It’s hard to find a movie star career that has been more of a roller coaster than that of Ben Affleck. Upon breaking through with an Oscar win in 1998 for writing Good Will Hunting, he and Matt Damon looked primed for a Hollywood takeover. But while Damon’s been the model of consistency ever since, Affleck has managed to have as many highs as lows, navigating box office bombs, personal issues, and viral Dunkin’ Donuts runs.
But Affleck is thriving once again thanks to a pair of critically adored performances and the reboot of Bennifer. And yet, it wasn’t so long ago that people were seriously putting Mark Wahlberg ahead of him in the Boston actor rankings. Part of what separates Affleck from the likes of Wahlberg and other A-list actors of their generation is that he never appears to be following a playbook or master plan; he’s unpredictable. Now, that can lead both to pleasant surprises and disastrous misses. While Wahlberg is constantly either trying to launch his own franchise or find a new true story to tell, take a look through Affleck’s filmography and attempt to find a through line or pattern—no one with a methodical strategy plots out a two-year run of Daredevil, Gigli, Paycheck, Surviving Christmas, and Jersey Girl. And more recently, Affleck has gone against the industry’s superhero and IP wave by becoming the movie star most invested in the adult drama, as evidenced by five of his six projects from 2020 and 2021. (Ironically, Zack Snyder’s Justice League somehow was the only one deemed Oscar-worthy.)
With the release of Deep Water—the erotic thriller that neither Affleck nor Ana de Armas will ever acknowledge the existence of—it’s the right time to go full accountant and crunch the numbers to rank every single Affleck performance. To be clear, this will be an examination of the actor’s performance, not the movies overall, which means Pearl Harbor—as a very, very hypothetical example—could be higher than expected! But most of all, assessing what Affleck has done with each of these performances should forever prove how baffling it is that this winner of Best Original Screenplay and Best Picture has never been nominated for an acting Oscar. Good hunting to us!
55. Paycheck, 2003
Be prepared to hear a lot about Affleck’s Razzie-winning 2003. In what should have been his Face/Off or Mission: Impossible II, Affleck gets saddled with post-U.S. peak John Woo and a movie that lacks any of the fun of the renowned action director’s previous work. This clunky sci-fi flick stars Affleck as reverse engineer Michael Jennings, who is dealing with such high-security stuff that his memory must be wiped after each gig. Personally, I wish I could erase the memory of how bad the chemistry is between Affleck and his love interest, Uma Thurman, despite a pretty solid goodbye speech from Affleck as he’s about to die. “Remember me,” he tells her, even if it’s for the best that no one remembers Paycheck.
54. Buffy the Vampire Slayer, 1992
Affleck’s “Basketball Player No. 10” gets a single line: “Take it, man,” which he says when he’s so scared by the literal werewolf guarding him that he just hands over the ball. He does do a decent job of looking terrified, so how could such a small, uncredited role be among his worst? Well: “I went to the movie and I was like, ‘That is not my voice. That is not me,’” Affleck admitted in 2020. “Apparently [director Fran Rubel Kuzui] hated my performance so much that she looped the entire performance, which was one line. But, yes, I am dubbed in English!” It’s impressive that his career wasn’t slayed right then.
53. Joseph: King of Dreams, 2000
It speaks volumes that the sole animated film on Affleck’s résumé is so low on this list. But maybe it shouldn’t be surprising considering this biblical musical was the only DreamWorks Animation production to go straight to DVD until Trollhunters: Rise of the Titans joined the not-so-illustrious club in 2021. In the adaptation of the Book of Genesis, Affleck voices Jacob’s chosen son, Joseph, but all you can hear is Ben Affleck trying to read the bible. And in this (74-minute!!) musical, Affleck doesn’t even handle the singing, which there is a lot of. With so little for him to do, it’s clear he was just dreaming of a nice, easy paycheck.
52. Man About Town, 2006
Back-to-back straight-to-DVD releases! King of Dreams’ lack of a theatrical release can’t really be pinned on Affleck, who at the time still felt like the next big thing. But the fate of writer-director Mike Binder’s embarrassingly bad dramedy says a lot about how out in the wilderness Affleck was at this point in his career. Starring opposite the very straight-to-DVD cast of Jerry O’Connell, Rebecca Romijn, Bai Ling, and Hitch star Amber Valletta, Affleck is a douchey talent agent who takes up journaling as his personal and professional lives begin to fall apart. Often left to just mope around, it’s unclear what the appeal of the role was for Affleck—and don’t even get us started on the wild dentist-surgery sequence that leaves him with some of the worst fake teeth in cinema history. Man About Town is such a miss that you couldn’t have blamed Affleck if he was worried that using “town” in the title of another movie would invite bad juju.
51. Reindeer Games, 2000
Where to start with this semi-watchable mess? Maybe with the fact that pre–Fast & Furious Vin Diesel left the project due to issues with the script. Or maybe that this Christmas-themed crime film was released in February. Or maybe with Affleck’s over-his-head criminal going by two names: Rudy and Nick. On the nose much? Here’s hoping one day we get the Ben and Charlize Theron collaboration that we actually deserve.
