When it first was announced that Ben Affleck would play Batman in the upcoming Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice nearly three years ago, all holy hell broke loose. Granted, it’s hard to top Christian Bale, and the last time a pretty boy with widespread commercial appeal played the Caped Crusader — a Mr. George Clooney — it was a failure of epic proportions.
There’s a lot riding on how well Affleck fills the Batsuit, especially with him reprising the role in another highly anticipated superhero film, Suicide Squad, due out later this summer. Affleck has churned out some exceptional work both as an actor and a director the past few years, but Affleck may be remembered just as much for his failures as for his successes.
We decided to take a look back at Ben’s body of work, good and bad, to gauge the actor’s strengths and weaknesses. Does he deserve to be defined by Gigli or Argo? Ultimately, audiences will be the ones to decide whether Affleck will go down as the worst Bruce Wayne in history when BvS hits theaters on March 25. Here are Ben Affleck’s Best and Worst Movies.
Worst – Gigli (2003)
Affleck plays a low-level thug, Larry Gigli (rhymes with really), tasked by his boss, a middle-management gangster, with kidnapping and babysitting the mentally challenged brother, of a federal prosecutor. Because Gigli has proven inept at his job in the past, he gets assigned a partner, the beautiful Ricki (Jennifer Lopez). The audience is supposed to believe Ricki is competent because she’s into yoga and read Sun Tzu’s The Art of War.
Affleck and Lopez, a couple at the time, lack any visible chemistry, and the fact that Ricki is a lesbian has a been there, done that quality (Chasing Amy). The movie was marketed as a romantic comedy, but what’s to love about a guy who verbally and physically abuses someone with a disability? Affleck’s character goes through a miraculous transformation from mobster’s minion to a more sensitive, enlightened individual thanks to Ricki’s influence and his gooey, romantic feelings for her. The sudden switch in Gigli’s persona would be easier to swallow if he’d exuded a modicum of depth from the outset. Unable to rely on his trademark charm, which in Gigli translates as smarminess, Affleck is lost.
Best – Changing Lanes (2002)
A successful Wall Street attorney Gaven Banek (Affleck), gets into a fender bender with an insurance salesman, Doyle Gipson (Samuel Jackson). Gipson, a recovering alcoholic with anger issues, is determined to handle the incident by the book, but Banek leaves the scene, even refusing to give Gipson a lift, telling him, “Better luck next time.”
Because of the accident, Gipson arrives late to a custody hearing, preventing him from presenting his case to the judge. Meanwhile, Banek realizes he left an important document at the scene, putting his career in jeopardy. The men spend the rest of the day trying to put their lives back together after their initial setbacks and find themselves engaged an a back-and-forth battle royale. Each retaliatory action becomes more vicious, and the consequences more dire.
Banek is a man dealing with an ethical and legal dilemma at work, but there’s a disconnect, as he’s unable to recognize that his moral relativism is causing him to be the architect of his own unhappiness. Affleck is at his best in smaller films propelled forward by compelling characters, and Banek’s journey of self-destruction and redemption is mesmerizing to watch.
Worst – Chasing Amy (1997)
In Chasing Amy, cardigan-wearing, Affleck plays comic book creator Holden McNeil, who finds himself in love with adorable lesbian Alyssa (Joey Lauren Adams). The movie is quintessential Kevin Smith: sharp dialogue, humorous and deliciously vulgar.
The first half of the film is strong, exploring the blurry lines of sexuality, and the burgeoning friendship between Alyssa and Holden, but it devolves into a bit of a mess after the two leads begin a romantic relationship, and Holden discovers Alyssa has a very complicated sexual past. Affleck’s role put him on the map as a guy with leading man potential, but it also highlights a flaw: Affleck’s inability to convey complex emotions in a believable way. When Holden confronts Alyssa about his true feelings for her, he launches into a lengthy monologue, his voice breaking as he comes close to conjuring up some tears. Holden’s confession feels rehearsed, as if he spent days practicing in front of a mirror.
Best – Mallrats (1995)
In Mallrats, Kevin Smith’s prequel to Clerks, Brodie Bruce (Jason Lee), gets dumped by his disgruntled girlfriend, Rene (Shannen Doherty). He accompanies his best friend, T.S. (Jeremy London), also recently rejected, to the local mall to win back their exes.
Ben Affleck plays Shannon Hamilton, the manager of a men’s clothing store who considers himself a part of the upper-echelon of mall employees. Affleck excels at being an ass*****. When he intentionally plays someone reprehensible and morally bankrupt, he usually rises to the challenge.
