When you think about it, Will Ferrell is an unlikely movie star. Once upon a time, during his Saturday Night Live days, he was a classic scene-stealer: He’d show up in someone else’s film, playing an incompetent henchman, or a dumb jock, or Jesus — and methodically make off with the picture. Then, almost overnight, he became a superstar in his own right, going from comic-relief sidekicks and wild-card cameos to headlining a number of comedies that became monumental blockbusters. His talents, of course, are considerable: With his beefy presence and his seemingly supernatural ability to randomly switch between mousy and blowhard, he is an intrepid, unpredictable screen presence.
That has served Ferrell well; occasionally, however, it’s allowed him to coast, too. He’s made his share of classics, but he’s also racked up an unfortunate number of films where the biggest joke is merely the sight of him in a goofy wig or weird outfit. Regardless, he is one of the biggest comic actors of our time, and, as this ranked list of his big-screen roles proves, is one of the most prolific as well. On the eve of his latest movie Get Hard, we present the good, the bad and the fugly of Will Ferrell’s big-screen career — ranked for your pleasure.
40. ‘Boat Trip’ (2002)
Ferrell thankfully didn’t have a big part in this, a strong contender for one of the worst movies of all time. It stars Cuba Gooding Jr. and Horatio Sanz as two straight men who decide to go on a cruise to find lonely ladies to hook up with – but wind up getting booked on a gay cruise instead. Deeply offensive on every level, and dreadfully unfunny to boot.
39. ‘Men Seeking Women’ (1997)
The mid-Nineties were a dark time when the cinematic landscape was littered with quirky indie dramedies about desperate losers trying to find true love. Here, a trio of best buds who’ve known each other all their lives decide that the best way to find Ms. Right is to set a challenge: The first one to find their dreamgirl gets $6,000. It’s a silly premise, given a mostly straight treatment, and Ferrell doesn’t really get to use any of his talents. Better things were on the horizon. Much better.
38. ‘The Suburbans’ (1999)
Hey, remember when that I-Heart-the-1980s revival was in full swing? This attempt to mock (and simultaneously ride the wave of) Reagan-era nostalgia featured Ferrell as the bass player for a one-hit-wonder Eighties band that reunite at a member’s wedding. Nostalgia, however, isn’t a word you’ll hear from his fans when this movie comes up; despite having played at the Sundance Film Festival, there’s a reason this satire has been largely forgotten. The comedian essentially plays second fiddle to Bridgette Wilson Sampras’ totally awesome braids, Jennifer Love Hewitt’s metallic blue lipstick and some of the worst Flock-of-Seagulls style hair imaginable. Even the sound and fury he unleashes on MTV’s Kurt Loder can’t hold a candle to later Ferrell blow-ups. It’s as bland as its name.
37. ‘The Producers’ (2005)
In this botched attempt to channel the magic of the hit Broadway musical (which itself was once a classic Mel Brooks movie), Ferrell plays Franz Liebkind, the Fuhrer-loving playwright enlisted to write the musical “Springtime for Hitler.” The part calls for broad, shticky overacting — you know, the kind Ferrell can usually do in his sleep. But amid the shrill mess of this movie, his performance just feels like overkill.
36. ‘Bewitched’ (2005)
This adaptation of the hit TV show – in truth, a movie about characters doing a TV adaptation of the hit TV show – was not one of director Nora Ephron’s better efforts. The problem: A crippling disconnect between Ferrell’s egomaniacal movie star character and Nicole Kidman’s oddly lifeless turn as a real witch trying to put the supernatural world behind her. There are two different movies here, and they’re never reconciled.
35. ‘Drowning Mona’ (2000)
Ferrell didn’t have a particularly big part in this dreadfully dull, convoluted, dark pseudo-comedy in which Bette Midler plays a shrew whose mysterious death is investigated in elaborate flashbacks. But it’s nice to have him around – his quietly goofy presence, aided by a hilariously bad combover – lends some levity to this bland movie.
34. ‘Casa de Mi Padre’ (2012)
On paper, it seemed perfect, and perfectly bizarre: Will Ferrell starring in a subtitled, over-the-top spoof of Mexican telenovela fare. As the dim-bulb heir to a ranch who finds himself locking horns with his slick brother (Diego Luna), Ferrell is fearless as usual. But the film’s comedy manages to be surprisingly obvious, and the concept is a lot funnier than the execution. Dios mio.
