There are career years, and then there’s Jim Carrey‘s 1994.
Twenty-five years ago, the actor-comedian was wrapping up his memorable five-season run on Fox’s In Living Color when he went from the funny white guy on Fox’s popular sketch series to Hollywood’s biggest comedy star. Carrey’s big-screen breakthrough came via an unparalleled run; in an 11-month span, he starred in three box office smash hits — Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, The Mask, and Dumb and Dumber — that, to this day, still remain in the zeitgeist. In honor of the milestone anniversary of these films, EW is celebrating Carrey’s big year.
Carrey was by no means a showbiz rookie when he found his monster success. At 32, the Canadian stand-up had been working in the industry for over a decade, having racked up a few small film roles and a one-season sitcom. His big break would come in 1990 when he joined Keenan Ivory Wayans‘ new sketch series, In Living Color, which became notable for featuring a predominately black cast and serving as a launching pad for Carrey, the Wayans brothers, Jamie Foxx, and Jennifer Lopez. That platform is what helped Carrey get back on the film radar. At the time, his biggest movie role had been 1989’s Earth Girls are Easy, a critical and commercial failure that has since developed a cult following. But, with In Living Color winding down (the Wayans family had all departed over creative differences with Fox), Carrey was ready to make the jump back to film — and audiences were clearly ready for him.
“I knew this movie was going to either be something that people really went for, or it was going to ruin me completely,” Carrey told the Los Angeles Times in 1994 of Ace Ventura: Pet Detective. Well, the story of an animal detective who has to track down the Miami Dolphins’ stolen mascot before the Super Bowl did the opposite of ruin Carrey, earning over $100 million at the box office with its February release and setting the stage for the year to come (and an even more successful sequel the next year). Re-watching Pet Detective, it’s clear there’s never been a performer like Carrey, with his distinct style and delivery. Also, who else could have pulled off that hair? Or that pink tutu? Or talking out of their butt?
Pet Detective‘s haul would soon look like peanuts, with the July release of The Mask raking in $350 million and scoring Carrey his first Golden Globe nomination. This was an important and smart follow-up for Carrey, as he could easily have been typecast as the funny weirdo, but, in The Mask, he got to play two very different characters, excelling as both the regular everyman and the charismatic playboy (okay, the latter definitely still has some weirdo in it).
And while The Mask would be Carrey’s highest-grossing film of 1994, he would close out the career year with his comedy home run. “Rubbery-handsome, with a chipped front tooth, fashion-disaster bangs, and the eager dimples of a depraved gopher, Jim Carrey turns his face and body into a special effect — a human morph machine — in Dumb and Dumber,” Owen Gleiberman wrote in his EW review of the Farrelly brothers’ classic. “He’s playing a geek who thinks he’s hot stuff, and though we’ve seen this character before (Steve Martin practically invented it), Carrey, zigzagging between twinkly-eyed infomercial-pitchman bravado and sheer manic idiocy, does the postmodern smart-dumb clod with a new kind of whiplash abandon.”
Armed with that chipped front tooth, the most annoying sound in the world, and an unforgettable suit, Carrey charmed as Lloyd Christmas (what a run of names with this, Ace, and Stanley Ipkiss), and proved to be more than deserving of the “comedic genius” title that costar Jeff Daniels bestowed upon him.
While Carrey has gone on to have a long and interesting career — and is currently doing some standout work on Showtime’s Kidding (for which he was nominated for a Golden Globe) — he’s unsurprisingly never come close to reaching the same heights of his epic 1994. But then again, who has?