Judging by the outcry when the decision was announced, this may be an unpopular opinion, but we were on board with the casting of Ben Affleck as Batman/Bruce Wayne in the upcoming “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.” Less perhaps out of all-out fandom than out of a recognition that Batfleck, as he quickly came to be dubbed, seemed to suggest a nuance in the approach to the film that precious little else had given us hope for. (Plus, we also got to call him “Batfleck” — not the first time Affleck’s career has been blessed/cursed by a specially-coined portmanteau).
Affleck has a complicated sort of charisma as an actor, with the blockish all-American handsomeness of a clean-cut leading man, but something else as well — supporters might call it an intelligence, but detractors see it as a sort of sly smugness: Affleck can be both heroic and hateable. In fact, when he’s been cast as simply the former, as a straight-up romantic lead or a dashing aspirational ubermensch, that’s when the surrounding film has often collapsed into blandness, or worse. If the combination of those qualities, as well as a kind of hard-won orneriness that the passage of time has lent him, makes him a good choice for the broken-down, bitter, aging Batman of ‘BvS,’ just as often his appeal has been slightly misdirected.
So, with Zack Snyder‘s behemoth around the corner, we thought we’d take a stab at ranking Affleck’s films. This is a slightly different tack to normal where we examine an actor’s performances, but here the correlation is pretty close — Affleck, never a particularly showy actor tends only to be as good or bad as the film he’s in, be it often only in a supporting role. So here we go: the top 15 of Affleck’s films (as an actor, we’ll look at his writing and directorial output another time), followed by a quick rundown of our ranking of every other movie he’s had an above-cameo-level role in.
15. “Boiler Room” (2000)
It’s long since been eclipsed by cleverer and more insightful investigations into moral turpitude in the stockbroking industry, but as a cautionary tale that came before the global economic bubble burst, you could do worse than Ben Younger‘s “Boiler Room.” It features a cast brimming with turn-of-the-millennium nearly-men, in which Vin Diesel is maybe the revelation — to see him in a suit, playing a guy who doesn’t just crack skulls and drive cars for a living is a bit of a trip. But Nicky Katt, Tom Everett Scott, Scott Caan, Nia Long, Jamie Kennedy all date the movie as much as the fashions and outlook, to say nothing of Giovanni Ribisi as the perfectly bland leading man, whose drive to satisfy his Dad (Ron Rifkin) is such that he cuts all sorts of moral corners to be successful. Amongst all this ho-hum stuff, though, Affleck’s turn as the kind motivational equivalent of Alec Baldwin‘s character in “Glengarry Glen Ross” is a particular pleasure, as is one rather great scene in which all the young cubs lounge around quoting along to “Wall Street” as though it were the new gospel.
14. “Extract” (2009)
Undoubtedly slighter than a lot of Mike Judge‘s other work, and less catchy as a potential cult favorite than his previous directorial outings “Idiocracy” and “Office Space,” still “Extract” is an enjoyable ensemble comedy featuring cracking turns from a great cast including Jason Bateman, Kristen Wiig, David Koechner, JK Simmons, Mila Kunis, Clifton Collins Jr. and erm, Gene Simmons, along with TJ Miller who’s gone on to be such a cornerstone of Judge’s most recent venture, TV show “Silicon Valley.” Possibly because of such a stacked cast all jostling for space, the film feels a little unfocussed and cursory, but even in that setting Affleck’s Dean, the stoner barman, dealer and best friend to Bateman’s straitlaced Flavoring Extract factory owner is a small pleasure. As so often, when the spotlight is off him and Affleck is allowed to be funny or weird or goofy on the sidelines, he rises to the occasion — perhaps proving how much more valuable he is as a team player than as a leading man.
13. “Dogma” (1999)
Kevin Smith‘s “Dogma” is kind of a mess, but it’s a mess that comes from overreach rather than laziness, and from attempting something of surprisingly ambitious scope rather than going back to the trough of tired pop-culture cliches and warmed-over genre riffs that have comprised too much of his more recent back catalogue. It is, in a nutshell, a likable mess. The story of two fallen angels wandering about New Jersey and attempting to cheat their way back into God’s good graces, it’s a bit of a muddle, theologically speaking, and the quirk overload can be all-consuming at times, but it’s hard to stay mad at a film that imagines Alanis Morissette as God (oh, the ’90s!), or Chris Rock as a disciple written out of history because he is black, or humanity’s last hope coming in the spiky, sarky form of Linda Fiorentino. Affleck’s Bartleby and Matt Damon‘s Loki are perfectly cast as the rather despicable ex-angels whose story, almost inadvertently allows a glimpse of a miraculously rare sight: Kevin Smith being sincere, and, under all the poop monsters and sexual innuendo, sincere about faith.
