Nicholson and Hunt won the Academy Award for Best Actor and Best Actress, respectively, making As Good As It Gets the most recent film to win both of the lead acting awards, and the first since 1991's The Silence of the Lambs. It is ranked 140th on Empire magazine's "The 500 Greatest Movies of All Time" list.
Melvin Udall is a misanthrope who works at home as a best-selling novelist in New York City. He suffers from obsessive–compulsive disorder which, paired with his misanthropy, alienates nearly everyone with whom he interacts. He avoids stepping on sidewalk cracks while walking through the city due to a superstition of bad luck, and eats breakfast at the same table in the same restaurant every day using disposable plastic utensils he brings with him due to his pathological fear of germs. He takes an interest in his waitress, Carol Connelly, the only server at the restaurant who can tolerate his behavior.
One day, Melvin's apartment neighbor, a gay artist named Simon Bishop, is assaulted and nearly killed during a robbery. Melvin is intimidated by Simon's agent, Frank Sachs, into caring for Simon's dog, Verdell, while Simon is hospitalized. Although he initially does not enjoy caring for the dog, Melvin becomes emotionally attached to it. He simultaneously receives more attention from Carol. When Simon is released from the hospital, Melvin is unable to cope emotionally with returning the dog. Melvin's life is further altered when Carol decides to work closer to her home in Brooklyn so she can care for her acutely asthmatic son Spencer ("Spence"). Unable to adjust to another waitress, Melvin arranges through his publisher, whose husband is a doctor, to pay for her son's considerable medical expenses as long as Carol agrees to return to work. She is overwhelmed at his generosity, and they agree there will be no physical relationship.
Meanwhile, Simon's assault and rehabilitation, coupled with Verdell's preference for Melvin, causes Simon to lose his creative muse. Simon is approaching bankruptcy due to his medical bills. Frank convinces him to go to Baltimore to ask his estranged parents for money. Because Frank is too busy to take the injured Simon to Baltimore himself, Melvin reluctantly agrees to do so – Frank lends Melvin the use of his Saab 900 convertible for the trip. Melvin invites Carol to accompany them on the trip to lessen the awkwardness. She reluctantly accepts the invitation, and relationships among the three develop.
Once in Baltimore, Carol persuades Melvin to take her out to have dinner. Melvin's comments during the dinner greatly flatter—and subsequently upset—Carol, and she abruptly leaves. Upon seeing the frustrated Carol, Simon begins to sketch her semi-nude in his hotel room and rekindles his creativity, once more feeling a desire to paint. He briefly reconnects with his parents, but is able to tell them that he'll be fine.
After returning to New York, Carol tells Melvin that she does not want him in her life anymore. She later regrets her statement and calls him to apologize. The relationship between Melvin and Carol remains complicated until Simon (whom Melvin has allowed to move in with him until he can fully heal from his injuries and get a new apartment) convinces Melvin to declare his love for her. Melvin goes to see Carol, who is hesitant, but agrees to try and establish a relationship with him. The film ends with Melvin and Carol walking together. As he opens the door at an early morning pastry shop for Carol, he realizes that he has stepped on a crack in the pavement, but doesn't seem to mind.
In 1996, James L. Brooks flew Geoffrey Rush from Sydney to Los Angeles to audition for the part of Simon Bishop, and offered him the role, but Rush declined it.
The soundtrack features instrumental pieces composed by Hans Zimmer and songs by various artists. Zimmer's work was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Original Score – Musical or Comedy.
- "As Good as It Gets" – Zimmer
- "A Better Man" – Zimmer
- "Humanity" – Zimmer
- "Too Much Reality" – Zimmer
- "188.8.131.52.5" – Zimmer
- "Greatest Woman on Earth" – Zimmer
- "Everything My Heart Desires" – Danielle Brisebois
- "Under Stars" – Phil Roy
- "My Only" – Danielle Brisebois
- "For Sentimental Reasons (I Love You)" – Nat King Cole
- "Hand on My Heart" – Judith Owen
- "Climb on (A Back That's Strong)" – Shawn Colvin
- "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life" – Eric Idle
As Good as It Gets was also a box office hit, opening at number three at the box office (behind Titanic and Tomorrow Never Dies) with $12.6 million, and eventually earning over $148 million domestically and $314 million worldwide. It is Jack Nicholson's second most lucrative film, behind Batman.
Review aggregate Rotten Tomatoes reports that 86% of professional critics gave the film a positive review based on 76 reviews. Metacritic, a web site that evaluates films by averaging their overall critical response, gave the film a metascore of 67, signifying generally favorable reviews. The film's two lead actors, Nicholson and Hunt, both received Academy and Golden Globe awards for their performances. Chicago Reader film critic Jonathan Rosenbaum wrote that what director James Brooks "Manages to do with (the characters) as they struggle mightily to connect with one another is funny, painful, beautiful, and basically truthful--a triumph for everyone involved."
However, praise for the film was not uniform among critics. While Roger Ebert gave the film three stars (out of four), he called the film a "compromise, a film that forces a smile onto material that doesn't wear one easily," writing that the film drew "back to story formulas," but had good dialog and performances. Washington Post critic Desson Howe gave a generally negative review of the movie, writing that it "gets bogged down in sentimentality, while its wheels spin futilely in life-solving overdrive."
The film received generally positive reviews from critics and was nominated for and received many film awards, including an Academy Award nomination for Best Picture and a Golden Globe award for Best Picture-Music or Comedy.