33. ‘Superstar’ (1999)
Molly Shannon’s Catholic schoolgirl character from Saturday Night Live, Mary Katherine Gallagher, is a character almost as delusional as the ones Ferrell himself would later play. Here, he plays the popular boy at school that our heroine covets (he also shows up briefly as — wait for it — Jesus Christ). But this irritating comedy, one of many lame feature-length adaptations of SNL characters in the Nineties, feels especially strained and annoyingly long.Still, if you’ve ever wondered what Ferrell looked like as a vision of the Prince of Peace, have at it.
32. ‘A Night at the Roxbury’ (1998)
Question: Were the Butabis – those tacky, disco-dancing losers characters played by Ferrell and Chris Kattan on SNL – ever actually funny? The jury’s out on that one, but apparently someone considered them funny enough to give them their own feature. The result was another middling skit idea stretched out to excruciating length; at the very least, it reminded you that Ferrell looked great in a shiny suit.
31. ‘Land of the Lost’ (2009)
This attempt to turn the iconic Sid & Marty Kroft TV series into a goofy, CGI comedy-adventure is a very, very strange beast – possibly one of the most surreal of Ferrell’s movies. Alas, a convoluted plot and tepid humor bring it down – save for one brilliant sequence where Ferrell and companion Danny McBride consume a “celebratory drink” that turns out to be a powerful hallucinogenic.
30. ‘Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me’ (1999)
Ferrell reprised his role as Mustafa, the hapless, fez-bedecked Dr. Evil henchman, for this sequel to the 1997 Mike Myers hit. The film was nowhere near as funny as the original – it mostly retread the same gags, to lesser effect. And one of those déjà vu moments involved Mustafa’s chief comic bit, which had been so inspired in the original film – not dying and politely calling for help after some elaborate set piece designed to kill him. The second time was not the charm here.
29. ‘The Wendell Baker Story’ (2005)
Directed by Luke Wilson and his brother Andrew, this middling comedy about an unlucky con-man who lands in jail then tries to get his life back together aims for an ambling, laid-back atmosphere; it winds up achieving mostly dreariness. (Hey, at least he didn’t try to ape Wes Anderson.) Ferrell has a very brief part in the film as a sucker-punching grocery store employee – not that anyone would have noticed, since practically nobody saw this thing.
28. ‘Curious George’ (2006)
The idea of Ferrell voicing the owner of kidlit’s favorite mischief-making monkey — the gentle, paternal Man in the Yellow Hat — seems like an inspired idea. And this animated movie about the misadventures of Curious George and his exasperated human certainly does right by the material, moving things along at a nice clip while still capturing the flavor of Margaret and Hans Augusto Rey’s beloved books. But you could have hired virtually any other actor to give the exact same down-the-middle reading as Ferrell gives here; it’s functional enough, yet feels like a missed opportunity.
27. ‘Semi-Pro’ (2008)
Though billed as another raucous spoof, this film is perched halfway between Ferrell’s comic portraits of grossly funny alpha-masculinity and something more earnest. Here, he plays a Seventies funk one-hit-wonder who buys his own ailing basketball team. It’s more in the vein of The Bad News Bears than Talladega Nights, but it’s not nearly as likable as the former or as funny as the latter; most of the film’s humor comes from the sight of Will Ferrell in an afro. Which is good for a giggle once, but, you know…for a whole movie?
26. ‘The Internship’ (2013)
Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson couldn’t quite reclaim their Wedding Crashers magic with this mild comedy about two down-on-their-luck salesmen who compete for an intern position at Google against a bunch of much-younger, better-qualified candidates. Ferrell, however, had a funny bit as a tattooed, sex-crazed mattress salesman who wouldn’t stop telling Wilson’s character about the wonders of “the back door.”
25. ‘Kicking & Screaming’ (2005)
Ferrell made for an engaging protagonist here, playing a weakling who takes on the job of coaching a kids’ soccer team and finds himself slowly turning into his domineering, take-no-prisoners father (played by the Great Santini himself, Robert Duvall). The movie disappointed many who had expected a more typically broad Ferrell comedy. At its best, the film has a gentle humor that, tempered with moments of occasional sentimentality, feels surprisingly honest. At its worst, it’s a clichéd rise-of-the-underdog sports-movie mess.
