A few weeks ago I poured countless hours into a thought experiment that few people should ever attempt: I ranked the 15 best Adam Sandler movies. Now I find myself in clearer waters. The filmography of Will Ferrell is less divisive than most comedic leads.
He doesn't veer into drama all too often, at least less than his contemporaries like Ben Stiller, Jim Carrey (spoiler alert, he will be the next actor that I rank) Sandler, etc. Will Ferrell also had an unprecedented run of form from 2003 until 2010; the films made in this stretch of time are still earning him respect in the minds of millions even though he's been on a critical and box office down-slope since 2015.
The second biggest reason for Will Ferrell's success is due to his most important collaborator, Adam McKay. You may know him from his Oscar-winning film "The Big Short." Will's compatriot Adam is a tool that no other comedic lead (in the history of film, possibly) had at their disposal.
I am eager to finally iron out the best Ferrell films in my headcanon. Oh, by the way, I'll be using the same rules I set-up in my last list and will be using that as a template going forward (read it here if you'd like them explained) with one slight caveat. Ferrell has FAR more bit-parts in films than Sandler, so for a film to be on this list Ferrell (or the actor) must be visible on the first page of the IMDB billing of actors, which contains 15 performers.
And now, the list.
The List Will & Testament
"Wedding Crashers" (2005) Metacritic Score: 64/100. Box Office: $294,133,500
Wedding Crashers Best Scenes - John Meets Chazz www.youtube.com
It *pains* me that this can't make the list based on my own self-imposed, stupid, arbitrary rule of using IMDB — Ferrell is listed as 'uncredited' and therefore can't make the first-billed page. This movie would be Ferrell's highest grossing (if you don't count his other famous-yet-uncredited role) movie of all-time and it is undoubtedly the funniest scene in the movie. Ferrell has a good amount of screen time and never relents when he's on. Chazz is a hall-of-fame supporting performance.
"Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me" (1999)Metacritic Score: 59/100. Box Office: $365,437,200
Ferrell reprises his role as Mustafa in this sequel for a small part. This movie is hilarious but it would be an Armstrong-comma-Stretch to say it is a Ferrell starring role. This would be his highest grossing film if I counted it.
"Superstar" (1999) Metacritic Score: 42/100. Box Office: $52,276,200
I grew up loving this movie and it is certainly Molly Shannon's show, but Will Ferrell has a brillianthigh school guy movie archetype that influences how people parody that trope today. I hope this movie continues to endure. Anything bad you say about this movie bounces off like rubber and sticks to you like glue.
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1. "Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy" (2004) Metacritic Score: 63/100. Box Office: $123, 743, 600
Directed by Adam McKay. Written by Will Ferrell & Adam McKay.
Sometimes having too much to say is a lot like having nothing to say. For my money this is tied (with several films) for funniest motion picture ever made. I said it. Let's start with the legendary news team that features Paul Rudd, Steve Carell, and David Koechner. Brick steals the show every chance he gets (and even kills a guy).
This movie takes the crown jewel of this list and it is well-deserved. After watching this movie you get the feeling that Will Ferrell was the funniest person in a movie literally jam-packed with some of the funniest people on Earth. Like watching peak LBJ in the 2016 Finals ... sometimes there are Gods among greats.
This movie has aged like fine wine — something very few comedies *ever* do. The film caught the main cast all on the upswing in a remarkable fashion. Everyone who came in contact with this project left better off because of it. With the ever changing media landscape and film industry I wonder if medium-sized budget studio comedies are ancient artifacts now. It's hard to imagine a comedy ever rising to the level of "Anchorman" any time soon.
Bonus points for Judd Apatow and David O. Russell producing, and for hiring Seth Rogen as a 'camerman.'
2. "Step Brothers" (2008) Metacritic Score: 51/100. Box Office: $126,075,700
Directed by Adam McKay. Written by John C. Reilly, Will Ferrell, & Adam McKay.
It makes total sense to me that this is the worst reviewed movie by the trio. The movie only ostensibly has a plot. I've said it before and I'll say it again, critics don't always get comedies. What felt great about seeing this movie when I did (which was probably too young) is that I intrinsically got it. There were people who wouldn't get the movie and that's fine — this is for those who are willing to do anything to suspend their disbelief and watch some brilliant theater of the absurd.
