‘Good Will Hunting’ Was Almost Ben Affleck and Matt Damon’s ‘Beverly Hills Cop’

During the development of Good Will Hunting, Ben Affleck and Matt Damon went to some pretty extreme lengths to protect their vision of the movie. The 1997 release went on to win Oscars for Affleck and Damon’s script as well as Robin Williams’ performance. Affleck and Damon tampered with their own script to ensure their voices were heard. But their earliest ideas for Good Will Hunting were nothing like the finished product.

Eddie Murphy as Axel Foley in 'Beverly Hills Cop' makes the okay sign with his hand while holding a gun
Eddie Murphy as Axel Foley in ‘Beverly Hills Cop’ makes the okay sign with his hand while holding a gun | CBS via Getty Images

‘Good Will Hunting’ resonated with critics, audiences, and Oscar because of its earnest character story

Against the might of Titanic, few movies really stood a chance at winning the Best Picture Oscar in 1998. But Good Will Hunting set itself apart enough to land nine nominations, including the two aforementioned wins. Looking back, the movie does hew closely to the type of talky, character-based dramas the academy loves to reward. Still, the film’s earnest storytelling and rich characters have helped it to endure over the years.

Damon delivers a breakout performance in Good Will Hunting, launching him into superstardom. And despite the fact Damon can’t get his kids to watch it, the movie remains a highlight in the careers of all involved. Even now, Good Will Hunting still boasts a 98 percent Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Part of that appeal stems from its rejection of traditional Hollywood tropes, a direction the movie almost followed instead.

RELATED: Robin Williams’ Ad-Lib in ‘Good Will Hunting’ Made Matt Damon Burst Out Laughing

But co-writers Ben Affleck and Matt Damon initially took the project in a much more commercial direction

Before the story turned into a character-based drama, Good Will Hunting started out as much more of an action comedy. In fact, while discussing this version in 2013, Affleck filled Boston Magazine in on what audiences nearly saw instead.

“We came up with this idea of the brilliant kid and his townie friends, where he was special and the government wanted to get their mitts on him. And it had a very Beverly Hills Cop, Midnight Run sensibility, where the kids from Boston were giving the NSA the slip all the time. We would improvise and drink like six or twelve beers or whatever and record it with a tape recorder. At the time we imagined the professor and the shrink would be Morgan Freeman and De Niro. So we’d do our imitations of Freeman and De Niro. It was kind of hopelessly naive and probably really embarrassing in that respect.”

As much as an action comedy starring Damon and Affleck sounds fun, it’s probably for the best Good Will Hunting changed course. It’s hard to imagine a version inspired by Beverly Hills Cop would have attracted much attention. Instead, it likely would have just gotten lost in the shuffle. 

RELATED: Ethan Hawke Says He Was ‘Jealous’ of ‘Good Will Hunting,’ While Matt Damon Has Lamented Missing Out on a Part in ‘Dead Poets Society’

Ben Affleck and Matt Damon starred together in a few more movies over the years

Good Will Hunting didn’t give fans a buddy action comedy vibe. But fans of Damon and Affleck still saw the two actors share the screen a few more times. Indeed, they’ll reunite again soon in The Last Duel. But 1999’s Dogma probably leans the closest to the sort of repartee the two actors might have shared in an alternate-universe version of their best-known movie.

Of course, Good Will Hunting fans looking for a more comedic take are in luck. They need only check out 2001’s Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back. In that film, Damon, Affleck, co-star Scott William Winters, and director Gus Van Sant all play themselves. They appear during a sequence in which Van Sant returns to direct an ultra-violent sequel, the fictional Good Will Hunting 2: Hunting Season.