14 Wicked Smart Facts About Good Will Hunting

Miramax Films
Miramax Films

There are plenty of reasons why Good Will Hunting is one of the most beloved films of the past 20 years. It has that great Robin Williams performance, the only one he ever won an Oscar for. It put indie director Gus Van Sant on the mainstream map. And, of course, it gave us Matt Damon and Ben Affleck’s Cinderella story: two up-and-coming actors who slept on each other’s couches, wrote a screenplay, starred in the movie, and then won Academy Awards for their writing. (The movie tends to make us cry, too. We shouldn’t overlook that.) On the 20th anniversary of its original release, here are some facts about Good Will Hunting to help you appreciate it even more. If you didn’t know some of these things before, don’t worry. It’s not your fault.

1. IT WAS ORIGINALLY ABOUT A MATH GENIUS AND HIS BUDDY OUTSMARTING THE GOVERNMENT.

That’s how Matt Damon and Ben Affleck conceived it, with the idea that they’d play the leads. When the producers at Castle Rock bought the screenplay (after a bidding war), head honcho Rob Reiner told the writers that they really had two movies here: the action-comedy about a reluctant whiz kid trying not to be recruited by the CIA, and the character drama about a genius and his shrink. He left it to them to decide which part of the story would survive. 

2. IT HAS A MIX OF REAL BOSTON LOCATIONS AND SETS BUILT IN TORONTO.

All of the MIT interiors were shot on a Canadian sound stage. The L Street Tavern is real, and the regulars were hugely supportive of the movie. In one peculiar instance of logistics, the exterior shots of Boston’s Bunker Hill Community College are real, but Dr. Maguire’s office within the college is a set ... a set built to look exactly like a real office at Bunker Hill Community College, where Robin Williams had visited a teacher for research. 

3. THE PARK BENCH BECAME A MEMORIAL TO ROBIN WILLIAMS AFTER HIS DEATH. 


Getty Images

Located in Boston’s Public Garden, the bench where Dr. Maguire and Will have their iconic, crucial scene had been a significant part of Good Will Hunting lore since the film’s release. After Williams’s death in 2014, it’s where fans memorialized him.

4. FOR A WHILE THE SCREENPLAY HAD A GAY SEX SCENE AS A TEST TO SEE IF THE STUDIO WAS PAYING ATTENTION.

Castle Rock had Damon and Affleck doing rewrite after rewrite without getting anywhere, and the duo felt like the bosses weren’t even reading the new drafts. So they added a paragraph-long screen direction describing Sean and Will goin’ at it. Nobody said anything.

5. KEVIN SMITH HELPED IT GET MADE.

Though Castle Rock loved the screenplay they’d purchased (more so after the running-from-the-government angle was excised), they disagreed with the writers on who should direct it. Damon and Affleck wanted to do it themselves; Castle Rock thought that idea was preposterous. (Buying a screenplay from a couple of pretty-boy actors was risky enough.) They told Matt and Ben that if they could find another studio to take it off Castle Rock’s hands, they’d sell; otherwise, Castle Rock was going to make the film without the writers’ input, and that would be that. Desperate to find a buyer, Affleck approached his Mallrats and Chasing Amy director, Kevin Smith. In Affleck’s recollection, Smith said, “I wouldn’t dare direct this movie, this is so beautiful.” (Smith’s recollection is more self-deprecating: “Ben Affleck and Matt Damon were like, ‘Why don’t you direct it?’ But I was like, ‘That’s awesome, but we need someone good.’”) What Smith did do, though, was personally bring it to the offices of Miramax, where it was promptly purchased.

6. MEL GIBSON ALMOST DIRECTED IT.

After Miramax bought the script from Castle Rock, the company began setting up meetings with various potential directors, including Mel Gibson, who was a hot commodity at the time because of Braveheart. Gibson was interested, and he spent a few months developing the project, but ultimately he wasn’t moving fast enough. Damon politely asked if he might consider stepping aside for someone who really had a passion for it, and Gibson obliged.

7. IT’S BY FAR THE MOST PROFITABLE FEATURE GUS VAN SANT HAS EVER DIRECTED.

Van Sant was (and for the most part still is) a director of small, independent features, not blockbusters. The $263.5 million that Good Will Hunting made worldwide is more than three times as much as his second most profitable film, 2000's Finding Forrester, earned at the global box office.