12. “Shakespeare in Love” (1998)
To maintain that John Madden‘s slight, frilly trifle “Shakespeare in Love” did not deserve to win Best Picture that year (and it didn’t, certainly not when “The Thin Red Line” was in the frame) is not to say that the film is without merit. In fact, when you step away from its over-awarded dazzle, it’s a genuinely solid, occasionally very funny film, that wears its erudition lightly and keeps everything moving along at a snappy pace. And a lot of its laughs come, as is often the way in these things, not so much from the central star cross’d pairing of Gwyneth Paltrow and Joseph Fiennes, but from the supporting cast. Affleck, though he has only a small role as the egotistical superstar actor Ned Alleyn is kind of a hoot, lampooning his own star persona and the Hollywood system in general with his portrait of an utterly self-centered and rather doltish actor who must nonetheless be courted for his bums-on-seats clout.
11. “Armageddon” (1998)
One of Michael Bay’s overblown, high-concept festivals of nonsense, nonetheless “Armageddon,” we’ll maintain, is one of his very least bad films too. Partly because no matter how underwritten and sketchy their roles, any film that features Bruce Willis, Billy Bob Thornton, Steve Buscemi, Owen Wilson, Peter Stormare, Michael Clarke Duncan, William Fichtner, Liv Tyler, Jason Isaacs and Udo Kier (Udo Kier, for heaven’s sake!) has to have at least some passing pleasures. And “Armageddon” really does — if it’s a rare example of a film that works, in which we are asked to root for Affleck as an uncomplicatedly heroic good guy that’s probably only because 1) there are so many other fun elements to distract us, 2) it’s entirely lunk-headed to begin with, and 3) the real love story actually happens between the father/daughter pairing of Willis and Tyler anyway. For evidence of how wrong a Bay movie with Affleck as the hero can go, just see “Pearl Harbor.” Or rather, don’t, not ever, if you can help it.
10. “To the Wonder” (2012)
As divisive a film as Terrence Malick had made up until last week when “Knight of Cups” was released, there’s still enough exceptional filmmaking on display in “To the Wonder” to merit its inclusion in the top 10 Affleck-starring films. Of course, as often with Malick, it’s hard to really credit Affleck’s input too much — like Sean Penn before him, in “Tree of Life” and Christian Bale after him in ‘Cups’ Malick’s leading man here is less a fully-realised character that an actor can embody, than a proxy for Malick himself, essentially the receptacle for all the thoughts, questions and yes, wonderment that the director is trying to convey. Here, Affleck’s Neil is very much in that mold, ostensibly at the center of a love triangle between Olga Kurylenko and Rachel McAdams, but the film is far less interested in him than it is in its women, particularly Kurylenko, as these fascinating and yet also ultimately unknowable objects of desire.
9. “Hollywoodland” (2006)
We’re hardly the first to point it out, but yes, Ben Affleck, who plays Batman in the upcoming ‘Batman v Superman’ has also played Superman. Or, at least, he’s played the man who played Superman on TV in the 1950s — actor George Reeves whose gunshot death (an apparent suicide) has long been one of classic Hollywood’s most intractable mysteries. The plot thickens because of Reeves’ proximity to great studio “fixer” Eddie Mannix (whom the Coen brothers recently made the central character in “Hail Caesar!“) — Reeves was having an affair with Mannix’s wife Toni (played here by Diane Lane) and rumors have persisted that Mannix (Bob Hoskins) was responsible for Reeves’ death and/or responsible for covering it up as a suicide. If this were a list of Affleck’s best performances, it’s very possible that Allen Coulter‘s “Hollywoodland” would top it, he is really that good as the tragic Reeves, a victim of both stereotyping and the snobbery that existed between the TV and the film industries at the time. The film overall is let down by some of tis other elements, not least the introduction of Adrien Brody‘s unconvincing gumshoe character, but Affleck’s portrayal of a man seduced and then trapped by the glamor factory of classic Hollywood is worth it all by itself.