"Step Brothers" is essentially a joke play ground for the three creative forces behind it and they invite Adam Scott, Katheryn Hahn (who gives an all-time scared-horndog performance), and Rob Riggle to riff along with them. The result is a devastatingly funny movie with an absurd amount of cultural capital. Whether it's the Catalina Wine Mixer or the infamous drum set scene, this movie stands among the funniest things I've ever seen.
Several bonus point instances: One for the line "Dane Cook, pay-per-view, 20 minutes! Let's go!" and for the incredible full-length "Boats and Hoes" music video.
3. "Elf" (2003) Metacritic Score: 64/100. Box Office: $258, 994,300
Directed by Jon Favreau. Written by David Berenbaum
I can't remember a time "Elf" wasn't regarded as a Christmas Classic. It's like training choclate sauce spaghetti, nooodle by noodle, by hand, trying to narrow down this top 4. If one were to say a childhood nostalgia is why this movie has risen so high to the top I may not be able to argue back. What is undeniable, however, is that this Will Ferrell's most accessible, popular, and enduring film.
Bonus points for including Peter Dinklage.
4. "Talladega Nights" (2006) Metacritic Score: 66/100. Box Office: $203,878,300
Directed by Adam McKay. Written by Will Ferrell and Adam McKay.
This was the first glimpse of the now iconic John C. Reilly & Will Ferrell duo that the general public would get. This movie is a miracle. It single-handedly saved Michael Clarke Duncan from solely being remembered as 'that guy from "The Green Mile."' Sacha Baron Cohen's performance as the main antagonist is a gem and he, somehow, never once feels out of place. "Talladega Nights" makes a solid case for Mt. Rushmore of Sports Comedies.
I'm sure most of you who rank this at #1 are disappointed, for obvious reasons...
5. "Old School" (2003) Metacritic Score: 54/100. Box Office: $112,938,900
This is how I dance 4 drinks deep.
Directed by Todd Phillips. Written by Court Crandall, Scot Armstrong, & Todd Phillips
Think of everything besides "earmuffs" that is referenced from this movie. Frank the Tank? "You're my Boy Blue!" Streaking through the quad? All Will Ferrell. He completely steals the show and kicks off that incredible stretch of comedic film making I was raving about in the intro. With how successful this movie was for all involved it's odd that Phillips and this gang (with Vince Vaughn and Luke Wilson) never got together again.
Bonus points for the Snoop Dogg cameo.
6. "Blades of Glory" (2007) Metacritic Score: 64/100. Box Office: $155,310,600
Directed by Josh Gordon & Will Speck. Written by Jeff Cox & Craig Cox and John Altschuler & Dave Krinsky, with Additional Story by Busy Philipps.
This movie is outright hilarious. From the absurd machismo of Ferrell to the melodrama backstory of Heder and everything in between, this movie hangs with some of the funniest movies of the 2000s joke-for-joke. What holds this movie back now is what holds a lot of those era comedies back; it hasn't aged immaculately in terms of subject matter. This movie shows Jenna FIscher in a very non-Pam Halpert situation, and features some hilarious Craig T. Nelson and Nick Swardson.
Side note: I wish Jon Heder's career went differently.
7. "Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues" (2013) Metacritic Score: 61/100. Box Office: $140,793,700
My girlfriend pretending to care when I talk about sports.
Directed by Adam McKay. Written by Will Ferrell & Adam McKay.
Here we are folks; this is the poster child for most underrated and misunderstood movie in all of the Ferrell canon. Because this movie is a sequel and (obviously) isn't as good as the first, it is thought of as low tier. Big wrong. Aside from bringing back the entire main cast, they seamlessly add James Marsden, Kristen Wiig, and Meagan Good. The movie features an homage to "The Jerk," gives us more Brick (which people were clamoring for), and genuinely lampoons the 24-hour news cycle (in a way that still has been satirized sense). Put some capital 'K' respeK on this movie's name. Sadly, this isn't the newest movie on the list, yet it is the last time Will Ferrell was truly great.
Bonus points for having some of the funniest outtakes I've ever seen in my life.
