Total Recall

Ben Stiller's 10 Best Movies

In this week's Total Recall, we count down the best-reviewed work of the Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb star.

by | December 17, 2014 | Comments

Though he’s primarily known for playing guys who have a hard time doing anything right, Ben Stiller is one of the most successful talents in Hollywood — a writer/director/actor whose occasional wanderings into critically Rotten territory haven’t put a dent in his incredible bankability. Stiller’s films have grossed more than $2 billion, a total he’s poised to add to with Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb arriving in theaters this weekend, so we decided now would be the perfect time to take a look back at his critical highlights. (Spoiler alert: Envy will not be covered.) It’s time for another round of Total Recall!

10. Keeping the Faith (2000) 69%

Edward Norton made his directorial debut with this dramedy, whose misguided, run-of-the-mill love triangle marketing campaign disguised its unusually thoughtful religious themes. Stiller played Jacob, a rabbi whose lifelong friendship with a priest (Norton) is complicated when a woman from their past (Jenna Elfman) resurfaces, unwittingly sparking a rivalry between the two — and raising tough questions about how to deal with conflicts between one’s faith and one’s love life. A modest hit with audiences and critics, Keeping the Faith earned the admiration of scribes such as Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat of Sprituality and Practice, who applauded it as “The first film in years to present two servants of God as ardent, idealistic, hard-working, and interesting people.”

9. Dodgeball – A True Underdog Story (2004) 71%

Part of a very busy year for Stiller that saw him starring in five movies (including Meet the Fockers, Envy, Along Came Polly, and Starsky & Hutch) and turning in a memorable cameo in Anchorman, this ensemble sports comedy pitted Stiller against Vince Vaughn in another round of the classic battle between the haves and the have-nots… only this time, with dodgeballs. Comedies this broad don’t usually resonate with critics, and this one arrived during a glut of ribald, sports-themed comedies, but Dodgeball hit the sweet spot between critical and commercial success because, in the words of Rolling Stone’s Peter Travers, “This masterpiece of modern cinema depends upon a single truism: A guy getting hit in the nuts a hundred times in a row is funny a hundred times.”

8. Greenberg (2010) 76%

Writer/director Noah Baumbach excels at making movies about essentially unlikable people, and Ben Stiller is fearless when it comes to playing them, so it was no surprise that their collaboration for 2010’s Greenberg yielded largely positive reviews — as well as plenty of wrinkled noses from filmgoers who couldn’t stomach the self-absorbed, off-putting behavior unfolding onscreen. “There’s a lot not to like about Greenberg, the character and the film,” cautioned David Stratton of Australia’s At the Movies, “and yet, by the end, I found it very touching, and the final scene is so imbued with delicacy and humanity that any stumbles along the way can be forgiven.”

7. Your Friends & Neighbors (1998) 77%

The first film, according to Wikipedia, to be reviewed on Rotten Tomatoes, Neil LaBute’s 1998 ensemble dramedy Your Friends & Neighbors united a stellar cast — including Stiller, Catherine Keener, Jason Patric, and Aaron Eckhart — to tell the frequently bleak tale of the sexual entanglements between three unhappy couples. Grim, unflinching, and thoroughly uncomfortable, this is vintage LaBute — which is to say it was only ever destined to be a hit with critics such as Netflix’s James Rocchi, who cautioned, “You will not like Your Friends and Neighbors; it’s intense, unflinching and uncomfortable. You won’t look away from it, though, and you won’t forget the people it showed you for a long time.”

6. Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted (2012) 78%

Most franchises see their critical fortunes subject to the law of diminishing returns as the sequels roll out. Not so Madagascar, the star-studded saga of a troupe of wildlife (voiced by a cast that includes Chris Rock, Jada Pinkett Smith, Cedric the Entertainer, and — yes — Ben Stiller as Alex the Lion) whose misadventures in the third installment of the series find them bumbling through Europe while hiding in plain sight as members of a circus troupe. Before adding a few hundred million more to the Madagascar kitty, Europe’s Most Wanted drew praise from critics like Betsy Sharkey of the Los Angeles Times, who called it “A neon-saturated, high-flying trapeze act with enough frenetic funny business that it’s a wonder the folks behind this zillion-dollar franchise about zoo critters on the lam didn’t send the animals to the circus sooner.”

5. The Royal Tenenbaums (2002) 81%

Stiller followed the broad, mainstream-friendly Meet the Parents with a pair of excursions into the oddball end of the comedy spectrum: the cult favorite Zoolander, which he also wrote and directed, and Wes Anderson’s The Royal Tenenbaums. Amidst an eyebrow-raising ensemble cast that also included Gene Hackman, Anjelica Huston, Gwyneth Paltrow, Bill Murray, and Andrew, Luke, and Owen Wilson, Stiller was at his quirkiest and most neurotic — in other words, at his best. While it wasn’t a huge hit at the box office, Tenenbaums fared well with most critics, including Geoff Pevere of the Toronto Star, who called it “An eloquent, eccentric and surprisingly touching tribute to the comic dignity of failure.”

