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The 20 best films by Mark Wahlberg – ranked! | Mark Wahlberg

You won’t remember this awful remake for good reason. While the original was a classic piece of British cinema famous for its ambiguous (and literal) cliffhanger ending, this was a charming piece of filth, ending with – no kidding – Seth Green buying a set of speakers that are so loud that they can blow a woman’s clothes off. In a career where Wahlberg has at times actively sought out bad films, this will forever be his worst.

Marky Mark and the ape heap… Wahlberg and Helena Bonham Carter in Planet of the Apes. Photo: 20th Century Fox / Sportsphoto / Allstar

Tim Burton’s Planet of the Apes is destined to perish in disgrace. During its arduous development, Tom Cruise and Arnold Schwarzenegger were both interested in playing the lead. Eventually, however, it fell to Wahlberg, who accepted the role without reading a script. It shows. Worse, they left Matt Damon’s role on Ocean’s 11 to do this nonsense.

On the plus side, the decision to turn the incomprehensible Transformers series into a Wahlberg vehicle seems to have killed the franchise for good. However, this film had yet to be made for that to happen, and people were still paying to see it – an incomprehensible mishmash of muddy CGI and angry Arthurian legend. The nicest thing that can be said about this movie is that Wahlberg’s character in this movie doesn’t seem to want to have sex with his own daughter like he did in the previous installment.

The big question about The Happening is whether Wahlberg knew it was going to turn out to be terrible. Did he read this script – about plants that use telepathy to make people commit suicide – and thought, “Wow, that’s great, I’ll do my best here!” Or did he think, “This movie stinks, better have it all the way up”? If it’s the former, this is the worst movie of all time. If it’s the latter, it could be the best performance of his career. Nobody knows for sure, that’s why it’s 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. Photo: Allstar

There are generally two types of Wahlberg films: the films in which he knows 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, as Wahlberg spends the time actively trying to be funny and missing acres. Not even 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 that the moment you decided to cast Wahlberg for the role of Cary Grant? Well yes, obviously. This is a terrible film, and Wahlberg is a terrible one in it, but as this list shows, it’s far from his worst film either.

If you squint and really think hard, you can roughly see what is being attempted to be achieved here. Uncharted is a big-money action film that (action aside) lives and dies on the chemistry between Tom Holland and Wahlberg. Unfortunately for everyone, that chemistry is dead in the water.

Ridley Scott’s cursed Getty movie will forever be known as the film where Kevin Spacey was replaced by Christopher Plummer in the midst of the scandal lightning fast after the film wrapped. Would a more traditional publication have drawn more attention to Wahlberg’s anonymously capable work as a security agent? no I saw this movie twice and still forgot he was in it. And he’s on the poster.

Ludacris and Nelly Furtado, Max Payne deserves to be remembered for one scene and just one scene where Wahlberg eats a handful of performance-enhancing drugs and then in slow motion, so to speak, yells in slow motion until the sky catches fire. It’s a terrifying film, only partially saved by this entertaining, mindless piece of Nic Cage cosplay.

Rareest of all things, a halfway enjoyable Michael Bay project, Pain & Gain pitted Wahlberg against The Rock in a film that aimed to make neither look good. As a film, it has its moments. As a performance, this seems to be one of the few times Wahlberg has decided to poke fun at himself at the same time as his director.

Wahlberg doesn’t do much in this Tina Fey/Steve Carell action comedy — she practically only shows up for a few topless scenes — but it’s a good summary of what the man does best. Passive and open and minimal, he exudes a confidence that could easily be mistaken for stupidity. This is a role of almost zero depth, but Wahlberg knows it and is happily making the most of it.

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

Aside from Danny DeVito’s rash military comedy Renaissance Man, this marked Wahlberg’s film debut. While always marginalized by a young Leonardo DiCaprio, he helped in both material and performance to create a compelling 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 underappreciated two-handed film about feuding siblings played by Wahlberg and Joaquin Phoenix. It’s violent, but the violence doesn’t land properly. It’s nominally sexy, but the sexiness sucks. Thankfully, Phoenix and Wahlberg’s focused performances keep the film from descending into complete disaster.

You have to feel a little sorry for Wahlberg here. The film was about his friend and set in his hometown, and they spent years unsuccessfully asking all the directors on the continent to shoot it for him. He eventually convinced David O. Russell, only for the film’s budget to be cut in half. And when the Sisyphean task of getting the thing done was done, the least interesting thing about it was Wahlberg. Alongside the showboating of Christian Bale and Melissa Leo (both Oscar winners) and Amy Adams, Wahlberg’s quiet, engaging central performance was difficult to discern at first. It’s a shame because he’s never less than convincing.

If Wahlberg had been born 20 years earlier, they could have made a whole career out of movies like The Other Guys. The film walks uncomfortably on the line between action and comedy – aiming for Midnight Run and rarely hitting the target – but Wahlberg nails it from the start. Both macho and goofy, the entire film hangs on 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-selling film of 2012.
Followed by a bear… Wahlberg in Ted, the Guardian’s second best-selling film of 2012. Photo: Universal/Kobal/REX/Shutterstock

5.Ted (2012)

The Guardian’s second best-selling film of 2012 may not have aged flawlessly in the last decade, but it refines 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 almost spectacular here, his big open face conveying a range of emotions ranging from joy to fear to utter confusion.

I Heart Huckabees is the kind of movie 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 annoying movies of all time, wrapping a half-written sixth grade philosophy essay in the kind of unrelentingly smug confidence that keeps you awake at night, the only thing even remotely close to saving I Heart Huckabees is Wahlberg’s cutie Idiot Fireman Tommy. There’s joy in his eyes as he repeatedly smacks Jason Schwartzman in the face with a space hopper that’s 20 times better than anything else happening in this godforsaken movie.

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. Photo: Warner Bros./Allstar

Behind-the-scenes shenanigans may have overcome the power of the Magi – George Clooney is more than willing to explain to anyone who will listen – which is a shame as the film is holding up incredibly well. Not only does it keep its (adult, satirical) point of view firmly in check at all times, but it also lays the canvas for a crazy war caper. While he lacks the sophistication of Clooney or the innate authority of the Ice Cube, Wahlberg holds it all together. As unlikely as it may sound, he becomes the only thing you care about in the whole dizzying mess.

Looking back, The Departed wasn’t quite the knockout everyone was claiming at the time. It’s too long, too flashy, too happy to indulge in some of Jack Nicholson’s worst excesses. But, dear God, does the movie light up when Wahlberg shows up? He doesn’t appear very often – and with the exception of his most recent appearance, he doesn’t do anything of major importance – but the texture he adds to the film as a whole is undeniable. His Sergeant Dignam is consistently a ball of hilarious, unwarranted rage, and his accent is as thick as a tectonic plate. Incredible.

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

After three years of missteps and missteps, Wahlberg ended up here fully trained on the A-list. Boogie Nights is one of those films that transcended the cinema to become a cultural touchstone, and Wahlberg’s performance – simultaneously stirring and guileless – as porn star Dirk Diggler deserves 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 really could act, but also set a high-water mark he couldn’t match. Watch that, then Daddy’s Home 2 – and wonder what the heck happened.

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