Fist of Film: Matt Damon’s Bottom Five

Matt Damon has enjoyed quite a ride. The game-changing Bourne trilogy transformed him from the only Oscar-winning Bruce Weber pin-up into a muscular box office behemoth. The WMD thriller Green Zone reunites Damon with director Paul Greengrass and looks set to reap further millions this weekend. It wasn’t always, thus, however. Here’s a look at the Cambridge-born star’s least profitable earners, written in the hope hidden gems will be uncovered and bitter laughs had. Box office figures are kindly taken from Box Office Mojo.

Geronimo: An American Legend (1993)
Box office: $18,635,620
A beardless Damon tags along as part of a party led by Robert Duvall, who applies his best grizzle to the role of an Indian hunter. Duvall’s white whale is the legendary Apache renegade Geronimo (Wes Studi). Released after the success of Unforgiven, the film doesn’t so much revise history as honor the facts. For Damon’s teen following, it moved with all the pace of a three-legged horse. Genre expert Walter Hill (The Warriors) directed a script from John Milius (Red Dawn) and Larry Gross.

All the Pretty Horses (2000)
Box office: $15,540,353
Pairing director Billy Bob Thornton with the 1992 National Book Award-winner seemed like a good idea at the time, as the Sling Blade star had yet to go full lunatic. The material is Cormac McCarthy, so there’s the inevitable run by a Texas teen (Damon) ‘cross the border, where he breaks some horses and falls for a simmering Penelope Cruz. It was all too elegiac for the studio, who hacked Thornton’s original three-hour cut and left the film to languish at the box office. What’s left is a great novel with palsy.

Ponyo (2009)
Box office: $15,090,399
Japanese anime god Hayao Miyazaki may be credited with revitalizing cartoons and inspiring the Pixar bunch, but his tribute to A Little Mermaid still made less cash than that other Damon-voiced ‘toon, Titan A.E.. Damon’s sailor spends most of his time on a boat, leaving a goldfish to fall for his lonely son. She whips up a memorable tsunami of passion. The film honors the ocean’s surreal protean nature, but still couldn’t get an Oscar nom. Questions should be asked in the Disney marketing department.

School Ties (1992)
Box office: $14,715,067
For a while, this coming-of-age film had a cult cache as the first onscreen pairing of schoolboy chums Damon and Ben Affleck. That seems to have fizzled along with their friendship. Brendan Fraser is the Jewish football star who leaves blue collar Pennsylvania for a swanky Massachusetts academy. He runs afoul of his classmates after a jealous Damon stirs up the anti-Semitic fervor. (It’s 1955.) Co-written by Dick Wolf, whose tabloid approach to the issues would really bloom on Law & Order.

Gerry (2002)
Box office: $254,683
Damon is a risk-taker attracted to mavericks like Soderbergh and Gus Van Sant, who followed up the sentimental trash of Finding Forrester (in which his Good Will Hunting star had a cameo) with this alienating wotzit. Damon and the wrong Affleck (i.e., Casey) mumble their way around the desert played by various stretches of Argentina, Utah and New Mexico. Both boys are named Gerry, just to add to the confusion. Audiences honored Sant’s bold tribute to Bela Tarr with a Hungary-sized gross.

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