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7 Times Matthew McConaughey Was Better Than the Movie He Was In

Matthew McConaughey
(From Paramount | Buena Vista | Millenium)Matthew McConaughey is finally being recognized for the loads of talent he's always had, but it has been noted that sometimes this acting talent far exceeds his script-choosing talent. But unlike some actors (*cough* Anthony Hopkins) he doesn't seem to sink to a bad movie's level so much as elevate it somewhere closer to his. So on the cusp of his near-inevitable Oscar win, let's look back at a few examples.

#7. How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days
Matthew McConaughey in How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days
Kate Hudson and Matthew McConaughey in How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days. (Paramount)The Movie: Kate Hudson is a magazine columnist who wants to put a guy through the wringer to make him break up with her in 10 days as part of a gimmicky feature. Matthew McConaughey is an advertising exec who wants to prove he can make any woman fall in love with him to win a big diamond account. Two third parties in the know set them up to watch the sparks fly.

What's Wrong with It? One of McConaughey's best-reviewed romantic comedies, there's actually not much wrong with this one if you can get past the premise. That said, it's no Dallas Buyers Club.

Why MM Shines: Because when he and Hudson break past their respectively awful ulterior motives and actually fall in love, all of a sudden it's not just a kitschy rom-com. It feels sweet and sexy and real. That's thanks in part to scenes like this one, where the McConaughey charm is in full effect.


#6. My Boyfriend's Back
Matthew McConaughey in My Boyfriend's Back
Matthew McConaughey in My Boyfriend's Back. (From Buena Vista)The Movie: A high-schooler named Johnny comes back from the dead to win the affections of the girl he got killed trying to help. He soon realizes he's a zombie and must feed on human flesh. Hi-jinks ensue. McConaughey plays an extra, basically.

What's Wrong with It? Simon Pegg likes to take credit for inventing the zom-rom-com with Shaun of the Dead, but My Boyfriend's Back did it first. Fortunately no one remembers it. It could be seen as an ahead-of-its-time meta-commentary on the already tired tropes of teen rom-coms in 1993, but that's probably giving director Bob Balaban way too much credit. It comes off more like a John Hughes wannabe with a zombie thrown in.

Why MM Shines: Because he's barely in it and you'll have to pause it to point him out to your friends. (A young Philip Seymour Hoffman, interestingly enough, gets more screen time as a jock bully.) Even with this miniscule screen time, just look at the way he plays the intensity of "Guy #2."

#5. We Are Marshall
Matthew McConaughey in We Are Marshall
Matthew Fox and Matthew McConaughey in We Are Marshall. (From Warner Bros.)The Movie: Based on the true events of an infamous 1970 plane crash that killed most of the Marshall University varsity football team, We Are Marshall finds McConaughey playing the young coach who brought a new team together following the tragedy.

What's Wrong with It? Despite being a serious crowdpleaser, We Are Marshall was knocked for barely skimming the surface of the real events. Director McG was criticized for eschewing deeper character development and exploration in favor of easy sentimentality.

Why MM Shines: As the coach who pulls the new Marshall team together, and then convinces the NCAA to let them play, McConaughey is the emotional heart of the movie. He's inspiring, layered, and flawed, and he invariably won rave reviews for his performance.


#4. Larger Than Life
Matthew McConaughey in Larger Than Life
Matthew McConaughey and Bill Murray in Larger Than Life. (MGM)The Movie: Bill Murray inherits an elephant from his late father and has to transport it across the country to sell it to a show-business trainer. Along the way he finds himself stranded and hires a big rig driver named Tip (McConaughey) to drive him and the elephant to LA. Obviously things don't exactly go as planned.

What's Wrong with It? Two years before Murray's big Rushmore-led comeback, Larger Than Life was a major misstep that found the comedy legend deadpanning alongside an elephant. Critics were justifiably not kind.

Why MM Shines: He plays a manic speed freak trucker who Murray tricks into hauling him and his elephant halfway across the country. When he finds out he's been duped, he's not pleased. Like all McConaughey's roles he threw himself into this one, seemingly unaware how terrible the movie itself would be. He's physical, weird, funny, and even upstages Murray a couple times.


#3. Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation
Matthew McConaughey and Renee Zellweger in Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation
Matthew McConaughey and Renee Zellweger in Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation (From Sony)The Movie: Four Texas teens find themselves stranded after a post-Prom accident. Unfortunately for them, things are about to go from bad to worse as the Slaughter family descends upon them. It's a pretty straight-forward horror set-up, but the movie is notable for featuring pre-fame performances from both Renee Zellweger and Matthew McConaughey.

What's Wrong with It? Besides a pedestrian set-up with really awful dialogue? Leatherface is written as a closet cross-dresser in a way that's supposed to be more true to his Ed Gein roots, but really just comes off as mildly offensive. There's an alien/Illuminati subplot that's never explained. And contrary to the title of the movie, no one gets killed with a chainsaw.

Why MM Shines: Despite having barely anything to work with in the way of coherent dialogue, McConaughey manages to be the most memorable thing about the movie. With a bionic leg and loads more presence than Leatherface, McConaughey plays his villainy with all the frothing fervor of a maniacal preacher. We can't say it makes the movie worth watching, but it at least makes for a few very memorable moments.

#2. Reign of Fire
Matthew McConaughey, Izabella Scorupco, and Christian Bale in Reign of Fire.
Matthew McConaughey, Izabella Scorupco, and Christian Bale in Reign of Fire. (From Buena Vista)The Movie: Dragons are discovered to be real and soon leave the world a burned-out husk of its former self. Despite not liking each other, Christian Bale and Matthew McConaughey team up to beat them.

What's Wrong with It?: Believability first of all. Where are they getting all the fuel for those tanks and helicopters? The worst part is the dragons' eye-rolling Achilles heel. They can see great in daylight, better at night, but in the twilight between sunset and full night? They can't see so great. It's the perfect time to attack!

Why MM Is Better: Allow me to get personal for a minute. I've been singing McConaughey's praises for years based partly on his performance in this movie. More than just being the best actor in a bad movie, this is an example where his work (and to a lesser extent Christian Bale's) transforms a bad movie into one that's kind of amazing. As the Ahab-like Denton Van Zan, McConaughey is a full-on acting beast, tackling the role with the same hardcore conviction that's winning him acclaim for True Detective.

#1. The Paperboy
Matthew McConaughey in The Paperboy
Matthew McConaughey and Zac Efron in The Paperboy. (Millenium Entertainment)The Movie: McConaughey plays an investigative reporter working on a story that would prove a death-row inmate was framed for the murder of a local sheriff. The whole thing is a lot more sordid and campy than the plot makes it sound. Nicole Kidman plays a sort of death row groupie, and Zac Efron, playing McConaughey's brother, quickly becomes obsessed with her.

What's Wrong with It? Director Lee Daniels is a flamboyant filmmaker whose style divides critics. His over-the-top work on The Paperboy has some hardcore fans, but it was too seedy and, at times, openly campy for mainstream audiences.

Why MM Shines: Awash in a sea of camp (Kidman peeing on Efron being either the pinnacle or nadir depending on how you see it), McConaughey's performance is the woozy film's center of gravity. As a tortured writer and investigator he's full of secrets, and his is the only performance that feels consistently grounded in reality through the film. McConaughey usually seems to be at his best when he's animated and physical, throwing himself into a role. This time he plays against the movie's turbulence, delivering a reserved performance that shows just how versatile he can be.

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