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15. Tropic Thunder (2008)
McConaughey was a last-minute replacement to play the aptly named Hollywood agent, Rick Peck, after Owen Wilson dropped out. Memorably, Peck fights adamantly for contractual TiVo rights for Ben Stiller's doofus action star, Tugg Speedman; soon after, he's willing to let his client die in the jungle.
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14. Lone Star (1996)
Director Jeff Nichols said he wrote Mud with McConaughey in mind after seeing Lone Star for the first time. Sheriff Buddy Deeds is a legend in Rio County, a man remembered for standing up for justice, and McConaughey looks and plays the part. But like The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence, the truth might be a little more muddled.
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13. How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days (2003)
Sixty years ago, Cary Grant would've had the role of the dashing ad exec who bets he can make any woman fall in love with him in just 10 days, but unfortunately targets a blonde journalist writing a story on how to sabotage a relationship in the same span. For all the rom-com dreck he did, this is the one that's more pleasure than guilt.
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12. U-571 (2000)
McConaughey jumped into the action genre with this WWII submarine thriller, playing a passed-over officer who is forced to lead a top-secret mission to hijack a crippled German U-boat in order to steal its Enigma encryption machine. It's perhaps the first time McConaughey got to show the grit behind the famous grin.
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11. A Time to Kill (1996)
Playing the heroic lawyer in John Grisham's sweaty Southern courtroom drama made McConaughey a star. Some fans will likely want to see this higher on the list, but McConaughey's performance is comparable to a young attorney working his first big case: flashes of brilliance but unsure of his own abilities.
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10. Bernie (2011)
McConaughey switched sides to play the Texas district attorney tasked with convicting Bernie Tiede (Jack Black), the real-life mortician charged with murdering his elderly companion (Shirley MacLaine). He's sort of a buffoon, but a clever buffoon, and McConaughey knows exactly how far to take it.
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9. The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)
Another actor could've played Mark Hanna, the Wall Street rainmaker who mentored Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio). But few could've made the impact McConaughey did in just a handful of scenes, especially the lunch meeting that introduced Belfort and the audience to a through-the-looking-glass world of hedonism.
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8. Frailty (2001)
McConaughey was then known for playing slick characters, so it was refreshing to see him play a mysterious, guilt-ridden man who comes to the FBI with news about a serial killer. It's a terrific performance that plays upon and twists our affection for him.
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7. Killer Joe (2011)
William Friedkin's adaptation of Tracy Letts' play was so inherently dark it got an NC-17 rating, and McConaughey plays a killer-for-hire whose soul is pitch-black. But he brings a sense of propriety to his behavior that makes his bad-deeds that much more shocking.
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6. The Lincoln Lawyer (2011)
Few knew it at the time — probably not even McConaughey — but this was the beginning of the McConaissance. In some ways, it's the same type of role he'd been playing a decade; but he'd matured and seemingly finally understood his strengths as an actor. It's more Richard Gere in Primal Fear than Paul Newman in The Verdict, but it dwarfs what he did in A Time to Kill.
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5. Mud (2012)
Dallas Buyers Club got all the ink, but McConaughey's performance as Mud, a lovesick fugitive who befriends two boys living on the Mississippi, is dripping with poetry and resonance. This is classic role that would've been perfect for Robert Mitchum back in the day, and McConaughey knocks it out of the park.
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4. True Detective (2014)
Take the best of McConaughey in the last three years, and unleash those newly realized skills on HBO's bleak murder-mystery miniseries. His haunted detective demonstrates that at 44, he completely understands his art, his capabilities, and his limitations.
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3. Magic Mike (2012)
Quite simply, the list of actors who could've played Dallas, the dean of strippers, had only one name on it.
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2. Dazed and Confused (1993)
Director Richard Linklater feared that McConaughey was too good-looking for the creepy townie who refused to grow up, but the tiny role bloomed into something special when the 22-year-old no-name stepped on the set. Wooderson became such an essential McConaughey creation that his film company is named J.K. Livin Productions.
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1. Dallas Buyers Club (2013)
The weight loss represented dedication, but the great achievement was the vulnerability McConaughey brought to Ron Woodroof, the promiscuous homophobe who became an unlikely leader of the 1980s Texas gay community after contracting AIDS and opening a barely-legal meds-smuggling business. It was Oscar bait from the get-go, but it was an uncompromising performance that fit McConaughey like a pair of cozy cowboy boots.