50. Gigli, 2003
Speaking of terrible character names: Larry Gigli. Really? Well, he does keep reminding us that it rhymes with “really,” as in, “Yes, his name really is Larry Gigli.” This infamous bomb not only almost ended Affleck’s run as a movie star, it also seemed to end his engagement to costar Jennifer Lopez, who postponed their wedding only a month after the $4 million opening of this $75 million Razzie darling. Thankfully, both Affleck’s career and his relationship with J.Lo eventually earned a renaissance, but the film’s reputation as one of the worst ever made (according to Richard Roeper) is well-earned between Affleck’s weird attempt at a mobster voice and this Larry Gigli monologue that belongs in the cringe hall of fame: “Let me tell you who the fuck I am. I am the fucking sultan of slick, Sadie. I am the rule of fucking cool. You want to be a gangster, you want to be a thug, you just sit at my fucking feet and gather the pearls that emanate forth from me. Because I’m the fuckin’ original, straight-first-foremost, pimp-mack fuckin’ hustler, original gangster’s gangster.” And yet I don’t think it’s quite as bad as its reputation. If it wasn’t caught up in the Bennifer PR machine, it probably would’ve just been a forgotten miss. I guess love can cost something.
49. Glory Daze, 1995
In his last role before his breakout, Affleck leads this little-seen raunchy comedy as impending college graduate Jack Freeman, who wears dog tags, runs around shirtless in jeans after getting kicked off a city bus, and says things like, “The pimp jacket is tits, dude—what’s the stress factor?” But shout-out to the casting director for somehow getting Affleck, Sam Rockwell, Brendan Fraser, Leah Remini, French Stewart, Matthew McConaughey, and a blink-and-you’ll-miss-him Matt Damon in a movie that there’s no chance you’ve ever seen.
48. Jersey Girl, 2004
Affleck’s frequent collaborator Kevin Smith proved to be out of his element with this dramedy that briefly reunited the star with J.Lo shortly after the Gigli catastrophe and their breakup. Bad timing alert! Affleck goes full dick-mode as jerk publicist Ollie Trinké, who is forced to soften following the death of his wife (Lopez) in childbirth. This allows for plenty of dramatic beats for Affleck, some of which he pulls off better than others. Bonus points, though, for 2004 Will Smith—the world’s biggest movie star—showing up as himself to declare that he’s “ridiculously” hung and deliver the sentimental parenting speech that moves Ollie to give up his corporate dreams in favor of being the best father possible. (If someone isn’t already hard at work on Jersey Girl 2, in which Ollie has only 20 minutes to help Smith revise his Oscar speech after he slaps someone onstage, then what are we even doing?)
47. Pearl Harbor, 2001
Pearl Harbor, a reminder that Affleck and Josh Hartnett were considered to be at the same level at one point and that someone thought it would be a good idea for Michael Bay to direct a three-hour movie about one of the darkest days in U.S. history. The king Roger Ebert sums it up like only he could: “Its centerpiece is 40 minutes of redundant special effects, surrounded by a love story of stunning banality. The film has been directed without grace, vision, or originality, and although you may walk out quoting lines of dialogue, it will not be because you admire them.” In that stunningly banal love triangle that also includes Hartnett and Kate Beckinsale, Affleck plays Rafe McCawley, a dyslexic military pilot. Affleck sure looks like a movie star here, but he rarely gets the chance to prove he is one, as every character moment feels like it’s just biding time for Bay to go Full Bay.
46. The Last Thing He Wanted, 2020
On paper, this critically panned political thriller should have been a slam dunk due to the presence of Affleck and Anne Hathaway, source material from esteemed writer Joan Didion, and direction from up-and-coming filmmaker Dee Rees (Mudbound). But the result was a 5 percent score on Rotten Tomatoes, a Razzie nom for Hathaway, and a film released on Netflix in February 2020 that couldn’t even find an audience at a time when the world was pining for anything half-interesting to watch. Affleck must have been drawn in by Rees and Hathaway, because his character, State Department official Treat Morrison, sure wasn’t it. Affleck is extremely overqualified for what’s on the page and the roughly 15 minutes of screen time he has—basically getting paid well to be on a poster and help make a lackluster twist feel impactful.
45. Daredevil, 2003
Affleck’s take on the blind vigilante lawyer Matt Murdock was one of the first misses in the pre-MCU superhero era that included hit franchises like Spider-Man, X-Men, and Blade. And Charlie Cox’s Daredevil later becoming the most beloved character in Netflix’s short-lived Marvel TV Universe hasn’t helped the lasting memory of the original big-screen version. Affleck proves capable of handling the action and fight sequences, but the theme of him having to play straight man opposite scenery-chewing costars continues (Colin Farrell and Michael Clarke Duncan are both going for it in the best way). After a tepid response (even Affleck has called it “silly”) and a canceled sequel, Affleck appeared to forever swear off superheroes … at least until he looked up and saw the signal.
44. School Ties, 1992
Outside of getting to hang with BFF Matt Damon, future Good Will Hunting pal Cole Hauser, 1992 hotshot Chris O’Donnell, and no. 1 on the call sheet Brendan Fraser, there’s not much for Affleck to do in his film debut besides be a pretty convincing antisemite named Chesty Smith. Props to Affleck for staying true to his character’s name and going shirtless in a scene in which a bunch of (otherwise fully clothed) boys are horsing around together!
