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

USA crossover stoner sitcom Netflix Christmas movies scary movies posters Mudbound remakes telelvision police drama Disney+ Disney Plus HBO Go Star Wars The CW universal monsters Funimation cats Certified Fresh biopic YouTube Premium screen actors guild AMC Song of Ice and Fire criterion franchise Comics on TV Toys 72 Emmy Awards comic sports mcc sag awards casting Sundance indiana jones Trailer Discovery Channel Emmy Nominations Hallmark Disney Plus Columbia Pictures USA Network cancelled TV series Watching Series Sony Pictures Chilling Adventures of Sabrina Hear Us Out IFC Films Heroines The Purge period drama Cartoon Network VICE Awards Tour olympics IFC mockumentary Image Comics Summer TLC Legendary Election HBO Max OWN NYCC hollywood Spike Musical Photos Opinion ratings boxing crime drama Pop debate aapi New York Comic Con TruTV south america a nightmare on elm street based on movie 78th Annual Golden Globe Awards king kong directors Travel Channel comiccon monster movies unscripted Schedule FX Infographic Apple streaming Martial Arts Star Trek 2017 rom-coms teaser BAFTA Fall TV hispanic true crime action-comedy Paramount The Walt Disney Company razzies natural history GIFs Country Exclusive Video kaiju Emmys See It Skip It Sundance Now Comedy breaking bad women Interview TBS miniseries reboot 90s YouTube Red spy thriller ID justice league 4/20 venice Music TIFF ABC Signature dark nature Apple TV Plus BET classics kong Hulu NBC TV renewals The Witch Oscars ViacomCBS medical drama Endgame documentary Action Set visit news boxoffice Mary Poppins Returns saw rt labs Polls and Games fresh Classic Film black composers Tumblr festival adenture stand-up comedy Premiere Dates Walt Disney Pictures game show Pet Sematary cops dceu renewed TV shows royal family obituary DC Universe Best and Worst book Adult Swim CBS All Access 1990s free movies jurassic park 45 Lifetime TV movies First Reviews President cancelled CBS Cosplay Lifetime Christmas movies children's TV young adult canceled Creative Arts Emmys video Family pirates of the caribbean zombies Animation Countdown crime scene in color E! Rocketman WarnerMedia cancelled TV shows chucky australia cinemax twilight FX on Hulu Reality Competition WGN DC Comics Disney streaming service zero dark thirty Paramount Plus Vudu rt archives VH1 Pop TV slasher anthology james bond Nat Geo aliens TCM serial killer target toronto book adaptation blockbuster Tarantino RT21 ABC Family docudrama joker docuseries theme song kids Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt CNN basketball robots X-Men disaster italian king arthur festivals 71st Emmy Awards suspense crime thriller live action emmy awards A24 Superheroe Wes Anderson television 2018 Marvel Studios new star wars movies rotten Lionsgate cults PBS Nickelodeon golden globes canceled TV shows Academy Awards YouTube 73rd Emmy Awards APB 2020 Warner Bros. screenings El Rey Nominations technology Comic Book international GLAAD The Academy know your critic lord of the rings HBO Podcast Shondaland Mystery Paramount Network anime green book GoT Winners Mindy Kaling comic books laika E3 Ellie Kemper TCA Fox Searchlight blaxploitation legend Universal blockbusters Britbox Holiday parents MTV Spring TV Captain marvel Comedy Central Tubi satire thriller marvel cinematic universe supernatural Amazon Studios BET Awards Horror scorecard reviews critic resources YA politics fast and furious TV One dc Winter TV Cannes animated Quiz asian-american Brie Larson psycho VOD Amazon Marvel Television Film Festival Sci-Fi Extras streaming movies movie wonder woman versus 2015 what to watch historical drama Teen 2019 Television Critics Association witnail marvel comics Writers Guild of America mission: impossible LGBT LGBTQ spain Fox News RT History spinoff Logo ESPN Rock deadpool Esquire Masterpiece Netflix Film Holidays name the review Alien Bravo DirecTV concert worst movies Syfy Mary Tyler Moore political drama Elton John comic book movie spider-man 24 frames PlayStation Biopics mutant Television Academy war die hard Food Network Ghostbusters Awards Crackle Trivia Peacock Marathons sequels Pixar FOX new york First Look San Diego Comic-Con cooking foreign facebook CMT Apple TV+ comedies Trophy Talk CW Seed sequel adaptation Tomatazos superhero BBC One spanish comic book movies Calendar Black History Month space American Society of Cinematographers dexter feel good superman Drama The Arrangement batman 93rd Oscars dramedy worst Binge Guide all-time Superheroes TV series Dark Horse Comics Turner Classic Movies nbcuniversal adventure critics singing competition Video Games Pacific Islander TCA Awards Mary poppins harry potter christmas movies Broadway Lucasfilm SDCC Showtime doctor who Box Office Western Arrowverse romance Musicals Acorn TV Year in Review trailers japan rt labs critics edition cartoon FXX elevated horror ghosts 21st Century Fox 007 Epix Marvel MSNBC spanish language comics Rom-Com Thanksgiving cars Rocky gangster Reality Chernobyl quibi Christmas indie prank Grammys DGA Comic-Con@Home 2021 Kids & Family Amazon Prime Video Amazon Prime tv talk best high school Baby Yoda psychological thriller binge TV Land 20th Century Fox Avengers 99% football Women's History Month ABC SXSW NBA golden globe awards Stephen King diversity Super Bowl Black Mirror documentaries strong female leads PaleyFest award winner new zealand zombie rotten movies we love hispanic heritage month Spectrum Originals The Walking Dead 2016 revenge 2021 japanese discovery hidden camera Pride Month Turner heist movie Red Carpet talk show BBC America halloween tv archives richard e. Grant Character Guide video on demand TCA Winter 2020 biography child's play slashers Fantasy Sundance TV Shudder ITV A&E finale History travel science fiction dragons dogs game of thrones popular Freeform vampires TNT TCA 2017 BBC latino Valentine's Day MCU hist independent werewolf movies films Disney social media godzilla SundanceTV toy story Disney Channel transformers cancelled television Crunchyroll Tokyo Olympics jamie lee curtis Pirates halloween Starz Anna Paquin OneApp Sneak Peek french Hallmark Christmas movies nfl DC streaming service National Geographic romantic comedy Ovation stop motion