On Monday, Matt Damon will celebrate his 41st birthday. The Cambridge-born actor has come a long way since sobbing ON Robin Williams’ shoulder in Good Will Hunting, playing everything from a creepy identity thief to a South African rugby player to one of the best actions stars of the past 15 years.
In celebration of his 42nd birthday, we’ve narrowed down all of Damon’s performances to the 10 best.
In his first big lead role following Good Will Hunting, Damon plays a poker pro who swears off gambling after losing his savings in an all-or-nothing game with the seedy Teddy KGB, played by John Malkovich. He’s roped back to the tables when his duplicitous boyhood friend, played by Edward Norton, gets out of jail and has to pay off some lingering gambling debts, but is short of cash.
Aside from Good Will Hunting, Damon’s only other Oscar nomination was for his role in Invictus. He played a South African rugby star, whom Nelson Mandela (Morgan Freeman) asks to win the World Cup in an effort to boost national morale. Bonus points to Damon for pulling off the tricky South African accent.
Throughout his career, Damon has always had a certain kind of street cred that most mega-stars lack. His role in Dogma is one of the main reasons why. Damon and longtime friend and Good Will Hunting collaborator Ben Affleck played a pair of downcast angels scheming to get back into heaven in this rampantly funny satire of organized religion.
Damon teamed back up with Ocean’s director Steven Soderberg for 2009’s The Informant!. The film showed promise, but ended up developing too slowly for most people’s taste. Nevertheless, it saw Damon in one of his more adventurous roles, playing Mark Whitacre, a chubby, detail-obsessed food-processing employee who blows the whistle on his company’s price-fixing. Based on a true story, Whitacre suffers from bipolar disorder, which only complicates matters when the FBI hooks him up with a wire to gather more information in regard to his company’s indiscretions.
With The Bourne Identity, Damon came out of nowhere and established himself as perhaps the most capable action star in Hollywood. We’re even pretty sure the cold, calculating Jason Bourne could have done a number on any incarnation of Bond, and Damon’s steely performance is the reason why.
2006’s The Departed was a perfect storm of excellence: Scorcese, Nicholson in his last great role, Alec Baldwin at his funniest, Mark Walhberg was Mark Wahlberg and Leo Dicaprio and Matt Damon absolutely killed as an illegitimate gangster and an illegitimate cop, respectively, who were unknowingly trying to out each other. We don’t often get to see Damon in such a villainous role as this.
Damon plays an alpha-badass in the Bourne Trilogy, but in the Ocean’s trilogy he’s a self-conscious master thief constantly seeking the approval of George Clooney’s and Brad Pitt’s characters, who serve as older brother figures to the often bumbling Damon. He’s also the group’s de facto role player, most notably as a Nevada Gaming Commission agent trying to calm down an irate Bernic Mac.
The underrated True Grit was one of the most well-acted films of 2011, with signature performances from Jeff Bridges, a 14-year-old Hailee Steinfeld and Damon, who plays a Texas Ranger who becomes Bridges’ unlikely sidekick in their hunt to track down the man who killed Steinfeld’s father. Speaking with a thick Southern drawl, LeBoeuf is a self-assured fast talker who’s quick to scoff at Bridges drunkenness and questionable methods. LeBoeuf also loses his tongue along the way, a hindrance that Damon accounted for by wrapping a hair tie around his tongue as he acted.
1999’s The Talented Mr. Ripley saw Damon in one of his most disturbing and cerebral roles, playing a con-artist who kills and assumes the identity Jude Law’s character of Dickie, whom Damon was hired to bring home from Italy. The Talented Mr. Ripley was the first role to show just how versatile Damon’s acting chops were. He combines jealousy, deception, fraudulence, rage and downright creepiness into one of his more stirring performances.
The role that launched Damon’s career was also his best, earning him an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor. Damon played a rough-around-the-edges orphan genius with a photographic memory, whose brilliance is discovered while working as a janitor at M.I.T. Simultaneously wrestling with the pressure to put his talents to good use and the need to open himself up emotionally to his girlfriend, Skylar (Minnie Driver), this is the most authentic of Damon’s performances. And who can forget…”How do you like THEM apples?!”