43. Daddy and Them, 2001
This kicks off a run of glorified Affleck cameos on our list. For his two scenes as Arkansas lawyer Lawrence Bowen, Affleck is paired with Jamie Lee Curtis as Lawrence’s wife and law partner, Elaine. The duo’s presence and bickering is random, unnecessary to the plot, and also the high point of the small film from writer-director-star Billy Bob Thornton.
42. 200 Cigarettes, 1999
Credited as the dim-witted and flirtatious “Bartender,” Affleck floats in the background as people like Paul Rudd, Kate Hudson, and Courtney Love take center stage. He eventually gets to expertly deliver some deliciously lame pickup lines, like, “My clothes and those clothes would look good on my floor,” and “How do you like your eggs in the morning: scrambled or fertilized?” But what a historic missed opportunity to have a movie called 200 Cigarettes and not have the prince of paparazzi smoking shots take a drag!
41. Clerks II, 2006
Again, Affleck is simply and appropriately named, this time in Kevin Smith’s hangout sequel as “Gawking Guy.” He gets only one line but he nails the “gawking” when his fast-food order is interrupted by an employee’s fiancée walking in, climbing on the counter, and making out with them. Also, you have to respect the facial hair choice.
40. Suicide Squad, 2016
After debuting in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (stay tuned!), Affleck returned a few months later as the Caped Crusader to help launch the supervillain team-up and DC Extended Universe. Brief flashbacks first reveal Batman’s role in capturing Deadshot (Will Smith) and Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), and then a mid-credits scene between Bruce Wayne and Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) paves the way for Justice League. Not much to brag about there, but, as you’ll come to see, I’m higher on Batfleck than most.
39. Runner Runner, 2013
Affleck isn’t the first, and he won’t be the last, to win an Oscar and then follow it up with a bomb. (Please skip Bright 2, Will Smith.) Here, the high was the Best Picture victory for Argo, and the low was the release soon thereafter of the film that finally made Hollywood admit that Justin Timberlake isn’t a movie star. For a project about gambling and money, you couldn’t have asked for better writers than Rounders and Billions masterminds Brian Koppelman and David Levien, but the trouble started on set (director Brad Furman lost control of the movie and wanted his name taken off) and not even a Hail Mary from Affleck and his Oscar-winning Argo editor could save it after filming ended. However, Affleck is far from the problem onscreen, getting to mix it up and go big as Ivan Block, a villain who enjoys giving steam-room speeches about Napoleon and feeding his enemies to crocodiles. Back in 2013, EW’s Darren Franich correctly bet that Affleck would emerge mostly unscathed: “For Affleck, Runner Runner is a minor dark note in a bright phase of his career, notable mainly because it feels beamed in from an alternate universe where Affleck never staged a comeback and stars in movies like Runner Runner.”
38. Phantoms, 1998
While I can’t go as far as that wall-breaking declaration made by Holden McNeil (Affleck) in Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, Affleck’s Sheriff Bryce Hammond is an effective horror movie hero, thanks to his killing of the deadly creature and relaying of the quintessential monster-flick line, “Send everyone!”
37. Going All the Way, 1997
Buried between Affleck’s memorable 1997 one-two punch of Chasing Amy and Good Will Hunting was a film that is almost impossible to find. (Thank you to Casa Video in Tucson, Arizona, for making sure I could complete this full ranking!) It felt right to place Going All the Way next to Phantoms—even if Jay of Jay and Silent Bob did not also deem Affleck “the bomb” in this small indie. Affleck is serviceable in the sidekick role as Tom “Gunner” Casselman, a veteran of the Korean War who takes a shy former high school classmate (future Lost star Jeremy Davies) under his wing. Rachel Weisz, Rose McGowan, Lesley Ann Warren, and Affleck are all predictably stellar when given the opportunity, but this is Davies’s movie, for better or for worse.
36. Surviving Christmas, 2004
Surely, many of you are asking, “How can a critically savaged film that only made back a third of its budget and earned Affleck his latest Razzie nom and capped an all-time disastrous two years for him (Daredevil, Gigli, Paycheck, Jersey Girl, Surviving Christmas) be this far from the bottom?” I will admit that Surviving Christmas is as bad as you’d expect a movie from the director of Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo to be. But! It’s genuinely impressive how committed Affleck is to going off his rocker as advertising exec and classic rich guy jackass Drew Latham, who, when left alone for the holidays, pays the occupants of his childhood home to pretend to be his family. This psychopath instantly embraces this fake reality to an alarming degree, making this the closest Affleck will ever get to remaking Big. I’m not saying the movie should be added to your annual Christmas viewing rotation, but you’d at least survive a single watch.
35. To the Wonder, 2012
There’s only so much to say about Affleck in Terrence Malick’s predictably polarizing experimental drama, because there’s only so much Affleck gets to say. While there’s minimal dialogue in the entire film (the last reviewed by Ebert before his death; he gave it 3.5 stars), it’s especially true for Affleck, whose fleeting lines almost always come in the background as the scenes focus on other stars (Olga Kurylenko, Rachel McAdams, and Javier Bardem). Despite that, Affleck is both never distracting and someone you can’t look away from. And the opportunity paid off in other ways for Affleck, who has said he kept a watchful eye on Malick before heading off to direct Argo.
