There's something about Stiller
|Average User Score||6.4|
In the new dramedy Greenberg 75, opening in Los Angeles and New York this weekend and nationwide on March 26, Ben Stiller plays an aimless 40-something slacker who connects with a young woman while housesitting in L.A. The film, written and directed by Noah Baumbach (The Squid and the Whale 82), is a rarity among recent releases starring Stiller: it's good.
Stiller's career can be divided into three periods. The first portion of his career unfolded mainly on television, as the son of comedians Jerry Stiller and Anne Meara made a name for himself on "Saturday Night Live" (briefly) and on MTV (with an eponymous comedy series) after launching his acting career on Broadway. The pinnacle of this period, however, was Stiller's short-lived but acclaimed Fox sketch series "The Ben Stiller Show," which introduced the actor (as well as co-star Janeane Garofalo and writer/co-creator Judd Apatow) to a wider audience.
The second period of Stiller's career found the actor making the jump to the big screen, where he starred in a number of acclaimed indie films as well as more mainstream releases throughout the mid-to-late 1990s and into the early 2000s. Stiller also directed several films during this period, including his first major film -- 1994's "Reality Bites" -- as well as the Jim Carrey vehicle "The Cable Guy" and the supermodel spoof Zoolander 61.
Following 2001's The Royal Tenenbaums 75, Stiller entered the third period of his career, during which there was a noticeable shift in the type of material he was choosing as an actor. Eschewing quirky indie films for more generic, bigger-budget comedies, Stiller appeared in a number of major box office hits and several major misfires. It's probably not a coincidence that the only positively-reviewed film from this later period is the one that is his most personal project: Tropic Thunder 71, a movie that Stiller also directed and co-wrote.
While the well-reviewed "Greenberg" might indicate a new direction for Stiller, it may also be an aberration: other upcoming projects include a second Meet the Parents sequel, and a comedic take on the "Hardy Boys" novels ("Hardy Men," which is also set to star Tom Cruise).
As we look at Stiller's filmography, it is easy to spot a trend: as his box office numbers started to go up, the quality of his films -- as evidenced by the critical reception -- headed downward.
|Year||Title||Metascore||Users||Inflation-Adjusted Domestic Box Office|
|1994||Reality Bites *||n/a||n/a||$38.2M|
|1996||If Lucy Fell||n/a||n/a||4.2|
|1996||Flirting with Disaster||81||8.5||25.3|
|1998||There's Something About Mary||69||8.4||285.2|
|1998||Your Friends & Neighbors||70||7.5||7.7|
|2000||Keeping the Faith||60||8.6||52.3|
|2000||Meet the Parents||73||6.7||234.3|
|2001||The Royal Tenenbaums||75||6.9||68.7|
|2004||Along Came Polly||44||3.6||108.0|
|2004||Starsky & Hutch||55||6.2||108.1|
|2004||Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story||55||7.2||140.1|
|2004||Meet the Fockers||41||5.8||336.2|
|2006||Night at the Museum||48||7.0||281.9|
|2007||The Heartbreak Kid||46||4.6||40.7|
|2008||Tropic Thunder *||71||7.1||117.1|
|2009||NATM: Battle of the Smithsonian||42||5.6||180.8|
|2009||The Marc Pease Experience||30||2.5||<0.1|
The best and the worst
Let's look at some of these movies -- the best, and the worst -- in greater detail. (Although it looks like a winner, "Greenberg" is not included in the "best" list, since we're still waiting for the final verdict from critics.) Stiller's films are generally listed in order by Metascore, but we've also slotted in some of his older, unscored films where we felt they fit in.
