Total Recall

Total Recall: Steve Carell's Best Movies

We count down the best-reviewed work of the Date Night star.

by | April 8, 2010 | Comments

Steve Carell

The next time you feel like your career isn’t going as smoothly as you’d like, or worry that your dreams may never come true, just remind yourself that, for quite awhile, the biggest credit on Steve Carell‘s résumé was a bit role in Curly Sue. Almost 20 years later, Carell’s perseverance (and tons of talent) have paid off, making him a star of not only some of the last decade’s top-grossing comedies, but one of TV’s most critically beloved sitcoms. This week, Carell teams up with fellow rising comedy star — and NBC alum — Tina Fey for Date Night, and we decided to honor the occasion by taking a look at the critical highlights of his career so far. It’s Total Recall time!


10. Evan Almighty

After the enormous success of The 40-Year-Old Virgin made Carell a bankable leading man, Universal made the Bruce Almighty sequel a priority — a major priority, in fact, to the tune of a record-breaking $200 million budget. This put Evan Almighty in a bit of a pinch when it came time to recoup, and the largely negative reviews didn’t help; ultimately, despite a heavy marketing push from the studio and a storyline that included a bearded Carell building an ark, Evan was one of the year’s bigger disappointments. Still, it wasn’t all bad — David N. Butterworth was one of the critics who enjoyed the sequel, pronouncing it “Better than Bruce by at least two turtle doves and a 40-year-old virgin.”


9. Bruce Almighty

Carell’s gift for unctuous smarm was already known to fans of The Daily Show, but few of them could have suspected he was capable of walking off with the funniest scenes in a Jim Carrey movie. That’s just what he did with Bruce Almighty, livening up the $484 million hit with his portrayal of Evan Baxter, the newsroom rival of Carrey’s temporarily omnipotent Bruce. “Yep, this is the Carrey America loves,” wrote Tom Long of the Detroit News. “Off-the-wall, over-the-top, elastic, spastic and fantastic.” And when Carrey declined to revisit the character, it was Carell the producers turned to for the sequel.


8. Get Smart

If anyone was going to step into Don Adams’ shoe phones for a 21st century version of Get Smart, it had to be Steve Carell. Answering the question of what it would be like if The Office‘s Michael Scott bought a gun and became a bumbling action hero, Peter Segal’s update on the 1960s TV series paired Carell with Anne Hathaway for a round of globetrotting comic espionage that included the talents of Alan Arkin, David Koechner, Bill Murray, and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. While the 2008 edition of Get Smart might not have been a classic, it delivered what it was supposed to: Comedy, action, and a setup for a sequel. As Tom Maurstad of the Dallas Morning News put it, “Instead of the show’s wacky, slapstick tone, Get Smart presents itself as an action-filled spy movie that just happens to be really funny. And for the most part, it succeeds.”


7. Melinda and Melinda

Is life a comedy or a tragedy? That’s the question asked by Woody Allen’s Melinda and Melinda, which finds a pair of playwrights (Wallace Shawn and Larry Pine) using the character of Melinda (Radha Mitchell) to tell a comic (Shawn) or tragic (Pine) tale. Carell reunited with his Anchorman co-star Will Ferrell here — both of them on the comedy side, naturally — and although Melinda and Melinda didn’t earn Anchorman-sized grosses, many critics felt it was one of Allen’s better late-period efforts, including Ian Freer of Empire Magazine, who wrote, “It has great performances, snappy one-liners and a likeably tricksy structure, all wrapped up in an affirmative antidote to life’s daunting complexities. Welcome back, Woody.”


6. Dan in Real Life

Though frequently called upon to play overbearing buffoons, Carell is equally adept with more complex characters — like Dan Burns, the widowed parent whose emotional rebirth forms the heart of Dan in Real Life. Dotted with the sort of painfully awkward situations Carell’s so good in, Dan also highlighted his dramatic gifts by giving him a character with difficult, and easily identifiable, challenges. The reviews suffered from critical exhaustion with indie dramedies about quirky families, but most writers were able to see past the surface similarities to other releases and recognize a warm-hearted film that managed to walk the line between sweet and saccharine — not to mention a fine performance from its star. As Time’s Richard Schickel put it in his review, “Now, everybody knows that Steve Carell is lovable.”


5. Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy

In a movie full of eminently quotable one-liners, it’s saying something that Steve Carell’s character, Brick Tamland, probably uttered the most quotable of all — including the immortal “I love lamp” and “I think I ate your chocolate squirrel.” Whether spouting non sequitirs or bringing a hand grenade and a trident to a reporters’ brawl, Brick was the glassy-eyed doofus who underscored Anchorman‘s salty profanity with naïve, brain-damaged sweetness — and helped send the movie hurtling down the IQ ladder with such infectious glee that most critics couldn’t stop laughing long enough to voice their disapproval. Applauded Robert Wilonsky of the Dallas Observer, “At its best it plays like modern-day Marx Brothers, in which every single thing that happens makes no sense and serves no purpose and nothing happens for any reason at all.”