34. State of Play, 2009
Affleck, McAdams, Russell Crowe, and Helen Mirren starred in this solid but unspectacular adaptation of the hit 2003 British series. But this is Crowe’s show, with Affleck in supporting position as clean-cut congressman Stephen Collins, who calls on his former college roommate (Crowe), now an investigative reporter, when an aide he was having an affair with is killed. As credible as Affleck is in his scenes opposite Crowe, once again his presence seems to be in service of an inevitable and predictable twist.
33. Justice League, 2017
This movie is so universally hated that Warner Bros. was cyberbullied into giving Zack Snyder $100 million more to make a longer, slightly improved version. But I’ll forever contend that Affleck is a good Batman/Bruce Wayne and could have been a great one under better circumstances and a different (I don’t want to be bullied online, so I won’t say “better”) director. There are some nice flashes (entering the speed force) here from Affleck, especially when it comes to delivering one-liners, but the comedy ceiling is only so high in such a dark world.
32. Zack Snyder’s Justice League, 2021
When I’m on my deathbed, I’ll look back at all that I could have accomplished if I hadn’t spent a total of eight hours watching two separate iterations of Zack Snyder’s pandemic hobby. But Affleck’s performance in this version benefits from more time devoted to the chemistry between Affleck and Gal Gadot and the new post-apocalyptic batshit dynamic between Affleck and Jared Leto. That dream sequence in which the Joker talks about giving Batman a “reach-around” and Batman drops an F-bomb might be the most interesting either of those actors was allowed to be in those roles. Wait, did I just talk myself into another four hours of Zack Snyder Batman content?!
31. Forces of Nature, 1999
This Affleck and Sandra Bullock rom-com—that for some reason is shot like Traffic and opens with a horny grandpa having a stripper-induced heart attack at a bachelor party—coasts on the charisma of its young stars, even if they lack romantic chemistry. The high point of blurb writer Ben and bagel shop owner Sarah’s road trip is at a gay bar where Affleck loosens up and unleashes a striptease that forces you to picture a world in which he had taken on the Matthew McConaughey role in Magic Mike. Maybe he can still get in on the Last Dance?
30. Smokin’ Aces, 2006
If you ever need a reminder of how big Entourage and Ari Gold became, watch Jeremy Piven be the catalyst for the events of a movie that features Affleck, Ryan Reynolds, Chris Pine, Taraji P. Henson, Common, Joel Edgerton, Andy Garcia, Alicia Keys, Jason Bateman, and Ray Liotta. Affleck’s bail bondsman Jack Dupree is initially positioned as a major player, introducing Piven’s magician/wannabe gangster to his cohorts and the audience. And he looks cool doing it, with a cigarette (take that, 200 Cigarettes!), a handlebar mustache, and a Kangol hat. Too bad it’s short-lived: Pine’s neo-Nazi shockingly takes Dupree out only 31 minutes in, setting the table for the blood bath that is to come.
29. The Third Wheel, 2002
In the year of our lord 2002, Affleck was starring opposite Samuel L. Jackson, taking over for Harrison Ford as Jack Ryan … and playing fourth fiddle to Luke Wilson, Denise Richards, and someone named Jay Lacopo in a straight-to-DVD comedy about a houseless man terrorizing a first date. As you’d hope for his sake, Affleck is the best part of this straight-to-DVD comedy: As Michael, the supportive work friend of Wilson’s Stanley, Affleck is a great hype man, riling up his “mad dog” to ask out Richards’s Diana. And it’s when Michael’s following Stanley and Diana to ensure things go well that Affleck finds his own comedy gold with none other than a pre-fame Melissa McCarthy. Out of nowhere, the two end up going at it like animals on a motorcycle, with Michael declaring, “I always wanted to get my swerve on on my bike!” Honestly, if the movie had steered into that direction earlier, it might have at least gotten a limited theatrical release.
28. The Sum of All Fears, 2002
As I just mentioned, when Affleck wasn’t slumming it in 2002, he was also picking up the Jack Ryan mantle and following in the footsteps of Ford and Alec Baldwin. Related side note: Does every white movie star get a turn playing Jack Ryan? Also, why does every white movie star want to play Jack Ryan? There’s an argument to be made that Jack Ryan feels so ’90s that it should have stayed there, a stance backed up by the fact that none of the movies or series centered on him in the past two decades have made any real impact. More than Ford, Affleck does possess the “No, I’m an analyst, I can’t do field work” greenness that is such a part of the Ryan mystique. But in the end, The Sum of All Fears is the definition of a middle-of-the-road film, which makes it a natural fit for this positioning.
27. Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice, 2016
Have I mentioned that I’m pro-Batfleck? Affleck was riding high on his comeback after Argo’s win for Best Picture, and his decision to play Batman was the ultimate heat check. Now, you could argue that heat check went up in flames, but it wasn’t all bad. I’m convinced there’s a quality movie in Batman v Superman, especially the first half. The Affleck and Gal Gadot chemistry is crackling from the jump, while the out-of-costume not-so meet-cute for Bruce Wayne and Clark Kent (Henry Cavill), aided by Jesse Eisenberg’s bananas Lex Luthor interpretation, shows promise that is never fulfilled. And that’s more than we can say for Clooney!
26. Shakespeare in Love, 1998
Opposite then-girlfriend Gwyneth Paltrow, Affleck takes on a supporting role in one of his first post–Good Will Hunting films. He doesn’t show up until more than 30 minutes into the controversial Best Picture winner, but when he does, it’s a welcomed sight, both for the audience and the characters. As 16th-century actor Ned Alleyn, Affleck brings a bit of swagger that has you wishing that this was either Ned in Love, or that Affleck was in the Billy Shakespeare spot (sorry not sorry, Joey Fiennes!).
25. Armageddon, 1998
Affleck’s debut as a “movie star”—which came months after his Good Will Hunting Oscar—proved to be the mixed bag that most Michael Bay vehicles are. The highest-grossing film released in 1998, which had nine writers work on the script (J.J. Abrams and Tony Gilroy among them), was destroyed by critics and earned seven Razzie noms, including one for on-screen couple Affleck and Liv Tyler. That being said, Armageddon is exactly what you’d want from a Michael Bay space movie. And in a cast stacked with veteran stars and character actors, Affleck handles himself well, coming across like the IT actor of the moment that he was. And don’t think we didn’t consider giving his commentary on the Armageddon DVD its own spot on this list! You won’t want to miss a thing when it comes to his performance there.
24. Live by Night, 2016
Let’s be clear: Affleck’s last directorial effort to date isn’t bad, but it also definitely isn’t Gone Baby Gone, The Town, or Argo. Variety’s Owen Gleiberman hit it on the head in his review: “It’s like seeing the ghost of a terrific movie: All the pieces are in place, yet as you’re watching it, there doesn’t seem to be quite enough there.” Following the critical and commercial success of the aforementioned three films, there were high expectations for Affleck writing, directing, and starring in a prohibition-era gangster film based on a book from Gone Baby Gone and Shutter Island author Dennis Lehane. Unfortunately, instead of another home run, it was more of a soft single through the infield. As always, Affleck is solid at the center of his own movie, this time as WWI veteran turned bootlegger Joe Coughlin. But, unlike in his other outings, there’s no scene-stealing supporting turns to help carry the load, and for most of the movie, Affleck is dressed like Lou Bega. It seems reasonable to think the mixed response and financial loss of Live by Night is part of the reason he’s still yet to return behind the camera.
23. He’s Just Not That Into You, 2009
Thanks to the alphabet, Affleck gets top billing in this star-studded romantic dramedy, despite probably having the least amount of screen time of the A-list cast. But it doesn’t matter, because he comes off as extremely likable as the marriage-opposed Neil, which speaks completely to the aura of Affleck (given that Neil’s lone distinguishing characteristic is his stance on marriage). A rewatch also serves as a reminder that his scene partners are Jennifer Aniston and Bradley Cooper, both of whom we’d pay to see him reunite with. Just imagine an Affleck and Cooper buddy comedy, with them portraying 21st-century versions of Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau.
22. Mallrats, 1995
Kevin Smith’s cult classic marks Affleck’s entrance into the View Askewniverse. Before being upgraded to a Smith lead, he plays Shannon Hamilton, the scumbag manager at the mall’s Fashionable Male clothing store and romantic rival to Jason Lee’s main character. Affleck’s limited screen time is a positive addition, even as his character leaves a disgusting impression due to a late film reveal. And clearly Affleck and Smith left an impression on each other, as it’s still the most substantial ongoing collaborative relationship Affleck has had with a filmmaker not named Ben Affleck.
21. Jay and Silent Bob Reboot, 2019
Reprising his role as Chasing Amy’s Holden McNeil, Affleck rejoined the View Askewniverse after 13 years away. Now a podcaster, Holden is reunited with Jay and Silent Bob at Chronic-Con, where it’s revealed he fathered a daughter with Alyssa (Joey Lauren Adams). It’s a five-minute sequence about fatherhood that works as a nostalgia-fueled blend of earnestness, sentimentality, and winking at the camera, with references to almost a dozen other Affleck movies. Did we need Jay and Silent Bob back in our lives? Probably not, but at least we got Affleck saying this to his movie daughter: “They’re gone, girl. They’re on the town. It’s just us. We’re the just us league. What are you looking at me like that for? You’re like, ar, go fuck yourself.”
20. Extract, 2009
Featuring Jason Bateman, Kristen Wiig, Mila Kunis, J.K. Simmons, and a very game Affleck, this comedy from Office Space writer-director Mike Judge doesn’t quite live up to its talented cast. In one of his rare non–Kevin Smith funnyman roles, Affleck is Extract’s secret weapon as Dean Slade, the bar-owning, weed-smoking, shaggy-hair-having, free-spirited best friend to Bateman’s uptight lead character. He’s the kind of guy who suggests you hire a gigolo to have sex with your wife and then asks for his cut (“I don’t think they call it a pimp when it’s a male prostitue,” he argues). Judge greatly misjudged the decision to essentially sideline Affleck for the second half of the film.