24. ‘The Goods: Live Hard, Sell Hard’ (2009)
This proudly offensive black comedy follows a group of freelance car salesmen, led by Jeremy Piven, who hire themselves out to struggling auto dealerships and turn them around. Will Ferrell has a brief, but very funny scene in a flashback — decked out in an Abraham Lincoln outfit, plummeting from the sky to his death alongside a collection of dildos. (Long story.)
23. ‘Starsky & Hutch’ (2004)
“Alright guys, I’m not gonna lie to you. This is gonna get kinda weird…” Ferrell’s bit part as Big Earl — a perverted inmate who makes our heroes do some weirdly humiliating things in exchange for information — is a high-point of this affable, if ho-hum comic take on the classic TV series, starring regular Ferrell collaborators Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson as the iconic cops. His particular dose of weird is more than welcome; you wish he was in this more.
22. ‘Everything Must Go’ (2010)
In this somewhat more serious turn, Ferrell plays an alcoholic sales rep whose wife locks him out of the house and throws all of his belongings on the lawn. So he camps out there, and mopes about his sorry life to his neighbors. Adapted from a Raymond Carver short story, this is a promising set-up – but the film can’t always find the requisite dramatic energy to keep us interested, and invested. Ferrell tries very hard, but the depth required for this character study to work just isn’t there. File this under “noble failure.”
21. ‘The Campaign’ (2012)
Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis — it’s a comic match made in heaven, right? Everything was in place for a sharp political comedy with this film, which seemed like it might match Ferrell’s broad comic stylings with his younger co-star’s equally idiosyncratic manchild schtick. The man who spent season impersonating a White House-dwelling boob on TV here plays a smug, long-serving North Carolina congressman forced into a race with a not-very-bright challenger, courtesy of the Hangover star. But the satire fizzled amid the convoluted plot, and much of the humor fell flat. This was not a good strategy.
20. ‘The Ladies Man’ (2000)
Yet another movie adaptation of a popular Saturday Night Live character – this time, it’s Leon Phelps, the cheesy love-advice guru played by Tim Meadows. But this one makes the most of its no-holds-barred prurience, and it’s surprisingly risqué stuff for an SNL flick. Ferrell shines as an Olympic wrestler and offended husband who’s after our smooth-talking hero.
19. ‘Winter Passing’ (2005)
Here’s an interesting, if flawed, film that almost nobody saw. Zooey Deschanel plays a troubled young author who returns to her family home, only to find her reclusive novelist father (Ed Harris) living in the garage and the house taken over by two strangers – a housekeeper played by Amelia Warner and a weirdo, Christian-rocker/handyman played by, well, guess who? It’s a modest little movie, and its indulgence in quirk occasionally threatens to undo it. But the interactions are surprisingly human, and Ferrell brings real charm to his bizarre character, even when badly singing Eagles songs at karaoke.
18. ‘Tim and Eric’s Billion Dollar Movie’ (2012)
Alt-comic weirdos Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim botch an attempt to make a billion dollar movie and flee to a remote town to find new lives for themselves. Yes, it’s random, crude, occasionally quite funny stuff. Ferrell plays the owner of a local mall that our heroes take over – his deliriously trippy commercial inviting people to come take his mall over for a billion dollars is undeniably one of the film’s high points.
17. ‘Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues’ (2013)
This sequel did mostly what the original Anchorman did: create a bunch of increasingly ridiculous scenarios to force star newscaster Ron Burgundy to confront his pig-headed, out-of-date persona and his cohorts to act like equally asinine idiots. But like many follow-ups to successful films, repetition of the same material isn’t enough, especially if its done with a little less elegance and way more bloat. It passes the time, but even with a souped-up, star-studded news team brawl this time out, it’s not nearly as memorable as the first one.
16. ‘Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back’ (2001)
This laid-back Kevin Smith comedy, which has the comic-relief duo from Clerks heading to Hollywood when they find out someone’s making a movie about them, is one of the director’s few films where the looseness of execution seems in tune with the material. Ferrell plays the hapless lawman pursuing our heroes, and gets some of the film’s choicest bits. His ability to instantly switch from macho-man to milquetoast serves him well here.
15. ‘Melinda and Melinda’ (2004)
Woody Allen’s existential meditation on the power of storytelling interweaves two tales featuring the same woman (Radha Mitchell) intruding on a dinner party — one as comedy and the other as tragedy. In the comic version, Ferrell plays the married, out-of-work actor who falls for the beautiful interloper. The film doesn’t have many laugh-out-loud moments; the humor here is wry, observational. But freed from the need to get big laughs, Ferrell is surprisingly endearing.
