10 Best Jack Black Movies, Ranked
We might be seeing a lot less Jack Black movies in the future. In a recent interview, the actor admitted that his latest film, Jumanji: The Next Level, might very well be his last. With Black concentrated on spending more time with his family, as well as working on his music and other projects (which includes his popular YouTube channel), the performer admits that movies aren't what he is looking to do. While he might squeeze in a few TV gigs along the way, it sounds like acting is something that Black wants to put on the back-burner — at least, for the time being. Which is truly a shame.
There's no denying that Jack Black is an exceptionally versatile and gifted performer. Whether it's comedy, drama, musical or seemingly any other genre, the actor has a great physical presence, a wealth of energy, a ton of charisma and a great on-screen personality. To lose his acting talents would be a tremendous shame, though it's understandable that he wants to spend more time at home and focused on his other time-eating projects. Nevertheless, let's take a look back at Jack Black's best movies throughout the years, all of which showcase his wide range and tremendous talents.
10. Nacho Libre (2006)
Nacho Libre is a movie that doesn't work for everyone. Co-written by School of Rock scribe Mike White and directed by Napoleon Dynamite filmmaker Jared Hess, it is a fitfully dumb, exceptionally juvenile sports comedy centered around its title character, Nacho Libre (Jack Black), a priest in Mexico who moonlights as a wrestler to support the orphanage he helps run. It is based (quite loosely) on a true story, but it is a largely absurdist, entirely goofy slapstick comedy that often relies on pratfalls, corny asides, and dumb jokes galore. But it's also a movie with a rich and beating heart, one that prides itself on being gleefully inspiring in addition to being consistently amusing, and it's boosted by a quirky-but-charming Jack Black turn.
Critics were largely divided on Nacho Libre, notably with some folks believing that it's a one-joke movie that overstays its welcome. While Nacho Libre isn't quite as inspired as some of Jack Black's other, better movies, it does have an unexpectedly sweet demeanor, one that is elevated by the fine character work provided by Black and his surprisingly sweet and sincere performance. By the end, Nacho Libre turns into a rousing, winsome, if largely unorthodox, sports comedy, one that showcases the strength of Black's physicality as a comedy star and his emotional depth as a character actor.
9. Jesus' Son (1999)
Admittedly, Jesus' Son isn't as well-known as a few of Jack Black's other movies. This independent dramedy earned a great deal of acclaim upon release, but it didn't find as wide an audience as some of the actor's other, bigger movies later in his career. Nevertheless, this period drama, which is adapted from a short story collection from author Denis Johnson, is a winning title, and it is benefitted from its talented cast, including Jack Black.
As an orderly in a hospital where our lead character, played by Billy Crudup, works, Jack Black doesn't get a ton of scenes in Jesus' Son, but he does participate in an amusingly gruesome scene which showcases his talents for understated humor, something that often gets ignored when he's asked to play it big and broad. Nevertheless, Jack Black is an actor of many talents, and he plays a part in the small-but-appealing success of Jesus' Son.
8. Kung Fu Panda 3 (2016)
While not as strong nor as memorable as the previous two Kung Fu Panda movies, Kung Fu Panda 3 is a sweet, emotionally touching trilogy capper that provides audiences with one final chance to get acquainted with Jack Black's wonderful voice performance as Po. In this second sequel, our kung fu fighting lead character reunited with his biological family, while also attempting to become a master of chi in order to defeat his biggest foe yet.
Though this sequel isn't as consistently funny or as distinctive as its predecessors, it features another exceptional voice performance from Black playing one of his best, liveliest, most passionate, and most beloved roles throughout the wide course of his movie career — animated or otherwise.
What often makes Jack Black's best roles as good as they are is the high volume of passion and emotion that he infuses inside them. He carries every emotional beat with a stunning crescendo of humor and heart, and it's clear that he cares deeply for the characters and the material itself. Even when he's playing an animated panda, Black brings such a depth of humanity to his performances that he makes you believe in the plight of this kung fu fighting character, resulting in arguably the best trilogy of films created by DreamWorks Animation yet. Kung Fu Panda 3 is a fitting franchise finale.
7. King Kong (2005)
Peter Jackson's epic 2005 remake of King Kong wasn't everyone's personal favorite. Its extended three-hour runtime, mixed with a few melodramatic tendencies, resulted in an old-fashioned blockbuster that wasn't what audiences in the mid '00s were anticipating — not even from the Oscar-winning director of the astounding Lord of the Rings trilogy. Nevertheless, this under-appreciated re-imagining was a flawed but stunning achievement, and it proved Jack Black with an opportunity to expand his resume by applying his well-proven talents into an Oscar-caliber blockbuster from a hit director.
As Carl Denham, the filmmaker who obsession with his film takes many dangerous turns, Jack Black plays only one piece in the giant epic puzzle. But his contribution helps contribute rather than damages its splendor. The actor's broad performance style plays into the macho director's big, bold desire to make something outstanding, particularly with his financial standing and seemingly everything else on the line. It's another astounding epic accomplishment from mid-period Peter Jackson, one that allowed Black with a fine chance to prove his major talents in this major cinematic remake.
6. Tropic Thunder (2007)
After several attempts to translate his boisterous comedy into more raunchy material, Jack Black finally found an R-rated comedy worthy of his comedy chops with Ben Stiller's provocative Hollywood satire, Tropic Thunder. Playing a vain, drug addled comedy star trying to make his serious dramatic turn in an overblown war drama, one that goes awry when an experiment to toughen up the actors in the jungle goes askew, Black can sometimes be playing third bill behind co-writer/director Ben Stiller and Academy Award-nominated Robert Downey Jr. in a truly unforgettable, multi-layered performance. But Jack Black more-than-holds his own in the movie, particularly when his loose grip on reality only continues to get unhinged.
Thanks to the movie's heightened tone, Jack Black makes exceptional use of his broad comedic skills, allowing his character to divulge deeper and deeper into madness — particularly as (and even despite when) the character's drug addiction becomes an even more serious problem. While Tropic Thunder is ultimately an ensemble piece, Black's performance is just one key into the movie's surprisingly deft success. In another movie that could have easily gone south in a number of different ways, Tropic Thunder succeeds thanks to the many talents of its performers — including Jack Black.
5. Bernie (2012)
Jack Black and director Richard Linklater elevated themselves into the major leagues with the phenomenal success of 2003's School of Rock, but it took 2012's Bernie to finally reunite the actor and filmmaker. While this dark comedy didn't quite find the same success as their previous work, it's another triumph for both the performer and storyteller, particularly with Black providing one of his best performances in the title role of Bernie Tiede.
Telling the stranger-than-fiction story of a beloved Texas funeral director who shakes up a small town when the 39-year-old kills his 80-year-old millionaire wife, Bernie blends drama and documentary as it allows Jack Black, Matthew McConaughey, and Shirley MacLaine to dramatize this sensational story while real-life interviews from actual town residents paint us a picture of his true-life tale through their pointed and often amusing perspectives.
It's through Black's touching, poignant performance that we see the humanity of this warm, complex figure, as well as the different reasons why the residents were willing to believe in Bernie's innocence and good character, even despite this terrible crime. It's a gentle, engrossing story told with care, insight, and heart, and it continues to show how Jack Black and Richard Linklater still do some of their best work with each other.
4. Kung Fu Panda (2008)
Jack Black is an exceptionally animated performer. It only makes sense that he would lend his voice to a major animated production. While it didn't work out the first time around when he provided his voice to 2004's underwhelming Shark Tale, DreamWorks Animation found a project that suited the performer's comedic, dramatic skills in the role of Po in 2008's exceptional Kung Fu Panda. What could have easily been another sub-par animated family film turned into a surprisingly engaging, emotionally satisfying character piece, one that provided a great character for Jack Black to embody.
This computer-animated martial arts comedy centers around an eager, if clumsy, panda with aspirations of becoming a great kung fu warrior. Through a series of happenstance and destiny, Po suddenly finds himself a peer among his kung fu idols when he's selected to become an apprentice. While it is an uphill battle, the team must turn the designated "Dragon Warrior" into a formidable kung fu expert before the villain Tai Lung destroys the land.
It is a simple formula told enjoyably and commendably through its fast pace, liberal use of humor, and overwhelming heart. But it also provides Black with another character through which he can apply his passionate, energy, and sharp comedic timing into a role, allowing the character to bristle with life as his journey grows over the course of the narrative. Added in the deep-seated respect for Chinese culture, its immensely beautiful designs, the plethora of likable characters, and a fine number of exceptional action beats, and you have got a kung fu comedy that kicks butt and wins your heart.
3. High Fidelity (2000)
For many folks, High Fidelity is the movie that put Jack Black on their radars. In his scene-stealing supporting turn as Barry Judd, a passionate music fan who works in a record store with our main protagonist, Rob Gordon (John Cusack), Black cemented himself as a performer to watch, an energetic and appealing screen performer who could feel both larger-than-life and someone who you know all-too-well in your day-to-day life. Suffice to say, it was a great role, letting Jack Black play to his strength. High Fidelity played a big hand in paving the way for Black's film career as we know it today.
Particularly in contradiction to John Cusack's more mellow screen presence, Jack Black is a firecracker in High Fidelity, taking up all the air in the room and filling it with his volcanic personality. While that might come across as off-putting under a weaker performer's hand, in this movie and with Black's performance in particular, it worked very well, allowing us to be taken into this store dynamic and appreciate the in-depth conversations on life, love, and (above all else) music found therein. This charming character piece is John Cusack's movie, ultimately, but Black often takes it home.
2. Kung Fu Panda 2 (2011)
While the original Kung Fu Panda was an unexpected hit, both critically and commercially, its excellent sequel was even more surprising in its own successes. It's a darker, more character-driven story, one that relies more heavily on emotional and dramatic pathos to tell its introspective story, and it results in a meatier, more engaging and cinematically rich sequel that proves to be even better than its predecessor. Kung Fu Panda 2 also features Black's finest voice performance in the series, allowing him to show his fine talents as both a comedic and dramatic lead performer in key, deft ways.
Progressing and expanding upon Po's character, Kung Fu Panda 2 still provides the wit, humor, heart, charm, and kung fu action wizardry that made the original movie such a rewarding success, while also adding some key dramatic and subdued moments that showcase a maturity and a grace that only benefits this addition to the franchise. It provides equal parts belly laughs and heart tugs, while also providing animated sequences that are even more gorgeous than before and fluid, vivid kung fu action sequences that rival the best in the genre. Kung Fu Panda 2 kicks more booty than before, resulting in not only one of the best animated movies of the decade but one of Jack Black's funniest, finest, and most emotionally engaging films yet.
1. School of Rock (2003)
While School of Rock wasn't Jack Black's first film, it was undoubtedly the one that turned him into a household name. For damn good reason too. This charming, entertaining ensemble comedy, crafted to fit Jack Black's oversized talents, was a wonderful showcase for Black's musical, comedic, and dramatic skills, while also providing a consistently funny, heavily quotable, and massively heartfelt studio comedy through which director Richard Linklater finally translated his well-proven expertise as a sensitive filmmaker into worldwide success. Indeed, School of Rock rocked folks' socks off.
Centered around Dewey Finn, a struggling rock musician who impersonates his roommate Ned Schneebly (played by screenwriter Mike White) to work at a prestigious boarding school, where he teaches the students how to become a school-themed rock band, School of Rock is the type of premise that simply wouldn't work without the immensely appealing talents of its lead performer. Indeed, through Black's endearing Dewey Finn/ Faux Ned Schneebly, we grow to admire the camaraderie he forms with his students, while also translating his passion for hard rocking and building a band worthy of his big-headed ambitions.
The result is a constantly funny, appealing studio comedy that earned Black a Golden Globe nomination for his lead role. Rightfully so, too. Through School of Rock, Jack Black became a mainstay performer, and it's not hard to see why, thanks to this movie.
These are only a mere few of Jack Black's best performances. Particularly when you take into account his scene-stealing role in Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, his musical prowess in Tenacious D in The Pick of Destiny, his understated nuance in Margot at the Wedding, his heartbreaking supporting turn in Don't Worry, He Won't Get Far On Foot, or his winsome work in Be Kind Rewind, to name only a mere few titles from his extensive resume, it is evident that Jack Black is an enormously talented actor with a diverse, eclectic range of talent. If Jumanji: The Next Level is truly his last film, then it's a great shame to lose such a talent performer from the screen. But at least we can look back on all the work he has done in his film career and smile.
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Will is an entertainment writer based in Pittsburgh, PA. His writing can also be found in The Playlist, Cut Print Film, We Got This Covered, The Young Folks, Slate and other outlets. He also co-hosts the weekly film/TV podcast Cinemaholics with Jon Negroni and he likes to think he's a professional Garfield enthusiast.