19. Bounce, 2000
Affleck has plenty of experience working with past, present, and future romantic partners, yet that real-life chemistry often doesn’t translate to the screen. But the best of such instances was his reunion with Shakespeare in Love costar and on-again, off-again girlfriend Gwyneth Paltrow in Bounce. Affleck stars as Buddy Amaral, a playboy advertising exec (were there any other kind in this era of movies?) whose life goes on a downward spiral after a plane that he was supposed to be on crashes. This fact is unbeknownst to Abby, the widow of the man who took Buddy’s seat. After checking in on her, Buddy eventually starts a relationship with Abby. This is an extremely gross premise, but the strong chemistry with Paltrow, some solid monologues, and Affleck’s character doing a dry run of Jackson Maine at an awards show make Bounce worth revisiting.
18. The Company Men, 2011
It’s very possible that you’ve never seen The Company Men, or even heard of it. Sandwiched between the smashes The Town and Argo, this modestly budgeted recession drama from writer-director John Wells (ER, Shameless) was released to little fanfare. Surrounded by grumpy elder statesmen like Kevin Costner, Chris Cooper, Craig T. Nelson, and Tommy Lee Jones, Affleck livens the action up as Bobby Walker, a self-proclaimed “37-year-old unemployed loser who can’t support his family.” The transition from successful white collar businessman to rookie construction worker allows Affleck a few impassioned moments that help elevate the film and performance. Plus, you can never go wrong with Masshole Affleck.
17. Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, 2001
Respect to Kevin Smith for deciding to completely ignore continuity in his View Askewniverse, as Strike Back finds Affleck playing both himself and Holden McNeil, while his Chasing Amy partner Jason Lee is playing his character from Mallrats. Trust us, don’t think too hard about it. Early on, Holden shows up to teach Jay and Silent Bob about the internet and shout out Affleck being, as previously alluded to, “the bomb in Phantoms.” The titular duo then arrive in Hollywood where Matt Damon and a frosted-tipped Affleck are shooting Good Will Hunting 2: Hunting Season. It’s possible that the longtime collaborators have never had more fun than in this scene, which ends with Affleck gleefully saying the cops aren’t there to arrest him because he wasn’t with a sex worker … that day. We definitely liked that applesauce, Ben.
16. Dogma, 1999
Did someone mention Damon and Affleck having a ball in a Smith movie? The highest-grossing release of the filmmaker’s career to that point starred the recent Oscar winners as expletive-dropping fallen angels Loki and Bartleby, who have been banished from Heaven for insubordination. The controversial film finds the pair getting into some rowdy shenanigans, only for Affleck’s Bartleby to take a late dark turn, killing Damon’s Loki for losing faith. Bartleby’s wings are soon shot off, prompting a delirious laugh that is also downright angelic.
15. Chasing Amy, 1997
Our Smith-Affleck run in the rankings ends where Affleck’s leading man career begin in earnest. You could say the whole concept of Smith’s well-received rom-com has aged poorly, but even then, his treatment of queer sexuality seemed poorly handled. That aside, Affleck, Jason Lee, and the Golden Globe–nominated Joey Lauren Adams, who it still feels like should have been the true breakout here, are all excellent. While Lee dominates the comedy, Affleck and Adams—as comic book artists Holden McNeil and Alyssa Jones—deliver the romance and drama. In some of the heaviest scenes to ever be featured in a Smith film, Affleck shines, whether it be in his confession of love (which turns into an argument and then a rainy makeout session) or as he quietly sheds a tear post-breakup. No wonder producers and studios were chasing Affleck after this.
14. Changing Lanes, 2002
You know who thinks this is too low? Matt Damon! For EW’s March 2022 cover, Damon interviewed Affleck and shared his five favorite performances from his BFF, which unexpectedly included this thriller. But it’s not a surprise to those who have seen Affleck and Samuel L. Jackson’s two-hander that begins with a car crash and evolves into a tale of revenge, redemption, and ethical dilemmas. As Wall Street attorney Gavin Banek, Affleck is again a rich douche, and his sleazy handling of an accident with Jackson’s character leads to a fire and rage from both actors—old hat for Jackson, but surprising and welcome from Affleck.
13. The Tender Bar, 2021
The no. 1 testament to how incredibly watchable Affleck is as bar owner Charlie McGuire/father figure Uncle Charlie in George Clooney’s coming-of-age drama is that I had zero interest in anything going on when he wasn’t around. And only part of that was thanks to this true and necessary quote: “Uncle Charlie says the Yankees are assholes.” Clooney the director would have turned in another boring, buzz-free movie if it weren’t for Affleck’s breezy, charming performance as the ultimate cool, sage uncle, for which he recently earned SAG and Golden Globe nominations only to come up shy of landing his first acting Oscar nod.
12. Dazed and Confused, 1993
Matthew McConaughey as Wooderson is the performance that has endured from Richard Linklater’s beloved high school flick, but Affleck leaves the first memorable mark of his career as paddle-wielding bully Fred O’Bannion, who takes a bit too much joy in spanking eighth graders. “Ben was smart and full of life,” recalled Linklater of young Affleck. “You don’t cast the unappealing person, you cast the appealing person.” And it doesn’t get more appealing than watching O’Bannion get his comeuppance when he’s lured into a setup that ends with white paint being dumped all over him. It leads to an all-time “losing your shit” reaction from Affleck, so much so that it’s extremely confusing that O’Bannion is never seen again.
11. Argo, 2012
It’s interesting that, for what is likely his career pinnacle, Affleck’s acting is almost never mentioned. That’s understandable considering his Golden Globe win for Best Director and the film’s Best Picture victory at the Oscars, but Affleck’s turn as CIA exfiltration specialist Tony Mendez shouldn’t be ignored—and we’re not just talking about his great ’70s look. While the part is more subdued and less flashy than the Academy is usually inclined to recognize, Affleck is a steady guide through this world and provides himself with a couple of meaty, quotable sequences. One example: when he assures the nervous diplomats whom he’s come to save that, “This is what I do. I get people out—and I’ve never left anyone behind.” You can’t not love a classic “this is what I do” monologue!
10. Triple Frontier, 2019
Netflix’s heist-survival film was in the works for almost a decade, with seemingly every male star of a certain age attached at one point. In the end, the cameras rolled with the peak alpha-male group of Affleck, Oscar Isaac, Charlie Hunnam, Pedro Pascal, and Garrett Hedlund. Affleck plays the band of brothers’ washed-up former captain, Tom “Redfly” Davis. After initially leaving the film for personal reasons, Affleck returned to the role—and it seemed like his troubles came with him. (The infamous phoenix back tattoo photo was taken during this production.) But Affleck’s sad-sack nature and burgeoning beer gut played perfectly into the character and performance. Redfly, the same guy who was the hardest to convince to take the mission, is the one who gets greedy when they find more money than expected at a drug lord’s house, setting up the unfortunate events to come. But before tragedy strikes, Affleck makes you feel Redfly’s “getting too old for this shit” schtick while also making you understand why these other guys would follow him across a mountain that’s difficult for horses to navigate.
9. Deep Water, 2022
Even I can’t believe this cracked the top 10! So much (like soooo much) has already been written about Unfaithful director Adrian Lyne’s long-awaited return—and I’ve happily read it all. Sadly, despite the internet’s unparalleled excitement about seeing Affleck handle both ex Ana de Armas and snails, Deep Water just flat out isn’t good enough to kick-start an erotic thrillersance. However, not even a laughably bad ending can slow down Affleck’s current hot streak. Carrying some of his Gone Girl energy, Affleck stars as cuckold extraordinaire Vic Van Allen, a wealthy man who invented drone warfare and spends his days riding his bike and his nights killing his wife’s young lovers. As we’re repeatedly reminded, Vic is not a “normal guy,” even though only Deep Water MVP runner-up Tracy Letts seems to be suspicious of him. Correctly deemed “the master of self-aware acting” by The Ringer’s Adam Nayman, Affleck, who apparently is also a snail whisperer, knows exactly what movie he’s in and single-handedly makes Deep Water worth the time and conversation. “If you were married to someone else, you’d be so fucking bored, you’d kill yourself,” Melinda (de Armas) tells Vic. That’s interesting, because if Deep Water starred someone else, we’d have been so fucking bored. Also, I challenge you to find a better, funnier, and more engaging hand-washing performance!
8. The Accountant, 2016
They had me at “Ben Affleck stars as an accountant/hitman in an action-thriller from Warrior director Gavin O’Connor,” and then they [spoiler alert] went and revealed that Jon Bernthal would play his rival hitman brother! I will happily accept a rumored sequel featuring the further adventures of those kids—and that really says something, because this could have gone so wrong. The key part of The Accountant’s premise I didn’t already mention is that Christian Wolff has high-functioning autism, a condition deeply explored both in the present and through flashbacks to his upbringing. Credit to Affleck and O’Connor for not falling into the usual trap of going too big, instead opting for more subtle touches—all of which Affleck nails, from the mannerisms to the spot-on line deliveries. (I’ve crunched the numbers and “I have a pocket protector” deserves its own tax exemption.)
7. Hollywoodland, 2006
If The Town was the real beginning of the Benaissance, then his unexpected—and Golden Globe–nominated—turn as late Superman actor George Reeves was the soft launch. Following the downfall of the original Bennifer and the disastrous run of Daredevil, Gigli, Paycheck, Surviving Christmas, and Jersey Girl, Affleck didn’t appear in a film for two years before returning with a supporting role in this neo-noir period drama about the circumstances surrounding Reeves’s death. (Adrien Brody is top dog on the call sheet, which really puts things in perspective.) “I was really unhappy finding myself perpetually in the sights of paparazzi cameras and in the gossip magazines,” Affleck said at the time. “This character was broken, but he’s also the archetype of all those kinds of guys I had played—the actual, real version, which is damaged and somehow unhappy and trying to be something other than what he is.” And similar to some of Affleck’s other best work, you can see the real-life parallels between him and his character, whether it’s as a reluctant superhero or feeling freer than ever after shedding the cape in hopes of being taken seriously as an actor. What a beautiful irony that Superman was the start of that successful mission for Affleck.
6. Boiler Room, 2000
The true test of movie stardom isn’t just box office receipts and award nominations; it’s also being able to pop in for five minutes and completely steal a movie. Affleck does just that with his three scenes in the criminally underseen Boiler Room, which also features the most 2000 cast of all time. (Affleck! Vin Diesel!! Jamie Kennedy!!! Giovanni Ribisi!!!! Scott Caan!!!!!) As iconic as this shot of Affleck in a Hustler hat and Trojan T-shirt is, the real reason to invest in his outing as Jim Young is the way the high-rolling stockbroker brings us and Ribisi’s character into the world of finance and brokerage firms. “Anybody tells you money’s the root of all evil doesn’t fucking have any,” he proclaims with a macho arrogance that makes the line sing. “They say money can’t buy happiness? Look at the fuckin’ smile on my face. Ear to ear, baby!” If you want that same smile, do yourself a favor and check out what will be the best five minutes of your day. That’s my life advice.