8. ROBIN WILLIAMS CHOSE THE BAR.

Once he committed to the movie, Williams wanted to get a taste of South Boston by having Affleck and Damon take him around the neighborhood. They took him to a rough dive bar called the L Street Tavern, where the colorful locals mobbed the actor and drunk guys tried to fight Affleck. Williams loved the place and insisted that they just had to use it as a location (even though his character wasn’t in any of the scenes that took place there).

9. VAN SANT WANTED AFFLECK’S CHARACTER TO DIE.

At one point in the rewriting process, after Van Sant was onboard as director, he said, “I want Chuckie to get flattened on a construction site … Crushed like a bug.” He proposed that this would be the climax to the movie’s second act. Affleck and Damon protested, but dutifully wrote it. Van Sant read it and said, “It’s a terrible idea.” 

10. WILL HUNTING WAS MAYBE GOING TO DIE AT THE END, TOO.

Damon said one of the endings he and Affleck toyed with was where “Carmine came back with his boys and a baseball bat to kill Will Hunting, who deep down actually wanted to be killed. It was his way of getting out.” Yikes.

11. MATT DAMON AGREES WITH YOU THAT HIS HAIR IS TERRIBLE.

As he told an interviewer in 2012, “That is so my fault. For whatever reason at that age, I loved that haircut. Gus was like, ‘Really?’ Ben was like, ‘Really?’ If you look at Ben’s hair in that movie, it’s totally acceptable by today’s standards, but no, I wanted the frosted f*****’ hair. I don’t know what my problem was. I looked like I should be singing backup for Color Me Badd.”

12. STELLAN SKARSGÅRD STANDS BY HIS SCARF, THOUGH. 


Miramax Films

Some have mocked Professor Gerald Lambeau’s fashion choice, and the fact that he wears it constantly, but Skarsgård doesn’t understand why. “It was not my idea, it was the costume designer’s idea,” he said. “But it was totally in line with mine because the first thing I said was, ‘I’m a college professor—no tweed.’ That was a condition because I wanted a rock and roll professor more than a tweed professor. I want a professor that f*cked his students. And I got it!”

13. THE ENDING WAS TERRENCE MALICK’S IDEA.

The reclusive director of Badlands and Days of Heaven (he was a year away from making The Thin Red Line) happened to be good friends with an Affleck family friend, so Ben and Matt arranged a meeting with him. Over dinner, they told him the plot of the movie, which at that point ended with Damon's and Minnie Driver’s characters leaving town together. “In the middle of the dinner, he said, ‘I think it would be better if she left and he went after her,’" Damon recalled. "And Ben and I looked at each other. It was one of those things where you go: of course that’s better … He started talking about Antonioni. ‘In Italian movies a guy just leaves town at the end and that’s enough.’ And we said of course that’s enough.” 

14. IT FEATURES TWO THINGS THAT VAN SANT HAD ALMOST USED IN HIS PREVIOUS FILM: MATT DAMON AND THE MUSIC OF ELLIOTT SMITH.

Damon had auditioned for To Die For, in the role that eventually went to Joaquin Phoenix. Van Sant later said, “[Damon] looked too much like the jock and I needed more of a dispossessed boy … I wanted to use Matt so much, and I could have gone that direction, but I felt it might actually destroy the movie.” As for Elliott Smith, Van Sant was given one of his albums when he was working on To Die For, “because I was looking for something that was really raw. [But] we were thinking more in terms of heavy metal, so we didn’t use Elliott.” 

10 Products for a Better Night's Sleep

Amazon/Comfort Spaces
Amazon/Comfort Spaces

Getting a full eight hours of sleep can be tough these days. If you’re having trouble catching enough Zzzs, consider giving these highly rated and recommended products a try.

1. Everlasting Comfort Pure Memory Foam Knee Pillow; $25

Everlasting Comfort Knee Pillow
Everlasting Comfort/Amazon

For side sleepers, keeping the spine, hips, and legs aligned is key to a good night’s rest—and a pain-free morning after. Everlasting Comfort’s memory foam knee pillow is ergonomically designed to fit between the knees or thighs to ensure proper alignment. One simple but game-changing feature is the removable strap, which you can fasten around one leg; this keeps the pillow in place even as you roll at night, meaning you don’t have to wake up to adjust it (or pick it up from your floor). Reviewers call the pillow “life-changing” and “the best knee pillow I’ve found.” Plus, it comes with two pairs of ear plugs.

