ad. Damon had a speaking line in 1988's Mystic Pizza. They were also often extras together.
Damon said of the joint bank account, "You were allowed to go to [auditions in] New York with the money. You were allowed to take out $10 and get quarters and go to [the arcade] and play video games. Eventually we were allowed to try to buy beer, which never f***ing worked."
"We were very nerdy and a little weird," Affleck said on Smartless, including having business lunches in the media cafe of their public high school: Cambridge Rindge and Latin. "We plotted things. We planned our careers." He said they took a team approach to acting — versus being competitive. They'd practice lines and often audition for the same roles, including The All New Mickey Mouse Club, the TV series which ran from 1989 to 1995.
"We would get our little act together, practice our scenes, and do our work," Affleck said. "Nerdy doesn't even begin to describe it. But it really was a genuine thing where it was: Look, I hope I get the part, but if I don't, I really hope you do.' ... We were lucky enough to not to have the friendship like: 'It's not enough that I succeed, all my friends have to fail' thing... I loved him and he loved me."
Another thing solidifying the friendship, Damon said on Conan in 2019 was Affleck saving him when a "mountain of a guy" tried to beat him up during a heated snow day football game in the mid-’80s. Damon recalled 5-foot-2 Affleck, a high school freshman, tackling the guy off of him at "risk of his own life." He recalled thinking: "This is a good friend."
1989: They appear as extras in Field of Dreams
Their extra work took them on a dream journey to Fenway Park, home of their beloved Boston Red Sox, were they both appeared in 1989's Field of Dreams. "I bet there were probably 3,000 extras in a big crowd scene when Kevin Costner and James Earl Jones are at the baseball game," Damon said of the uncredited roles on The Dan Patrick Show in 2021. "Costner came out and hung out with the extras, and Ben and I went and struck up a conversation with him. And he probably gave us five minutes. He was incredibly generous with his time.
1990: They go different ways for college, but end up back together in L.A. and land their first real roles in School Ties
Damon graduated high school in 1988 and went on to Harvard University. Two years later, Affleck graduated and enrolled at the University of Vermont. Affleck told Parade he stayed just until Thanksgiving, calling Damon and asked him to pick him up.
Affleck ended up moving to to L.A. and attended Occidental College. Both Damon and Affleck continued auditioning and both landed roles in 1992's School Ties. Damon had a lead part alongside star Brendan Fraser, and Affleck had a supporting role.
Affleck, who left Occidental after a year an a half, landed a role in 1993's Dazed and Confused. He was also in an after-school special about steroid abuse.
1992: The idea of Good Will Hunting is born
Damon, in his fifth year at Harvard (extended due to acting breaks), took a playwriting class and was assigned to write a one-act play. "I just started writing a movie," he said of the 40-page document, which became the basis for Good Will Hunting, according to an oral history on the film in Boston Magazine. Damon landed a role in 1993's Geronimo: An American Legend and flew out to L.A., staying on Affleck's floor, bringing "my Act I of the Good Will Hunting script and gave it to him." Affleck recalled in the same story, "Matt said, 'Look, will you help me write this? I’m not sure what it is or where to go.' So we started writing it sort of back and forth."
They sold the script to Castle Rock Entertainment in 1994. Affleck said in the oral history, "I remember it was printed in Daily Variety that we were going to get $600,000 on it. We had no credit, so we went to rent this house that was $3,000 a month, and we used a copy of the Daily Variety to get the place. I was like, 'I don’t have credit, but this is who we are.' And the landlord was like, 'All right, sure.' We thought $600,000 would take care of us for 20 years, so we rented nicer apartments and each bought Jeep Cherokees. And we were completely broke in a year."
Damon ended up not graduating from Harvard, but landed a role in 1996's Courage Under Fire. Affleck appeared in 1995's Mallrats with Kevin Smith. They both appear in 1995's Glory Daze and Smith's Chasing Amy (1997).
When Good Will Hunting gets stuck in development with Castle Rock, Smith helps facilitate a meeting for Affleck and Damon with Miramax, via disgraced filmmaker Harvey Weinstein. Miramax bought the script for $1 million and OK'd Affleck and Damon to star in it. It took another year to make the film with Damon and Affleck temporarily moving back to Boston.
1997: Good Will Hunting is released and they become superstars
The film, in which they played best friends from Beantown, finally began production in April 1997 and shot for nine weeks. It was directed by Gus Van Sant and also starred Robin Williams, Minnie Driver and Affleck's brother Casey. (Damon briefly dated Driver.)
Damon and Affleck told GQ in 2021 they cried on the set when the film was made. Damon called it "a mixture of joy and disbelief. And relief. And gratitude."
The film had a limited release in 1997 and opened wide in January 1998. They became overnight stars and they were everywhere telling their story, which America fell in love with.