14. ‘Megamind’ (2010)
Ferrell is clearly having a blast voicing the title character of this animated flick, and the concept is right in line with this brand of comedy, too. He plays a super-villain who, one day, actually does away with his arch-nemesis, the great hero Metro Man (voiced by Brad Pitt). Realizing he has no one left to fight, Megamind goes about fashioning a new superhero rival for himself. It’s not quite as inventive as The Incredibles, or as goofy as Despicable Me, but Ferrell’s desperate attempts at megalomania still make it plenty fun.
13. ‘Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery’ (1997)
As Mustafa, a fez-wearing low-level Dr. Evil functionary, Ferrell actually had one of the more memorable scenes in this hit Mike Myers comedy about a Sixties superspy forced to contend with the modern world. Provoking the displeasure of his mercurial, villainous boss, his character is dispatched through a trap door, presumably to his death. But he doesn’t die – instead, the henchman civilly calls for help, and drones on about how he could be saved if someone would just call for an ambulance. That’s the governing ethos of this movie: spy-movie antics with real-world scenarios. And Mustafa’s pitiful cries somehow sell the joke beautifully.
12. ‘Stranger Than Fiction’ (2006)
This was billed as a serious turn for Ferrell, even though the film is still basically a comedy. He plays an IRS auditor named Harold Crick, whose life begins to be narrated by an author (Emma Thompson). The thing is, Harold can hear the narration, and it starts to affect what happens in his life – yet he’s powerless to change it. The self-aware, Pirandello-esque concept may seem too cute by half, but it turns out to be a poignant meditation on fate and trying to live a good life. And Ferrell brings an appealing, surprisingly realistic helplessness to the part – he makes for an adorable Everyman.
11. ‘Dick’ (1999)
Ferrell played Bob Woodward — yes, that Bob Woodward — in this uproarious, star-studded political satire that revolves around two groovy teens (Michelle Williams and Kirsten Dunst) who wind up befriending an older man: one Richard Milhous Nixon (Dan Hedaya), just as he’s hitting the height of the Watergate scandal. As such, Ferrell was mostly a straight man; this was before he had his big breakthrough roles and it’s not really his movie. But it was proof that he could work well with an ensemble (as well as Kids in the Hall‘s Bruce McCulloch, playing Carl Bernstein) and offers a glimpse of things to come.
10. ‘Blades of Glory’ (2007)
Billed as “sex on ice,” Ferrell’s character here is another variation on the basketball stars, racing gods, and TV broadcasters the actor played in his golden period; in this case, he’s an alpha-male ice skater banned from skating due to his attitude regarding things like sportsmanship and etiquette. Thankfully, he manages to make a comeback by becoming a couples skating team with his fierce onetime rival, played by Jon Heder. The movie is a triumph of physical casting – the awkward, meaty Ferrell is such the opposite of a dainty, elegant ice skater that you can’t help but laugh anytime he’s on screen.
9. ‘Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Bobby Ricky’ (2006)
For a while there, this kind of movie was the template for most of Ferrell’s comedies – the rise and fall and rise again of a delusional macho-man. But this racing comedy about a NASCAR legend who has to earn his way back to the no. 1 spot managed to be one of his most successful projects, both critically and commercially. Credit not just Ferrell’s total immersion into the part of never-say-die, self-obsessed racing legend Ricky Bobby, but also John C. Reilly’s touching turn as his best friend and fellow racer Cal. That saying-grace scene (“Dear tiny Jesus, with your golden fleece diapers with your tiny little fat, balled-up fists…”) is a keeper.
8. ‘Elf’ (2003)
It’s fascinating to think that, once upon a time, Will Ferrell was thought to be too edgy to star in something family-friendly like this, playing a man raised among Santa’s elves who comes to New York in search of his origins. The tonal mix of heartwarming holiday fare and goofy, over-the-top slapstick sight gags might seem strange at a glance. But it works beautifully, in part thanks to how well Ferrell himself plays the overgrown innocent at the heart of this story. There’s a reason this movie has become a go-to holiday classic for families trying to avoid the usual Christmas-movie overdose of sweetness — though speaking of ill-advised sugar rushes, we implore you not to try eating Buddy’s preferred breakfast of spaghetti, candy and chocolate sauce. Trust us on this one.
