Mark Wahlberg’s 20 best films – ranked!


You will not remember this awful remake, for good reason. While the original was a classic piece of British cinema famed for its ambiguous (and literal) cliffhanger ending, this was a charmless hunk of dreck that ends with – no joke – Seth Green buying a set of speakers designed to be so loud that they can blow a woman’s clothes off. In a career in which Wahlberg has sometimes appeared to actively seek out bad movies, this will forever be his worst.

Marky Mark and the monkey bunch … Wahlberg and Helena Bonham Carter in Planet of the Apes.Marky Mark and the monkey bunch … Wahlberg and Helena Bonham Carter in Planet of the Apes. Photograph: 20th Century Fox/Sportsphoto/Allstar

Tim Burton’s Planet of the Apes is destined to go down in infamy. During its arduous development, Tom Cruise and Arnold Schwarzenegger were both attached to play the lead. Eventually, though, it fell to Wahlberg, who accepted the role without reading a script. It shows. Worse still, he left Matt Damon’s role in Ocean’s 11 to make this nonsense.

On the plus side, the decision to transform the incomprehensible Transformers series into a Wahlberg vehicle seems to have finally killed the franchise off for good. However, this film still had to be made to accomplish this, and people still paid to see it – an unfollowable mishmash of sludgy CGI and berserk Arthurian legend. The nicest thing you can say about this film is that Wahlberg’s character doesn’t seem to want to have sex with his own daughter in this one, as he did in the previous instalment.

The big question about The Happening is whether or not Wahlberg knew it would turn out to be terrible. Did he read this script – about plants causing people to commit suicide with telepathy – and think, “Wow, this is great, I’m going to do my best acting here!” Or did he think, “This film stinks, better ham it all the way up”? If it’s the former, this is the worst film ever. If it’s the latter, it might be the best performance of his career. Nobody knows for sure, which is why it’s all the way down here.

No laughing matter … Wahlberg with Linda Cardellini and Will Ferrell in Daddy’s Home.No laughing matter … Wahlberg with Linda Cardellini and Will Ferrell in Daddy’s Home. Photograph: Allstar

There are generally two types of Wahlberg film: the films in which he knows that he is funny, and the films in which he doesn’t understand that he is funny. Daddy’s Home (and its even worse sequel) is a rare oddity, in that Wahlberg spends the duration actively attempting to be funny and missing by acres. Not even having Will Ferrell as a foil can save him.

Where did Jonathan Demme’s homage (a remake of Charade starring Anna Karina, Charles Aznavour and Agnès Varda) go wrong? Was it the moment when he decided to cast Wahlberg in the Cary Grant role? Well, yes, obviously. This is a terrible film and Wahlberg is terrible in it, yet as this list demonstrates it is also not his worst film by a mile.

If you squint and think really hard, you can just about see what was trying to be accomplished here. Uncharted is a big-money action film that (action aside) lives and dies by the chemistry between Tom Holland and Wahlberg. Sadly for everyone, that chemistry is dead in the water.

Ridley Scott’s cursed Getty movie will forever be known as the film in which mid-scandal Kevin Spacey was replaced by Christopher Plummer at lightning speed after the film was completed. Would a more traditional release have drawn more attention to Wahlberg’s anonymously capable turn as a security agent? No. I have seen this film twice and still forgot that he was in it. And he’s on the poster.

A video game adaptation that also stars Ludacris and Nelly Furtado, Max Payne deserves to be remembered for one scene and one scene alone, in which Wahlberg eats a handful of performance-enhancing drugs and then sort of roars in slow motion until the sky catches fire. It’s an awful film only partially salvaged by this entertainingly witless slab of Nic Cage cosplay.

That rarest of things, a semi-enjoyable Michael Bay project, Pain & Gain pitted Wahlberg against The Rock in a film designed to make neither of them look good. As a film, it has its moments. As a performance, this seems to be one of the few times when Wahlberg has decided to take the piss out of his persona at the same time as his director.

Wahlberg doesn’t do a great deal in this Tina Fey/Steve Carell action comedy – he effectively just turns up for a few scenes with his top off – but it’s a good distillation of what the man is best at. He is passive and open and minimal, exuding a confidence that could quite easily be confused for dumbness. This is a role of almost zero depth, but Wahlberg knows and happily makes the most of it.

Hangin’ tough … Wahlberg (left) with Leonardo DiCaprio and James Madio in The Basketball Diaries.Hangin’ tough … Wahlberg (left) with Leonardo DiCaprio and James Madio in The Basketball Diaries. Photograph: New Line/Sportsphoto/Allstar

Not counting the ill-judged Danny DeVito military comedy Renaissance Man, this was Wahlberg’s film debut. While he was always going to be blown to the peripheries by a young Leonardo DiCaprio, in both material and performance, he nevertheless helped to create a riveting role as The Path Leo Could Have Taken. There is a hint here of things to come.

