Funnyman Will Ferrell has become one of Hollywood’s most popular comedic minds, and his best films showcase his natural sidesplitting talents. Making his debut as a cast member on Saturday Night Live in 1995, Ferrell quickly established his over-the-top comedic style that would become his trademark in the movies. As dependable as he is hilarious, Ferrell has starred in a mixture of box office smashes and critical successes without losing the essence of his humor that made fans fall in love with him in the past. Even securing a few prestigious award nominations, Ferrell has shown that his talents stretched far beyond simple humor.
The actor’s eight years on SNL allowed him to hone his humorous skills, and Ferrell’s uncanny ability to create iconic characters has been the secret ingredient to his cinematic success. Though he has yet to make a full transition to dramatic performance, his performances in dramedy films like Stranger Than Fiction and Everything Must Go prove that it wouldn’t be a difficult change. Splitting his time between television and feature films, Ferrell has been one of the rare Hollywood stars to conquer both mediums with equal success, and he has existed on the cutting edge of comedy through his co-creation of humor websites like Funny Or Die.
Comedy is all about juxtaposition, and the buddy cop movie The Other Guys understood that principle perfectly. The film follows a pair of New York City detectives who attempt to make headlines like their coworkers by cracking a major case. Ferrell’s regular-guy energy worked perfectly with Mark Wahlberg’s macho persona, and The Other Guys capitalized on the differences. Adam McKay’s signature satirical directing style allowed the action to supplement the humor, and it worked well enough on those merits alone. Ferrell did most of the humorous heavy lifting as Detective Alan Gamble, and the film garnered a positive critical response including a 78% on Rotten Tomatoes.
Just a year after he departed SNL, Ferrell had a breakout role in Old School by pulling from his own college experiences. Following the lives of three disillusioned thirty-somethings, the movie saw them start their own fraternity in an attempt to recapture their youths. Firmly in a supporting role, Ferrell’s turn as Frank “The Tank” Ricard allowed him to be his zany best while exemplifying the man-child energy that he would be known for. Though the movie didn’t fare too well critically, it was one of the funniest movies of the early 2000s, and made $80 million (via Box Office Mojo), becoming a staple in Ferrell’s filmography.
Ferrell began starring in films before he left SNL, and he added to his early legacy with his appearance in Zoolander. Derek Zoolander (Ben Stiller) was the world’s greatest male model, but the arrival of a younger star made him easy prey for a fashion designer who planned to brainwash him into becoming an assassin. Realizing how silly the premise of the movie was, Ferrell’s take on the villain, Mugatu, was appropriately strange. Stealing nearly every scene he appeared in, Ferrell’s over-the-top performance got him noticed in a film that wasn’t a box office hit but has since become a cult classic.
In 2006, Will Ferrell saw a career explosion that included one of his biggest comedic triumphs. Stranger Than Fiction, conversely, was an understated magical realist film that was the opposite of his usual output. The movie chronicled a lonely government employee (Ferrell) who discovers he is the protagonist of an author’s novel, and he seeks out the writer to change his story for the better. Ferrell was given the opportunity to be funny, but he also showed off his dramatic side which had only begun to be utilized. Though the movie had a mediocre performance at the box office, Ferrell’s performance was rewarded with a Golden Globe nomination.
With the onslaught of comic book movies inundating theaters, 2010’s Megamind was a surprisingly unique take on superheroes. Megamind (Ferrell) was an unsuccessful supervillain, but the sudden defeat of his greatest rival left him in an existential crisis. Ferrell’s usually verbose performance was appropriately subdued for the thoughtful character in this underrated DreamWorks film. Though it has largely been forgotten, Megamind was a box office smash that raked in over $300 million (via Box Office Mojo) and allowed Ferrell to show another side of himself with his vocal performance.
The charm of Ferrell’s greatest performances often comes from the juvenile nature of the humor, and how clever his characters can be despite their over-the-top silliness. Blades of Glory was a perfect example and saw a pair of rival figure skaters attempt to kick-start their careers by performing an impossible maneuver together. one of the most unrealistic sports movies of figure skating, the movie was a parody to an extreme extent. Ferrell’s character Chazz Michael Michaels was a part tailor-made for him, and he flexed his comedic star power by outshining his co-star Jon Heder in nearly every scene.
Yet another collaboration with McKay, Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby actually had a profound impact on the sport of NASCAR. The film told the story of the meteoric rise of driver Ricky Bobby, and his efforts to return to the sport after a massive wreck. Though it was an unflinching parody of stock car racing, Talladega Nights inspired NASCAR fans and laypeople equally, and it showed Ferrell’s chameleon-like ability to create new characters. Warmly regarded by the critics, it was also the first pairing of Ferrell and comedic partner John C. Reilly, a fruitful match that brought out the best of both performers.
The trio of Ferrell, Reilly, and McKay once again reunited in Step Brothers, and the film essentially served as a laugh-a-minute thesis statement for Ferrell’s unique brand of comedy. The movie centered on a pair of immature middle-aged men (Ferrell and Reilly) who were forced to tolerate each other following the marriage of their parents. Ferrell had gained a reputation for playing immature slackers, and Brennan Huff was that idea taken to the furthest extent possible. Working brilliantly with Reilly as his co-star, the pairing of McKay and Ferrell resulted in a quintessential performance that elevated the film far beyond its lackluster critical reception.
It has always been very difficult for new Christmas films to become yearly traditions, but Elf was a modern holiday classic that cemented its place in the lore of the holiday. The film chronicled the adventures of a misfit elf named Buddy who traveled to New York City to find his father. Toning down Ferrell’s usual raunchiness, his take on Buddy was nevertheless bold and memorable. Devoid of cynicism, Elf was fun and funny, and showed Ferrell could do comedy without having to work blue. Audiences were immediately receptive to the film, and it was a critical and commercial success that grossed over $200 million (via Box Office Mojo) worldwide.
Usually relegated to supporting roles in the early days of his cinematic career, Ferrell delivered his best character as the lead in Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy. Content atop the male-dominated world of ’70s news broadcasting, the titular news anchor found himself challenged by the arrival of a hotshot female reporter (Christina Applegate). Perfectly loose with its plotting, Anchorman allowed its characters to run wild in the simple premise and Will Ferrell was the greatest beneficiary as Burgundy. Though it wasn’t loved by critics upon release, the film has since been lauded as a classic, and publications like Empire included it among its best films of all time.
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