7. ‘Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy’ (2004)
Ferrell’s signature role, the preening Seventies caveman-broadcaster Ron Burgundy, is a character who transcends the film around him. Seriously, do you even remember the film’s plot? It’s largely a series of excuses to put Burgundy’s dainty Me-Decade machismo in conflict with a changing world around him. This is that rare movie that manages to make us laugh at the same joke over and over again, and — no offense to his comedy compadres — its largely thanks to the Big Man’s brilliant dumb-act bluster. Stay classy, Ron.
6. ‘Wedding Crashers’ (2005)
Arguably the best of Ferrell’s uncredited, drive-by cameos, one of those surprise appearances where he seems to just parachute into a movie and walk away with it. He gets just one scene in this hilarious bromance-cum-rom-com, but it’s a memorable one: Ferrell’s veteran wedding crasher Chazz Reinhold quickly gives Owen Wilson both a crash course in perpetual-adolescence awesomeness and offers a cautionary tale to his younger admirer. The film seems like a time capsule today – it captures that moment in time when Wilson and costar Vince Vaughn were known for their boisterous charm, and when a cameo from one of the world’s biggest stars didn’t feel like overkill. And where is that meatloaf, Mom?!?
5. ‘Zoolander’ (2001)
As Mugatu, the elaborately coiffed, psychotic fashionista villain, Ferrell effectively stole the show in Ben Stiller’s satire of the modeling world. The film’s humor is broad and stylized to begin with, but the star brings a bizarre, over-the-top surrealism to the proceedings. Zoolander was fairly well-received when it first came out, but its reputation has exponentially grown since – it’s gone from cult favorite to a near-canonical comedy classic, and Mugatu is one of the reasons for its resilience. We can’t wait for the sequel.
4. ‘Old School’ (2003)
As “Frank the Tank,” the onetime frat-hero and party animal now saddled with all sorts of real-world problems, Ferrell was the break-out star of this hit comedy about Luke Wilson trying to start a fraternity so that he doesn’t get kicked out of his house. It was the first real hint that his unhinged manchild act might actually translate into something that screamed “movie-star potential.” When you watch the movie now, it’s obvious that the part was perfect for Ferrell’s comedy of extremes – here was a submerged weakling finally given a chance to relive his glory years, and he cut loose with fearless abandon.
3. ‘Step Brothers’ (2008)
Ferrell and John C. Reilly play overgrown man-children who have to learn to get along and be brothers when their single parents (Richard Jenkins and Mary Steenburgen, both wonderful) get hitched. It’s smart use of both actors’ talents: Two grown men acting like kids – and violent, temper-tantrum-throwing little brats at that. At first, watching these two petulant jerks try to one up each other is glorious. But the film enters into a whole new stratosphere of comedy when they actually become best friends, and wreak even more havoc. You have not lived until you’ve seen Ferrell rub his testicles all over a drum set. Seriously.
2. ‘The Other Guys’ (2010)
Nobody ever thought that a Mark Wahlberg-Will Ferrell match-up would result in the ultimate buddy cop comedy, but well, here we are. What looks like a throwaway set-up – two supercop detectives are killed in the line of duty, so two desk workers wind up taking their place – is turned into a marvelous engine of comic invention. You can credit the perfect chemistry between Wahlberg’s manic do-gooder and Ferrell’s awkward office drone. But it’s also because the film, knowing that it has a thoroughly unremarkable premise, takes the license to go big, bold, and batshit-absurdist with its humor. Never mind that’s it’s one of the star’s best movies; this is one of the great comedies of the decade.
1. ‘The Lego Movie’ (2014)
For most of last year’s amazingly inventive, hilarious animated action-movie spoof, Ferrell is the voice of President/Lord Business — the egomaniacal yet horrifically insecure leader of Legoland who’s secretly planning a horrific fate for his fellow citizens. But towards the end of the film, the actor actually shows up as “The Man Upstairs” — in a live-action section that sends the film spinning off in a touching, oddly philosophical direction. What seemed to be a freewheeling, joke-filled trifle suddenly becomes an inquiry into the mind of God. And, perhaps even more impressively, what initially appeared to be a parody of a benevolent dictator (and possibly a riff on the comedian’s famous impersonation of a recent POTUS) turns into a performance that brings the pathos without becoming pablum. Ferrell is responsible for all of it. The funnyman contains multitudes after all.