In the hit off-Broadway show "Matt and Ben," Matt Damon and Ben Affleck are satirized as aggressively dim buffoons who luck out when a script titled "Good Will Hunting" mysteriously falls from the sky. It's mean. And surely -- surely? -- it's not true. But neither strapping young star has managed to successfully pair critical success with big box office very often since their breakout smash in 1997's "Good Will," which also landed them both best screenplay Oscars. The next year, Ben ("Shakespeare in Love") and Matt ("Saving Private Ryan") began to look like an unstoppable dynamic duo. But it's been a steady downward slope since, including the pair's side productions; both films produced by their "Project Greenlight" venture were released to abysmal reviews.
Both hope to turn things around later this year -- Damon with costar Greg Kinnear in the Farrelly brothers' "Stuck On You," and Affleck with Uma Thurman in John Woo's "Paycheck." Until then, let's take a look back at the long, sometimes painful, road they've traveled these past six years, from mugging with their Oscars ... to "Gigli."
1998 Ben: "Shakespeare in Love" -- Paltrow wins Oscar, and for a time, Affleck (in small role) wins Paltrow. Wins best film Oscar; box-office gold. "Armageddon" -- reamed by the critics, but audience loved it. "Phantoms" -- Chilling reception all around.
Matt: "Rounders" -- so-so reviews, but most critics remain generous toward Damon; decent box office. "Saving Private Ryan" -- Huge success with critics and audiences, with Damon in the small, but title role.
Matt & Ben: "Dogma" -- Ben and Matt are exiled angels in this well-regarded, small Kevin Smith film. Roger Ebert compares Kevin Smith's dialogue to George Bernard Shaw's and Smith fans eat it up, while the Catholic League calls the film "blasphemous."
Ben: "Forces of Nature" -- gravity quickly took its toll on this Affleck and Sandra Bullock romantic comedy; dim reviews and disappointing box office. "200 Cigarettes," -- Ebert wrote of this small, poorly reviewed indie: "coughing would be better than some of this dialogue."
Matt: "The Talented Mr. Ripley" -- Film isn't the blockbuster the studio had hoped for, and Damon is outshined by heavy-hitting cast -- especially Jude Law -- but the film still gets good critical reception and makes loads of money.
2000 Ben: "Bounce" -- Respectable reviews -- boing! -- but bad box office -- splat! -- for flick that pairs Affleck with his now ex, Paltrow. "Reindeer Games" -- neither the critics nor the audiences were particularly interested in playing. "Boiler Room" -- tepid to warmish reviews, but not much box office heat.
Matt: "Finding Forrester" -- has only a minor role in this not particularly well-received and financially disappointing "Good Will Hunting" knockoff. (Where, oddly, Joey Buttafuoco also made a cameo.) "All the Pretty Horses" -- Mixed reviews for Billy Bob Thornton's direction and Damon's acting. Box office pace never gets above a slow trot. "The Legend of Bagger Vance" -- Some critics found it OK; others really hated it. (Stephanie Zacharek noted, of the name of Damon's character, Rannulph Junuh: "that's Hunuj Hplunnar spelled backward.") Many questioned Damon's creds to play all-washed-up while still in his 20s. Box office bomb.
2001 Matt & Ben: "Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back" replace -- Somewhat respectfully regarded Kevin Smith flick that did only OK at the box office. Ben: "Daddy and Them" -- unless you saw this film at the Nashville Independent Film Festival or the Newport International Film Festival, you probably haven't seen it. "Pearl Harbor" -- Big, scary bomb.
Matt: "Ocean's Eleven" -- Soderbergh's Rat Pack remake is a big-time hit with critics and audiences, though Damon takes a backseat to most in the all-star ensemble (including Clooney, Brad Pitt and Don Cheadle, who get singled out for praise).
Matt & Ben: "The Third Wheel" -- Remember this one? No? That must be because it was never released in the U.S.
Ben: "The Sum of All Fears" -- he's no Harrison Ford; bad reviews and sum of all box office receipts really something to fear. "Changing Lanes" -- Despite some critical raves -- Ebert called it "one of the best movies of the year" -- only performed fairly.
Matt: "Confessions of a Dangerous Mind" -- Clooney's directing debut about Chuck Barris was a hit with critics, but gonged pretty quickly in the theaters; recently rereleased to give it a second chance. Damon makes only a small cameo as a "The Dating Game" contestant. "The Bourne Identity" -- Critics like Damon well enough as a hunted amnesiac in this action thriller; box office hit. "Gerry" -- Damon and Casey Affleck starred in and helped write this with "Good Will" director Gus Van Sant about two guys who get lost in the desert. Neither critics nor audiences wanted to save them.
2003 Ben: "Daredevil" -- Called "wooden" in starring superhero role, upstaged by villain played by Colin Farrell; big box office hit. "Gigli": What's left to say?