Matt and Ben, Ben and Matt: The childhood friends who rose to Hollywood stardom together are forever linked in the public’s mind — but inevitably one of them has to get top billing on the marquee.
At the moment, Matt Damon (search) gets that privilege. With his starring role as the super-assassin Jason Bourne in "The Bourne Supremacy," (search) which opens Friday, and the upcoming "Ocean's Twelve," Damon has become one of Hollywood's most respected and successful young actors.
His buddy Ben Affleck (search), meanwhile, has recently suffered a string of flops, including "Gigli" and "Jersey Girl"; weathered a media feeding frenzy over his failed "Bennifer" romance and has had his biggest success winning on "Celebrity Poker."
So what's with this once dynamic duo? Anderson Jones, an entertainment correspondent for filmstew.com, said the two friends represent two sides of the Hollywood coin.
"Matt Damon has always come across as the more serious actor, and Ben would be a movie star," said Jones. "One gets you $10 million (per movie) and one gets you a lot of Oscars."
It's true that after the guys won a screenwriting Oscar for "Good Will Hunting," Ben became the more bankable star. He pulled in $12 million for "Bounce" and starred in a series of big-budget films like "Armageddon," "Pearl Harbor" and "Daredevil."
But even Ben's blockbuster roles are on the wane. He was recently dropped from consideration for Jerry Bruckheimer's "Glory Road," and has been distanced from the Tom Clancy series after starring in 2002 in "The Sum of All Fears" as Jack Ryan, a role played several times by Harrison Ford.
Ironically, Matt is the one who is being compared to Ford these days.
"[Matt] can develop over the course of time — a number of characters all have a touchstone of that Matt Damon sensibility," said Jones. "Like a Harrison Ford without the grumpiness — and [a] much better body."
While Ben has opted for the big paychecks — much fun was made of his flop literally called "Paycheck" — Matt cut his teeth on juicy roles in critical successes like "The Talented Mr. Ripley," "Saving Private Ryan" and "The Bourne Identity," a sleeper hit that eventually made $200 million and spurred the current sequel.
"While everyone was waiting for Ben to find a franchise, Matt Damon discovered one in Jason Bourne," said Jones."It could be the next generation's James Bond."
Still, Damon knows what it's like to be the odd man out in Tinseltown.
"Right before 'The Bourne Identity' came out, I hadn't been offered a movie in a year because 'The Legend of Bagger Vance' had come out and bombed, and 'All The Pretty Horses' had come out and bombed," Damon told the Associated Press.
Another factor in the friends' divergent paths is their personal lives. Ben has dated high-profile women, including Gwyneth Paltrow and, of course, Jennifer Lopez, while Matt recently had a quiet, long-term relationship with Odessa Whitmire, Ben's assistant, although the two have split.
Although Ben has publicly blamed much of his career woes on the media's interest in his relationship with Lopez, one media insider said that's no excuse.
"No one in the media made him kiss J-Lo's a** in a video," said the Ben-watcher, who requested anonymity, referring to Lopez's 'Jenny from the Block' video. "Or make-out in a Bentley for paparazzi. These were his decisions."
And, the media insider added, the actors' differing positions in Hollywood aren't just based on roles and romances.
"It's undeniable that Matt is the far better actor," she said. "Even when Ben was doing indie stuff, he was the weak link. He has a forced canned quality to him."
But other people in the business say just because Matt's on top now doesn't mean there won't be a role reversal.
"Everyone has flops — you are as good as your current picture" said Bonnie Shumofsky, an agent at Abrams Artists Agency. "I honestly think they are both talented in their own way."
Besides, there's no such thing as bad publicity, she added.
"It's like my grandmother — may she rest in peace — always said: 'It's better to be talked about than not be talked about at all.'"