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

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