Will Ferrell's Highs and Lows, best and worst Will Ferrell movies, Will Ferrell roles

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Will Ferrell never has been one to show much concern for his questionable script selection. He pretty much does whatever he wants – from streaking in his tighty whites to wrestling bears (twice) – and gets away with it. Since breaking in to the business in 1998 with the "SNL" sketch-turned-feature film "Night at the Roxbury," Ferrell has been all about quantity over quality. Over the course of the last decade, the actor has appeared in no less than 25 different projects, and for every career highlight like "Anchorman," there's been a box office flop like "Bewitched" to balance it out. Surprisingly, Ferrell's been able to escape such disasters virtually unscathed, but just because Hollywood is willing to forgive him doesn't mean we are as well.

In honor of his latest film, the basketball comedy "Semi-Pro," we decided to revisit the actor's best and worst cinematic performances of his career. And to show that we don't hold a grudge, we gave him a free pass on "Superstar" and "Boat Trip."


1. Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy (2004)
Will Ferrell in AnchormanFor those who contend that Ferrell is a one-trick pony, you needn’t look any further than “Anchorman” to realize just how wrong you are. For starters, the concept of the movie is so ridiculous that it’s impossible not to laugh at, and Ferrell’s performance as sexist 1970s newscaster Ron Burgundy is a major reason why. As San Diego’s top-rated newsman, Ferrell doesn’t just rely on his moustache and burgundy suits to score laughs; he also plays the jazz flute, sings “Afternoon Delight” with his closest buds, and even has a dog who’s literally his best friend. And to top it all off, he isn’t afraid to get into a “West Side Story” gang fight between the other news stations in town. There’s just one ground rule: “No touching of the hair or face…AND THAT’S IT!” Of course, without Ferrell to orchestrate the madness, it never would have worked. "Anchorman" is the least accessible movie he’s ever made, but Ferrell is so good at what he does that it gets better with every repeat viewing. – Jason Zingale

2. Elf (2003)
Will Ferrell in ElfHard to believe that this sweet, sentimental Christmas film came out the same year as “Old School,” isn’t it? Some would say that this was truly the flick that made Ferrell into a superstar; he could’ve continued to do vaguely lowbrow comedies ‘til the cows came home, but this was the first time it became evident that he actually had mainstream crossover appeal. Ferrell plays Buddy the Elf (“What’s your favorite color?”), an ordinary human who, as a baby, snuck out of an orphanage by way of Santa’s bag of toys and found himself at the North Pole…but, y’know, when you’re raised by elves, it’s easy to consider yourself one of the gang. Ferrell portrays Buddy as the very definition of a man-child, a little boy in an adult’s body who lives the Christmas spirit every day of the year. When he meets his dad (James Caan), who’s on Santa’s Naughty List, Buddy sets out to earn his love. It seems like a fool’s errand, given what a grump his dad is, but not only does he succeed on that front, he also manages to hook up with a girl who looks like Zooey Deschanel. Behold the power of naïveté. God bless us, everyone! – Will Harris

3. Wedding Crashers (2005)
Will Ferrell in Wedding CrashersIronically enough, Ferrell didn’t even get a screen credit for one of his funniest roles — lecherous innovator Chazz Reinhold, the Thomas Alva Edison of crashing weddings for the purpose of obtaining meaningless sex. Having transitioned from invading weddings to funerals (“Grief is nature’s most powerful aphrodisiac!”), Chazz terrifies visiting disciple Owen Wilson, embodying the dark side of the over-aged frat-boy characters that made Will Ferrell famous. Living with his crabby mother, screaming infantile demands for food (“Ma! The meatloaf!"), and randomly moving from one inappropriate emotion to another, Ferrell’s Chazz is the ultimate emotional bottom-feeder. He’s repellent and pathetic, or he would be if he wasn’t so completely comfortable in his insanity and inexplicably successful at satisfying beautiful women. The funeral crasher might be a study in denial, but we’re also fairly certain that this is the best he can do. Chazz Reinhold might only be an extended cameo, but he might also be the ultimate Will Ferrell caricature. – Bob Westal

4. Stranger Than Fiction (2006)
Will Ferrell in Stranger Than FictionThis terrific, low-key fantasy comedy gives us Ferrell as Harold Crick, a shy, goodhearted IRS auditor who learns that the disembodied British voice he keeps hearing belongs to famed novelist Emma Thompson — and that she is literally plotting his death. For once not playing an unbelievably overconfident buffoon in an anything-goes farce, Ferrell shows that he is, after all, an actor. At every turn, he plays the reality of the bizarre situation as his character slowly wakes from his emotional torpor, and eventually contemplates willingly sacrificing his life for the sake of a really good book. He doesn’t seem to want sympathy, but he gets it anyway. When Crick practices his guitar playing, performing Wreckless Eric’s early punk-pop classic “The Whole Wide World,” he’s barely aware that true-love Maggie Gyllenhaal is listening — his eyes are closed and Ferrell barely moves — but something is clearly happening. – BW

