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) 70%


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) 79%


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) 80%


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

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