1998: They win an Academy Award
In addition to the new fame, their film was an awards season fave. They won Best Screenplay at the January 1998 Golden Globes. Damon was also nominated for Best Actor, Williams for Supporting Actor and the film for Best Picture.
Two months later, they attended the Oscars as nominees — with their moms as their dates. They won for Best Original Screenplay and delivered a memorable acceptance speech. Williams won for Supporting Actor. (Damon was nominated for lead actor.)
Damon later told Boston Magazine of Oscar night, "We were younger than we felt. I was 22 and Ben was 20 when we first started writing it. And then it came out when I was 27 and Ben was 25. I mean, Ben's still the youngest writer to ever win an Oscar for screenwriting."
For a period, the best friends started dating best friends: Damon and Affleck started seeing Winona Ryder and Gwyneth Paltrow, respectively. The women had a falling out. Both couples ended up splitting.
1999: They appear together in Dogma
Their first film together after winning the Oscar was Smith's Dogma. Affleck and Damon played angels Bartleby and Loki, who were kicked out of heaven and had to look for a way back.
They were also in Smith's Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back two years later.
2001: They launch Project Greenlight
Capitalizing on their own story, they executive produce and appear in a show in which a first-time filmmaker is given money to make their film. The series looked at the filmmaking process and aired on HBO for two seasons (2001-2003). It moved to Bravo (2005). It was briefly revived by HBO for a season in 2015.
2002: They appear together in The Third Wheel
By then they had begun on their own film paths with Affleck appearing in Armageddon (1998), Shakespeare in Love (1998), Boiler Room (2000) and Pearl Harbor (2001). Damon established himself in Saving Private Ryan (1998), The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999), Ocean's Eleven (2001) and The Bourne Identity (2002). However, Affleck landed a supporting role in the rom-com The Third Wheel starring Luke Wilson and Denise Richards and Damon made a cameo, interrupting Wilson and Richards's dinner date.
2004: Damon appears in Affleck's Jersey Girl
Affleck appeared with then-girlfriend Jennifer Lopez in two films, Gigli and Jersey Girl. In the latter, Damon made a cameo in as "PR Exec #2."
2010: Affleck helps honor Damon
Their careers continued to take them in different directions, but Affleck was on hand to honor — and roast — Damon when he received the 24th American Cinematheque Award in 2010. "Matt always said to me, ‘Ben, there are two things that are more important to me than anything else in this world.' Folks: fame, money. You did it, Matty! You got there!" Affleck joked on stage.
Affleck's then-wife Jennifer Garner also helped, talking about the bromance between the men, saying, "Ben is half of one of the greatest love stories ever told. Not with me. The actual prototype for the great Hollywood bromance … Here's proof that love is alive and well in Hollywood. At least for my darling husband my husband's darling husband, Matt Damon."
Damon supports Affleck at the premiere of The Town, which Affleck directed and wrote
2012: They work on separate projects but remain close
Damon called Affleck his "hetero lifemate" in a 2012 interview with GQ — the same year he supported his BFF at the premiere of Argo, which Affleck also directed.
Affleck told The Hollywood Reporter the same year, "We see each other almost too often. I wonder if his wife is thinking, 'Is he really going to come over every night?'"
In an interview that year with Playboy, Damon spoke about rumors that persisted through the years that they were secretly gay, saying, "I never denied those rumors because I was offended and didn't want to offend my friends who were gay — as if being gay were some kind of f***ing disease. It put me in a weird position in that sense. The whole thing was just gross."
Affleck and Garner attended Damon and his wife Luciana Barroso's vow renewal.
2015: Damon calls Affleck misunderstood — and supports him through divorce and sobriety struggles
They bring back Project Greenlight for another season, but it ends up getting canceled.
2016: They win the "Guys of the Decade" award
At Spike TV's Guys' Choice Awards, they accepted the trophy for Guys of the Decade. In their speech, they joked about beating out other bromances, including George Clooney and Brad Pitt. Affleck joked of the award, "I think it goes without saying that this is an award Matt and I have been dreaming about since we were little boys."
Damon and Jimmy Kimmel have a long-running faux feud and Affleck snuck Damon out, under his coat, during his appearance on Jimmy Kimmel Live.
2017: They have an adorable Oscars reunion — as presenters
Nineteen years after they won Best Original Screenplay, they took the Oscars stage together to present the same category.
2018: Their Boston Red Sox win the World Series and they are in attendance.
When their Sox won the World Series, they showed their support, attending with Kimmel.
Damon said in an interview on Off Camera With Sam Jones that year, "I certainly wouldn't be here were it not for him." He also spoke of their work collaboration, saying of the Good Will Hunting era, "People would always say, 'Well who wrote more of the screenplay?' or 'What did you write and what did he write?' and I'd go, 'It's just half.' I can't remember the genesis of every line, because we both wrote every line."
