If there’s one thing the entire human race can agree upon, it’s the inherent likability of Paul Rudd. Seriously, is there anyone who doesn’t like the guy? With his good looks, goofy personality and gregarious yet laid-back persona, he seems like the kind of person pretty much anyone would love to have as a friend. But although Rudd almost always turns in a fun, witty performance, he’s also appeared in his share of stinkers over the years.
In his latest movie, Judd Apatow’s This is Forty, Rudd and Leslie Mann reprise their roles as Pete and Debbie from Knocked Up—a married, overly complacent couple struggling with getting older and facing possible financial troubles. Co-starring Jason Segel, Megan Fox, Albert Brooks and John Lithgow, the mid-life crisis comedy promises the usual Apatow recipe—raunchy yet relatable gross-out humor mixed with sweetness and poignancy. This Is Forty hits theaters today.
With Rudd’s popularity in full force, join us as we take a look back at some of the highs and lows of this hilarious actor’s career. (Also, a quick note: This list only includes Rudd’s starring roles, not his myriad supporting performances or cameos. So if you’re wondering why Anchorman or The 40 Year Old Virgin aren’t included, that’s why.)
Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers (1995)
directed by Joe Chappelle
Rudd had his first starring role in this cruddy sequel, the sixth installment in the Halloween franchise. In it, he plays Tommy Doyle, the character first introduced in the original Halloween as the traumatized boy whom Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) is babysitting when Michael Myers strikes. Now, Tommy is all grown up and, with the help of Dr. Loomis (Donald Pleasence, who died before the film’s release), is determined to put an end to the mindless killing spree of the titular boogeyman. With its strange, silly plot (something about druids and a mystical “curse of Thorin,” which is apparently the source of Myers’ evil) and tired scares, this Halloween is easily the worst entry in the rusty franchise. Here, “Paul Stephen Rudd” (as he’s credited in the film) shows little of the charisma or wit that would come to define him in later films, though the movie’s awful script certainly doesn’t help.
Over Her Dead Body (2008)
directed by Jeff Lowell
After a string of successful movies, Rudd finally delivered a dud with this muddled romantic comedy. After his soon-to-be wife (Eva Longoria) dies on the day of their wedding, Henry (Rudd) starts a relationship with a new woman (Lake Bell), but finds that the ghost of his deceased fiancée is determined to end his new romance. Despite a promising premise (which might have worked better if the tone had been darker), this bland, terminally unfunny comedy was a bomb with both critics and audiences, proving that even Rudd does not always have the magic touch when choosing material.
How Do You Know (2010)
directed by James L. Brooks
On paper, How Do You Know must have looked like a sure thing. Star-caliber cast? (Which, in addition to Rudd, includes Reese Witherspoon, Owen Wilson and Jack Nicholson.) Check. Oscar-winning writer-director? (Brooks previously helmed the tear-jerker hits Terms of Endearment and As Good as It Gets.) Check. A prime December release date? Check. Yet despite these promising factors, How Do You Know was an utter flop—a lazy, self-indulgent mess devoid of characters or storylines that are even remotely interesting. It’s an odd duck of a romantic comedy—one that seems to have forgotten to include either “romance” or “comedy.” Instead, the film is essentially a collection of boring, aimless scenes. That’s a shame, since the movie’s sole bright spot is Rudd, likable as ever, playing an indicted executive caught in a love triangle with Witherspoon and Wilson. Whenever he’s onscreen, the movie (briefly) springs to life. If anything, How Do You Know proves that even Rudd can’t turn a leaden mess like this into gold.
The Shape of Things (2003)
directed by Neil LaBute
Rudd took on a change-of-pace role with this dark indie dramedy, in which he plays Adam, a nerdy college student who becomes smitten with Evelyn (Rachel Weisz), an attractive grad student seemingly out of his league. The two begin dating, and soon Evelyn begins having a major impact on Adam’s life—making him change his physical appearance as well as his personal interests. Is Evelyn doing what she thinks is best for Adam, or is there an ulterior motive at play? The film was adapted from writer-director LaBute’s original stage production, which premiered in London and featured the same cast (which also includes Gretchen Mol and Frederick Weller as Adam’s worried friends) as the movie. As Adam, Rudd gives a sensitive, vulnerable performance, one that becomes even more sympathetic when the movie reaches its devastating climax.
I Love You, Man (2009)
directed by John Hamburg
In this hilarious, heartfelt film, Rudd stars as Peter, a real estate agent who, after proposing to his fiancée (Rashida Jones), realizes that he has not a single close male friend who could serve as the best man at his wedding. Unfortunately for Peter, his social awkwardness means that his plan to find such a male friend, which involves going on a series of “man-dates,” takes a while to come to fruition, but he eventually forms a bond with the gregarious Sydney (Jason Segel). Rudd delivers one of his goofiest, funniest performances as the somewhat clueless but immensely likable and eager-to-please Peter. Despite the film’s raunchy, over-the-top humor, Rudd keeps his performance grounded in reality, creating a character whom it’s virtually impossible not to root for.
Our Idiot Brother (2011)
directed by Jesse Peretz
This underrated comedy features a stellar cast—including Elizabeth Banks, Zooey Deschanel, Emily Mortimer, Adam Scott and Steve Coogan—but it’s Rudd’s deft performance as Ned, the “idiot brother” of the title, that makes the movie work. Ned is a naïve, idealistic hippie who, after being released from jail for selling marijuana, proceeds to disrupt the lives of his three sisters. Though the troublesome Ned could have, in lesser hands, been an annoying caricature, Rudd imbues him with real warmth and makes his sunny view of humanity—one that his cynical sisters can’t quite wrap their heads around—infectious.
Have a favorite Rudd role that didn’t make the final cut? Let us know in the comments!