|1||Flirting with Disaster||1996||81||8.5|
|Portraying a new father who goes on a cross-country search for his biological parents, Stiller basically serves as the straight man -- while a great deal of looniness unfolds around him -- in David O. Russell's ensemble screwball comedy, one of the funniest movies of the 1990s.||critics:
|2||The Royal Tenenbaums||2001||75||6.9|
|Stiller's second highest-scoring title is another offbeat ensemble comedy from an iconoclastic director. Wes Anderson's third film finds Stiller playing one of the three Tenenbaum siblings, a father, widower and finance whiz who dresses himself and his sons in matching track suits. The film marked the end of a productive period for the actor; after "Tenenbaums," he would go on to make a number of more poorly-reviewed (but higher grossing) films.||critics:
|The feature film directorial debut for Jake Kasdan was this little-seen quirky comedy gem that found Stiller taking on another straight man role, as the personal assistant for a brilliant but agoraphobic (and incredibly odd) private detective played by Bill Pullman.|
|4||Meet the Parents||2000||73||6.7|
|The first in what is now a trilogy of mass-appeal comedies (the third, "Little Fockers," will arrive in December), "Meet the Parents" found Stiller playing a male nurse who meets his girlfriend's parents -- played by Robert De Niro and Blythe Danner -- for the first time. Stiller's role was originally slated to go to Jim Carrey, but the movie didn't suffer without Carrey's more physical presence: it received mostly positive reviews and grossed over $300 million worldwide.||critics:
|The first film directed (and co-written) by Stiller in seven years, "Thunder" is an action-comedy about a group of self-obsessed actors who get caught up in a real battle while filming a Vietnam War movie. While Stiller also stars in the film, his thunder was stolen by the strong performances of his co-stars, most notably Robert Downey Jr. (in blackface) and Tom Cruise (in a fat suit).||critics:
|6||Your Friends & Neighbors||1998||70||7.5|
|Neil LaBute's cynical ensemble dramedy finds Stiller playing one of his more unlikable characters, a drama professor stuck in a troubled relationship with Catherine Keener. Moviegoers were left sharply divided about the film's merits, but many critics admired it, and Stiller's performance also drew praise from reviewers like J. Hoberman.||critics:
|7||There's Something About Mary||1998||69||8.4|
|Stiller's first major box office success came with the Farrelly brothers' 1998 gross-out comedy classic, a sleeper hit that helped make the actor a household name. Although Stiller's career was just taking off, the directors would never again match "Mary's" box office success.||critics:
|Stiller's lowest-grossing film also provided the actor with his most serious role. Based on a true story, the dark drama found Stiller portraying heroin-addicted TV writer Jerry Stahl (best known for his work on "Alf") to general acclaim, though a few critics didn't quite buy him as a drug addict.|
|Stiller's directorial debut found the actor appearing with Winona Ryder, Ethan Hawke, Janeane Garofalo, and Steve Zahn in an ensemble comedy about a group of twenty-something Generation X slackers in Texas. Yes, it's now a bit dated (probably more so than other films of the period), but it perfectly captures its time, and it remains one of Stiller's better films.|
|A box office flop, this action-comedy spoof about a group of minor superheroes is a minor cult classic. Starring alongside William H. Macy and Hank Azaria, Stiller plays Mr. Furious, a role that offers a good showcase for Stiller's comic talents even when the film itself bogs down in parts.||critics:
|1||The Marc Pease Experience||2009||30||2.5|
|This no-budget comedy barely reached theaters in 2010 (it played for a week on a handful of screens), and though its distribution problems were due to a studio shakeup, audiences were probably spared. Despite a cast led by Jason Schwartzman, Stiller, and Anna Kendrick, this story about a former high school musical star is extremely short on laughs.||critics:
|Combine director Barry Levinson and stars Stiller and Jack Black, and what do you get? A commercial and critical disaster, as it turns out. The comedy -- which manages to be both mean-spirited and dumb -- grossed just $14 million against its $40 million production budget, and lucky Europeans were spared a theatrical release.||critics:
|3||Meet the Fockers||2004||41||5.8|
|Make no mistake: "Fockers" is Stiller's highest-grossing movie to date. But that huge box office success wasn't due to the film's quality. Despite the addition of Dustin Hoffman and Barbra Streisand to the cast (playing Stiller's parents), the crude comedy left critics -- and fans of the first movie -- disappointed. Much of the blame, however, was pointed at the screenplay and director Jay Roach.||critics:
|4||Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian||2009||42||5.6|
|While the first "Night at the Museum" didn't go over well with critics, moviegoers seemed to like it, and it stands as one of Stiller's biggest hits. This sequel didn't go over as well with moviegoers, and despite a big opening weekend, it failed to match its predecessor's performance. And Stiller was lost amid the never-ending special effects and the stronger performances by Amy Adams and Hank Azaria.||critics:
|5||Along Came Polly||2004||44||3.6|
|This formulaic romantic comedy (which also incorporates a lot of gross-out humor) paired Stiller with Jennifer Aniston, but few critics felt that the leads displayed any chemistry together. If you want to watch Stiller do this type of thing, stick with "Meet the Parents" or "There's Something About Mary."||critics:
What do you think?
What do you think about Ben Stiller as an actor? Let us know in the comments section at the bottom of the page. You can also vote for your favorite Ben Stiller movie below.