2019: They announce plans to work together again in The Last Duel
After years of not working together on camera, Damon and Affleck announced they will be working together on The Last Duel, which they appeared in and wrote together with Nicole Holofcener.
2020: Affleck jokes that Damon has him to credit for his career
In an interview on SiriusXM's The Jess Cagle Show's Affleck talked about being a child star — and made a joking dig at Damon, saying, "I did like it. One, it instilled in me a deep love and affection for this art and craft and line of work. And and it made Matt Damon so incredibly jealous, and drove him into a career in cinema. So I really take credit for that."
2021: The Last Duel comes out — and they sing each other's praises.
They screened their film The Last Duel at the Venice Film Festival. At the premiere, Affleck told Entertainment Tonight that he hoped they make more films together. "Over those 25 years, Matt and I have been friends and worked together so it doesn't feel like, 'Oh, I haven't seen this guy in 25 years. It's cool to be doing another movie with him. We loved it, and we definitely want to do more."
Damon told GQ that his own "sanity and mental health really benefited" from having Affleck by his side as he navigated Hollywood. He as someone he "could reflect on [fame] with honestly, talk things over with, be myself with, who I knew why we were friends, why he was interested and loved me, why I loved him."
They appeared together on The Tonight Show With Jimmy Fallon and shared an old photo booth photo of them. Damon joked, "Those guys, clearly have 'star' written all over them. I think it's the matching puka necklaces that give it away."
Meanwhile, Damon is the go-to guy for questions about Affleck's rekindled romance with ex-fiancée Jennifer Lopez. He said he's all for the potential repairing on the Today show. Later, in his own interview with Cagle, Damon reiterates his support. "How else would I be? Like, would I be unhappy" he joked. "Like, I hate true love. It sucks. Yeah. Yeah. I wish them nothing, but you know, hardship."
2022: Damon and Affleck become business partners with the launch of their production company
Damon interviewed Tender Bar star Affleck for Entertainment Weekly. Affleck said, "I don't know that that would've been possible for me alone, doing this job in this world without somebody I grew up with who I loved, who I knew loved me and had my back, who believed in me, and whom the popularity of my movies or what people said about me wasn't going to change what they thought about me. This friendship has been essential and defining and so important to me in my life. There were a few critical times, which are private and I don't want to share, but where your support was so profoundly meaningful to me that I don't think I would've been able to be successful without it."
They announced their next film project together, which will be Air. It's the story of how the Air Jordan came to be.
Damon and his wife attended Affleck's wedding to Lopez in Georgia.
Affleck and Damon launched their new production company, Artists Equity, which will try to optimize the production process. Affleck said in a statement it came from "Matt’s and my longtime passion for the art of storytelling and our shared desire to help creators deliver on their vision, as we have been fortunate to do throughout our careers."
2023: Air premieres and they're everywhere again
While doing promo for Air, Affleck is asked by The Hollywood Reporter in March why his friendship and partnership with Damon works. "I suppose the reason it works is that I trust him and love him, and I know that this is somebody with integrity," he replied. "In this business, failure is hard, and success is confusing and can make you lose your bearings. Having that friendship as a touchstone over the years was really meaningful."
In the same interview, he talked about being in a celebrity Wordle group with Damon and other stars in which they text each other their daily score.
Affleck also spoke about his friendship with Damon on Smartless in April, saying, "It's a really lucky thing, it occurs to me now, very few people are lucky enough to spend their life in the same line of work with their best friend from when they are kids. [We've] managed to stay friends... Actually be friends and love each other."
Affleck joked about being mistaken for Damon in a new Dunkin' commercial.
Air is released on April 5 and it marks the first time Affleck directs Damon. They both appear in the film along with stars including Jason Bateman, Viola Davis and Chris Tucker.
The day the film comes out, Damon said in an interview with People that his friendship with Affleck is "everything to me" and life would have been "unimaginably harder" without him by his side "throughout this whole surreal process over the last 25 years." He said the "shock of being famous" had "messed me up for a couple years," so to have "somebody who I've known my whole life who I can be like, 'Hey man, is this happening to you? Are you…?' And to check in with him, it was really, really helpful. Stabilizing."
Affleck said in the same interview, that the connection is deep, explaining,"Having Matt has meant the world," he said. "It's not just Matt. It's Matt's dad who I adore and love enormously. He passed away recently. And his mom and stepdad, his brother. His kids, who just came to the premiere and made me want to burst into tears because they're so beautiful and grown up and amazing. You get to be part of somebody's whole life in that way. It's been an enormous gift."
The pair talked about how they met and all the times they worked together in a Vanity Fair interview.