Total Recall: Best Judd Apatow Productions

With Funny People hitting theaters, we run down the multi-hyphenate's finest work.

They may not have as much control over a film as they did during the days of Hollywood's studio system, but producers still wields a great deal of clout, and despite the behind-the-scenes nature of the job, a great producer can draw audiences to a movie just as powerfully as a name director or major star. One such current producer is Judd Apatow, whose name has become a signifier for a certain brand of smart (and thoroughly bankable) comedy; since producing Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy in 2004, he's been on an impressive roll, one he hopes to continue with this week's Funny People.

Of course, Apatow isn't just a producer; he's also a director and writer, and Funny People -- like Knocked Up and The 40-Year-Old Virgin before it -- finds him occupying all three positions. Still, it's his list of production credits that runs longest -- and may contain a few surprises for those who haven't been following his career closely -- so we thought this would be the perfect time to give each of them the Total Recall treatment. We did get a little technical, and cut out the films where he served as an executive producer (bye bye, Heavyweights, Celtic Pride, Kicking and Screaming, and The TV Set) as well as associate producer (thus excising 1992's Crossing the Bridge). Don't worry, though -- that still leaves us plenty to discuss. Ready to get started? It's Total Recall time!


14%
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Rotten

12. Year One

Well, it sounded good, anyway. Teaming up hyperactive Jack Black and deadpan Michael Cera for a Monty Python-inspired spoof of the Old Testament -- with Harold Ramis behind the cameras and The Office's Gene Stupnitsky and Lee Eisenberg helping with the screenplay? Laughs galore, right? Well, not so much. At 16 percent on the Tomatometer, Year One is one of the bigger critical duds of the year so far, despite its stellar behind-the-scenes pedigree, two likable leads, and a supporting cast that includes such dependable comedy vets as David Cross, Paul Rudd, and Hank Azaria. What went wrong? It really depends on who you ask -- some scribes pinpointed a lack of chemistry between Black and Cera, some simply found the movie dull, and some just couldn't abide by the script's aggressively lowbrow humor. As Eric D. Snider of Film.com wrote, "If you can't take this premise and these actors and come up with anything funnier than Jack Black eating poop, then you have no business making comedies."


25%
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Rotten

11. Drillbit Taylor

Even if it had been the comedy of the year, 2008's Drillbit Taylor would have been overshadowed by the public personal breakdown suffered the previous year by its star, Owen Wilson; in fact, the studio was reportedly so protective of Wilson that his promotional tour for the film was curtailed to the point that it probably would have dampened its gross no matter how solid the reviews or word of mouth might have been. Of course, as it turned out, Drillbit was dead on arrival anyway -- it might have been based on an idea from John Hughes, but audiences and critics found this quickly forgotten comedy, about a homeless man who pretends to be a mercenary in order to scam some kids out of enough money for a ticket to Canada, a few shades less appealing than Pretty in Pink. As the Houston Chronicle's Amy Biancolli put it, "Watching kids being forced to pee on each other isn't actually funny. Neither is watching those same kids get chased down by a pair of thugs in a sports car."


54%
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Rotten

10. The Cable Guy

With loads of dark humor and a plot that took subversive aim at the entertainment industry, 1996's The Cable Guy might have been a nifty little low-key comedy, if not for one thing: the obsessively reported $20 million paycheck that Jim Carrey took home for playing the title role. With Carrey's rep and that kind of money at stake -- not to mention Ben Stiller behind the cameras -- Cable Guy had plenty of lofty expectations to meet when it arrived in theaters. As you probably remember, things didn't exactly turn out as planned; critics were divided by its rough blend of grim laughs and Carrey's trademark mugging (Chuck O'Leary of Fantastica Daily called it "hilarious"; Variety's Leonard Klady deemed it "hopelessly disconnected and ultimately unsatisfying"), while American audiences didn't show it the kind of love they'd had for, say, The Mask. Though it eventually turned a profit, earning more than $100 million worldwide, The Cable Guy went down as one of the black sheep of 1996's theatrical flock -- and for whatever reason, it would be eight years before Apatow produced another movie.


55%
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Rotten

9. Step Brothers

In most of his comedies, Will Ferrell plays a doltish man-child who has somehow managed to get past his obvious mental shortcomings to succeed in some wildly inappropriate career field -- NASCAR, figure skating, network news. But for 2008's Step Brothers, Ferrell and screenwriting partner/director Adam McKay dispensed with those niceties and simply developed a story about two unemployed nincompoops in their late 30s who are forced to confront their unwillingness to grow up (but not before spending an hour and change tormenting one another with disgusting pranks and physical violence). It was, in other words, the perfect setup for Ferrell and co-star John C. Reilly -- and just the kind of film that you'd expect to pile up a $185 million worldwide gross while causing critics like Bruce Demara of the Toronto Star to call it "a movie of unrelenting idiocy featuring boorish behaviour, unrealistic character development and ludicrous plotting." Still, some scribes got the joke, among them Tom Long of the Detroit News, who wrote, "Do not go to Step Brothers looking for anything remotely meaningful, sincere or spiritually enhancing. Go for a laugh. It's got plenty of them."


