Until a few years ago, Matthew McConaughey was thought to be one of Hollywood’s lame ducks. He was a handsome guy with charm and charisma who got cast in a slew of terrible romantic comedies and didn’t seem to really apply himself to his performances. But then the McConaissance happened, and the actor began turning down big paychecks for trite Hollywood productions and started accepting smaller paychecks for more intimate, inventive, independent movies.
Naturally, his filmography now looks like a mixed bag, with both great movies and awful ones.
10 Best: The Wolf of Wall Street
Although Matthew McConaughey’s role was small, it was pivotal in the character development of Jordan Belfort and he made a lasting impression with his chest-pounding mantra. That wasn’t even supposed to be in the movie; it was just something McConaughey did to pump himself up before each take. But Martin Scorsese saw it and liked it, so he put it in the movie and it became one of the most iconic scenes in the whole three-hour epic. To have your bit part stand out in a cast of about 30 actors playing major named characters is quite an impressive feat.
9 Worst: Failure to Launch
This so-called comedy about a man in his thirties who refuses to move out of his parents’ house is a low point in Matthew McConaughey’s career. He became known for playing laidback guys who are so charming that women fall in love with them, but this is like an absurd satire of that premise – and it’s trying to be sincere. In this one, he’s so laidback that he never moved out of his parents’ house and he’s so charming that he manages to get the woman his parents hire to get him out of their house to fall in love with him. The premise doesn’t tee up a great movie, so it’s unsurprising that it’s not a great movie.
8 Best: Magic Mike
You’d be forgiven for assuming Magic Mike, Steven Soderbergh’s dramedy about male strippers, is just an endless montage of exposed bulges and greased-up abs, but the movie has a lot of heart and soul, too. This is a result of the script being based on Channing Tatum’s real-life experiences working as a stripper – it brings a degree of authenticity to the story. Matthew McConaughey’s role is just supporting, but he makes a huge impact on the audience in his few scenes. He seems right at home on the stage and projects confidence as he says, “The law says you cannot touch, but I see a lot of lawbreakers up in this house.”
7 Worst: Serenity
Movie audiences expect great things from Peaky Blinders creator Steven Knight, as well as actors Matthew McConaughey and Anne Hathaway. Unfortunately, their new thriller Serenity is an unequivocally awful movie. It starts off as one bad movie and ends as another bad movie.
It begins as a ham-fisted attempt at a modern-day film noir as a fisherman is asked by his femme fatale ex-wife to murder her abusive current husband, but following a predictable plot twist, it devolves into a brainless sci-fi story about the dangers of technology – like a poor man’s Black Mirror. It’s no wonder the distributors decided not to bother spending any money on marketing.
6 Best: Dazed and Confused
This coming-of-age comedy from writer-director Richard Linklater, named after the Led Zeppelin song, is less a movie and more a series of vignettes that capture the spirit and excitement of the final day of a school year. The scenes naturally segue into one another and give the film a loose and unconventional, yet engaging narrative structure. In other words, it’s a fiercely original work of cinema. More movies should play around with form like this. Quentin Tarantino ranks Dazed and Confused as one of his favorite movies of all time and, most importantly, it originated Matthew McConaughey’s signature phrase: “Awright, awright, awright.”
5 Worst: Sahara
Sahara is infamously one of the biggest box office flops of all time. Based on the Clive Cussler novel of the same name, it cost $160 million to make and only made around $120 million back at the worldwide box office. Taking into account marketing costs, it’s estimated to have lost around $100 million for the studio. On the basis of the movie itself, it’s hardly surprising that it failed to find an audience. Its dialogue is hammy, its plot is ludicrous, and its merits are non-existent. The big-budget visuals are clear, but there’s no substance to back it up, meaning the movie is an all-round failure.
4 Best: Mud
Writer-director Jeff Nichols outdid himself with this Southern coming-of-age tale inspired by the works of Mark Twain. Like most arthouse movies, Mud is intimate and subtle, and it doesn’t rely on big set pieces or trailer-friendly quotes to get a response out of its audience. Still, without those training wheels, it manages to be a fantastic movie.
Instead of transporting us to the elevated reality of the movies, Nichols instead searches for the hidden beauty in our own world. Matthew McConaughey stars alongside Reese Witherspoon and both give incredible performances as damaged people, both shedding their Hollywood romcom personas and proving they can really act.
3 Worst: Ghosts of Girlfriends Past
This romcom take on Charles Dickens’ classic A Christmas Carol induces just as much eye-rolling as its premise would suggest. Matthew McConaughey plays a typical playboy who is confronted by the ‘ghosts’ of his ex-girlfriends on the eve of his wedding, with the day of the wedding filling in for Christmas Day and Hollywood clichés filling in for Dickens’ nuanced storytelling. Jon Lucas and Scott Moore wrote the screenplay for this movie in the same year they wrote the hit comedy The Hangover, so it seems like they saved all their comedic talent for one script and churned out the other.
2 Best: Dallas Buyers Club
Moviegoers watching a Matthew McConaughey romantic comedy in the early ‘00s would laugh at you if you told them that same actor would win an Academy Award a few years later for playing an AIDS patient in a heartfelt drama based on true events. But that’s exactly what happened. He even underwent a Christian Bale-esque body transformation to look the part. This was the commitment his early career was missing. The great thing about Dallas Buyers Club is that nothing is dressed up. It’s not theatrical or neatly structured – it feels more like a documentary. The deeply ingenuous acting by McConaughey and his co-star Jared Leto helps to sell that angle.
1 Worst: Fool’s Gold
This action comedy – woefully bereft of action that’s exciting and comedy that’s comical – solidified Matthew McConaughey and Kate Hudson’s place as the Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan of terrible movies. This attempt at blending adventure and romance in the style of Romancing the Stone ended up blending clichés and stupidity in the style of a passable in-flight movie instead. The plot is absurd and director Andy Tennant seems to think closing in on McConaughey’s shirtless torso is a good enough substitute for character development. It’s staggering that this movie only ended up with one Razzie nomination. That must’ve been some bad year for movies.