Total Recall

Total Recall: Seth Rogen's Best Movies

We take a look at the Observe and Report star's most critically-acclaimed work.

by | April 8, 2009 | Comments

Five years ago, all Seth Rogen really had going for him were roles in a pair of quickly canceled television shows and bit parts in Donnie Darko and Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy — but in Hollywood, fortunes can change quickly, and this Friday, Rogen will return to theaters with his fourth live-action leading role in the last two years, as mall security guard Ronnie Barnhardt in Jody Hill’s Observe and Report. At the tender age of 26, Rogen has already put together such an impressive résumé that we thought now would be the perfect time to devote an installment of Total Recall to his best-reviewed movies.

Rogen rose to fame as a member of Judd Apatow’s troupe — he received his first big break as a member of the Freaks and Geeks cast, and Apatow elevated him to leading man status with 2007’s Knocked Up — and although it’s true that many of Rogen’s roles have been in Apatow comedies (or movies that just seem like Apatow comedies), he’s done more than you might think, including voicework for some popular animated fare, production work on many of his films, and writing for projects as varied as Da Ali G Show and Drillbit Taylor. Okay, maybe that last one wasn’t a very good example of his talents, but still, you have to admit — for a guy who wasn’t even on most people’s radar in the not-too-distant past, Seth Rogen has come an awfully long way. Join us in taking a look at the highlights of a brief-yet-busy career — and then visit Rogen’s complete filmography to learn more!


10. You, Me and Dupree

Even the most impressive filmography has a stinker or two lurking in the weeds, and Seth Rogen’s is no different. Fortunately for him, his lowest-rated movie, 2006’s You, Me and Dupree, didn’t feature much Rogen — it was a starring vehicle for Owen Wilson, Kate Hudson, and Matt Dillon, and Rogen only turned up in a supporting role as Neil, a mutual friend of the uptight Carl (Dillon) and lovably irresponsible Dupree (Wilson). In theory, the story of an innocent man-child slowly driving an uptight acquaintance insane is rife with humorous possibilities — see What About Bob? — but critics found few laughs in Dupree; although the film was a moderate hit, the reviews were almost uniformly awful. Wesley Morris of the Boston Globe summed up the overall feeling of most writers when he claimed that watching it “made me feel like Lou Dobbs. I didn’t like Dupree. I wanted him deported.”


9. Zack and Miri Make a Porno

Rogen took a furlough from Camp Apatow for Zack and Miri Make a Porno, taking advantage of the opportunity to work for Kevin Smith, the director who redefined mainstream raunch with films such as Mallrats — and who demonstrated, with movies like Chasing Amy, that a successful script can be filthy and sweetly sentimental. Smith tried to walk that line with Zack and Miri, which starred Rogen and Elizabeth Banks as a pair of longtime friends who turn to porn as a way of paying their bills; unfortunately, it wasn’t an Amy-sized success, providing only limited critical and commercial returns despite a hot cast and potential-filled premise. Still, Zack and Miri ended up on the right side of 60 percent on the Tomatometer, thanks to reviews from critics like Creative Loafing’s Matt Brunson, who deemed it “Always likable even if it isn’t always inspired.”


8. Pineapple Express

After channeling the spirit of the ’80s teen comedy for Superbad, Rogen and his screenwriting partner revisited another of the decade’s favorite genres for Pineapple Express: the action buddy comedy. It was marketed as a stoner comedy, and while it certainly contained a fair amount of weed-themed humor, Express was essentially an homage to such squabbling-friends-in-peril classics as Stir Crazy and Running Scared — although it bears pointing out that none of those movies had the benefit of a brief, spectacularly profane appearance by Ed Begley, Jr. Critics weren’t unanimous in their support of the $101 million hit, which starred Rogen and James Franco as a ganja-loving process server and his dealer on the run from a lunatic crimelord — and the theme song, sadly, did not result in a “Back in Time”-sized hit for Huey Lewis — but most scribes agreed with TIME’s Richard Corliss, who deemed Express “A comedy that brings a nicely deflating note of realism to action-film mayhem, as well as being one of the few drug movies you don’t have to be high to enjoy.”


7. Monsters vs. Aliens

For his latest foray into the vocal booth, Rogen had the opportunity few actors are given — namely, to assume the role of a brainless, one-eyed blob created by injecting chemically altered ranch dressing into a genetically engineered tomato. Oh, and that’s not all — Monsters vs. Aliens marked the first time an animated feature was produced in 3-D start to finish, rather than converted after the fact, meaning Rogen was able to get his blob on while helping make movie history. It’s only been out a few weeks, so Aliens‘ final commercial fate has yet to be decided, but seeing as how it’s topped $100 million in domestic grosses in under a month, it seems safe to say the movie is a hit. The critical response has been more mixed, with some writers decrying what they see as an emphasis on visual thrills at the expense of an involving story or fully developed characters, but at 72 percent on the Tomatometer, most reviews have expressed sentiments similar to the Arizona Republic’s Bill Goodykoontz, who wrote, “don’t overthink Monsters vs. Aliens. Just enjoy it.”