5. Old School (2003)
Will Ferrell in Old SchoolFrank Ricard (Ferrell) is a nice guy. Once upon a time, he was so much of a party animal that he actually warranted his own nickname: Frank the Tank. Nowadays, he’s newly married, and his idea of excitement is to crank up the Whitesnake and give his old car a tune-up, even though he’ll probably never get to take it out on the road again. That all changes, however, when Frank attends a housewarming bash for his buddy Mitch (Luke Wilson) and makes the mistake of doing just one beer bong. Beer bongs are like potato chips; you can’t do just one. Fast-forward a few hours, and Frank’s running naked through the streets of town, which causes a few marital problems when his wife and her friends drive past him while he’s in mid-streak. Ferrell’s performance in the film starts off surprisingly subtle – as a guy who desperately wants to embrace his new marriage – but even after the sweet, hop-laden nectar glides down the bong and across his lips, causing him to slip back into his old ways, he still manages to imbue the role with a certain amount of sweetness. Frank the Tank might be a drinking machine, but no matter how drunk he gets, his heart always comes shining through…well, unless you’re a pledge. In that case, you’re screwed. – WH


1. Bewitched (2005)
Will Ferrell in Bewitched Ferrell’s decision to take part in this 2005 update of the '60s TV classic was clearly one of desperation. After both “Old School” and “Elf” scored big at the box office, Ferrell’s star was rising fast and he needed a big-budget project to secure a spot amongst the A-list elite. Imagine his haste, then, when he was offered a role (no matter how wrong it was for him) in a summer tentpole movie alongside Nicole Kidman. Granted, he probably should have read the script before signing on, but Ferrell’s never been one to say no (see: “Boat Trip”), and it was a disaster just waiting to happen. Neutered to the point where you couldn’t help but feel bad for the guy, Ferrell’s performance falls somewhere between Jim Carrey (on a bad day) and Dane Cook (on a good day). “Bewitched” certainly wasn’t the finest moment in his career, but if nothing else, it was a lesson well learned. – JZ

2. Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby (2006)
Will Ferrell in Talladega NightsWhen comedians and actors praise each other, one word you’ll often hear is “generous,” meaning that a star performer is wise enough not to try and hog every scene. Actors, the theory goes, get better results when they’re working with other first-rate performers who challenge them and bring out their best. That’s how it’s supposed to work, but sometimes “supposed to” isn’t good enough. In this funny but disjointed mock biopic, Ferrell and co-writer-director Adam McKay surround lame-brained NASCAR legend Ricky Bobby with hordes of even zanier characters played by some of the world’s best comic character actors, including John C. Reilly, Sacha Baron Cohen, Amy Ryan and Gary Cole (“Office Space”). The cast gets some very big laughs, but when it’s Ferrell’s turn to be funny, the funny mostly doesn’t arrive. Why? Well, it might be because there’s not much more than a Southern accented, quick-to-get naked void where Ricky Bobby should be. – BW

3. The Producers (2005)
Will Ferrell in The ProducersIt’s a little unfair to compare performances between an original and a later version, but who said comedy was fair? First, we looked at Ferrell’s introductory scene in 2005's "The Producers" as Franz Leibkind, the manic Nazi playwright of “Springtime for Hitler.” As he persuades conniving producers Matthew Broderick and Nathan Lane to join him in the Aryan dance hit, “Der Guten Tag Hop-Clop,” we smiled and tapped our toes a bit — Will’s surprisingly comfortable with musical comedy — but the mechanical pigeons in the scene generate more laughs than he does. Then we watched comic character actor Kenneth Mars’ performance (including some very similar dialogue) from the 1968 non-musical. Mars’ Franz Leibkind is no mere fascist fool, he’s a fireball of venomous fear and Hitlerian hatred; Ferrell’s Leibkind is a relatively unfunny pussycat. To be fair, Ferell does nail the syrupy ballad version of “Hop Clop” under the end credits, wrapping up with a whispered “"Don't forget to purchase Mein Kampf in paperback. You can find it at Borders...und Amazon.com.” – BW

4. Melinda and Melinda (2004)
Will Ferrell in Melinda and MelindaThe only person who can play Woody Allen is Woody Allen himself. It’s an unfortunate truth, and one of several reasons Ferrell’s first semi-serious role can be chalked up as a disappointment. Ferrell’s work in “Melinda and Melinda” – in which he plays an out-of-work actor who falls head-over-heels for the title character in one of two alternate storylines – isn’t completely horrible, but it pales in comparison to what the real Allen could have done in the role. Sure, it was encouraging to see the usually over-the-top comedian tackle a more nuanced character, but he just ended up looking like an amateur stuck in an already boring movie. Despite his middling performance, however, Ferrell is one of few actors today who actually has what it takes to embody such an oddball persona, and he proved it only two years later as the paranoid protagonist of “Stranger Than Fiction” (see above). – JZ

5. Kicking & Screaming (2005)
Will Ferrell in Kicking & ScreamingScholars of Will Ferrell will look back on 2005 as The Lost Year, where he threw all caution to the wind and seemingly made every movie he was offered. That is the only real explanation for “Kicking & Screaming,” a bumbling comedy about a softie dad (Ferrell) who tries to show up his ruthless, overly aggressive father (Robert Duvall) for trading his own grandson off his soccer team. The premise has potential, to be sure, but Ferrell confuses good acting with overacting, to the point where Mike Ditka (!) becomes the model of subtlety. It is curious to note that, following this and his voice work in “Curious George,” Ferrell realized that “Elf” was not a career path but a fluke and abandoned the kiddie market entirely. It is not a coincidence that his career has taken off as a result. – David Medsker

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