8 Great Matthew McConaughey Performances You Might Have Missed

Matthew McConaughey in Bernie

Audiences often love to recall the moment when Matthew McConaughey went from a Hollywood punching bag to one of the most respected actors of his time. Referred to as the “McConaissance,” this is the period between around 2011 through 2014 when the actor, best known at the time for his big break in Dazed and Confused and several romantic comedies that would follow, began to receive acclaim for in more versatile roles, leading up to his Academy Award for Dallas Buyers Club and Emmy nomination for HBO's True Detective.

One could argue, however, that the weight of the “McConaissance” had as many advantages for Matthew McConaughey’s career as it did disadvantages. While it was a wonderful thing to see the now 50-year-old Texas native getting the recognition every actor dreams of, it also served as a distraction from many of his best performances before, and even after, this revolutionary era.

In that case, perhaps we should show our respect to the actor by shedding light on the lesser-known or widely forgotten performances of Matthew McConaughey. His presence in the following seven films, and one television appearance, should prove that he has always been the formidable talent he is widely recognized as today.

Matthew McConaughey in EDtv

EDtv (1999)

Before becoming the male lead of The Wedding Planner and How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, Matthew McConaughey led this endearing comedy from director Ron Howard that, while receiving relatively favorable reviews at the time, is easily more relevant today than it ever was before. In a lighter twist on the voyeuristic concepts of The Truman Show, EDtv follows McConaughey in a charmingly down-to-earth performance as the title character, a video store clerk whose life undergoes a drastic change when he agrees to have his life put on camera for a live, round-the-clock broadcast.

Matthew McConaughey in U-571

U-571 (2000)

A year after starring in his first comedy as a leading man, Matthew McConaughey starred in what was not his first time leading a thriller (that would be 1995’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation), but was an exciting, commercially successful, Oscar-winning period flick nonetheless. The actor starred alongside the likes of Bill Paxton, Harvey Keitel, and even Jon Bon Jovi in U-571, a War War II-set drama from director Jonathan Mostow about a group of American soldiers who infiltrate a wrecked German submarine by posing as Nazis.

Matthew McConaughey in Frailty

Frailty (2001)

Bill Paxton would cast his U-571 co-star Matthew McConaughey in the late actor’s feature-length debut as a director, Frailty, in which a Texas man (McConaughey) recounts his horrific childhood to an FBI agent (Powers Boothe). The film, in which Paxton plays McConaughey’s father (a religious fanatic obsessed with ridding the world of who he believes to be demons), is often overlooked in the horror genre today, despite McConaughey’s gripping performance, its gruesome, thrilling mystery, and the shocking twist ending that earned it a recommendation from the one and only Stephen King.

Matthew McConaughey in Bernie

Bernie (2012)

In his third collaboration with director Richard Linklater, after Dazed and Confused and The Newton Boys, Matthew McConaughey portrayed Carthage, Texas, district attorney Danny Buck Davidson in Bernie. The darkly comic, quasi-mockumentary thriller inspired by a true story stars Jack Black in the Golden Globe-nominated title role of a small town mortician beloved by everybody except for Buck, who immediately puts Bernie Tiede under suspicion when the nasty, widely hated elderly woman (Shirley MacLaine) he often courted turns up mysteriously murdered.

Matthew McConaughey in Killer Joe

Killer Joe (2012)

It is far more common to associate Matthew McConaughey as the good guy in the story, but in Killer Joe, from The Exorcist director William Friedkin and based on the play by Tracy Letts, he goes stone cold. He gives a chilling performance as the title character, Joe Cooper, a Texas detective who moonlights as a hitman hired by a desperate young drug dealer (Emile Hirsch) and his father (Thomas Haden Church) to kill his mother (Gina Gershon) to collect her insurance money, but the plan becomes more complicated when his client's young sister (Juno Temple) catches Joe's eye.

Danny McBride, Matthew McConaughey, and Ike Barinholtz on Eastbound & Down

Eastbound & Down (2010-2012)

Before blowing audiences away as Detective Rush Cohle on True Detective, Matthew McConaughey preached a different kind of metaphorical blowing on fellow HBO original Eastbound & Down. The actor showed up in two episodes of the cult comedy series' third season as major league baseball scouting agent who sets his sights on disgraced former professional player Kenny Powers (star and co-creator Danny McBride) to bring him back to the majors with a particularly irreverent pep talk which you will have to see to believe and almost feels like a precursor to his famous chest bump scene from The Wolf of Wall Street.

Art Parkinson and Matthew McConaughey in Kubo And The Two Strings

Kubo And The Two Strings (2016)

As a father of three, Matthew McConaughey figured it was about time that he do a family film (his first in a long time) and chose what would also be his first ever voice performance in an animated film, and one stunning original work of art the Oscar-nominated animation is in Kubo and the Two Strings. The hero of the story (voiced by Art Parkinson) is assisted by a monkey (Charlize Theron) and a human-sized half-man, half-insect Samurai named Beetle (McConaughey, as surprisingly great comic relief) in hopes to find a mystical suit of armor Kubo can use to defeat an evil spirit threatening his home.

Gold (2016)

Especially since the early days of the "McConasisance," Matthew McConaughey has gained a bit of reputation for changing his appearance (not as drastically as, say, Christian Bale, but notably so) and 2016's Gold (not to be confused with Fool's Gold) saw him accepting bald as beautiful. The receding hairline was created for the character of prospector Kenny Wells, loosely inspired by real-life mining tycoon Dylan Walsh, who teams with an equally ambitious geologist (Edgar Ramirez) for a risky expedition to strike gold in the jungles of Indonesia.

What do you think? Have we convinced you to take a deeper dive into the early achievements of Matthew McConaughey, or are you okay sticking to classics like Ghosts of Girlfriends Past? Let us know in the comments and be sure to check back for more updates on the Oscar-winner here on CinemaBlend.

Jason Wiese
Content Writer

Jason Wiese writes feature stories for CinemaBlend. His occupation results from years dreaming of a filmmaking career, settling on a "professional film fan" career, studying journalism at Lindenwood University in St. Charles, MO (where he served as Culture Editor for its student-run print and online publications), and a brief stint of reviewing movies for fun. He would later continue that side-hustle of film criticism on TikTok (@wiesewisdom), where he posts videos on a semi-weekly basis. Look for his name in almost any article about Batman.