8. “Changing Lanes” (2002)
Roger Michell‘s unjustly neglected story of a fender bender that escalates into a corrosive game of brinkmanship is one of those films whose unappealing premise conceals a surprisingly convincing, crackling little thriller. Boldly confronting both class-based and racial issues, it follows Affleck’s Banek, a smarmy high-powered lawyer who has an accident on his way to file some crucial papers, which he then loses at the scene. The man he collides with, Gipson (Samuel L Jackson) is himself on his way to a vital court date, but the delay causes the judgement to go against him, and he loses custody of his children — he however has picked up Banek’s important documents after the lawyer left the scene of the accident without. And so the scene is set for a kind of cat-and-mouse drama with the roles of cat and mouse switching frequently, and where both are motivated by revenge and spite. To the credit of both actors it somehow remains believably tense even when circumstances progress to their most extreme, and it’s perhaps only the anticlimax of the ending that lets the film down at all.
7. “Chasing Amy” (1997)
Speaking of polarizing figures whose extra-curricular persona interferes with the appreciation of their work (where the work deserves it), Kevin Smith. Affleck, of course, was a card-carrying member, early on of the View Askewniverse, and turned up in a string of the director’s films, starting with his sophomore feature “Mallrats.” But the best of Affleck’s movies for Smith, and arguably the best of Smith’s movies aside from breakout “Clerks,” is “Chasing Amy,” in which Smith’s penchant for arch, smutty, pop-culture inflected dialogue is balanced by actual depth and characterization in a way he seldom managed elsewhere. Joey Lauren Adams has a small breakthrough as Alyssa, the not-heterosexual object of Holden’s (Affleck) affections, while Jason Lee plays Holden’s best friend, who is in love with him. Its portrayal of homosexuality may feel a little unenlightened to the more modern eye (lesbians in particular, outside of Alyssa, are mostly stereotypes) but as an unusually sincere attempt to deal with the complications of falling in love with the wrong person, “Chasing Amy” still works, and is still a career high point for all involved.
6. “Argo” (2012)
It’s possible that the kind of ambivalence that a lot of people seem to have toward Affleck, outside of any one of his films or any one of his various careers within the industry, extends also to Hollywood insiders — how else can we account for the fact that “Argo” could pick up 7 Oscar nominations and win 3, including Best Picture, without a nod for Affleck as Best Director? For context, the only other time that has happened in the modern era was with the now-ridiculed Best Picture win for “Driving Miss Daisy” which did not have a corresponding nod for director Bruce Beresford. However it came about, it certainly seems unfair (“Argo” is, at the very least, better than “Driving Miss Daisy”), especially as in being such an ensemble drama, and a loose recreation of real-life events, “Argo” is arguably more a writer-and-director’s film than anything else, and it did win a Screenplay Oscar. Perhaps it might be that again the relative invisibility of Affleck’s directorial style counted against it (especially when you consider that director Ang Lee won the statue for his CG-heavy parable “Life of Pi“) but “Argo,” while it may not be the most faithful or accurate of true-life stories, is a complex tale of spy-jinks and moviemaking told entertainingly well.
5. “State of Play” (2009)
Maybe because the 6-part BBC series on which it was based proved too high a bar to clear, or maybe because its rather generic title failed to drum up much interest, Kevin MacDonald‘s sleek, grown-up political thriller got a raw deal at the box office and has been largely forgotten since. But that’s a shame, since it boasts a cornucopia of good stuff: Russell Crowe on charmingly rumpled form as the veteran journalist whose small store of faith is again tested; Rachel McAdams as the bright-eyed cub reporter who somewhat restores it; Helen Mirren as the flinty-but-fair editor of the newspaper; Robin Wright, pre-empting her “wife of a Washington power player” role in “House of Cards” by some years and Affleck, as the power player in question. Again cannily cast as the senator who devolves in our sympathies from decent guy who is cheating on his wife, to all-out corrupt liar to potential murderer, Affleck again shines when he’s put in the role of the tarnished golden boy, and here that characterization is given extra edge by the contrast, both physical and moral, between him and his old friend, played by Crowe.
