Mark Wahlberg's best performances, ranked
Say hi to our ranking of Mark Wahlberg's best performances.
It's been 15 years since Wahlberg scored his first and only acting Oscar nomination for his supporting turn in The Departed, but, despite further awards love, few movie stars have put together as wild, as diverse, and as profitable a career to date.
While the former and rapper underwear model isn't Denzel Washington or Leonardo DiCaprio or Will Smith, he's managed to do a little bit of everything, whether leading successful comedies, appearing in Best Picture contenders, laughing his way to the bank thanks to Transformers, owning a significant space in the action world, producing several HBO hits, and keeping Pete Berg busy,
Here, we look back on the ten Wahlberg performances that have given us those good vibrations.
10. 2 Guns (2013)
This Wahlberg and Denzel two-hander gets the No. 10 spot for symbolic reasons. Is Navy SEAL Michael Stigman technically a stronger performance than firefighter Tommy Corn in I Heart Huckabees, a slog of a movie in which Wahlberg comes out looking better than anyone else? Maybe, maybe not. But 2 Guns is a blast, coasting on the charisma of two true A-list movie stars. More importantly, though, it's here as a representation of the Wahlberg action film factory. So this one is for you, Shooter, Contraband, Spenser Confidential, and so many more!
9. Ted (2012)
Wahlberg in comedies can be hit or miss. And the rule for making him work seems to essentially be to pair him with either Will Ferrell, Rose Byrne, or Seth MacFarlane — unless it's for Ted 2. While the Family Guy creator deserves most of the credit for turning a R-rated comedy about a talking, pot-smoking teddy bear into a $550 million smash, Wahlberg is completely game as John, who hasn't outgrown his childhood best friend or behavior. As he often does, Wahlberg lays his Bostonness on thick, but it's a perfect fit for some of the film's most memorable moments; case in point, the white trash girl name guessing game.
8. Three Kings (1999)
You'll notice that the majority of the performances on this list find Wahlberg not carrying the majority of the weight on his shoulders, and either playing a true supporting role or being a part of an ensemble. In David O. Russell's Gulf War-set film — a famously troubled production — a still not a movie star George Clooney is the lead, with Wahlberg and Ice Cube as his wingmen. Wahlberg is arguably the standout as Sgt. Troy Barlow, and maybe an even bigger surprise is that many of his best moments come when paired with writer-director Spike Jonze. On rewatch, it's a surprise that Jonze hasn't yet built a project around his former costar.
7. Pain & Gain (2013)
"My name is Daniel Lugo and I believe in fitness." Those first words from Wahlberg's personal-trainer-turned criminal anti-mastermind set the stage for the ridiculous Michael Bay dark comedy-crime film that is to follow. Wahlberg, Dwayne Johnson, Anthony Mackie, and Tony Shalhoub are among those dialed up to 100 and completely dedicated to the over-the-top tone, violence, and treatment of this true story. Michael Bay gonna Michael Bay!
6. Lone Survivor (2013)
Director Peter Berg's war drama begins as an ensemble piece with a likable and believable group that includes Wahlberg, Taylor Kitsch, Ben Foster, Emile Hirsch, and Eric Bana, before becoming what the title suggests: a one-man survival story focused on Wahlberg's Marcus Luttrell. The last 30 minutes are when you get to why someone of Wahlberg's stature would sign on, as it's an unspoken movie star rule to find your "Look at me, I'm acting all by myself" project. It's an effective performance and story that makes you think maybe Wahlberg and Berg should have shook hands at the end of production and decided they'd be one-and-done with teaming up to recreate tragic true events.
5. The Fighter (2010)
Starting to sense a trend with Wahlberg and true stories? The actor does deserve credit for shepherding and starring in Russell's film in which he clearly had the least flashiest part, despite being the titular fighter. Christian Bale and Melissa Leo both won Oscars for their very Oscar-y performances, and even Amy Adams and her accent were nominated, whereas Wahlberg, the producer had to settle for a Best Picture nom. But the lack of awards love shouldn't take away from the quiet and reserved energy that Wahlberg brings as underdog boxer Mickey Ward, especially amidst every other character's loud and showy behavior. And that's why the moment when he finally snaps and speaks up, asking why for once things can't be about him, packs such an emotional punch.
Related: The Fighter review
4. Fear (1996)
In his third big screen outing, Wahlberg got by far his juiciest role to yet, playing Reese Witherspoon's sadistic and rollercoaster-pleasing love interest, David McCall. A complaint about Wahlberg's 21st century run is that he hasn't returned to the darkness that he showcased in Fear, considering we're still waiting to see him become as chilling or fear-inducing as his famous chest pound or declaration to let him in f---ing house!
3. The Other Guys (2010)
While Johnson and Samuel L. Jackson steal the first 10 minutes of Adam McKay's criminally underrated action-comedy, their hilarious demise paves the way for the other guys to step up and cop laughs. Like Wahlberg's Derek Jeter-shooting Det. Terry Hoitz, Ferrell and McKay let this peacock comedically fly. And Wahlberg obviously knows Ferrell brings something out of him, hence why they soon reunited for two Daddy's Home films, which, to a much lesser degree than Other Guys, succeed based on the unlikely duo's chemistry.
2. The Departed (2006)
In what has to be considered an all-time upset, the only actor from Martin Scorsese's loaded cast, which featured Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon, and Jack Nicholson, to be nominated for an Oscar was Wahlberg, who maybe has 10 minutes of screen time. But it's a testament to his turn as Sgt. Dignam, the righthand man to Martin Sheen's Capt. Queenan, whose number one job actually seems to be to needle DiCaprio's rookie undercover cop. Wahlberg reportedly passed on the role multiple times, before Scorsese won him over and gave him the opportunity to play around with it. After dropping approximately half of the film's 237 f-bombs, Dignam disappears for the last 45 mins, so much so that you forget about him, only for his shocking return in the final scene to execute Damon's character. Dignam leaves without saying a word. Meanwhile, all we can manage is "F---, yeah!"
Related: Oscar watch 2007 - Mark Wahlberg
1. Boogie Nights (1997)
A few years ago, I was watching Paul Thomas Anderson's masterpiece for a non-Wahlberg related project and in my notes I jotted down, "Best Wahlberg performance?" Now returning to it through the Wahlberg lens, there really was never any doubt. Still then-best known as the underwear-rocking Marky Mark, Wahlberg's first lead role found him surrounded by current (Burt Reynolds) and future (Philip Seymour Hoffman) legends. But despite memorable work from them and so many others (Don Cheadle, John C. Reilly, Julianne Moore), he holds it all together as wide-eyed high school dropout Eddie Adams, whose magical penis turns him into porn star Dirk Diggler. When running away from home, Eddie announces to his mom that he's going to be someone, and Wahlberg in Boogie Nights proved just that for the rapper-turned-actor.
Honorable mention: Patriots Day, I Heart Huckabees, and Instant Family.
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