Whether it’s Frank the Tank, Buddy, Ron Burgundy, or a one-scene wonder like Chazz Reinhold, Will Ferrell is a comedic wizard. With a keen ability to physically embody the varying energies of the characters he inhabits, his talents have been unparalleled throughout his career, perhaps even undervalued. To pay tribute to the actor and producer, who is celebrating his 55th birthday, Variety is ranking the 12 best film performances of his career so far.
Ferrell started with the Los Angeles-based improvisational group The Groundlings before getting his big break on NBC’s long-running sketch comedy “Saturday Night Live.” He was a cast member from 1995 to 2002, where he anchored some of the best sketches, including “More Cowbell” with Christopher Walken and the hilarious digital short “Dissing Your Dog.” For his penultimate season, he received his first Emmy nom for outstanding individual performance in a variety or music program (which is no longer active).
After “SNL,” his star continued to grow. With over three dozen film roles, Ferrell’s movies have collectively grossed over $2.7 billion worldwide, placing him in the top 100 of any actor. Some of those memorable roles include fashion antagonist Jacobim Mugatu in “Zoolander” (2001) and NASCAR driver Ricky Bobby in “Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby” (2006). But he’s also showcased more than his comedic side.
Continuing my long-held theory that some of our greatest comedians can often be our most gifted dramatic actors, Ferrell showed his ability to convey emotion and a refreshing sense of mortality in Marc Forster’s “Stranger Than Fiction” (2006), which earned him his second consecutive Golden Globe nomination following the film adaptation of the Broadway musical “The Producers” (2005).
Without many other swings at deeply complex characters, he still has opportunities to surprise cinephiles, especially as he moves deeper into the producing realm. Now an Emmy-winning producer for HBO’s “Succession” and the Annie Mumolo and Kristen Wiig comedy “Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar” (2021), he has interesting projects on the horizon including the Sundance flick “Am I OK?” with Dakota Johnson and co-starring with Ryan Reynolds in “Spirited,” a musical version of the Charles Dickens story.
Read Variety’s ranking of Ferrell’s 12 best film performances below. Also: watch the best scene from each selection by clicking on the picture.
Honorable mentions: “Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga” (2020), “Melinda and Melinda” (2004), “Wedding Crashers” (2005)