8. "Stranger Than Fiction" (2006) Metacritic Score: 67/100. Box Office: $55,932,100
There is a meager tenderness in Ferrell, who plays Harold Crick, a IRS auditor who happens to be living the reality of an eclectic author's unfinished novel as she writes the story of his life. The cast is so solid with the likes of Dustin Hoffman, Emma Thompson, Queen Latifah, and Maggie Gyllenhaal. This movie doesn't reinvent the wheel but it explores the difference of tragedy and comedy poignantly and it makes a real argument for the importance of both life and art. Ferrell earned his second (and last) Golden Globe nomination in back-to-back years
9. "The Other Guys" (2010) Metacritic Score: 64/100. Box Office: $139,236,000
Directed by Adam McKay. Written by Adam McKay & Chris Henchy
Essentially movies 9 through 1 are unbearably funny. If "The Other Guys" was the only movie I had ever written I would die happy. It's really funny stuff that at times can feel formulaic but every time it is in danger of that either the star power or the leads, a hilarious celeb cameo, or the brilliance of McKay saves the day
Negative bonus points for the movie having the 'soup kitchen' take place in a red Prius ... the exact car I drive.
10. "Semi-Pro" (2008) Metacritic Score: 47/100. Box Office: $42,012,800
Directed by Kent Alterman. Written by Scot Armstrong.
I personally file this movie in the underrated part of Ferrell's work. It was underwhelming at the box office, received warm milk reviews, and was overshadowed by another 2008 Will Ferrell release on this list (hint: I post the years with every film). This movie isn't as quotable or culturally penetrative as his other work but it's worth noting. Featuring a supporting performance by none other than 3 Stacks himself, Andre Benjamin, "Semi-Pro" does enough to make the top 10.
Bonus Points for partially shooting this film on location in Flint, MI, and for the best half court shot ever.
11. "The Lego Movie" (2014) Metacritic Score: 83/100. Box Office: $291,160,600
Eric Foreman: *exists*
Directed & Written by Phil Lord & Christopher Miller (and written by 9 others, apparently).
Technically speaking this is Ferrell's highest grossing film, and it's easy to understand. It's hilarious, endearing, beautifully animated, and just self-aware-enough. However, again, this is a movie by committee with Chris Pratt leading the way. This movie is simply to good to leave off this list.. Spoiler alert for those "Curious George" and "Megamind" stans out there, this is the only animated movie on the list.
12. "The Producers" (2005) Metacritic Score: 52/100. Box Office: $26,882,800
Directed by Susan Stroman. Written by Mel Brooks & Thomas Meehan.
Ok, obviously this remake isn't as good as the original — regardless of how talented this cast truly is — but it isn't terrible. In fact, Will Ferrell is hysterical as Franz Liebkind and earned a golden globe nomination for his performance. Where this movie falls short is not the fault of Ferrell, it's that it doesn't need to exist. Recreating productions translates well on-stage. That approach isn't as successful for movies; especially when you find a film that is nearly a shot-for-shot redo. They end up feeling disingenuous, for the most part.
13. "Zoolander" (2001) Metacritic Score: 61/100. Box Office: $71,903,900
What a spit take.
Directed by Ben Stiller. Written by Ben Stiller, Drake Sather, & John Hamburg.
It would be hard to categorize this movie as a 'Will Ferrell vehicle,' but it would be wrong to have either "Kicking & Screaming" or "Daddy's Home" above this on my list. I understand this movie is divisive in the fickle world of fandom, but I just think it's because hating things is so hot right now.
14. "Kicking & Screaming" (2005) Metacritic Score: 45/100. Box Office: $74,276,600
Directed by Jesse Dylan. Written by Leo Benvenuti & Steve Rudnick.
This is definitely a kids' movie but that isn't unfamiliar territory with Ferrell. This movie probably didn't quite resonate with audiences the way everyone hoped but I find there are moments of true brilliance from the leading man. This is also probably the last time I enjoyed seeing Mike Ditka on a screen.
15. "Daddy's Home" (2015) Metacritic Score: 42/100 Box Office: $156,952,600
Wahlberg's chin does all its own stunts.
Directed by Sean Anders. Written by Brian Burns and Sean Anders & John Morris.
This is the most recent movie on the list and it is nothing special. It's second-rate Wahlberg and Ferrell to be honest, but their second-rate isn't all that bad. When the movie rises to the level that their chemistry can produce the laughter flows. The CGI slapstick isn't always amazing and Linda Cardelleni is given a bad character to work with, simply put.This film however made stupid money and garnered a stupid sequel.