6. Dr. Seuss’ Horton Hears a Who!

By the time Zack and Miri and Pineapple Express came out in 2008, Seth Rogen seemed more or less inescapable at the box office — but his high-profile roles in hit comedies only told half the story, because ’08 also saw Rogen lending his distinctive pipes to a trio of animated characters, including the part of Morton the Mouse in Dr. Seuss’ Horton Hears a Who! As the plucky rodent sidekick of Jim Carrey’s Horton, Rogen helped this CG-animated adaptation of the classic children’s book lumber to a pachyderm-sized $297 million gross — at least partially erasing the sour aftertaste left by Carrey’s last Seuss-inspired trip to the cineplex, 2000’s garish How the Grinch Stole Christmas! Critics enjoyed the new spin on Horton almost as much as audiences, certifying it Fresh behind a slew of reviews echoing the sentiments of the Hollywood Reporter’s Kirk Honeycutt, who called it “a delight, brimming with colorful, elastic characters and bountiful wit.”


5. The Spiderwick Chronicles

Since the Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings movies started raking in incredible amounts of money at the box office, just about every studio in Hollywood has tried to set up its own kid-wiz franchise, and though most would-be sequel machines have missed their goal — The Golden Compass, anyone? — some of them, like The Spiderwick Chronicles, have deserved better than being lumped in with The Bridge to Terabithia and limping to $70 million in receipts. In any case, you can hardly fault Spiderwick‘s underwhelming theatrical run on its cast, which included a much-praised starring turn from Freddie Highmore and voicework from Nick Nolte, Martin Short, and — of course — Seth Rogen as the eructative hobgoblin known as Hogsqueal. Director Mark Waters’ adaptation of the popular novels by Holly Black and Tony DiTerlizzi didn’t exactly catch on with moviegoers, but critics appreciated its dark overtones and powerful emotional core; the New York Observer’s Rex Reed, for instance, praised it for “[holding] the interest without unbalancing the I.Q.”


4. The 40-Year-Old Virgin

The R-rated comedy went through some lean years in the ’90s and early ’00s, but by the middle of the decade, studios were willing to bet on grown-ups wanting to laugh again, and Judd Apatow — and, in turn, Seth Rogen — gave them plenty to laugh at, starting with 2005’s The 40-Year-Old Virgin. Rogen plays second fiddle here, appearing as a pot-smoking friend and co-worker to Steve Carell’s titular paragon of chastity, but this is no ordinary supporting role — not only does he get some of the movie’s most memorable lines (including a particularly quote-friendly exchange with Paul Rudd’s character), but he earned a production credit on the film, showing some of the behind-the-scenes acumen that has helped make him more of a budding mogul than your average 26-year-old movie star. Whether or not people went to see it for Rogen, The 40-Year-Old Virgin was a huge hit, making more than $175 million at the box office, and critics enjoyed it too: The Globe and Mail’s Jason Anderson spoke for many of his peers when he wrote, “If only losing it was so good for everybody.”


3. Superbad

It isn’t at all uncommon for high school buddies to daydream about growing up and making it big together — or for aspiring screenwriters to pen their first scripts before they’re old enough to vote. Most of them don’t have the patience to nurture an idea for over a decade, or the luck necessary to take your idea to the box office — but that’s exactly what Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg did with Superbad. Of course, it didn’t hurt having a pair of leads as buzz-friendly as Jonah Hill and Michael Cera, or being able to introduce Christopher Mintz-Plasse as the one and only McLovin — but Superbad‘s real strength lies in the way Rogen and Goldberg’s sweetly funny script blends honest moments with gross-out gags and absurdist humor (including a surreal extended cameo from Rogen and Bill Hader as a pair of spectacularly incompetent police officers). At 87 percent on the Tomatometer, Superbad received no shortage of love from critics like Roger Ebert, who pronounced it “A four-letter raunch-a-rama with a heart.”


2. Kung Fu Panda

While it may not have collected quite as many critical palm fronds — or inspired the sort of impassioned political debate — as Pixar’s WALL-E, DreamWorks’ Kung Fu Panda did just fine for itself, earning over $600 million in worldwide grosses and a very respectable 89 percent on the Tomatometer, thanks to reviews from the likes of the San Francisco Chronicle’s Mick LaSalle, who credited it with “[getting] across important and inevitable plot information in ways that are novel and unexpected.” It was yet another link in an increasingly impressive chain of well-chosen projects for Rogen, who lent his voice to Master Mantis, one of the quintet of talking creatures trained to protect the Valley of Peace threatened by the villainous leopard Tai Lung. While voicing the diminutive martial arts master may not have given Rogen as much of the spotlight as some of his other recent projects, it put him in excellent company — including Angelina Jolie, Dustin Hoffman, Ian McShane, and Jack Black, just to name a few — and provided a guaranteed paycheck for the inevitable sequel, scheduled to arrive in 2011.


1. Knocked Up

Two years after helping Steve Carell break a 40-year streak of sexual inactivity, Seth Rogen played a character on the verge of a different sort of threshold — namely, fatherhood — in Knocked Up. The movie also presented a career Rubicon of sorts for Rogen; after playing a secondary character in Virgin, he moved into the ranks of unconventional comedic leading men with Knocked Up, starring opposite Katherine Heigl as the ambition-deficient half of a couple thrown together by the unplanned results of a one-night stand. It was Rogen’s fourth project with Judd Apatow, and the basic, seemingly effortless likability that the director had seen in his star since their Freaks and Geeks days resonated with audiences — to the tune of nearly $220 million in box office receipts — and helped earn Knocked Up some of the best reviews of the year. Salon’s Stephanie Zacharek was one of the many critics who found it Fresh, praising what she saw as “a picture that refuses to fetishize either the ability to conceive or the significance of our place in the universe once we’ve done so.”

Don’t forget to check out out Seth Rogen’s complete filmography, and see the rest of our Total Recall archives.

Finally, we take you back to where it all began, with Rogen’s audition for Freaks and Geeks:

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