“I grew up wanting to make movies, and along the way, I suddenly found that I had a career doing comedy.” – Ben Stiller
One of Hollywood’s most bankable stars, Ben Stiller happens to be remarkably multitalented. He’s a world-famous actor, a beloved comedian, a director, a writer, a producer. With that, it’s hard to pin down what makes Stiller so appealing. Perhaps it’s his ability to play all kinds of characters — a dopey husband, an overly confident model, an intimidating business owner, or a washed-up action movie star. No matter what the role, one can be sure that Stiller will be able to embody it perfectly and deliver plenty of memorable lines while he’s at it.
The son of comedians Jerry Stiller and Anne Meara, Ben Stiller grew up in New York City. Early in his career, he wrote for Saturday Night Live and created the short-lived The Ben Stiller Show. After directing and starring in several movies, he earned widespread fame for 1998 gross-out (and hugely popular) comedy There’s Something About Mary. Stiller has since starred in Zoolander, as well as the successful Meet the Parents and Night at the Museum films.
The recent years have seen Stiller settle into a mix of the two: playing comedic parts and doing serious filmmaking, yin and yang. Effortlessly mixing up projects like Along Came Polly with directorial efforts such as Reality Bites, he has carved up a unique niche in the industry. Responding to this claim, he once said: “Sometimes I wondered whether I hadn’t let my career get confined to one direction, but lately I’ve decided to accept the fact that I have this opportunity to be successful doing comedies.”
“For me, the whole creative experience is much more fulfilling as a director. But it’s not like I connected always to acting. It’s not like I’m doing it so that I can control my performance or something like that. Usually, it happened to be a project that I was somehow involved in either writing or developing, or that then comes up,” Stiller once said, before continuing: “And I always look at movies that way that I do both in. I always look at them as would I be interested to just direct this movie, and would I be interested to just act in this movie, if I wasn’t doing either?”
Celebrating his 55th birthday today, we look at the five best films starring Ben Stiller currently streaming on Netflix.
The best Ben Stiller films on Netflix:
5. Along Came Polly (John Hamburg – 2004)
A solid romantic comedy with appealing leads and a memorable appearance by Philip Seymour Hoffman, John Hamburg’s Along Came Polly is a likeable piece of work. Starring Ben Stiller and Jennifer Aniston as a couple rebounding together after the collapse of the former’s marriage, the film is lively and engaging. Thanks to the chemistry between the two likeable leads, the film makes for enjoyable viewing.
The story revolves around Stiller’s straight-laced Ruben and Aniston’s more relaxed Polly. Striking up a relationship when Ruben’s marriage falls apart, the two take the audience through enjoyable odd-couple and opposites-attract comedy beats. The breaking down of structured Ruben into someone looser is entertaining, and, though Ruben and Polly are not really a couple in which the audience can fully invest, their interactions are suitably charming.
4. Madagascar (Eric Darnell, Tom McGrath – 2005)
An upbeat animated adventure featuring solid voice talent and spry comedy, Madagascar provides a wholly pleasing experience. The DreamWorks presentation is quick-paced, quick-witted, and full of personality. Director Tom McGrath explained that “Ben Stiller was the first actor we asked to perform, and we knew we wanted his character, Alex, to be a big performing lion with a vulnerable side.”
Revolving around four New York City zoo animals who wind up in Madagascar when one of the animals decides to escape his Central Park confines, Madagascar follows the beasts as they attempt to acclimate to a new home. Sparring with a troop lemur and each other, the animals, of course, learn adventuresome lessons about home, identity, and the different shapes and sizes of family.
3. Megamind (Tom McGrath – 2010)
Another Tom McGrath-directed animated flick with voicing by Ben Stiller, the film tells the story of a super-intelligent alien supervillain, Megamind, who after a long-lasting battle one day actually destroys his foe, the much-loved superhero Metro Man. Having Metro City for himself, Megamind finds out that his villainy has no purpose, and thus creates a new superhero to serve as his nemesis. His plan backfires, as he ends up creating instead a new super-villain.
Megamind succeeds in his villainy that this entire basic structure is fundamentally destroyed: without a hero, there is no need for a villain. Yet Megamind does not then reform, he tries to create a new good to fight his evil, and only when thrown into a perspective he was never before allowed to see is he able to change. It is an argument deeper than nature vs nurture and it is about the randomness of existence and the fact that ultimately only we are responsible for our own destiny.
2. The Meyerowitz Stories (Noah Baumbach – 2017)
Noah Baumbach’s Palme d’Or-nominated comedy-drama stars Adam Sandler, Ben Stiller, Dustin Hoffman, Elizabeth Marvel, Adam Driver and Emma Thompson, and follows a group of dysfunctional adult siblings trying to live in the shadow of their father. Ben Stiller plays Matthew Meyerowitz, Danny’s (Sandler) half-brother and Harold’s (Hoffman) son. A successful financier who lives across the country and is currently separated from his wife.
The film is accentuated by stunning performances from Sandler, Hoffman and Stiller. It draws an extremely emotional but precise portrait of a dysfunctional family but is told in a breezy, restrained way. There aren’t any crazy visuals or epic monologues in The Meyerowitz Stories. It’s just life being tenderly observed by a master filmmaker who knows exactly what he’s doing, with subtle, humanistic performances and extremely naturalistic dialogue working in unison with him to deliver this warm, beautiful story of a family.
1. Meet the Parents (Jay Roach – 2000)
Another hilarious comedy, Meet the Parents tells the story of Greg Focker (Ben Stiller), a male nurse from Chicago, visits his girlfriend’s Pam parents at Long Island. There he learns that his would-be father-in-law is a no-nonsense retired CIA agent (Robert De Niro) who thinks Greg isn’t good enough for his little daughter. Greg tries to win his approval but things don’t go exactly as he expected.
The film shines with it’s universally understood premise of the awkward meeting of your potential in-laws and delivers memorable moments that are hilarious and are at times too uncomfortable to the point of making you want to look away because of how embarrassing they are.
With Meet the Parents included, Stiller has starred together with Wilson in twelve films. On their camaraderie, Wilson said: “In a way, it kind of doesn’t seem quite believable. Like, geez, have we been in Hollywood that long where we could have worked on these many movies together? It’s a little bit strange to think that we’ve worked together so much and we’ve been around so long that we could have.”