Over the years, Ben Affleck has consistently been undersold as an actor. Sure, his writing and directing have been feted, receiving widespread acclaim and awards attention. Still, Oscar glory has evaded him in front of the camera. Today, we want to remind you all that he’s an underrated actor, one capable of acing both comedic and dramatic work. He may look like an action hero, but Affleck is at his best when allowed to be a character actor. That’s where he truly shines.
In honor of “The Way Back” coming to theaters this week, we’re looking at ten of Affleck’s best performances. To date, he’s never been nominated for an Academy Award in an acting category (or directing, for that matter), but that doesn’t mean he hasn’t put forward some tremendous work. Honorable mentions that couldn’t fit in this piece include “Bounce,” “Dazed and Confused“, “Dogma,” “Shakespeare in Love,” and “State of Play,” with “The Way Back” poised to join the list in a matter of days (spoiler alert, he’s phenomenal in there). Plus, a special citation goes out to last year’s “Jay and Silent Bob Reboot,” where his one scene cameo is immensely satisfying and touching.
dir: Mike Judge
Ben Affleck does not get nearly the credit he deserves for being adept at comedy. So when he not only took a comedic supporting role in Mike Judge‘s “Extract,” but put forth a quirky turn unlike anything else he’s done, it’s the sort of part that needs to be taken notice of. Affleck himself is especially proud of this one, so that should tell you something. It was a risk that certainly paid off.
“Boiler Room” (2000)
dir: Ben Younger
Affleck steals the show in this financial drama, playing off of Alec Baldwin‘s memorable part in “Glengarry Glen Ross.” Mostly on hand to pop up in a few meeting room sequences, spouting master of the universe type cliches, he gives vivid life to this character. In other hands, you’d laugh. However, in his capable ones, you’re actually as wooed as Giovanni Ribisi‘s protagonist winds up being.
“The Company Men” (2010)
dir: John Wells
Taking the lead in an ensemble that also features Chris Cooper and Tommy Lee Jones in central parts, not to mention plum supporting roles for Kevin Costner and Rosemary DeWitt, was a big get for Affleck. Luckily, he’s at his best when asked to simply be human. Here, he plays a middle manager living the good life, right up until he’s fired. One of his most down to Earth parts, watching his character come to terms with going from being a have to a have not is equal parts compelling and heart-wrenching. John Wells easily could have fallen into a trap here, telling a story about elites having to suffer like the rest of us, but Affleck is too good for any simple distinction like that. He helps raise “The Company Men” up and make it as strong as it winds up being.
“Jersey Girl” (2004)
dir: Kevin Smith
Ben Affleck and Kevin Smith just go together. Whenever Affleck plays a stand in for Smith (as you’ll see again later on this list), he ups his game. Here, he gets to be a mouthpiece for fatherhood, as well as a way for Smith to pay tribute to his own dad. To that end, Affleck’s chemistry with the late George Carlin is phenomenal, while his emotional argument with his daughter is piercing. Too many focused on Affleck’s relationship with Jennifer Lopez at the time, unfairly torpedoing “Jersey Girl.” Lost in the process is one of the actor’s most underrated characters, a good guy trying to be a good dad.
dir: Ben Affleck
While he’s most known for winning the Academy Award for Best Picture with “Argo,” many sleep on Affleck’s Tony Mendez. Much like with his other directorial efforts where he also acts, he’s the film’s unsung hero. Never in the showiest of roles, he hearkens back to the stars of the 1970’s, while also directing a flick very much in that mold. It’s no surprise Oscar flocked to this one, but ignoring him in Best Actor was a big snub. Getting the big prize from the Academy certainly helped dull the sting, however.
dir: Allen Coulter
Long before Affleck became Batman (or Batfleck, if you prefer), he played another doomed superhero. A period piece about George Reeves, the man who played Superman before his mysterious death, “Hollywoodland” is a movie that first convinced a lot of holdouts that Affleck was a serious dramatic actor. They’d been sleeping on plenty more of his output, but when he was snubbed by the Academy, it started to generate more momentum in the industry for him, leading to his big resurrection a few years later.
“The Town” (2010)
dir: Ben Affleck
Affleck’s sophomore outing behind the camera was also the first time he pulled triple duty, taking the lead role as well co-writing and directing. Surprising few, Affleck the filmmaker is a terrific partner for Affleck the actor. Jeremy Renner may have had the showier part (rightly nominated for a Best Supporting Actor Oscar), but Affleck is the glue that holds everything together. He’s the film’s very marrow. “The Town” is the best example yet of Affleck in complete control of all aspects of his craft.
“Good Will Hunting” (1997)
dir: Gus Van Sant
Ben Affleck and Matt Damon penned “Good Will Hunting,” and while Damon got the lead, Affleck provides scene stealing support. Robin Williams won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor, but Affleck’s loyal friend is close behind, quality wise. His comedic moments are a riot, but when Affleck gets serious and tells Damon’s Will Hunting that he’s better than his surroundings and owes it to his friends to get out, it’s impossible not to stand up and cheer.
“Gone Girl” (2014)
dir: David Fincher
Paired with David Fincher, Affleck puts forth his most layered performance, one which clearly deserved more attention. Admittedly taking a rightful backseat to Rosamund Pike‘s stunning turn, Affleck has rarely been better than he is here. “Gone Girl” takes his movie star likability and weaponizes it. No one emerges unscathed, which is just the way Fincher and Gillian Flynn want it to be. Kudos to Affleck for going there and getting dirty. In terms of his ability to be intense, this is unrivaled so far in his career.
“Chasing Amy” (1997)
dir: Kevin Smith
Ben Affleck’s first true acting showcase remains his best work. Kevin Smith gave him a chance and it paid off in a deeply moving turn, one that’s immensely relatable and heartbreaking, often at the same time. Watching Affleck and Joey Lauren Adams up each other’s game consistently is a pleasure, while his two big monologues are absolute showstoppers. “Chasing Amy” is the crowning achievement of all three, without question, and something they each should be immensely proud of.