There was a time when a new Will Ferrell comedy was an event. But beginning in the mid-2010s, the quality of his films began to slip, reaching its nadir in 2018 with Holmes & Watson. That’s why we’re so pleased about the generally positive reviews for Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga, his new Netflix movie with Rachel McAdams about two Icelandic singers who represent their country at the international song competition. Is this the beginning of the Ferrell-aissance? Here’s hoping so, because from the late 1990s to the late 2000s, he was arguably the funniest comedy actor around. That made a best-of list difficult, but after many heated arguments about what should and shouldn’t count (we disqualified glorified cameos, so no Austin Powers, Dick, and Wedding Crashers), we identified the 10 greatest Will Ferrell movies. Feel free to yell at us for leaving off, like, Melinda and Melinda in the comments.
10. Stranger Than Fiction
The idea that people contain multitudes is still somewhat novel to some when it comes to performers breaking type, such as it was in 2006 when Will Ferrell took a semi-serious detour from the comedies that dominate this list. But while initial interest may have come from the surprise of seeing Ferrell straight-faced and un-silly, he pays off people’s curiosity with one of his best performances, playing an everyman trying to navigate the tragedy and comedy of life while plagued by a voice in his head that is narrating said life… possibly to death. And if all that isn’t enough to inspire a rewatch or a first viewing, allow me to heap praise on the clever script, the Spoon-fronted soundtrack, and tremendous performances by a supporting cast anchored by Emma Thompson. — Jason Tabrys
Most Will Ferrell movies are exactly that: Will Ferrell movies. He’s the lead, the reason you remember the movie at all (can you name any character in Old School other than “Frank the Tank”? I sure can’t). That makes Zoolander an interesting exception. Ferrell is fourth billed, behind Ben Stiller, Owen Wilson, and Christine Taylor, but even though his name doesn’t appear above the title on the poster, you’d have to be taking crazy pills to not recognize Mugatu as one of Ferrell’s funniest characters. — Josh Kurp
8. The Lego Movie
Future generations will sit and marvel at this crown jewel in Will Ferrell’s cap. That’s because, after years of perfecting impersonations on sketch comedy series like SNL, Ferrell has become a master voice actor. Nowhere is that more apparent than in Phil Lord and Chris Miller’s animated comedy about a Lego hero launching a rebellion against a tyrannical corporate overlord. Of course, Ferrell doesn’t play the miniature-bricked savior. No, he’s Lord Business (a.k.a. President Business) a deliciously evil, kind of incompetent villain with plans to glue everything in the Lego world into his vision of perfection. Ferrell’s got the kind of range that leaves other “comedy actors” shook, and it shows here. — Jessica Toomer
7. Blades of Glory
Quite frankly, this comedy is better than anyone ever expected it to be, or that it needed to be, as a spoof on ice skating that largely adheres to the Will Ferrell recipe for laughs. Quite literally, the action and the script coast along the ice on their journey through the wafer-thin narrative, but my goodness, Ferrell and Jon Heder still throw in all possible effort to win over the judges in this silly spectacle. Ferrell’s at the top of his “gleefully clueless” game here, and Heder’s holding his own next to a great. Come for the Iron Lotus, stay despite a frozen sea of crotch and decapitation jokes. — Kimberly Ricci
6. Old School
It’s dumb, it’s inconsequential, and it’s a movie that one could argue that you’ve seen many times before, what with Animal House and Caddyshack and even Revenge of the Nerds looming large in the rearview mirror. Still, this is one hell of a party with Ferrell managing to somehow be the life of the party. That’s saying something, considering that he’s up teamed up with Vince Vaughn and Luke Wilson, and they’re all managing to one-up each other at various broadly comic points, but no one takes a tranquilizer to the jugular like Ferrell. This movie is for anyone who wants to try and be young again while gloriously (and vicariously) failing hard. — Kimberly Ricci
5. The Other Guys
The thing we must mention when we discuss The Other Guys is that the funniest scene in the entire movie does not feature Will Ferrell at all. That’s not his fault. He’s very funny in The Other Guys as the dorky accountant cop who pairs with Mark Wahlberg’s ultra-alpha loose cannon cop. And the movie weaves a message in there too, about our financial system and corporate greed and how justice might be better served using spreadsheets and calculators instead of guns. It’s a fun and funny movie that makes a point and features Michael Keaton as a beleaguered chief who moonlights as an employee of a hardware store. Ferrell gets a lot of credit for just making that happen, along with writer/director Adam McKay. Good for them.
But the funniest scene in the movie is and always will be The Rock and Samuel L. Jackson’s “aim for the bushes” death. Still gets a legit lol from me, today, just now even, after dozens of viewings. Congrats and/or R.I.P. to everyone involved. — Brian Grubb
It’s hard to crack the Christmas pop culture rotation.
Think about the songs. What’s the most recent classic Christmas song? Is it… is it Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas Is You”? I think it is. And that song came out in 1994, over 25 years ago. It’s not quite as bad with movies, but it’s still an exclusive club. Home Alone is 30 years old. The original Grinch cartoon is from the 1960s. Die Hard and Lethal Weapon — “Christmas movies” — are from the 1980s. It’s the same deal, basically: Busting through to achieve classic status at this point requires something special.
That might be the best endorsement for Elf you can give. The movie, starring Will Ferrell as an overgrown elf whose real father is played by James Caan, is a holiday staple now, running about three dozen times every December on basic cable. As it should. It’s more kid-friendly than most of Ferrell’s movies but it still has the same energy. He gets to go up to the line and across it with goofball antics. He gets to sing, terribly, with Zooey Deschanel. He gets to do it all, every year, all over again, quite possibly for eternity. Just based on lasting power alone, Elf is a damn triumph.
The only people who have a legitimate gripe about Elf’s placement on this list are the real-life mall Santas who have been dealing with insufferable grown men shouting “You sit on a throne of lies” at the Santa’s Village setup near the fountain. I’m sorry, guys. I won’t do it this year. Probably. — Brian Grubb
3. Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby
Ron Burgundy is Will Ferrell’s most enduring character, but Ricky Bobby may be his best. Setup as a send-up of hollow machismo, Ferrell’s dim but ultra quotable race car driver goes on a transformative odyssey, losing both his hold of and belief in his surface treasures after being bested by a seemingly unbeatable rival. The journey matters more than the destination here as Bobby learns to slow down and see the true value of friendship, family, and love. He’s still a prideful straight-up moron at the end, but he’s a moron with a little more perspective. — Jason Tabrys
2. Step Brothers
If you can make it past Comedy Central when Step Brothers is airing at 3 p.m. on a lazy Sunday without stopping to watch the sleepwalking scene, or the car-singing scene, or the job interview scene, or any scene with Richard Jenkins, you have a stronger will than I. Or you have terrible taste. One of the two. Step Brothers is an endlessly quotable comedy masterpiece, with masterful chemistry between step-siblings Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly and married couple Mary Steenburgen and Richard Jenkins and an all-time smarmy performance from Adam Scott. “Dane Cook, pay–per–view, 20 minutes, let’s go!” is one of about 75 lines that still make me laugh every time I hear them.
But you know who wasn’t laughing? Critic Roger Ebert, who wrote that Step Brothers “lowers the civility of our civilization,” and that after seeing the comedy, he questioned whether he was “living in a nightmare.” He gave the existential breakdown 1.5 stars. But if Ebert was still with us, he, and everyone else who didn’t “get” Step Brothers the first time they saw it (it gets GREAT after viewing #13), might re-watch it and think, “When I look at you now, I don’t want to kick you in the head quite as much.” — Josh Kurp
1. Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy
Listen, Will Ferrell wears many different hats. Just on this list alone he’s excelled at voice acting, dramatic character work, and, perhaps the most difficult of all thespian pursuits, elf impersonations. But he’s undoubtedly at his best when he commits fully to selling eccentric, over-the-top caricatures of overconfident assfaces who, eventually, undergo moving character transformations. That’s what happens in this tongue-in-cheek comedy about a ’70s era news reporter named Ron Burgundy, whose carefully crafted world of dick jokes being acceptable in the workplace comes tumbling down when he’s forced to work with a female co-anchor (played by the exceptional Christina Applegate). The whole cast, which includes Steve Carell and Paul Rudd, is fantastic but with his perfectly coifed mustache, his classy signature sign-off, and his fragile ego, Ferrell makes even the most ridiculous of gags — think Kodiak Bear enclosure rescues and dog puntings — seem believable and, therefore, the funniest damn thing we’ve ever seen onscreen. — Jessica Toomer