4. Over the Hedge

Carell made his first venture into animation voicework with DreamWorks Animation’s adaptation of the Over the Hedge comic strip, joining a colorful cast that included Bruce Willis, Garry Shandling, Wanda Sykes, William Shatner, and Nick Nolte. Hedge‘s menagerie of talking animals — including Carell, who voiced Hammy, a sugar-addicted squirrel with what appears to be the rodent strain of attention deficit disorder — struck some scribes as suspiciously similar to the critters DreamWorks unleashed for 2005’s Madagascar, but its sharp script and charismatic cast helped Hedge overcome most writers’ fears of a furry glut. Calling it a “brightly animated, frequently hilarious and perfectly cast comedy from the Dreamworks stable,” ViewLondon’s Matthew Turner praised Over the Hedge as “the best of the recent animal-themed cartoon features.”


3. Dr. Seuss’ Horton Hears a Who!

After the brightly colored critical misfire that was How the Grinch Stole Christmas, Jim Carrey and Dr. Seuss may have seemed like a pairing to avoid, but all that changed with the 2008 release of Fox’s Horton Hears a Who!, which paired Carrey (as the soft-hearted elephant Horton) with Carell (as the beleaguered mayor of the tiny burg of Whoville) and came up with 86 minutes of CGI animation that families and critics could all enjoy. Supported by an impressive cast that included Carol Burnett, Seth Rogen, Isla Fisher, Jonah Hill, and Will Arnett, Horton expanded Seuss’ classic tale to feature length without sacrificing the gentle whimsy that has made the book such a perennial favorite, and enjoyed some of the year’s best box office as a reward. Observed Brian Webster of the Apollo Guide, “Taking on Seuss has proven a challenge for Hollywood, but a nice balance has been struck here between authenticity and new ideas. This one’s a winner.”


2. The 40-Year-Old Virgin

R-rated comedies were an endangered species during the early aughts — and then along came Judd Apatow to reinvigorate the genre by proving that people would still turn out in droves to see them, provided the comedy included brains and heart along with the T&A. Case in point: The 40-Year-Old Virgin. Apatow and Steve Carell co-wrote the script, which gave Carell his long worked-for starmaking role: the good-hearted Andy Stitzer, whose quest to end his virginity sets up two hours of raunchy gags, Michael McDonald bashing, and inspired lunacy from Jane Lynch. $177 million in worldwide grosses later, Apatow and Carell were household names — and “Kelly Clarkson!” was an acceptable epithet — thanks in part to critical praise from writers like Paul Greenwood of Future Movies, who wrote, “It’s a joy to be in the hands of filmmakers who intuitively know the difference between rude and crude, who know that horny and heartfelt can exist in tandem and that jokes about race and sexuality are not the same as racism and homophobia.”


1. Little Miss Sunshine

The movie business has always had its soulless, by-the-numbers side — that’s the “business” part — but it also has the unique capacity to deliver inspiring success stories like Little Miss Sunshine, which turned a first screenplay (written by Michael Arndt) and directorial debut (by Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris) into a Sundance smash and, eventually, a $100 million hit. It was also a critical favorite, despite offering another indie-brewed family of eccentrics (and being yet another road trip movie in the bargain). This was thanks in part to the stellar cast, which included Greg Kinnear, Toni Collette, Abigail Breslin, a thunderously funny Alan Arkin, and Carell in an unusually dark turn as Frank Ginsberg, a gay professor whose obsession with a grad student led to a recent suicide attempt. “If you think you’ve seen it all before in a family road movie,” challenged Peter Howell of the Toronto Star, “you owe it to yourself to see what happens when somebody actually comes up with a few bright ideas.”

In case you were wondering, here are Carell’s top ten movies according RT users’ scores:

1. Little Miss Sunshine — 93%
2. The 40-Year-Old Virgin — 90%
3. Dr. Seuss’ Horton Hears a Who! — 86%
4. Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy — 84%
5. Over the Hedge — 81%
6. Get Smart — 79%
7. Dan in Real Life — 78%
8. Bruce Almighty — 75%
9. Melinda and Melinda — 64%
10. Evan Almighty — 39%

Take a look through Carell’s complete filmography, as well as the rest of our Total Recall archives. And don’t forget to check out the reviews for Date Night.

Finally, here’s Carell making a pitch for FedEx: