Matthew McConaughey may be one of the most famous actors in the world, but he’s also one of the most underrated. He shifts seamlessly from rom-coms to action, while cultivating a bunch of solid indie work and supporting roles on the side. He’s still best known for his cool, cocky grin, Texas swagger and off-screen antics (naked bongo drum party, anyone?), though that’s slowly been changing in recent years with memorable turns in Killer Joe, Magic Mike and Mud.
Finally, the real game-changer is here. McConaughey’s work as an HIV positive man supplying drugs for fellow patients in Dallas Buyer’s Club is undeniably excellent, and we’re sure to see him on awards show short lists in coming months. Obviously this is a great time to brush up on McConaughey’s most memorable roles, and we’ve got a perfect list of his finest films for you to review. Some are excellent, some are terrible, and some are recommended to VH1 by the actor himself. Behold, the 20 Most Essential Matthew McConaughey Movies to watch RIGHT NOW. (In reverse chronological order, because we’re anal like that.)
20. Dallas Buyers Club
- What: McConaughey stars as Ron Woodruff, a Texas man fighting for access to HIV drugs in the 80s.
- Why: It’s McConaughey at his best – an amazing performance where his familiar onscreen characteristics – machismo, Texas drawl – shine in all the right ways.
- Rotten Tomatoes says: 93% – “The real halo here belongs to McConaughey. He does justice to Ron’s story and to his own quicksilver talent.” – Peter Rainer, Christian Science Monitor
- It’s… awards season-y. Taste the flavor!
- What: Two local boys befriend an outlaw living on an island in the middle of the Mississippi.
- Why: It’s the other movie generating awards season buzz for McConaughey this year.
- Rotten Tomatoes says: 98% – “This moody, broody character-driven crime story is another fine step in the career redemption of Matthew McConaughey.” – Jim Schembri, 3AW
- It’s… heartwarming and bone-chilling.
18. Magic Mike
- What: That stripper movie.
- Why: His performance as club owner Dallas stole the show from Channing Tatum’s dimpled butt.
- Rotten Tomatoes says: 80% – “It’s “Showgirls” for girls, but with its camp knob tuned to a much more tolerable and skilled frequency.” – Whitney Seibold, CraveOnline
- It’s… a com without the rom and a little bit of dram, plus SKIN!
17. Killer Joe
- What: A dark n’ creepy thriller about one effed up family who hires a detective who moonlights as a contract killer to take care of business.
- Why: Scary McConaughey is the best McConaughey.
- Rotten Tomatoes says: 77% – “McConaughey is funny and fearsome in the title role.” – Mark Pfeiffer, Reel Times
- It’s… an indie thriller.
16. The Lincoln Lawyer
- What: McConaughey as a confident but shady lawyer.
- Why: The actor turns in a solid performance as a slimy attorney breaking good. What’s not to love?
- Rotten Tomatoes says: 83% – “Just when you thought Matthew McConaughey had settled into pre-retirement content to play the (dry-aged) beefcake in a string of dippy romantic comedies, the actor comes roaring back with some real acting.” – Ella Taylor, NPR
- It’s … a classic law-man thriller! Can’t stop, gavel time.
15. Ghosts of Girlfriends Past
- What: A so bad it’s good rom-com loosely based on A Christmas Carol co-starring Emma Stone as a ghost.
- Why: Didn’t you see what we just said? Emma Stone is a ghost.
- Rotten Tomatoes says: 26% – “I’m almost embarrassed to admit I found Ghosts of Girlfriends Past the season’s first genuine guilty pleasure.” – Lou Lumenisk, NY Post
- It’s… a rom-dumb.
14. Surfer, Dude
- What: The first film out of Matthew’s production company is just Matthew being Matthew but on a surfboard, alongside stoner BFFs Woody Harrelson and Willie Nelson.
- Why: Because an actor’s pet project is most often his worst film – making it that much more enjoyable to watch.
- Rotten Tomatoes says: 0% (what an honor!) – “Yes, this is a movie made by stoners for stoners.” – Glenn Whip, LA Daily News
- It’s… as close as a Matthew McConaughey biopic as you’re gonna get!
13. Tropic Thunder
- What: An excellent meta comedy about the absurdity of film-making.
- Why: The actor is both hilarious and convincing as a douchey Hollywood agent.
- Rotten Tomatoes says: 83% – “Tiptoes to the fine line between irony and insight and blows it to smithereens. It’s hilarious.” – Joe Williams, St. Louis Post-Dispatch
- It’s… straight up funny.
12. Fool’s Gold
- What: A sexy action adventure movie that’s a silly, fun romp.
- Why: Matthew is a perfect mix of brawn and charm and his romantic chemistry with Kate Hudson is, well, gold.
- Rotten Tomatoes says: 11% – “The idiocy on display in this film is almost breathtaking … but it’s also far more entertaining than those slickly pretentious Hollywood thrillers.” – Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall
- It’s… better than you think, with lots of shirtless scenes and sex jokes!
11. We Are Marshall
- What: A heartbreaking look at a football team’s season following the loss of their entire team in a tragic accident.
- Why: It was one of the first looks fans got at Matthew McConaughey, Serious Actor – even if his performance is not that great.
- Rotten Tomatoes says: 49% – “A sentimental, simplistically inspiring movie that leans heavily on Matthew McConaughey’s substantial energy and charisma for its success.” – Brian Webster, Apollo Guide
- It’s… good if you need a cry.
- What: An action-adventure about dudes digging for coin in Africa.
- Why: Don’t you just wanna zone out over some Chinese take-out and a terrible but easy on the eyes film? Here ya go!
- Rotten Tomatoes says: 39% – “A mediocrity wrapped inside a banality, toasted in a nice, fresh cliche.” – Stephen Hunter, Washington Post
- It’s… for rainy days. Or stoned days. Or…rainy, stoned days!
- What: Matthew McConaughey and Kate Beckinsale are having a baby, and it’s a dwarf. Also, his dwarf brother is played by Gary Oldman, who is not a dwarf.
- Why: This movie is so notoriously awful that it’s garnered a cult following. For a full breakdown on why it’s so amazingly bad, listen to this episode of How Did This Get Made.
- Rotten Tomatoes says: 29% – “pic is an honorable failure. ” – Lisa Nesselson, Variety
- It’s… his most must-see movie.
8. How to Lose A Guy In 10 Days
- What: McConaughey! Hudson! Sexy hijinks!
- Why: The epitome of McConaughey’s rom-com brilliance – he’s cocky, he’s a cad, and yet somehow he’s the perfect catch.
- Rotten Tomatoes says: 42% – “A modest but bubbly comedy of manners.” – Peter Canavese, Groucho Reviews
- It’s… A rom-com classic.
7. 13 Conversations About One Thing
- What: An indie film full of “serious” actors set in NYC.
- Why: We get to see Matthew in a stripped down performance for a change.
- Rotten Tomatoes says: 82% – “Sort of an existential version of a Seinfeld episode.” – Jim Chastain, Norman Transcript
- It’s… film-school fodder.
6. The Wedding Planner
- What: Wedding planner J-Lo falls in love with her dashing client… who’s attached, natch.
- Why: It’s MM’s first rom-com and perfect cheese.
- Rotten Tomatoes says: 17% – “Occasionally so inept and embarrassing that it’s almost physically painful to sit through.”
– James Berardinelli, ReelViews
- It’s… a perfect popcorn movie for rom-com fans.
- What: Ron Howard’s funny take on the absurdity of reality TV.
- Why: It’s McConaughey at his Every Dude best.
- Rotten Tomatoes says: 64% – “Matthew McConaughey…leverages his immense charm to keep this broad comedy–highly reminiscent of the far superior Truman Show–airborne.”
– Doris Toumarkine, Film Journal International
- It’s…90’s nostalgia.
- What: Robert Zemekis + Carl Sagan + Jodie Foster = Serious Alien Movie!
- Why: One of McConaughey’s first times at bat in the big leagues.
- Rotten Tomatoes says: 63% – “When it’s good, it’s very good. And when it’s not, it can be as silly and self-important as a bad ’50s sci-fi movie.” – Newsweek
- It’s… a worthy nail-biter.
3. A Time To Kill
- What: A newbie lawyer defends a man charged with murdering his daughter’s rapists.
- Why: McConaughey was a virtual unknown when he landed the part and goes on to nail it.
- Rotten Tomatoes says: 67% – “McConaughey, 26, is dynamite in a performance of smarts, sexiness, scrappy humor and unmistakable star sizzle.” – Peter Travers, Rolling Stone
- It’s… Matthew coming into his own – caught on tape.
2. Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation
- What: A poorly received re-imagining of a classic horror film, co-starring future Oscar-winner Renee Zellwegger.
- Why: Because when we interviewed McConaughey recently he told us to watch it, that’s why.
- Rotten Tomatoes says: 17% – “McConaughey’s over-the-top performance is brilliant, but not a single person actually gets killed with a chainsaw.” – Luke Thompson, New Times
- It’s… a McConaughey deep-cut.
1. Dazed and Confused
- What: Richard Linklater’s classic look at stoner teens of the 70’s, with a cast of future all-stars.
- Why: Not only is it one of the best movies to come out of the 90s, but McConaughey’s Wooderson is the most memorable character in the film, and a lovable perv to boot. It’s the world’s first look at “classic McConaughey” – that confident, Southern dude with a strut that he plays in some many of his movies.
- Rotten Tomatoes says: 94% – “Like the moustache sported by Matthew McConaughey’s character, Dazed And Confused is sleazy, amusing and quite, quite awesome.” – Film
- It’s… all right, all right, all right.