During the early Kevin Smith years, Affleck was free from the constraints of carrying a film, and reaped the benefits of being part of talented ensemble casts. Even if critics weren’t always kind, Smith fans embraced pretty much everything he churned out. Like Smith, Affleck lost his way once he started to cater to the masses, seemingly suffering from a pathological need to be liked.
Worst – Armageddon (1998)
Moviegoers know what they’re getting when they go to see a Michael Bay film. There will one-dimensional characters, lots of slow-motion running and a script that’s sole purpose is to string together a series of explosions. There will be at least one token hot chick who gives all men hope that, given the right catastrophic circumstances, they can land a girl way out of their league. Armageddon tells the tale of a rag-tag team of oil drillers and geologists, led by Harry Stamper (Bruce Willis), who are the world’s last hope for survival after NASA discovers a huge asteroid headed for Earth. Affleck plays A.J. Frost, a “roughneck” who also happens to be in love with Stamper’s daughter, Grace (Liv Tyler).
Armageddon established that Affleck, after some dental work, exercise and spray tanning, had what it takes to be a matinee movie idol, if not a good actor. The two are often mutually exclusive. No longer able to play a glib, charismatic lady’s man, Bruce took on role of the patriarchal figure while Ben stepped into Willis’ vacant shoes to serve as the movie’s eye candy.
Ben relies on his steely jaw and chiseled cheekbones to get by more than his acting chops. Affleck’s best friend and contemporary, Matt Damon, also went the big-budget action route around the same time, but managed not to check his IQ at the door when he took on the role of Jason Bourne.
Best – Dazed and Confused (1993)
Richard Linklater’s beloved indie classic Dazed and Confused chronicles the misadventures of a group of teenagers throughout their last day of school in 1976. Linklater cast an ensemble of unknowns, many of whom have gone on to have prolific careers: Affleck, Parker Posey, Milla Javovich, Adam Goldberg and Matthew McConaughey all give standout performances, especially the latter.
A pre-dreamboat Affleck plays Fred O’Bannion, a second-time senior who revels in the sadistic hazing ritual of paddling incoming freshman boys. Affleck’s performance is a singular one. His part isn’t significant, but he makes the most of it, gleefully torturing whoever crosses his path and erupting into an impressive tantrum when someone finally gets the better of him. Before his looks became a crutch, Affleck was able to deliver a performance that wasn’t tainted by the audience’s perception of him off-screen.
Worst – Pearl Harbor (2001)
Apparently, experiencing financial if not critical success was enough for Affleck to climb on board another Michael Bay travesty, Pearl Harbor. Bay’s interpretation of the attack on a U.S. military base that cost thousands of lives and led to the United State’ entry into WWII isn’t as concerned with the historical significance as with using the event as a backdrop for a bunch of glossy, adrenaline-pumping action scenes.
In the midst of this mess is Affleck who plays navy pilot Rafe McCawley. Rafe falls in love with a comely nurse, Evelyn (Kate Beckinsale), but duty calls, and he accepts a dangerous mission aiding allied troops in England. Rafe gets shot down and is presumed dead. He shows up months later, after being rescued by a fishing boat and stuck in occupied France. Rafe discovers Evelyn has moved on with his best friend and fellow pilot, Danny Walker (Josh Hartnett). The Japanese attack serves as a welcome respite from Affleck’s corny Southern accent and “aw, shucks” earnestness.
If war is hell, the audience wouldn’t know it from looking at Rafe, who gets shot at more times than you can count and emerges with nary a scratch, just some expertly placed smudges to prove he’s seen some combat. Affleck’s character glides through the horrors of war with no more of a reaction than a furrowed brow. Viewers may question if Rafe, or Affleck, comprehends the absurdity of his obsession with a pretty nurse whose affections are fleeting, especially given the world-altering war around him.
Best – Shakespeare in Love (1998)
With a cast that includes: Geoffrey Rush, Tom Wilkinson, Judi Dench, Colin Firth and Gwyneth Paltrow — an honorary Brit — Affleck could have easily stood out like a big, sore American thumb in his role as Ned Alleyn, a peacock of an actor. But not only does he blend in with these acting heavyweights, he shines.
In an effort to pacify Ned, Will Shakespeare (Joseph Fiennes) greatly exaggerates the importance of Ned’s role as Mercutio in his new play, Romeo and Juliet. Ned isn’t as dimwitted as Will might have hoped, setting up a brief scene between the two men during which Ned effuses irritation and acceptance with a touch of humor. Affleck dials back Ned’s big personality to show a man who does have a genuine passion for what he does that extends beyond the accolades. This seemed like the sort of role the young actor could have easily crashed and burned in, though he gives a surprisingly layered performance, albeit in a small supporting role.
Worst – Forces of Nature (1999)
Affleck teams up with rom-com darling Sandra Bullock, and even though the result isn’t as disastrous as the far-fetched scenarios the two leads find themselves caught up in, the movie isn’t especially memorable either.
Ben Holmes (Affleck) and Sarah Lewis (Bullock) first encounter one another on a flight to Savannah, GA. A freak accident, coupled with an impending hurricane, forces the straight-laced Ben, on his way to his wedding, to join forces with the flaky but resourceful Sarah.
With each mode of transportation they choose, Ben and Sarah get waylaid by some freak occurrence or crazy weather, forcing them to search for an alternative. The more time Ben and Sarah spend together, the more she’s able to help him loosen up, leading to an impromptu (and cringeworthy) striptease by Ben. On the flipside, Ben gets Sarah to let down her overly chipper, free-spirited façade, which is a bit less painful to watch by comparison. The weather is unpredictable, but the plot is paint by numbers.
Best – Good Will Hunting (1997)
The script for Good Will Hunting was co-written by Ben Affleck and childhood friend, Matt Damon. In it, troubled genius Will Hunting (Damon) confronts and comes to terms with his past thanks to the aid of a psychology professor, Sean Maguire (Robin Williams in a career-best performance).
Affleck, plays Chuckie, a tracksuit-clad, swaggering resident of “Southie” Boston. Comfortable among his off-screen cohorts (brother Casey Affleck and Cole Hauser), Affleck is funny and blunt. Chuckie knows he’s not going anywhere, lacking any special talents that would enable him to set the world on fire. He possesses a pragmatic wisdom about life, one that shines through with earnestness in every scene.
In a pivotal scene between Chuckie and Will, Chuckie imparts some of his worldly knowledge, warning his friend not to squander his gift by choosing to work in construction and hang with his buddies instead of aspiring to something more. In a movie full of touching moments, perhaps the most poignant is when Chuckie arrives at Will’s place and finds it empty. Within a few seconds, Affleck’s face conveys confusion, comprehension, sadness, relief, and finally, joy, realizing his friend took his advice.
Worst – Surviving Christmas (2004)
After being dumped by his girlfriend, wealthy ad man Drew Latham (Affleck) returns to his family home to confront his past. Drew meets the current residents, the Valcos, and, desperate not to be alone over the holidays, Drew offers them $250,000 to recreate an authentic yuletide experience.
Obviously, if a guy has to pay people to hang out with him, he’s got some issues. But any misgivings the Valcos have are lessened by the promise of all that green. They soon regret their decision as they learn the deal hinges on them catering to Drew’s every whim. This results in a series of tired comic gags. If viewers walked away after watching Surviving Christmas with anything other than a newfound appreciation for Jingle All the Way, it would be that shtick comedy is not Affleck’s forte.
Best – The Town (2010)
In addition to directing The Town, Affleck co-wrote the script and stars as Doug MacRay, the head of a gang of bank and armored car robbers. The men, all born and bred in the tough Boston neighborhood of Charlestown, run into some trouble during a robbery. This causes the most impetuous member of the team, James “Jem” Coughlin (Jeremy Renner) to take the bank manager, Claire Keesey (Rebecca Hall), hostage. They let her go, but only after they take her driver’s license as collateral that Claire will keep her mouth shut. Doug volunteers to keep an eye on Claire to prevent a paranoid Jem from killing her and to determine if she’s working with the FBI to help track them down. The more time he spends with Claire, the more disenchanted Doug becomes with his life choices, which places a strain on his relationship with Jem.
The relationships between the various characters are complex and flushed out well. Affleck is clearly in his element shooting on the streets of Boston. There are action sequences, but The Town is a crime drama first and foremost, one that Affleck handles exceptionally well on both sides of the camera.
Worst – Reindeer Games (2000)
In this hit it and quit it action movie, Affleck plays a car thief, Rudy Duncan, who is finishing up a five-year stint in prison. While inside, Rudy becomes chummy with his cellmate, Nick (James Frain). Soon to be released, both men can’t wait for life on the outside, but Nick has even more reason to be excited. During his incarceration, he began corresponding with a woman named Ashley (Charlize Theron), who has promised her unswerving devotion when Nick starts life anew on the outside.