5. The Town, 2010
While Affleck opted to stay behind the camera for his directorial debut, he graduated to double duty for his sophomore effort. As is often the case, Affleck doesn’t have the shiniest part in one of his own films—that distinction in The Town goes to Jeremy Renner, who chillingly portrays the violent and unpredictable Jem. But this first-rate heist film is held together by its protagonist, Affleck’s Doug MacRay, an NHL washout who dreams of pulling off one last score with his crew. Affleck and Renner are an entertaining odd couple, with Affleck staying mostly steady and reserved throughout as Renner constantly explodes. But the writer-director saved a bit of spark for himself, namely in the spotlight scene of Doug unloading on Gem for saying he can’t walk away. A spot in this top five was clinched the minute Doug threw down the gauntlet with, “All you give a fuck about is coke and Xbox.”
4. The Last Duel, 2021
I don’t care what Regina Hall says—The Last Duel has fans! There are dozens of us! Here’s my deeply scientific review of Ridley Scott’s medieval epic: It fucking rocks. Alongside cowriter Nicole Holofcener, Affleck and Matt Damon finally reunited for their first script collaboration since Good Will Hunting, and smartly used the Rashomon storytelling device for the adaptation of this true tale of a knight (Damon) who challenges his friend (Adam Driver) to a duel after the former’s wife (Jodie Comer) says the latter raped her. When the project was announced, it appeared that Affleck was set to face off with Damon in the Driver spot, but at some point a genius call was made to instead put Affleck in the scene-stealing, laugh-inducing supporting role of France’s premier 14th century party boy, Count Pierre d’Alençon, who, in a nice meta twist, can’t stand Damon’s character. “He’s no fucking fun,” he says of Jean de Carrouges. Meanwhile, Count Pierre is all fucking fun, from the way he says the C-word to the way he greets Driver: “Come in, take your pants off.” In a 2021 Affleck performance duel, this easily defeats Tender Bar.
3. The Way Back, 2020
Affleck reunites with Gavin O’Connor for this nontraditional basketball drama that had the unfortunate luck of being released the last weekend before the COVID-19 shutdowns began in earnest. Like in Triple Frontier, it’s impossible to ignore the baggage Affleck brings to his performance as Jack Cunningham, a former high school standout who struggles with alcoholism until he’s brought in to coach his alma mater. The Way Back was filmed in the wake of Affleck’s public struggles with alcoholism, which is often top of mind when watching Jack throw back a beer in the shower or get dragged home from the bar. But credit to Affleck for never overplaying those moments. And as if those issues weren’t enough, it’s later revealed that Jack’s marriage fell apart following the death of his son. “I know that I failed you,” he tells his ex-wife in an emotional sequence that in an ideal world would have been Affleck’s Oscars clip. “I failed our son, because I didn’t take care of his mom. I hope one day you can see in me the man that you once hoped that I would be.” Throughout the movie’s near-two-hour running time, we see the actor that Hollywood hoped Affleck could be. It’s promise fulfilled—and reason to believe that the next 30 years of Affleck’s career could surpass the last 30.
2. Good Will Hunting, 1997
Writing and starring in the underdog drama with Matt Damon was the official, noisy, Oscar-winning arrival for the longtime BFFs. The dramatic heft of Good Will Hunting rests on Damon and Robin Williams, but Affleck’s Chuckie is responsible for two of the film’s defining moments. He first showcases his comedic talents while posing as his genius best friend, Will, in a job interview and forever changing how we hear the word “retainer.” Of course, that pales in comparison to the legacy of Chuckie’s “the best part of my day” monologue, in which the blue-collar character reveals previously unseen layers. Damon appeared to get the bigger immediate bump from Good Will Hunting, scoring a Best Actor nomination and, for some strange reason, more of the creative credit, which now looks foolish following Affleck’s rebirth as an elite filmmaker. And while the duo’s careers went in very different directions afterward, there was no debating that two new A-listers had arrived in Hollywood.
1. Gone Girl, 2014
Just a year after his overall career peaked with Argo’s Best Picture victory, Affleck reaches what is likely, so far, his movie-star peak. Think about it: He’s the face of a critically acclaimed adult drama from one of Hollywood’s great auteurs that makes almost $400 million. Rosamund Pike deserved the moment she had upon Gone Girl’s release, but Affleck’s performance has better stood the test of time. Affleck was so well cast as Nick Dunne that he was believable as both the cheating husband who probably killed his wife and the idiot husband who might have been framed for his wife’s murder. And director David Fincher picked Affleck for a very specific reason, playing with his persona and celebrity in a way that I’m not entirely sure Affleck was in on. Whether those elements were conscious in Affleck’s approach or not, he should have joined Pike as an Oscar nominee. (Steve Carell in Foxcatcher? Really?)
Derek Lawrence is a Los Angeles–based writer covering TV and film. His work has also appeared in Entertainment Weekly, People, and Vulture