All Films Considered: Ben Stiller

  • Comments: ↓ 11 user comments
  • Publish Date: March 18, 2010

There's something about Stiller

Image
Average Metascore 57
Films Starring Ben Stiller *
Average User Score 6.4
Average Gross $72.5M

* Only includes films where Stiller has a lead role; animated films excluded. Score averages do not include films missing from Metacritic's database (see below)

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.

All Films Starring Ben Stiller in a Major Role
Year Title Metascore Users Inflation-Adjusted Domestic Box Office
1994 Reality Bites *n/a n/a $38.2M bar
1995Heavyweights n/a n/a 30.9 bar
1996If Lucy Fell n/a n/a 4.2 bar
1996Flirting with Disaster 81 8.5 25.3 bar
1998Zero Effect n/a n/a 3.4 bar
1998 There's Something About Mary 69 8.4 285.2 bar
1998Your Friends & Neighbors 70 7.5 7.7 bar
1998 Permanent Midnight n/a n/a 1.9 bar
1999Mystery Men 65 6.6 44.6 bar
2000 Keeping the Faith 60 8.6 52.3 bar
2000Meet the Parents 73 6.7 234.3 bar
2001 Zoolander * 61 7.0 60.7 bar
2001The Royal Tenenbaums 75 6.9 68.7 bar
2003Duplex 50 6.4 12.2 bar
2004 Along Came Polly 44 3.6 108.0 bar
2004Starsky & Hutch 55 6.2 108.1 bar
2004 Envy 31 4.6 16.6 bar
2004 Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story 55 7.2 140.1 bar
2004Meet the Fockers 41 5.8 336.2 bar
2006Night at the Museum 48 7.0 281.9 bar
2007The Heartbreak Kid 46 4.6 40.7 bar
2008 Tropic Thunder *71 7.1 117.1 bar
2009 NATM: Battle of the Smithsonian 42 5.6 180.8 bar
2009The Marc Pease Experience 30 2.5 <0.1  
2010 Greenberg 75 n/a ???  

* Also directed by Stiller
The score for "Greenberg" is from March 17th. The table above only includes films where Stiller had a starring role; smaller appearances and cameos are excluded, as are animated films where Stiller provided voiceover work. The older films that do not have scores listed are not in Metacritic's database. The Metascore is a weighted average of scores from top professional critics, on a scale from 0 (bad) to 100 (good). Box office figures are adjusted for inflation for purposes of comparison. The numbers reflect domestic grosses in $ millions. Source of box office grosses: Box Office Mojo.

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.

Ten Best Movies Starring Ben Stiller
    Title Netflix Year Metascore Users
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:
14,2,0
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:
27,6,0
3 Zero Effect 1998 n/a n/a
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:
30,3,0
5 Tropic Thunder 2008 71 7.1
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:
30,9,0
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:
18,8,1
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:
20,7,2
8 Permanent Midnight 1998 n/a n/a
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.
9 Reality Bites 1994 n/a n/a
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.
10 Mystery Men 1999 65 6.6
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:
15,9,0
Five Worst Movies Starring Ben Stiller
    Title Netflix Year Metascore Users
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:
1,0,6
2 Envy 2004 31 4.6
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:
2,12,16
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:
4,24,6
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:
4,18,9
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:
8,21,6

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.

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Comments (11)

  • TIM  

    I've only seen three: Tropic Thunder, Night at the Museum, and Dodgeball. The first two were only okay but not worth much. Dodgeball, however, is an all time classic.

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