Buy it: Amazon

2. Letsfit White Noise Machine; $21

Letsfit White Noise Machine
Letsfit/Amazon

White noise machines: They’re not just for babies! This Letsfit model—which is rated 4.7 out of five with nearly 3500 reviews—has 14 potential sleep soundtracks, including three white noise tracks, to better block out everything from sirens to birds that chirp enthusiastically at dawn (although there’s also a birds track, if that’s your thing). It also has a timer function and a night light.

Buy it: Amazon

3. ECLIPSE Blackout Curtains; $16

Eclipse Black Out Curtains
Eclipse/Amazon

According to the National Sleep Foundation, too much light in a room when you’re trying to snooze is a recipe for sleep disaster. These understated polyester curtains from ECLIPSE block 99 percent of light and reduce noise—plus, they’ll help you save on energy costs. "Our neighbor leaves their backyard light on all night with what I can only guess is the same kind of bulb they use on a train headlight. It shines across their yard, through ours, straight at our bedroom window," one Amazon reviewer who purchased the curtains in black wrote. "These drapes block the light completely."

Buy it: Amazon

4. JALL Wake Up Light Sunrise Alarm Clock; $38

JALL Wake Up Light Sunrise Alarm Clock
JALL/Amazon

Being jarred awake by a blaring alarm clock can set the wrong mood for the rest of your day. Wake up in a more pleasant way with this clock, which gradually lights up between 10 percent and 100 percent in the 30 minutes before your alarm. You can choose between seven different colors and several natural sounds as well as a regular alarm beep, but why would you ever use that? “Since getting this clock my sleep has been much better,” one reviewer reported. “I wake up not feeling tired but refreshed.”

Buy it: Amazon

5. Philips SmartSleep Wake-Up Light; $200

Philips SmartSleep Wake-Up Light
Philips/Amazon

If you’re looking for an alarm clock with even more features, Philips’s SmartSleep Wake-Up Light is smartphone-enabled and equipped with an AmbiTrack sensor, which tracks things like bedroom temperature, humidity, and light levels, then gives recommendations for how you can get a better night’s rest.

Buy it: Amazon

6. Slumber Cloud Stratus Sheet Set; $159

Stratus sheets from Slumber Cloud.
Slumber Cloud

Being too hot or too cold can kill a good night’s sleep. The Good Housekeeping Institute rated these sheets—which are made with Outlast fibers engineered by NASA—as 2020’s best temperature-regulating sheets.

Buy it: SlumberCloud

7. Comfort Space Coolmax Sheet Set; $29-$40

Comfort Spaces Coolmax Sheets
Comfort Spaces/Amazon

If $159 sheets are out of your price range, the GHI recommends these sheets from Comfort Spaces, which are made with moisture-wicking Coolmax microfiber. Depending on the size you need, they range in price from $29 to $40.

Buy it: Amazon

8. Coop Home Goods Eden Memory Foam Pillow; $80

Coop Eden Pillow
Coop Home Goods/Amazon

This pillow—which has a 4.5-star rating on Amazon—is filled with memory foam scraps and microfiber, and comes with an extra half-pound of fill so you can add, or subtract, the amount in the pillow for ultimate comfort. As a bonus, the pillows are hypoallergenic, mite-resistant, and washable.

Buy it: Amazon

9. Baloo Weighted Blanket; $149-$169

Baloo Weighted Blanket
Baloo/Amazon

Though the science is still out on weighted blankets, some people swear by them. Wirecutter named this Baloo blanket the best, not in small part because, unlike many weighted blankets, it’s machine-washable and -dryable. It’s currently available in 12-pound ($149) twin size and 20-pound ($169) queen size. It’s rated 4.7 out of five stars on Amazon, with one reviewer reporting that “when it's spread out over you it just feels like a comfy, snuggly hug for your whole body … I've found it super relaxing for falling asleep the last few nights, and it looks nice on the end of the bed, too.” 

Buy it: Amazon 

10. Philips Smartsleep Snoring Relief Band; $200

Philips SmartSleep Snoring Relief Band
Philips/Amazon

Few things can disturb your slumber—and that of the ones you love—like loudly sawing logs. Philips’s Smartsleep Snoring Relief Band is designed for people who snore when they’re sleeping on their backs, and according to the company, 86 percent of people who used the band reported reduced snoring after a month. The device wraps around the torso and is equipped with a sensor that delivers vibrations if it detects you moving to sleep on your back; those vibrations stop when you roll onto your side. The next day, you can see how many hours you spent in bed, how many of those hours you spent on your back, and your response rate to the vibrations. The sensor has an algorithm that notes your response rate and tweaks the intensity of vibrations based on that. “This device works exactly as advertised,” one Amazon reviewer wrote. “I’d say it’s perfect.”

