This month, The Circuit will take a closer look at the legendary career of Will Ferrell and analyze the seven most significant roles on his resume. From Elf to Anchorman and everything in between, we examine an unparalleled career.
In 1995, the year I was born, Will Ferrell joined the cast of Saturday Night Live and quickly became a fan-favorite, with great impersonations of celebrities like Alex Trebek and President George W. Bush.
But while his star ascended thanks to the long-running skit show, his star would go on to burn brighter than maybe any other comedic actor ever by the late 2000’s. From 2001 to 2008, Ferrell put together an IMDb page that included Zoolander (2001), Elf (2003), Anchorman (2004), Wedding Crashers (2005), Talladega Nights (2006), Semi-Pro (2008) & Step Brothers (2008). With all due respect to legends like Eddie Murphy, Jim Carrey and Bill Murray, this severn-year run is unparalleled in history. And that’s not to mention other great films like Old School (2003), Blades of Glory (2007) and The Lego Movie (2014).
This feature will look deeper into that seven year stretch, and focus on those seven iconic roles of Ferrell, and analyze why those are the seven defining faces of his awe-inspiring career.
This film kicked off Ferrell’s iconic seven year run, and showed us a side of him that we haven’t seen all that often; the villain. Ferrell plays Jacobim Mugatu, a fashion guru who is attempting to brainwash Zoolander into assassinating the Prime Minister of Malaysia. Now reading this plot on paper, you would probably say “that sounds ridiculous”. And you would be correct. But Ferrell plays the character so perfectly, making you feel he is both sinister and stupid at the same time.
While we have seen Ferrell play the heel from time to time, it is certainly not the norm for him. So that, combined with the success of the film and the ridiculous look that Mugatu dons (what is with the pigtails and the goatee???), this is clearly one of the most iconic faces Will Ferrell has worn in his career.
This is the BIG one. This will probably be the role Will Ferrell is best known for 100 years from now when acting classes go over his comedic brilliance. While it was a smash hit in 2003, it has somehow gained love and appreciation with every first snowfall that has passed, even inspiring musicals and halloween costumes. You can walk into any building in any city in the month of December and within three minutes you will hear one of the following quotes: “Son of a nutcracker!”, “He’s an angry little elf”, or “Cotton-headed ninny muggins”. And that’s because of Ferrell’s character.
Christmas movies have a certain magnetism to them; Christmas Vacation is widely accepted as the best of that franchise, Home Alone is a beloved series and Tim Allen may be best known for his role in The Santa Clause. So it’s not all that surprising that one of Ferrell’s most iconic roles is in a Christmas film; but what he did with that character is anything but unsurprising.
From the physical comedy of him being a giant amongst the elves, to the fish-out-of-water journey Buddy the Elf goes through, and the ass-kicking he gets by Peter Dinklage in the office, nearly everyone can vividly picture this movie scene-for-scene. Buddy is clearly the most significant face Farrell has ever worn.
Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy (2004)
This is arguably the funniest of Will Ferrell’s characters; his confidence, his lack of knowledge, his suaveness, his ineptitude all create a beautiful chaos that is Ron Burgundy.
Anchorman stands out in his IMDb because it’s really the only movie of his that was able to generate a sequel (we won’t talk about Zoolander 2, and animated movies like Megamind and The Lego Movie don’t really count do they?). Of all his greatest hits, this is the one that led to a sequel, which says a lot about Burgundy as a character and how he resonated with audiences. Not to mention the star-studded cast this film had; Steve Carrell pre-Office, Paul Rudd pre-Ant-Man and the fabulous Christina Applegate. Ferrell had a lot of great actors to bounce off of, and he capitalized big time.
But success alone doesn’t define a character, you also need to be memorable for the things you say. “Stay classy, San Diego” in his rich, mesmerizing tone is something you can say when you leave any room and everyone will smile and think of Anchorman. And that matters when determining the defining faces of a career.
Wedding Crashers (2005)
Whew. This role.
First off, this is my favorite comedy of all-time. A picture-perfect comedy that hits the highest of highs thanks to the crackling chemistry of Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson, Wedding Crashers is unforgettable. And another reason for that is Chazz Reinhold.
Chazz is the infamous crasher who teaches Jeremy the rules of crashing, and so John seeks his help towards the end. Ferrell is in this film for maybe five minutes, and in those five minutes he rips through the movie like a hot knife through soft butter. Like a basketball player off the bench, Ferrell comes in and puts up 12 shots in 3 minutes and scores 17 points.
Chazz is captivating, yelling at his mom to get the meatloaf ready and nearly nunchucking John when he walks through the door. This character is truly wild, crashing funerals with a blatant disregard for human emotion, living the home life of a socially ostracized 12 year-old and practicing martial arts in his spare time. While this is by far the smallest role on this list, it may be pound-for-pound his strongest performance ever.
Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby (2006)
“I’m on fire! I’m on fire!”
This is another of Ferrell’s roles that is defined by the tear-inducing quotes his character gives us. We also get the legendary pairing of Ferrell and John C. Reilly, a combo that has produced a few gems. The shake-and-bake dynamic between these two is brilliant, and makes the audience believe these two really are best friends.
When it comes to establishing a defining role, it helps to have a signature look. Ron Burgundy had the red suit and the mustache, Mugatu had that ridiculous hair, and Buddy the Elf looked like… well, an elf. Ricky Bobby is no exception, as you can close your eyes and vividly picture that Wonder Bread racing costume.
2008 was undoubtedly the year of Will Ferrell. With two fantastic films releasing, Ferrell cemented his legacy in the pantheon of acting. Semi-Pro was the first of those two entries.
Playing the owner/manager/coach/star player of the ABA team Flint Tropics. While Ferrell has always pushed comedy to its horizons, this film definitely was a step further than usual; a hard R rating attached to this one, as it featured numerous racial and sexual scenes. Which is actually what makes it perfect; it allowed Ferrell to fully unleash without the usual PG-13 restrictions and provide the audience with unbridled laughter. And it allowed the audience to mature with Ferrell. The teenagers who started watching him in 2001 with Zoolander were now old enough to see R rated films, and were yearning to experience more adult comedies. Semi-Pro was the perfect outlet for them.
To go along with the more adult comedy, this film also met the memorable look requirement; Jackie Moon became an incredibly popular Halloween costume, and the picture of his carrot-top afro is burned into the memory of everyone who saw the film. Not to mention the Tropics uniforms are pretty slick (and when the Pelicans finally leave New Orleans, they should consider that aqua and orange color scheme).
Step Brothers (2008)
While Elf will most likely go down as his most memorable role, step Brothers will go down as his best. Ask anyone what their favorite Will Ferrell movie is, and I’m willing to bet they say Step Brothers.
His dynamic with John C. Reilly in Talladega Nights is fantastic, but it’s dialed up to 11 in this film. From their introduction scene in the bedroom, to the montage of them sabotaging the house sale, every minute we spend with these two is precious. They created a famous rap that broke into the social subconscious, they defiled musical instruments and they became best friends over dinosaurs. Goals.
This film reaches all ranges of audiences; teenagers who hope to have a best friend for life like Dale and Brennan are, 3o year olds who wish they could have just stayed at their parents forever, and 50 year olds who wish their 30 year olds would leave. Nearly every demographic could relate to this film, and every audience member could laugh with every line.
Will Ferrell has worn many faces, and has brought countless smiles to audiences all over the world. But the seven year stretch from 2001 to 2008 solidified him as the greatest comedic actor to ever live, etching his own face on the Mt. Rushmore of comedic acting.