Less than the sum of its parts, James Gray’s We Own the Night was a relatively little-watched two-hander about warring siblings, played by Wahlberg and Joaquin Phoenix. It’s violent, but the violence doesn’t land right. It’s nominally sexy, but the sexiness is laboured. Luckily Phoenix and Wahlberg’s focused performances stop the film from straying into outright disaster.

You have to feel a little sorry for Wahlberg here. The film was about his friend and set in his home town, and he spent years unsuccessfully asking all manner of directors to make it for him. He eventually convinced David O Russell, only for the film’s budget to be halved. And once the Sisyphean task of getting the thing made was completed, Wahlberg ended up being the least interesting thing about it. Next to the showboating of Christian Bale and Melissa Leo (both won Oscars) and Amy Adams, Wahlberg’s quiet, dedicated central performance was hard to spot at first. That is a shame because he is never less than compelling.

Had Wahlberg been born 20 years earlier, he could have made a whole career out of films like The Other Guys. The movie walks the line between action and comedy uneasily – it’s aiming for Midnight Run and rarely hits the target – but Wahlberg nails the tone from the off. Macho and silly in equal measure, the entire film ends up hanging from his every move. Is it too late to get him to do this more often?

Followed by a bear … Wahlberg in Ted, the Guardian’s second best film of 2012.Followed by a bear … Wahlberg in Ted, the Guardian’s second best film of 2012. Photograph: Universal/Kobal/REX/Shutterstock

5. Ted (2012)

The Guardian’s second best film of 2012 might not have aged impeccably in the last decade, but it does refine the art of Knowing What To Do With Mark Wahlberg to a precise science. As the adult friend of an inexplicably sentient teddy bear, Wahlberg is close to spectacular here, his big open face conveying a range of emotion that flits from joy to anguish to outright confusion.

I Heart Huckabees is the sort of film that you only watch twice for one of two reasons: either you’re blown away by Wahlberg’s performance or you absolutely hate yourself. One of the most intensely annoying films ever created, slathering a half-written sixth-form philosophy essay in the kind of relentlessly smug self-awareness that stops you from sleeping at night, the only thing that comes remotely close to saving I Heart Huckabees is Wahlberg’s sweet idiot firefighter Tommy. There is glee in his eyes when he repeatedly smashes Jason Schwartzman in the face with a space hopper that is 20 times better than anything else that happens in this godforsaken film.

Stuck in the Middle East with you … Wahlberg and George Clooney in Three Kings.Stuck in the Middle East with you … Wahlberg and George Clooney in Three Kings. Photograph: Warner Bros./Allstar

Behind-the-scenes shenanigans might have overcome the power of Three Kings – George Clooney is more than willing to explain to anyone who will listen – which is a shame, because the film holds up incredibly well. Not only does it keep its (grown-up, satirical) point of view in an iron grip at all times, but it also lays a canvas for a wackadoo war caper. While he lacks the sophistication of Clooney or the innate authority of Ice Cube, Wahlberg holds the entire thing together. Unlikely as it sounds, he becomes the one thing you end up caring about in the whole giddy mess.

Looking back, The Departed wasn’t quite the knockout that everyone claimed at the time. It’s too long, too on the nose, too happy to indulge some of Jack Nicholson’s worst excesses. But, dear God, does the film light up whenever Wahlberg shows up. He doesn’t show up terribly often – and, with the exception of his final appearance, nothing he does is of much consequence – but the texture he adds to the film as a whole is undeniable. His Sergeant Dignam is a ball of hilariously unjustified fury throughout, and his accent is as thick as tectonic plate. Incredible.

Porn again … Boogie Nights propelled him on to the A-list.Porn again … Boogie Nights propelled him on to the A-list. Photograph: Photo 12/Alamy

After three years of bit parts and missteps, this is where Wahlberg landed fully formed on the A-list. Boogie Nights is one of those movies that has transcended cinema to become a cultural touchstone, and Wahlberg’s performance – simultaneously roiling and guileless – as porn star Dirk Diggler deserves just as much credit as Paul Thomas Anderson’s script or the setting, or the soundtrack. In retrospect, Boogie Nights was both a blessing and a curse for Wahlberg; it proved he could really act, but also set a high-water mark that he couldn’t hope to live up to. Watch this, then Daddy’s Home 2 – and wonder what the hell happened.


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