Matt Damon Knew This Disaster Film Was Going to Suck While Filming It

Matt Damon has been in a lot of very good movies, and it’s safe to say he’s helped make them better. Damon is a significant box office draw that audiences love to see on the big screen. But even a star as big as Damon can’t always prevent a bad movie from bombing. That was the case with a film he appeared in several years back called The Great Wall. The film was so bad, Damon knew it was going to be terrible while filming it. Here’s the story of how he knew this disaster film was going to be an absolute disaster. 

What was ‘The Great Wall’ about?

Matt Damon
Matt Damon at The Theatre At The Ace Hotel on Aug.10, 2015 in Los Angeles, Calif. | Angela Weiss/Getty Images

According to IMDb, The Great Wall was released in theaters in 2016. Alongside Damon, it also starred Willem Dafoe, Tian Jing, Andy Lau, and Pedro Pascal. It follows the story of a mercenary (Damon) who is captured and imprisoned inside the Great Wall of China. While there, he discovers that the people there are fighting an army of ancient beasts. He then helps them take on these mysterious creatures, abandoning his goal of getting rich for a worthy cause. 

It wasn’t a terribly original idea, but having a big star like Damon against the interesting backdrop of ancient China seemed somewhat promising. Throw in some mythical monsters, and the film certainly could have been a hit. Unfortunately for the usually dependable Damon and the rest of the film’s cast and crew, it was anything but successful.

What has Matt Damon said about ‘The Great Wall’?

In an interview with Marc Maron on his WTF podcast captured by The Hollywood Reporter, Damon said he knew the film was going to flop. When he saw how much the studio pushed back and interfered with the vision of director Zhang Yimou, he knew it was going to fail, stating: 

“I was like, this is exactly how disasters happen … It doesn’t cohere. It doesn’t work as a movie.”

Damon said he initially saw this movie as one akin to Avatar, Dances with Wolves, or Lawrence of Arabia. What appealed to him was the idea of an outsider experiencing a new culture and growing from the experience while also helping the people who lived there already. It was all for naught though, as Damon determined during filming that the movie would be a dud. 

The actor said he adjusted his attitude accordingly during the shoot: 

“I came to consider that the definition of a professional actor; knowing you’re in a turkey and going, ‘OK, I’ve got four more months. It’s the up at dawn siege on Hamburger Hill. I am definitely going to die here, but I’m doing it.” 

He was right. The movie has a critics score of 35 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, with a paltry audience score of only 42 percent. 

One bad movie wasn’t enough to sink Matt Damon’s career

Of course, one bad movie doesn’t make a career. Damon’s done enough good work to counteract the stink coming off of The Great Wall. No one could forget his most prominent early role, as the co-writer and star of Good Will Hunting. From there, Damon has gone onto star in a lot of films that are both critically and commercially acclaimed, including: 

  • The Bourne Identity and its multiple franchise sequels
  • The Departed
  • The Talented Mr. Ripley
  • Dogma
  • The  Ocean’s 11 series
  • Ford v Ferrari
  • Contagion.

That’s an eclectic mix of roles across genres. The Great Wall may have been a disaster of a movie, but one can hardly blame Damon. He does reliable work, and if anything, he likely made the movie better than it would have been in the hands of a less capable actor.

Damon’s role in the film is evidence of two things: 1) Great actors often know when they’re in the middle of making something bad, and 2) Even an actor as prolific and talented as Damon can’t always save a film that’s destined to fail. 

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