66%
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Fresh

8. Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy

A cheerful combination of scatological improv, 1970s spoofery, and utter nonsense, 2004's Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy proved two things: One, that Will Ferrell can be as ridiculous as he likes and still make money at the box office; and two, that there is always an audience for non sequitir gags like "I love lamp." Its nearly $100 million gross also helped Apatow transition from critically revered but low-rated television shows into top-grossing feature films, and kicked off a prolific, profitable run that has grown to boast some of the most successful comedies of the last 10 years. Not bad for a movie whose final act rests on a conversation between a dog and a bear, right? Surprisingly for such a lowbrow movie, most critics were just as caught up in Anchorman's silly spell as audiences; though some were dismissive of its largely one-joke premise, the majority agreed with Stephen Hunter of the Washington Post, who decreed, "you will laugh. Then you will laugh some more. Then you will laugh still again."


68%
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Fresh

7. Pineapple Express

Apatow may have said it was inspired by Brad Pitt's character in True Romance, but spiritually, 2008's Pineapple Express is more of a cross between a Cheech & Chong flick and a quintessentially 1980s buddy action movie like Running Scared. It's an inspired blend, to be sure -- one rife with enough possibilities to transcend the occasional flabby spots in Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg's script, or a running time that may have been 20 minutes too long. Though most critics weren't exactly bowled over by the Express, they were at least charmed enough by Rogen and James Franco (starring, respectively, as a cheeba-loving process server and his dealer) to nudge the movie into Fresh territory. Some scribes rejected it outright (Richard Roeper likened watching it to "sitting dead sober in a room with a bunch of stoned people who are laughing uproariously"), but Time's Richard Corliss spoke for the majority when he called it "a comedy that brings a nicely deflating note of realism to action-film mayhem, as well as being one of the few drug movies you don't have to be high to enjoy."

Comments

Axl

Chris Carlin

Heavy Weights is number one! how come this film is always forgotten in the Judd Apatow conversation?

Jul 30 - 11:06 AM

manwhatisthatthing

Hurjay Medilo

He was only Executive Producer, already explained in the preceding text.

Jul 30 - 02:04 PM

Axl

Chris Carlin

on imdb it also says he co-wrote it

Jul 30 - 04:07 PM

Jason C Wilkerson

Jason Wilkerson

Axl: Go back and read the opening paragraph on the list, they mentioned that they left out movies that Apatow was an executive producer on. Executive Producers don't have the creative clout during the film that a general Producer has.

Jul 30 - 04:41 PM

Dan Y.

Dan Young

its still a shame they left them out, because Heavyweights and Celtic Pride are two of the best movies ever

Jul 30 - 06:25 PM

Axl

Chris Carlin

i dont care what Jeff Giles says in his little article, Apatow co-wrote and executive produced both Heavy Weights and Celtic Pride

how could you say he had no creative input if he helped write the damn movies?

Jul 30 - 07:26 PM

Jason C Wilkerson

Jason Wilkerson

Axl: I wasn't saying he had no creative input, I'm just saying that an Executive Producer doesn't have as much creative input as a Producer typically. Plus having a writing credit doesn't necessarily mean much, he could have put in a line here and there and that was it. Because they don't know how much creative control he actually had they're not going to put it on the list with movies that his creative input had more to do with the movie getting made. The movies on the list he worked with his regulars, helping find writers and directors to get the movies made. He worked as a go to guy on all of these movies, and helped flesh them out during their development stages.

Jul 31 - 04:45 PM

digitalrelic

Jason Stieber

Love the Freaks & Geeks clip! Undeclared was a lot funnier though.

Jul 30 - 11:11 AM

Zach Williamson

Zachary Williamson

Undeclared funnier than 'Freaks and Geeks'? That's like saying Bush was a better president than Obama.

Jul 30 - 08:43 PM

August M.

Agustin Macias

Superbad is my favorite from Apatow.

Jul 30 - 11:13 AM

manugon

Manuel Gonzalez

40 year old Virgin should be numero uno.

Jul 30 - 11:17 AM

speedroc

First Last

I agree.

Jul 31 - 08:03 AM

Chris B.

Chris Bellew

I think I've enjoyed almost anything Apatow has ever been involved with except Year One because I haven't seen it.

Jul 30 - 11:38 AM

Jpeffer

Jake Peffer

I agree with you man. I love every movie he's had something to do with, except for a select few. 40 Year Old Virgin is my favorite with Knocked Up right behind it.

Jul 30 - 01:03 PM

Jordan S.

Jordan Sandvig

Once Dewey Cox got going it was one of the most unexpectedly hilarious movies i've seen, kind of like the inverse of Year One - which started off pretty witty and then...

Jul 30 - 12:40 PM

Jpeffer

Jake Peffer

I agree with you man. I love every movie he's had something to do with, except for a select few. 40 Year Old Virgin is my favorite with Knocked Up right behind it.

Jul 30 - 01:03 PM

RE4P3R

Alejandro Marquez

"YOU SOUND LIKE YOU FROM LONDON!"

Lol. Paul Rudd is God.

Jul 30 - 01:58 PM

Wissmongler

xou xiong

knocked up and 40 yr old virgin are apatows best work. there are no arguements otherwise, im going to use my two favorite words...ENLIGHTEN ME

Jul 30 - 01:59 PM

manwhatisthatthing

Hurjay Medilo

I wonder why but I didn't like 40 year old virgin as much as Knocked Up. Maybe Knocked Up is just funnier to me. Maybe it's that thought-provoking poster. What "if"?

Jul 30 - 02:02 PM

manwhatisthatthing

Hurjay Medilo

He was only Executive Producer, already explained in the preceding text.

Jul 30 - 02:04 PM

Axl

Chris Carlin

on imdb it also says he co-wrote it

Jul 30 - 04:07 PM

will s.

will stamp

i just watched knocked up again the other day... kinda brilliant.

Jul 30 - 02:06 PM

Nine Oh Two

Nine Oh Two .

To be honest, I was kinda dissapointed in Anchor Man. I thought they were going to spoof the newsmedia more, not just make a bunch of random jokes.

I was just hoping for more intelligent humor. Anchorman gave us some of the dumbest lines ever committed to paper - and its quoted endlessly. I get that 'stupid' is the point of this movie, I just thought the setup was fun and it should have been more than just an excuse to make a bunch of second rate jokes.

I get the whole gag is that Wil Ferell is supposed to be some idiot pretending he's this intellectual and wise anchor man, but its really just a varation of all of his characters - eternal manchildren.

And looking at the performance of Land and the Lost, Wil Ferell's schtick looks to be growing old.

Jul 30 - 02:07 PM

Nine Oh Two

Nine Oh Two .

oh yeah, and Cable Guy and Walk Hard were criminally ignored. I thought both those movies were more funny than 'AnchorMan:The Legend of Another Wil Ferrel Movie'

Jul 30 - 02:10 PM

Sarge B.

Sarge Bilko

I agree with you totally. I am SO done with Ferrell. He hasn't made me laugh in years. John C. steal every picture the two do together.

Jul 31 - 01:30 PM

Jason C Wilkerson

Jason Wilkerson

CtrlAltDestroy: You do realize that Anchorman was like Will Ferrell's first big starring role, so you can't really say it's just another Will Ferrell movie. Say what you will about him now, but at that point his humor was still considered fresh. We hadn't seen that much of the grown man/baby by that point, just in supporting roles where people couldn't seem to get enough of it.

Jul 31 - 04:56 PM

spitting into the wind

ciaran kelly

wow I just realised there are a lot of Judd Apatow movies I don't like.
Walk Hard sucked ***, as did everything on the first page beside The Cable Guy.

Jul 30 - 03:21 PM

inactive user

Jared King

I still quote "Anchorman".

Jul 30 - 03:23 PM

Jerry Z.

Jerry Zellers

Though it was definitely more of a Jason Segel venture, Forgetting Sarah Marshall was by far his most humorous and mature film.

Jul 30 - 04:00 PM

Axl

Chris Carlin

on imdb it also says he co-wrote it

Jul 30 - 04:07 PM

Jason C Wilkerson

Jason Wilkerson

Axl: Go back and read the opening paragraph on the list, they mentioned that they left out movies that Apatow was an executive producer on. Executive Producers don't have the creative clout during the film that a general Producer has.

Jul 30 - 04:41 PM

Dan Y.

Dan Young

its still a shame they left them out, because Heavyweights and Celtic Pride are two of the best movies ever

Jul 30 - 06:25 PM

Axl

Chris Carlin

i dont care what Jeff Giles says in his little article, Apatow co-wrote and executive produced both Heavy Weights and Celtic Pride

how could you say he had no creative input if he helped write the damn movies?

Jul 30 - 07:26 PM

Jason C Wilkerson

Jason Wilkerson

Axl: I wasn't saying he had no creative input, I'm just saying that an Executive Producer doesn't have as much creative input as a Producer typically. Plus having a writing credit doesn't necessarily mean much, he could have put in a line here and there and that was it. Because they don't know how much creative control he actually had they're not going to put it on the list with movies that his creative input had more to do with the movie getting made. The movies on the list he worked with his regulars, helping find writers and directors to get the movies made. He worked as a go to guy on all of these movies, and helped flesh them out during their development stages.

Jul 31 - 04:45 PM

Bigbrother

Big Brother

Anchorman, 40 year old virgin and Forgetting Sarah Marshall are my personal favorites. Cable Guy is one of those movies that has grown on me over time. Plus Leslie Mann is hot, that last bit doesn't really have anything to do with the subject at hand. I just felt it was worth stating.

Jul 30 - 04:42 PM

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