4. “The Town” (2010)
Affleck’s three directorial features so far have proven he’s a very solid presence behind the camera as well as in front — showing a similar kind of unfussy, intelligence in his approach to fellow actor-turned filmmaker Clint Eastwood. And if anything, we think his debut “Gone Baby Gone” might have actually been his best so far, though without him starring in it, it is outside the purview of this list. However his second film, in which he does take double duty, directing himself as the lead character, is almost as strong. “The Town,” less a heist movie than an aftermath-of-heist movie boasts a terrific cast that Affleck knows how to get the best out of: Rebecca Hall, Jeremy Renner, Blake Lively, Jon Hamm, Chris Cooper and Pete Postlethwaite. Surrounded by all of them, he also turns in a typically understated lead performance as the conflicted, morally troubled gang leader who falls for one of his hostages, lending the whole film a kind of melancholic texture it’s hard to see many other leading men bring.
3. “Gone Girl” (2014)
Time will prove where in David Fincher’s terrific filmography “Gone Girl” finally comes to rest. But while there are those of us here who felt the widespread rapture that greeted his Gillian Flynn adaptation might have been a little exaggerated in that context, there’s no doubt it’s an exceptionally slick, deliciously watchable thriller. Of course Rosamund Pike got the majority of the plaudits in the showier role as the murderously sociopathic Amazing Amy. But Affleck’s casting as her husband Nick who will be accused of her murder and largely convicted in the court of public opinion because he looks guilty, was a quieter masterstroke. Affleck himself has often struggled with how his private life has interfered with the image of him as an actor (and has sometimes done himself no favors in that regard), and so he’s perfectly placed to embody a man whose ostensible blessings — handsomeness and an eagerness to please that might in any other context be charming — damn him by simply coming across all wrong.
2. “Dazed and Confused (1993)
With spiritual sequel “Everybody Wants Some!!” premiering in SXSW recently to uniformly positive notices (here’s our review) the canonization of Richard Linklater‘s beloved, nostalgia-drenched last-day-of-high-school ensemble comedy seems complete. But one of the key aspects of this deceptively loose-limbed, free-wheeling film is that despite its shaggy structure, it’s actually full of acute, skewering insights, and is very brilliantly cast. Aside from coining “Alright, alright, alright” for Matthew McConaughey and defining his zonked-out stoner appeal, the film proffers archetypal early roles to Parker Posey, Milla Jovovich, Joey Lauren Adams, Adam Goldberg, Rory Cochrane as well as Ben Affleck. And casting Affleck as the meathead bully O’Bannion is particularly well-considered, with his arc of meanness followed by comeuppance playing out as one of the most satisfying of the film’s overlapping storylines. Affleck’s jocklike good looks, ever undermined by that edge of infuriating smugness makes his “Carrie“-esque moment as the white paint rains down on him feel all the sweeter.
1. “Good Will Hunting” (1997) …. Chuckie Sullivan
Gus Van Sant‘s film may have brought Ben Affleck a writing Oscar at age 25, it may star Robin Williams in an also-Oscar-winning inspirational teacher role, and it may have made astounding coin ($226m) for a somewhat formulaic genius-against-the-odds picture, but the biggest surprise about it is how, despite all that, it remains an intensely likeable film. And Affleck’s Chuckie Sullivan is one of his least affected, most affecting performances — as the loyal but un-brilliant friend of Matt Damon‘s prodigy, Chuckie ensures the film’s heart rivals Will Hunting’s cerebellum in size. It’s easy to imagine a far less successful, less easy-to-root-for version of this film where the two actors reversed the roles, with Affleck striding into the role of Will Hunting and off into the sunset destined for Great Things. But the fact that in a script he co-wrote, he took the less central, non-title role indicates that he (and friend and collaborator Damon) understood his own appeal perhaps better than many Hollywood execs ever would.
Click over to see our rankings of the other films in Affleck’s filmography as actor.
16. Going All the Way (1997)
17. The Company Men (2010)
18. Daddy and Them (2001)
19. School Ties (1992)
20. The Sum of All Fears (2002)
21. Forces of Nature (1999)
22. Mallrats (1995)
23. Paycheck (2003)
24. Runner Runner (2013)
25. Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back (2001)
26. Reindeer Games (2000)
27. Daredevil (2003)
28. Smokin’ Aces (2006)
29. Bounce (2000)
30. Jersey Girl (2004)
31. He’s Just Not That Into You (2009)
32. Man About Town (2006)
33. The Third Wheel (2002)
34. 200 Cigarettes (1999)
35. Phantoms (1998)
36. Pearl Harbor (2001)
37. Surviving Christmas (2004)
38. Gigli (2003)
So over to you now, what do you think is the best film Affleck has ever appeared in? Plenty of room for all those spirited defenses of “Surviving Christmas” in the comments below.