Total Recall

Total Recall: Ben Stiller's Best Movies

We count down the best-reviewed work of the Little Fockers star.

by | December 23, 2010 | Comments

Ben Stiller

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 into his incredible bankability. Stiller’s films have grossed more than $2.1 billion, a total that includes the more than $800 million racked up by Meet the Parents and Meet the Fockers — and with the third installment in the franchise, Little Fockers, arriving in theaters this weekend, 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. Zero Effect

Who’s the private dick that drinks Tab and avoids people if at all possible? Why, Daryl Zero, of course — the neuroses-riddled P.I. played by Bill Pullman in Jake Kasdan’s 1998 cult favorite Zero Effect. With Stiller co-starring as his conflicted assistant, and an eclectic supporting cast that included Ryan O’Neal, Zero Effect was a little too quirky for mainstream success, and quite a few critics didn’t know what to make of it — but the majority appreciated Kasdan’s offbeat style, including Roger Ebert, who wrote, “This is one of those movies that creeps up on you, insidiously gathering power. By the end, I was surprised how much I was involved.”


9. Keeping the Faith

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.”


8. Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story

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.”


7. Greenberg

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.”


6. Your Friends and Neighbors

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.”


5. The Royal Tenenbaums

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

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

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

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. This 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

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.”

In case you were wondering, here are Stiller’s top 10 movies according RT users’ scores:

1. The Royal Tenenbaums — 87%

2. Meet the Parents — 79%

3. Zoolander — 78%

4. Night at the Museum — 76%

5. Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story — 75%

6. Reality Bites — 74%

6. Zero Effect — 74%

8. Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa — 73%

9. Madagascar — 70%

10. Tropic Thunder — 69%

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

Finally, here’s a clip of Stiller doing his best Bruce Willis impersonation, from his short-lived FOX sketch comedy show, The Ben Stiller Show:

Tag Cloud

YouTube Premium Apple TV Plus Endgame Peacock Best Actress prank japanese Disney superman Lucasfilm kaiju 2016 Lifetime Christmas movies reboot Sneak Peek target scene in color Star Wars Celebration Pop TV golden globes New York Comic Con TLC Best Picture period drama ghosts kong unscripted CBS screen actors guild psychological thriller Columbia Pictures San Diego Comic-Con DC Universe Mudbound Black History Month Mary Tyler Moore stop motion Sundance TV NYCC spider-man Oscars harry potter supernatural screenings tv talk Shudder Best Director Set visit suspense historical drama young adult DGA X-Men anime GoT stand-up comedy talk show free movies pirates of the caribbean Podcast sequel Instagram Live Marvel Studios rom-coms hollywood Black Mirror target President jurassic park DC streaming service summer TV book adaptation dc 99% canceled TV shows Apple cats indie Family spinoff 72 Emmy Awards razzies documentaries Star Trek superhero cancelled TV shows Nickelodeon science fiction name the review Fargo OneApp aapi child's play remakes Sundance political drama Masterpiece japan YouTube Red Hallmark Christmas movies Fox Searchlight AMC Plus Legendary sports Mystery Paramount Apple TV+ nbcuniversal TBS critics ID archives universal monsters 2018 Hallmark book interviews Fox News Pacific Islander Country TCA Winter 2020 Ovation independent BAFTA Sci-Fi RT History IMDb TV Nat Geo Paramount Network crossover 71st Emmy Awards HBO Polls and Games Pop 21st Century Fox SDCC miniseries VH1 zero dark thirty Winter TV Comic-Con@Home 2021 Western Vudu 2020 Schedule Turner Classic Movies cancelled TV series boxoffice Neflix breaking bad Native black game show strong female leads new york high school olympics Pirates Exclusive Video live action First Look Marathons Image Comics Sony 24 frames HFPA Grammys Trophy Talk Holiday scene in color Trivia CBS All Access scene in color series Mindy Kaling WarnerMedia dceu festivals parents CNN Amazon Studios comic book movies 2015 foreign The Purge Baby Yoda Prime Video Awards Tour binge DirecTV comic book movie based on movie french 94th Oscars MGM scary movies Fantasy Infographic cooking Ghostbusters adenture Premiere Dates Pixar critic resources marvel cinematic universe Netflix Christmas movies TV debate Spike BBC Starz new zealand TNT Disney streaming service blockbusters Chilling Adventures of Sabrina Shondaland popular 93rd Oscars rotten movies we love technology 90s Epix live event 2017 comiccon 73rd Emmy Awards kids cinemax Britbox elevated horror Action USA ABC Family Tumblr The Walt Disney Company Pet Sematary Chernobyl Arrowverse a nightmare on elm street MTV The Walking Dead Geeked Week SundanceTV Trailer Superheroes rt labs twilight South by Southwest Film Festival VICE TCA Awards Acorn TV what to watch police drama BBC One Turner lord of the rings trophy Film telelvision australia animated hispanic National Geographic Fall TV Toys boxing slasher TV Land Animation Comic Book Hulu Paramount Pictures gangster ABC Reality Competition saw Wes Anderson Opinion sopranos posters genre know your critic deadpool Crunchyroll CW Seed Bravo revenge SXSW 2022 Tags: Comedy SXSW Tubi mcc travel medical drama Netflix criterion Disney+ Disney Plus discovery biopic ESPN reviews aliens indiana jones monster movies rt archives all-time casting die hard comedies toy story Brie Larson wonder woman LGBTQ south america A&E asian-american Logo mission: impossible Sony Pictures Amazon IFC Films natural history AMC king kong feel good LGBT cancelled television concert Esquire Academy Awards festival TV One satire Kids & Family stoner streamig E3 Tarantino DC Comics Anna Paquin thriller Valentine's Day award winner Christmas biography marvel comics Mary Poppins Returns mob 45 dreamworks Warner Bros. Hollywood Foreign Press Association BET Television Critics Association international classics PaleyFest Musical nfl Freeform slashers vampires rotten sitcom Super Bowl Martial Arts Television Academy Countdown 78th Annual Golden Globe Awards Teen PBS scary adaptation Funimation OWN Emmys news films emmy awards USA Network art house series Rocketman Sundance Now Lionsgate HBO Go anthology chucky ITV new star wars movies FXX ratings MCU Interview ViacomCBS sag awards 79th Golden Globes Awards comics blaxploitation 2019 jamie lee curtis Paramount Plus Discovery Channel MSNBC rt labs critics edition serial killer Best Actor disaster Thanksgiving james bond scorecard dexter Biopics Quiz E! ABC Signature mutant spanish Certified Fresh Best and Worst basketball Classic Film Holidays broadcast romance Universal mockumentary italian GIFs adventure summer TV preview Amazon Prime spider-verse TV renewals El Rey obituary space crime drama Spectrum Originals streaming dogs Lifetime A24 Marvel TIFF 007 halloween tv hispanic heritage month Indigenous Disney Channel Walt Disney Pictures Mary poppins Oscar Tomatazos See It Skip It Women's History Month Drama Emmy Nominations comic books TCM true crime WGN theme song green book Travel Channel Adult Swim Video Games Horror trailers PlayStation Ellie Kemper Musicals teaser dragons robots Cannes toronto game of thrones Song of Ice and Fire 2021 finale golden globe awards vs. Avengers royal family Comedy Central video social media HBO Max Box Office crime thriller children's TV FX on Hulu psycho movies YA cartoon women politics TCA 2017 Watching Series action-comedy zombie renewed TV shows Creative Arts Emmys Reality Year in Review legend summer preview christmas movies History FX 4/20 YouTube Comics on TV The Arrangement APB worst movies football richard e. Grant The CW spain Rom-Com doctor who Broadway GLAAD TV movies comic directors hidden camera Food Network Superheroe documentary blockbuster streaming movies godzilla Elton John Heroines spy thriller IFC The Academy Stephen King docudrama The Witch cops black comedy Election Tokyo Olympics movie leaderboard justice league war canceled television Amazon Prime Video Character Guide halloween cars Marvel Television Film Festival venice video on demand Captain marvel Showtime Crackle joker latino Writers Guild of America singing competition king arthur First Reviews RT21 Pride Month Red Carpet nature Spring TV Cosplay Extras BBC America Focus Features Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt fast and furious Binge Guide VOD crime Summer composers obi wan CMT zombies Disney Plus Universal Pictures Rocky Music NBC Calendar 1990s quibi Awards sequels 20th Century Fox Hear Us Out BET Awards batman spanish language Winners NBA hist American Society of Cinematographers werewolf diversity best transformers fresh Rock Cartoon Network TruTV heist movie Star Wars docuseries Alien facebook FOX cancelled dramedy Comedy Syfy romantic comedy TCA laika Nominations cults versus Photos scene in color film series witnail worst franchise dark Dark Horse Comics