''I believe every DiCaprio movie would be just a little better as a Matt Damon movie.''
That’s a pretty astonishing comment right there, and for many, a little too crazy to even give pause for thought. I however have always enjoyed all three elements of this sentence. He's not everyone's cup of tea, but I'm still a Simmons fan. He's still an entertaining read. DiCaprio and Damon are two of my favorite actors, both definitely top 5, with ease. Therefore, Simmons’s seemingly bonkers suggestion still made me think, ‘Could he be right? Could the movies of Leonardo DiCaprio be better with Matt Damon in the leading role instead?
Well, let’s take DiCaprio’s ten biggest movies and find out! Naturally we’ll then flip it over and partake in the same exercise but with DiCaprio in Damon’s place, but for now, let’s focus on the DiCaprio question.
To the movies!
Number 10 – The Aviator
We’re off to a good start! The Aviator is a movie that you could conceivably argue might be better with Matt Damon in the lead role, instead of wily old Leo DiCaprio. This is by no means a slight in any shape or form on DiCaprio’s at times majestic performance, it’s more of a knock on us, the audience. The Aviator is loved by critics and put forth as a sample of DiCaprio’s greatest work. The audience, by and large, liked it, but didn’t love it. It’s a sweeping epic with great attention to period detail, and sometimes that just doesn’t resonate so well with the average cinema goer. What does Damon bring to a movie? One major element is a kind of lighthearted, guy next door ‘feel’ that in turn lightens the movie a little. The Aviator could have lightened up a little with Damon in the lead role. Again, I’m being careful here as DiCaprio was superb, but for the sake of this overall argument, let’s give this one to Damon on the basis he would have brought some levity to the project.
1-0 Matt Damon.
Number 9 – The Wolf Of Wall Street
Wumph. That’s the sound of Simmons’s hypothesis splatting into the ground from up on high. DiCaprio completely owned this role, and turned it into seventy billion memes that we can never un-see. DiCaprio very much made The Wolf his own, and it is unimaginable to place any other actor at all in this role.
Number 8 - Shutter Island
Wait, what? Shutter Island is DiCaprio’s eighth highest grossing movie? Seriously? Yes, it’s true. Hard to believe, indeed, but true. To understand that you just have to know that Shutter was Leo’s second highest grossing opening movie ever, yes, ahead of Titanic and just behind Inception. I think it’s safe to say there was not much going on the weekend Shutter opened, otherwise there’s no way to understand a $41 million opening box office for such a movie. Shutter is entirely joyless. It’s technically brilliant, and quite chilling, but there isn’t a single element of joyful type entertainment to be had within. Again I had to double check in astonishment that this was DiCaprio’s eighth highest all time box office entry. You can probably see where this is going. Damn right Damon might have had some impact towards the positive if magically placed in DiCaprio’s place herein. There’s no reason to say he couldn’t improve a little on the role, and perhaps bring a bit of toothy charm to the lead role. He would definitely have played the shock and surprise as it all unraveled. That’s something he does well. Let’s move on, but let’s all agree, Damon could have done something positive here.
Number 7 – The Departed
Boom! That’s right, Damon as Billy Costigan, DiCaprio as Colin Sullivan. I am going to go ahead and call this one a potential win for Damon straight off the bat. There’s no doubt at all Damon could have pulled off Billy Costigan’s tormented good-guy. Imagine the look of shock on his face as Mark Wahlberg tore into him in Martin Sheen’s office? You would entirely believe Damon as Costigan, a conflicted good-guy undercover, trying to do right, while trying to prove to the bad guys he belonged. On the flip side, you could equally argue DiCaprio would have absolutely torn into the role of Colin Sullivan, and might have brought some extra menace to that character. That I believe is called a win-win situation. In this context, that’s another win for Damon.
Number 6 – The Great Gatsby
There’s a moment in Gatsby where DiCaprio mutters ‘This, this is a terrible mistake’. Well, the critics agreed, and box office aside, Gatsby is viewed as something whilst not completely in the flop category, definitely in that general area. By very definition therefore, Damon might have done something positive here. You can’t argue with that considering the critical panning this flick got. There’s no reason to say Damon might not have put on the tux and brought something extra to Gatsby, elevating it higher than it’s very low current critical rating. Simmons is starting to look like he might have been on to something.
Number 5 – Django Unchained
In short, no. Damon could not have bettered DiCaprio when it comes to Calvin Candie. There’s no argument to be made here, at all. DiCaprio in a landslide.
Number 4 – Catch Me If You Can
Central to the success of the brilliant, entertaining and most of all, heart wrenching, Catch Me is the relationship between Tom Hanks and DiCaprio. It matters. It just matters that Hanks both wants to capture DiCaprio and ‘fix’ him. The father figure like status Hanks has over DiCaprio in Catch Me is what makes it such a vital movie, it’s what gives it it’s pulse. Whilst Damon and Hanks could easily cook up some chemistry, as evidenced so easily in Saving Private Ryan, you’d have to go out on a very lengthy limb to suggest it would ultimately better the work that DiCaprio and Hanks did here. Sometimes you just can’t improve on something so fundamentally good.
Number 3 – The Revenant
Just, no. No. Not happening. Sure, Damon might have got a few more laughs out of the up-to-that-point terrified audience, but let’s face it, The Revenant is not about laughing or levity in any shape or form. The Revenant is a slap in the face of a movie, and DiCaprio nailed it. The bear incident, the horse incident, the overall struggle, no way in any shape or form Damon improves on DiCaprio’s Oscar winning outing. Looks like it’s going to be a tight finish, for Simmons’ hypothesis.
Number 2 – Inception
What did DiCaprio bring to Inception? He exuded this edgy, sweaty, vital tension to the role, pushing and driving to find his way home whilst literally haunted by ghosts and dreams, and indeed dreams of ghosts. It’s a psychologically gifted performance that’s as brilliant as it is unnerving. Damon in that role? Even the biggest Damon fan can’t go there with any authority. Sure, you might have rooted for Dom Cobb a little harder with Damon playing him, but that would have defeated the purpose. DiCaprio’s incarnation was always on the edge, both in the movie and for the audience. Damon in that role? Simply not the same.
5-4 DiCaprio takes a late lead.
Number 1 – Titanic
Ugh. I wonder if, when his God or his Gods come calling, as he passes away peacefully and happily amongst his family and friends, will Leo DiCaprio think to himself ‘I can’t frickin’ believe that was my most popular movie’? Perhaps he embraces it fully, but once you strip everything away, Titanic is a pretty basic movie about a big disaster. Take the big ass sinking ship out of the equation, and you have a pretty vanilla love story. I like Damon as a romantic. He does it well in The Adjustment Bureau with Emily Blunt, and I would suggest Damon could do something different with Jack and add a thing or two here and there to the character. There’s no reason to think this would be beyond his capability, particularly when it’s such a fundamentally threadbare movie.
5-5. A tie.
In summary, does this 5-5 tie come anywhere close to proving Simmons’ somewhat outrageous comment? Not really, no. Not really, for two reasons. First, Damon only barely got the nod for most of his 5 wins. DiCaprio absolutely annihilated the suggestion with most of his 5 wins. For example, going back to The Wolf, there’s no way Damon improves on that performance, in any imaginary scenario possible. So, the 5-5 tie is at best a precarious position for Damon.
The second reason? Simmons’ original hypothesis can only be fully fleshed out be visiting the same topic upon Damon’s movies. Could DiCaprio have made Damon’s top 10 movies ‘better’?
Stay tuned, we’ll find out together.