Despicable Steve: Is Steve Carell Better At Playing A Jerk Or The Nice Guy?

It’s Steve Carell’s 51st birthday today, and we are all celebrating because, everybody loves Steve Carell. We know this to be true because your mom would invite him over for dinner if she could, and you’ve thought about what it would be like to hug him at least once or twice. But what about his best characters? While lovable, The Office’s Michael Scott was a jerk, as seen in the often clumsy emotional abuse he’d inflict on his employees in effort to validate his less than pristine personal life. Yet his questionable behavior kept people watching.

This summer, Carell plays a straight-up jerk with zero redeeming qualities in The Way, Way Back, and reprises his role as the evil villain Gru in Despicable Me 2. So far, both films have been successful, proving once again that moviegoers enjoy seeing Carell play against type. But has he been more successful playing a mean dude, or would we rather see him the way we imagine him to be in real life — how we hope he’d act towards us if we bumped into him at Starbucks on a busy Wednesday morning?

Check out our investigation of Carell’s most famous characters (ranked from nicest to jerkiest, below) along with the film’s box office recoup percentage and average rating from Rotten Tomatoes. Early conclusions? Facial hair works in his favor, as long as it’s not unruly (see: Evan Almighty).

[Photos: Universal; DreamWorks; Carousel Productions; Sycamore Pictures; Paramount; Touchstone; Fox Searchlight]


1. The 40 Year Old Virgin (2005)
As pure and well-intentioned as they come, Andy Stitzer doesn’t even think to make a huge effort to hide the fact that he’s middle aged and never had sex–he’s just that good of a guy. 

2. Dinner For Schmucks (2010)
Barry Speck is the loser deemed pitiful enough for a cruel adult experiment used to make others feel better about themselves and get ahead in the workplace, and about as harmless as a sleeping corgi.

3. Little Miss Sunshine (2006)
A children’s beauty pageant is probably the last place that Frank Ginsburg wants to be following a suicide attempt, but he rides along in the cramped Volkswagen Microbus to support his enthusiastic niece anyway.


4. Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy (2004)
Nice enough, due largely in part to his utter cluelessness. But arm him with a triton, and things begin to get dicey for Brick Tamland.

5. Dan In Real Life (2007)
Dan Burns is just a sad sack just trying to get through the summer without acting on his obvious attraction to his brother’s girlfriend (Juliet Binoche). Yes, they may have broken up, and yes, his bro (Dane Cook) probably takes the prize for Biggest Jerk of All Jerks, but haven’t you heard of a two-week grace period?

6. Date Night (2010)
If Phil Foster isn’t considerate enough to invest in a reservation at a hip Manhattan restaurant, these two are going through more than just a rut in their marriage.

7. Get Smart (2008)
Maxwell Smart is an agent in limbo. His strong desire to climb the ranks and become a “real spy,” yet penchant for clumsiness, makes him a questionable coworker to get involved with in the first place (just ask 99). 

8. Crazy, Stupid, Love (2011)
Cal Weaver is enough of a jerk to take his (hot) wife for granted and sip his beverage through a straw when in the presence of Ryan Gosling. After a makeover and series of important dating tips give him an ego boost, he commits the all too common crime of bedding a woman and never calling her again. Poor Marissa Tomei

9. Bewitched (2005)
Uncle Arthur’s love of pranks and vendetta against Endora does little to endear him to viewers or make this messy adaption work.

10. Evan Almighty (2007)
Evan Baxter exhibits some positive change, moving away from his pretentious, obnoxious ways in Bruce Almighty, but we all know how terrible he can be.


11. Knocked Up (2007)
Playing himself, Carell never quite recovers from an initial misunderstanding during his very quick cameo. “Don’t be an asshole, Steve!” Katherine Heigl yells  along the red carpet. Walking away from a pregnant woman? That’s cold.

12. Despicable Me (2010)
Gru may eventually develop a softer side, but the whole “super villain” title causes him to fall on the jerk side of this particular scale.

13. The Way Way Back (2013)
Trent is condescending, sarcastic, and arrogant. In addition to cheating on his loving girlfriend he calls her sweet son “a three,” which is just asking for loads of therapy bills down the road.

From our highly scientific findings, Carell is at his best when he goes all out–be it as the earnest sweetheart, or the dude you can’t wait to punch in the face. For the most part, playing understated, less-than-fully-realized characters doesn’t utilize his best strengths, or require what audience members seem to really want from him: waxing faces, suicide attempts, and beards.

RELATED: Steve Carell Calls Anchorman 2 “A Perfect Sequel”

[Photo Credit: DreamWorks SKG; Universal Pictures]