4. There’s Something About Mary (1998) 83%

Ben Stiller had made plenty of films before he hit the big time with There’s Something About Mary — in fact, it came out alongside three more of his movies in 1998 — but this gleefully tasteless comedy from the Farrelly brothers took him from That Guy status and put him on the path to superstardom. While it may not have broken a lot of new ground, it pushed the boundaries of acceptable topics for comedy, cemented the Farrellys’ bankability, and acted as a forebear for the new golden era of R-rated laffers waiting just around the corner. “When it’s not mean spirited, tastelessness can be riotously funny,” observed Jeanne Aufmuth of the Palo Alto Weekly, adding, “and this is a gag-a-thon of hugely funny proportions.”

3. Tropic Thunder (2008) 82%

Stiller’s experiences as a bit player on Empire of the Sun inspired him to write this barbed Hollywood satire about a group of pampered actors (led by Stiller, Jack Black, and Robert Downey, Jr. in blackface) whose entitled behavior leads their exasperated director to try using a little cinema verite on their war movie, with decidedly unintended results. Loaded with inside jokes, a marvelously insane Tom Cruise cameo, and thinly veiled insults directed at other actors, Thunder earned a healthy critical buzz to go with its $188 million box office draw. Calling it “Stiller’s Hellzapoppin’ Apocalypse Now,” Entertainment Weekly’s Lisa Schwarzbaum praised it as “a smart and agile dissection of art, fame, and the chutzpah of big-budget productions.”

2. Meet the Parents (2000) 84%

Stiller is one of the kings of uncomfortable comedy, and few films have taken advantage of his gift for squirm-inducing laughs as brilliantly as Meet the Parents, the smash hit Jay Roach comedy about male nurse Gaylord “Greg” Focker (Stiller) and his painfully awkward (and/or just plain painful) attempts to make a good first impression on his girlfriend’s parents. Featuring plenty of guffaw-worthy physical comedy and splendidly antagonistic chemistry between Stiller and Robert De Niro, Parents grossed over $500 million, spawning a franchise and earning the applause of critics like Time’s Richard Schickel, who chuckled, “Alas, poor Focker. He can’t help himself. And we can’t help ourselves from falling about, equally helpless, at this superbly antic movie.”

1. Flirting with Disaster (1996) 87%

David O. Russell followed up his critically lauded debut, 1994’s Spanking the Monkey, with this road trip comedy about a new father (Stiller) who sets out in search of his biological parents with his wife (Patricia Arquette), a ditzy adoption agency employee (Tea Leoni), and an ever-expanding crowd of eccentric characters. Audiences didn’t really respond to Flirting with Disaster‘s blend of observational humor and broad slapstick, but it resonated with critics, who appreciated Russell’s deceptively thoughtful script and a sharp cast that included Mary Tyler Moore, Alan Alda, Lily Tomlin, and George Segal. “If Russell is erratic with plot and the slightest bit smug in attitude,” wrote Nick Davis of Nick’s Flick Picks, “he makes up for these flaws by drawing fun, inspired performances from his ace cast.”


Finally, here’s Ben Stiller as Daniel Day-Lewis in a clip from his sketch comedy series, The Ben Stiller Show:



Tag Cloud

razzies Trailer fast and furious Calendar talk show Photos dragons ABC Family indiana jones robots MCU Spring TV Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt news Cosplay Avengers godzilla binge miniseries cancelled TV shows Netflix Christmas movies medical drama Turner Classic Movies Writers Guild of America richard e. Grant series Academy Awards diversity blockbuster X-Men obituary political drama Best and Worst latino critics saw video on demand See It Skip It Fox Searchlight Freeform twilight zombie cults FX 71st Emmy Awards Paramount Network Song of Ice and Fire YA Syfy slashers christmas movies best name the review Marvel Studios films rotten Showtime Chernobyl Valentine's Day Marvel 20th Century Fox TV Fall TV women football cancelled TV series book adaptation batman 4/20 Winners Pride Month festival Television Academy Superheroe Peacock canceled Action MTV Christmas Disney Holidays VICE PBS green book boxoffice crime worst movies Television Critics Association finale Alien Amazon Prime Video Rock politics black movie Horror LGBT LGBTQ Year in Review Paramount cats Fox News true crime australia reboot scene in color Dark Horse Comics Awards Tour theme song canceled TV shows The Academy TV Land Interview Drama asian-american based on movie Tarantino book Apple unscripted Nickelodeon movies HBO toy story anime laika japanese versus natural history boxing GIFs Binge Guide Netflix streaming nfl spider-man classics fresh Marathons The Walking Dead television comics kong 2021 what to watch witnail tv talk monster movies Comedy halloween cops remakes Kids & Family Watching Series rom-coms Hear Us Out video toronto American Society of Cinematographers TCA Winter 2020 Arrowverse Hallmark emmy awards adaptation free movies Lifetime Christmas movies Creative Arts Emmys Apple TV+ comedies 2017 ViacomCBS dogs game of thrones reviews El Rey Acorn TV scary movies werewolf DGA Hallmark Christmas movies ITV Britbox Captain marvel Biopics Bravo thriller GoT Chilling Adventures of Sabrina french scorecard documentaries mockumentary docuseries heist movie TCM screenings Logo new york king kong high school chucky Tubi Mary Poppins Returns quibi biography Opinion dc south america National Geographic festivals mutant jurassic park psychological thriller ID new star wars movies 2016 Starz crossover archives ghosts BAFTA BBC One Quiz FXX science fiction kaiju 93rd Oscars ABC italian Image Comics Emmy Nominations international psycho TIFF Character Guide Baby Yoda OneApp Paramount Plus hollywood anthology blockbusters HBO Max cancelled television Disney Plus Premiere Dates Certified Fresh Schedule The Walt Disney Company Martial Arts james bond YouTube Premium Adult Swim kids Elton John satire Pacific Islander Countdown TV renewals Sundance Amazon Turner worst Extras award winner Animation Vudu 2019 The CW Rom-Com golden globes ratings Hulu RT History NBC lord of the rings Nat Geo VH1 Summer Rocketman TLC Disney+ Disney Plus Lionsgate Music technology 007 aapi Mystery USA Network cancelled comiccon Pixar 2020 dramedy YouTube Red SundanceTV Box Office IFC cartoon singing competition Reality Competition The Purge Comedy Central Apple TV Plus Sneak Peek Teen Ghostbusters The Witch Winter TV Oscars Musicals CNN TV One 2015 Disney Channel hist 21st Century Fox Lucasfilm concert CMT Cartoon Network rotten movies we love harry potter DC Comics 78th Annual Golden Globe Awards docudrama strong female leads Reality spanish language dark jamie lee curtis Fantasy MSNBC Western CBS Epix TBS Walt Disney Pictures Black Mirror superman Tumblr Ovation Ellie Kemper Election rt archives Black History Month aliens Holiday Pirates SDCC discovery Legendary ESPN all-time war streaming movies hispanic Esquire space justice league TV movies hidden camera RT21 Food Network elevated horror franchise VOD revenge Shudder Sundance Now History Heroines Sony Pictures new zealand A24 nbcuniversal USA Disney streaming service BBC Crackle 2018 Endgame Funimation deadpool FX on Hulu Musical comic books Rocky Tomatazos ABC Signature nature foreign dceu Brie Larson stoner marvel cinematic universe Podcast superhero spinoff sequel Shondaland BET Awards romance Awards Classic Film romantic comedy cooking Mary Tyler Moore BET Comics on TV criterion zombies trailers Warner Bros. AMC crime thriller Anna Paquin TNT APB independent Comic Book joker travel telelvision Travel Channel child's play breaking bad Marvel Television First Reviews Mudbound Thanksgiving know your critic GLAAD TCA Awards Cannes TruTV a nightmare on elm street animated crime drama Star Trek Video Games prank YouTube Spectrum Originals FOX sequels E! Mindy Kaling BBC America DC streaming service NYCC sports popular Lifetime composers Amazon Studios CBS All Access universal monsters Sci-Fi stop motion The Arrangement HBO Go Red Carpet SXSW President Universal Discovery Channel Pet Sematary Superheroes halloween tv Amazon Prime live action period drama supernatural A&E TCA renewed TV shows stand-up comedy adventure E3 Trophy Talk transformers Pop TV documentary Nominations OWN spanish Toys Country mission: impossible New York Comic Con 24 frames spy thriller screen actors guild historical drama serial killer Masterpiece golden globe awards vampires sitcom Trivia CW Seed First Look Film Super Bowl 72 Emmy Awards 45 99% Star Wars doctor who Women's History Month DirecTV directors Family teaser Sundance TV Film Festival pirates of the caribbean spain IFC Films WGN disaster game show children's TV Broadway venice indie comic Columbia Pictures TCA 2017 die hard Crunchyroll casting parents Set visit WarnerMedia target cinemax Spike cars Stephen King DC Universe San Diego Comic-Con blaxploitation social media Polls and Games facebook police drama Infographic zero dark thirty Exclusive Video Grammys PaleyFest Emmys sag awards Pop PlayStation Mary poppins