Nick’s plans don’t quite pan out. He gets stabbed during a prison fight, so when Rudy emerges from prison to find the lovely Ashley waiting, he takes Nick’s place. It turns out Nick got the better end of that bargain, because Ashley’s bad news — her brother, Gabriel (Gary Sinise) wants Rudy to help him execute a casino heist.
And so begins a tedious tale of mistaken identity that Rudy can’t talk his way out of. If Rudy can’t help Gabriel, there’s no reason for the guy to keep Rudy around. Rudy stumbles along, biding his time and remaining clueless for the bulk of the movie. The only thing less plausible than Rudy’s attempt to fill Nick’s shoes is that Gabriel refuses to catch on to the fact that he’s got the wrong guy. Affleck has a hard enough time navigating his way through this implausible nonsense as Rudy, much less as Rudy passing himself off as Nick. He kind of pulls it together in the end, finally showing some backbone, but it’s too little, too late in this complete and utter misfire of a film.
Best – Gone Girl (2014)
In Gone Girl, based on the bestseller by Gillian Flynn, Affleck plays Nick Dunne, a man who finds himself at the center of a police investigation after his wife, Amy (Rosamund Pike), goes missing. The film opens with Nick discovering his wife has disappeared under suspicious circumstances, and through a series of flashbacks told from Amy’s perspective, the audience learns the marriage had deteriorated to a point where Amy feared for her life.
Affleck portrays Nick as an affable guy who shows a surprising lack of concerns about his wife’s whereabouts. Nick’s no saint of course — he cheats on his wife with a college student — and Affleck plays the cold, abusive version of Nick just as convincingly as he does the regular Joe who uncovers an unfathomable truth about his spouse that has him locking his bedroom door at night. A taught, suspenseful thriller from start to finish, Affleck is a force in this film.
Worst – Daredevil (2003)
When Affleck was first cast as Batman, this misfire was named as the principal reason why he couldn’t be entrusted with teh cape and cowl. In Daredevil, Affleck plays Matt Murdock, a blind attorney who spends his days fighting crime the old-fashioned way, defending the downtrodden. At night, he uses his heightened remaining senses to clean up the streets of Hell’s Kitchen.
It’s tough to say that a single aspect of this clunky, uninspired adaptation worked, but if any of it did, it may have been Affleck. His performance received mixed reviews, but earned enough praise that he can’t possibly be blamed for singlehandedly sucking Daredevil into a vortex of gloom and doom. Although, it should be said that he did earn a Razzie for his performance. When it comes to superhero fans, sometimes you just can’t win.
Best – Boiler Room (2000)
Affleck doesn’t appear much in Boiler Room, the story of an enterprising, if not entirely motivated guy named Seth (Giovanni Ribisi). Seth goes to work for a shady brokerage firm-inspired by Stratton Oakmont-lured in by the promise of becoming a millionaire in three years.
Released long before The Wolf of Wall Street, Boiler Room draws a lot of comparisons to Glengarry Glen Ross and Wall Street. The young traders fancy themselves as young Gordon Gekkos, and Affleck’s character, Jim Young, a headhunter/partner at the fictitious J.T. Marlin strives to emulate Alec Baldwin’s cutthroat salesman from Glengarry, Blake.
Affleck infuses into Young a machismo, a confidence, a fearlessness that most twenty-something men, eager to make big bank, hope to emanate themselves one day. Young’s not their boss, he’s not their mentor, he’s their God.
Worst – Jersey Girl (2004)
Jersey Girl, director Kevin Smith’s attempt at more family-friendly fare, was so disappointing that it took the director two years to recover before he stepped behind the camera again. Smith cast Affleck in the leading role of Oliver “Ollie” Trinke, a mover and a shaker in public relations whose life falls apart when his wife, Gertie (Jennifer Lopez), dies during childbirth. Ollie flips out and winds up moving to New Jersey to live with his father, Bart (George Carlin), and his newborn daughter, also named Gertie.
After one scene where Affleck struggles with changing a diaper, the film jumps ahead seven years, depriving the audience of watching Ollie bond with his daughter. Affleck and his pint-sized co-star, (Raquel Castro), have a congenial rapport, but their interactions are brief and superficial. The movie lingers in a state of melancholia as does Affleck. Unable to rely on is man-child charm, Affleck comes across as bland, partly due to bad writing.