Buy it: Amazon

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8 Facts About David Bowie's 'Space Oddity'

Express/Express/Getty Images
Express/Express/Getty Images

On July 20, 1969, astronauts walked on the Moon for the first time. Just a few weeks earlier, another space-age event had rocked the world: David Bowie’s single “Space Oddity” hit airwaves. The song, whose lyrics tell the story of an astronaut’s doomed journey into space, helped propel the artist to icon status, and five decades later, it’s still one of his most popular works. 

1. "Space Oddity" was inspired by 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Many listeners assumed that "Space Oddity" was riffing on the Apollo 11 Moon landing of 1969, but it was actually inspired by a Stanley Kubrick film released a year earlier. Bowie watched 2001: A Space Odyssey multiple times when it premiered in theaters in 1968. “It was the sense of isolation I related to,” Bowie told Classic Rock in 2012. “I found the whole thing amazing. I was out of my gourd, very stoned when I went to see it—several times—and it was really a revelation to me. It got the song flowing.”

2. "Space Oddity" was also inspired by heartbreak.

The track was also partly inspired by the more universal experience of heartbreak. Bowie wrote the song after ending his relationship with actress Hermione Farthingale. The break inspired several songs, including “Letter to Hermione” and “Life on Mars,” and in “Space Oddity,” Bowie’s post-breakup loneliness and melancholy is especially apparent.

3. "Space Oddity" helped him sign a record deal.

In 1969, a few years into David Bowie’s career, the musician recorded a demo tape with plans to use it to land a deal with Mercury Records. That tape featured an early iteration of “Space Oddity,” and based on the demo, Mercury signed him for a one-album deal. But the song failed to win over one producer. Tony Visconti, who produced Bowie’s self-titled 1969 album, thought the song was a cheap attempt to cash in on the Apollo 11 mission, and he tapped someone else to produce that particular single.

4. The BBC played "Space Oddity" during the Moon landing.

"Space Oddity" was released on July 11, 1969—just five days before NASA launched Apollo 11. The song doesn’t exactly sound like promotional material for the mission. It ends on a somber note, with Major Tom "floating in a tin can" through space. But the timing and general subject matter were too perfect for the BBC to resist. The network played the track over footage of the Moon landing. Bowie later remarked upon the situation, saying, "Obviously, some BBC official said, 'Oh, right then, that space song, Major Tom, blah blah blah, that’ll be great. 'Um, but he gets stranded in space, sir.' Nobody had the heart to tell the producer that."

5. David Bowie recorded an Italian version of "Space Oddity."

The same year "Space Oddity" was released, a different version David Bowie recorded with Italian lyrics was played by radio stations in Italy. Instead of directly translating the English words, the Italian songwriter Mogul was hired to write new lyrics practically from scratch. "Ragazzo Solo, Ragazza Sola" ("Lonely Boy, Lonely Girl") is a straightforward love song, and Major Tom is never mentioned.

6. Major Tom appeared in future songs.

Major Tom, the fictional astronaut at the center of "Space Oddity," is one of the most iconic characters invented for a pop song. It took a decade for him to resurface in David Bowie’s discography. In his 1980 single "Ashes to Ashes," the artists presents a different version of the character, singing: "We know Major Tom's a junkie/Strung out in heaven's high/Hitting an all-time low." Bowie also references Major Tom in "Hallo Spaceboy" from the 1995 album Outside.

7. "Space Oddity" is featured in Chris Hadfield's ISS music video.

When choosing a song for the first music filmed in space, Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield naturally went with David Bowie’s out-of-this-world anthem. The video above was recorded on the International Space Station in 2013, with Hadfield playing guitar and singing from space and other performers providing musical accompaniment from Earth. Some lyrics were tweaked for the cover. Hadfield mentions the "Soyuz hatch" of the capsule that would eventually shuttle him to Earth.

8. "Space Oddity" played on the Tesla that Elon Musk sent to space.

Dummy in Tesla roadster in space with Earth in background.
SpaceX via Getty Images

In 2018, Elon Musk used SpaceX's Falcon Heavy rocket to launch his Tesla Roadster into space. The car was decked out with pop culture Easter eggs—according to Musk, "Space Oddity" was playing over the car’s radio system during the historic journey. The dummy’s name, Starman, is the name of another space-themed song on Bowie's 1972 masterpiece The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars.