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This past month, Marlon Wayans showed a different side of his screen persona with his dramatic supporting turn in the Aretha Franklin biopic, Respect. While this performance isn't the first time that the funny man has opted to push away from his comedic image, this prominent role in a serious-minded drama does demonstrate a desire on his part to move away from making over-the-top comedies at all times.
And, it's easy to see why this performance was praised, much like the one he gave last year in Sofia Coppola's On the Rocks. If you're a fan of the hard-working comedian and you want to see more of what he can do, here are the Marlon Wayans movies and TV shows you should stream and/or rent.
Scary Movie 1 & 2 (HBO Max)
Dim-witted, sex-crazed teenagers are stalked by a bumbling serial killer in this feature-length parody of '90s slashers.
Why It's Worth Watching If You Like Marlon Wayans: One could reasonably argue that Scary Movie is the best contribution to pop culture that the Wayans brothers produced after their time with In Living Color. A gleefully gory, goofy spoof filled with no shortage of crude, off-color raunchy jokes, this parody film continued to establish the family of comedians as heavyweights for the new millennium, particularly with Marlon Wayans often taking the attention as the horny doofus, Shorty Meeks. While the movie series would continue without the Wayans involved, the first two films allowed the comics to hold their fingers on the pulse of pop culture, producing two ribald satires that felt liberated by their R-rated freedoms. Their sitcom feel was perhaps unavoidable, but it's hard not to feel a bit nostalgic for these feature-length, wild-and-out genre takedowns.
On The Rocks (Apple TV+)
A work-focused mother reconnects with her hard-partying playboy father when her husband is suspected of cheating.
Why It's Worth Watching If You Like Marlon Wayans: In the role of Dean, the sweet-natured, if potentially untrustworthy, husband to Rashida Jones' Laura, Marlon Wayans plays against his natural comedic instincts to great results. In what's easily the most restrained, deliberate performance of his film career, Wayans avoids his bombastic tendencies to play an emotionally distant, if often caring and loving, businessman who is seemingly never the person that people assume he must be. It's the sort of patient, conscious performance that's rare in Wayans' career, showcasing a star who wants to branch away from the comedies that defined his career in order to play more dynamic roles that don't fall into people's expectations. He doesn't get a whole lot of screen time in Sofia Coppola's charmingly light, melancholic film, but Wayans makes the most of it.
Above The Rim (Cinemax)
A high school basketball player is torn between his loyalties to an ex-player and a drug dealer.
Why It's Worth Watching If You Like Marlon Wayans: Though it was criticized for its formulaic script and general superficiality, Above the Rim was also well-praised for its strong ensemble, particularly with noteworthy performances from Tupac Shakur, Leon, Duane Martin, and Marlon Wayans. The latter is strictly in supporting character mode, but it's easy to see why this actor became a marquee comedy star with his fresh and funny side role. It's probably not the performance that he'll be remembered for, but it's an early indicator that he would go on to make a big splash as a movie and sitcom star.
An immature, larger-than-life father commits to co-parenting his two children along with his put-together ex-wife.
Why It's Worth Watching If You Like Marlon Wayans: Marlon Wayans' return to TV was ultimately a bit short-lived with his self-titled sitcom, Marlon, which ran on NBC for two seasons. But, even though the show didn't have a long stay on the network, it was praised by some critics and audiences as a return-to-form for the comedic actor, noting that his mischievous and maniac humor was better suited in short-form bursts than in long-form film. It was easy to see how Wayans felt more comfortable as a performer on this program. And, Marlon became a small revival for the star.
Requiem For A Dream (HBO Max)
Four drug-addled Coney Island residents find their sense of security shattered when their addictions run ever deeper.
Why It's Worth Watching If You Like Marlon Wayans: It's not uncommon for comedians to venture into dramas to prove the depths of their talents. Even before he challenged himself with nuanced performances in Respect and On the Rocks, Marlon Wayans tested himself and gave arguably his greatest performance in Darren Aronofsky's Requiem for a Dream, an almost relentlessly bleak tale of the depravity of addiction, that's elevated by outstanding performances from Ellen Burstyn, Jennifer Connelly, Jared Leto, and Wayans. Not only does the comedian hold his own with these award-winning actors, he often shines. You can't help but wonder what more could he do. Thankfully, as noted, Wayans has been given more opportunities lately to express himself as a serious actor.
Senseless (HBO Max)
A struggling college student gets his senses enhanced — and later warped — by an experimental new drug.
Why It's Worth Watching If You Like Marlon Wayans: In 1998, only a few years after Marlon Wayans found his own success with Don't Be a Menace in South Central While Drinking Your Juice in the Hood and The WB's The Wayans Bros., the up-and-coming comedian got a starring vehicle all his own with Senseless, Penelope Spheeris' high-concept sci-fi buddy film that played to Marlon's high-energy strengths as a goofy and often fearless physical comic. Co-starring David Spade and Matthew Lillard, the movie was far from a critical darling (many critics were quick to call it Tasteless), but it did give the comedian plenty of opportunities to showcase his expressionistic comedy stylings. While the semi-inspired script favors a conventionalism that plays against Marlon's unpredictability, it also allowed the eager-to-prove-himself comedian to have some grounded scenes that briefly showcased his once-undervalued acting talents.
White Chicks (HBO Max)
Two disgraced FBI agents go undercover as a pair of blonde-haired white women in order to protect hotel heiresses from a kidnapping plot.
Why It's Worth Watching If You Like Marlon Wayans: Though it wasn't particularly well-received upon release, White Chicks has since become one of the most popular movies from the Wayans brothers. In fact, it has gained something of a cult following. Starring Marlon and Shawn Wayans as two down-on-their-luck FBI agents who pose as a pair of privileged bubbleheaded blondes, White Chicks won't earn points for its believability, as this year's Bad Trip hilariously mocked, but the film did continue Marlon Wayans' rise as a movie star, particularly with his unbridled performance at the center of this very broad comedy. It's only rivaled by Terry Crews' absolutely astonishing supporting turn. White Chicks won't win everyone over, but if you're a Wayans fan, you probably love quoting it.
The Wayans Brothers (HBO Max)
Follows the wacky misadventures of Shawn and Marlon Wayans, along with their eccentric father.
Why It's Worth Watching If You Like Marlon Wayans: Before they wrote and starred in Scary Movie 1 & 2, White Chicks, and Little Man, Shawn and Marlon Wayans were the stars and creators of The WB sitcom, The Wayans Brothers. Following two misbehaving siblings trying to make their way, the show relied on the easy chemistry shared between the brothers, while also giving veteran comedians like John Witherspoon ample time to shine as their dysfunctional patriarch. The sitcom lasted five seasons and produced over 100 episodes before the station decided to pull the plug, but if you love the zany, high-energy antics of the Wayans' films, you'll want to check out this '90s TV favorite.
In Living Color
A long-running African-American-focused sketch comedy series from the early 1990s.
Why It's Worth Watching If You Like Marlon Wayans: Though he didn't have as many standout moments as some of his famous (or soon-to-be-famous) co-stars, Marlon Wayans found his first brushes with celebrity on Fox's popular comedy series, In Living Color, where he developed his craft and polished his skills with his fellow comedian family members. In total, Wayans only appeared in about 17 episodes of the show, but that was enough to get him on Hollywood's radar and pave the way for his future in comedy. Plus, even in these early skits, you can see Marlon's burgeoning tenacity as a comedian.
An eccentric professor and his oddball crew pose as a classical ensemble in order to rob a casino, all under the nose of an unsuspecting old landlady.
Why It's Worth Watching If You Like Marlon Wayans: Admittedly, you might be hard-pressed to find someone who considers The Ladykillers to be a high point in Joel and Ethan Coen's esteemed filmography. The often derided, madcap dark comedy is considered one of the worst from the acclaimed movie makers. But, Coen movies are like pizza, in that even when they're not that great, they're still pretty good. In that respect, even the weakest Coen brothers' film is better than most movies out there. And, this one, like any other Coen brothers flick, has an outstanding cast, including Tom Hanks, J.K. Simmons, Irma P. Hall, Tzi Ma, and Marlon Wayans. Wayans, in particular, really commits to the bit, as he always does. His foul-mouthed, hot-headed janitor, Gawain MacSam, is another livewire performance from the very dedicated actor. Even when the material sadly doesn't shine, the comic stays ferocious.
Respect is now playing in theaters.
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.
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