Both Affleck and Smith are out of their depth. Affleck recovered of course, though by alienating his fanbase entirely, it could be argued that this film marks the end of the upward trajectory that Smith’s career had been on.
Best – Argo (2012)
Argo, produced and directed by Affleck, recounts the events surrounding the rescue of six U.S. diplomats from Tehran during the Iran Hostage Crisis. Affleck also plays Tony Mendez, a C.I.A. operative whose job it is to get people out of ungettable places.
As the “Houseguests” bunker down for over two months, the U.S. State Department brings in Mendez as a consultant who comes up with a plan to retrieve the diplomats, by pretending they’re part of a team scouting a location for a movie. Mendez seeks the help of a Hollywood makeup artist, John Chambers (John Goodman), and a producer, Lester Siegel (Alan Arkin), because it’s not enough to come up with a cover story, they have to validate the fictitious movie enough that the industry sees it as a legitimate project, so there’s no chance any Iranians living in America can clue in their overseas brethren to the hoax.
Chambers, Siegel and Mendez set up a production company, purchase the rights to a cheesy science fiction script entitled Argo, create enough of a buzz around the film for it to be mentioned in trade publications and craft new identities for the diplomats that justify their presence in Iran and allow them to walk out the front door undetected.
While Affleck earned a gold statue when the film won Best Picture at the Oscars, his performance was overlooked. The audience’s first impression of Mendez is that he’s a beleaguered bureaucrat, but it becomes apparent that he is emotionally invested in getting those people out before it’s too late. Mendez is unreadable. A man who has to keep his poker face on at all times. Even as the tension builds, Mendez never be-lies any doubt. He lives by the advice he gives his charges, if you believe it, they’ll believe it. Chock it up to age or acquired wisdom, Affleck stripped his performance to the bare bones. Argo isn’t a vanity project, it’s a labor of love.
Worst – Phantoms (1998)
Many actors have a cheesy horror flick that they prefer to leave off their resume, and for Affleck it would be Phantoms. Affleck plays a baby-faced lawman, Sheriff Bryce Hammond, who exudes the same amount of authority as Barney Fife.
Hammond, along with a young doctor, Jennifer Pailey (Joanna Going) and her younger sister, Lisa (Rose McGowan), discover the residents of a small Colorado town have gone missing with the exception of a few who turn up dead, some from mysterious causes.
An Army commando unit shows up along with a man named Flyte (Peter O’Toole) who attributes the evil goings on to an entity known as “the Ancient Enemy.” Flyte believes the Enemy is responsible for systematically wiping out civilizations like the lost colony of Roanoke.
The enemy uses drones known as “Phantoms” to readily dispose of the military presence, leaving it up to Hammond to save the day by injecting the big bad with a deadly bacteria. There’s a laundry list of sci-fi horror flicks whose greatness derives from not taking themselves too seriously, elevating them to camp status, but Affleck’s lawmen intensity is as laughable as the over-sized Stetson that adorns Affleck’s head, making him look like a kid playing dress up.
Best – Dogma (1999)
Affleck reunites with Matt Damon to play a pair of fallen angels in Kevin Smith’s religious satire. Bartleby (Affleck) and Loki (Damon) were cast out of heaven after pissing off God. Banned to spend eternity in Wisconsin, Bartleby figures out a loophole to get them back home. The only problem is if they do, they will be overruling the word of God and by disproving his/her infallibility, negate all existence. Tasked with preventing Barlteby and Loki with achieving their goal is the last scion (Linda Fiorentino), two prophets (Kevin Smith and Jason Mewes) and a dead apostle named Rufus (Chris Rock).
Bartleby and Loki’s travels are reminiscent of the “Road” pictures of Bing Crosby and Bob Hope, mixed in with some Butch and Sundance for good measure. The two engage in witty banter and deep discussions about sin, retribution, redemption, idolatry and the sad state of humanity. They also bicker like a married couple, having constantly been in each other’s presence for a millennia. Nobody can question Damon and Affleck’s on-screen chemistry; it’s spot-on.
The movie devolves into a bloodbath of Tarantino-esque proportions, but Dogma ranks as one of Smith’s best films, and Affleck’s wry humor, good looks and easy-going charm — until he goes postal — enhances the material instead of detracting from it.
Which of Affleck’s performances do you love the most? Which Affleck film do you hate with a burning passion? Let us know in the comments!
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