Make the Case lists choices chronologically, rather than in any order of quality. Picks reflect film acting roles only. If the actor in question also directed the movie, that’s purely a coincidence, and it plays no part in the film’s inclusion.
I love the current prevailing theory that Paul Rudd as Ant-Man is the key to defeating Thanos in Avengers: Endgame. I don’t think it will hold true, but we’ll see. It wouldn’t really surprise me. I suppose that’s the thing. At first glance, Rudd can strike you as unremarkable. There are a lot of sarcastic, charming white guys working in Hollywood these days.
What makes Paul Rudd remarkable? How has he managed a career that has lasted for three decades, covering virtually every type of movie known to humanity. He tends to work best in comedies, but the truth of the matter is that he isn’t really limited to anything. He has worked exhaustively in film and television. His resume is an impressive collection of characters that are inevitably filtered through his persona. That persona is such that he has been able to do well with just about every character he has ever played. Even in movies that are less than impressive, you can almost always say “Well, that fucking sucked, but Paul Rudd was pretty good.”
Because while Paul Rudd may not look particularly spectacular as an actor, you only have to watch him on screen for a few minutes, before you will realize his capabilities. One of the things I like about Paul Rudd as an actor? He never fails to surprise me.
So, while I don’t think he’s the deus ex machina of Endgame, I still think it’s entirely possible that he will be. Barring that, I think he will at least give us something that will set him apart from an extremely crowded arena of superheroes and villains.
To take in an overview of the best Paul Rudd movies, it helps to keep in mind that he has frequently stood out from the crowd—regardless of what he’s doing. You can find that quality in all of the movies we will cover here at Make The Case.
1. Clueless (1995)
Paul Rudd logged two movie appearances in 1995, the year he started appearing in films. The first was Clueless, which was and remains one of the most popular movies of the 1990s. The second was in Halloween 6 (more commonly known as The Curse of Michael Myers). There is an interesting juxtaposition between those movies. It is also interesting to see Rudd being fairly good in two extremely different types of movies.
Clueless wins out over Halloween for primarily being a better overall indication of Rudd’s early potential as a film actor. His performance is somewhat overshadowed by the career-defining turn from star Alicia Silverstone. Even so, it’s a strong early indicator that Rudd could use his appeal in a very direct, natural fashion. So natural, it would be several more years before he became a movie star.
2. Wet Hot American Summer (2001)
Between 1995 and 2001, Rudd appeared in several films, a range of supporting roles, and the occasional, generally unremarkable leading man in a romantic comedy or dramedy. There is something interesting work in that period, but Wet Hot American Summer is quite possibly one of his best movies to date. Certainly, one of his best characters. Wet Hot American Summer, as well as the stuff that’s been made with these characters since, is an ensemble filled with slight and significant exaggerations of real people. It is one of the best groups ever assembled for a comedy. Rudd is a standout, which is certainly saying something.
3. The Shape of Things (2003)
Although not without some flaws, The Shape of Things gave Paul Rudd his most complex character up to that point. Based on a stage play by Neil LaBute (who would go on to largely fuck up his entire career), The Shape of Things offers Rudd playing someone a little more interesting than the charming guy you can’t help but like. In this film, he is at times absolutely pathetic. At other times, it’s hard not to see someone who deserves better than what circumstances give to him. Say what you want about LaBute, a pitiful misogynist who has occasionally written an interesting story. The Shape of Things is probably his best film and best script. Even if you disagree, the movie is worth appreciating for the fact that Paul Rudd makes his character more than just a sad sack with no self-control or self-awareness. It stands as one of his most compelling achievements as an actor.
4. Prince Avalanche (2013)
Prince Avalanche is a sweet, quiet film that deserves more attention. By the 2010s, Rudd now has the appealing ability to do pretty much whatever he wants. He has shown himself to be enough of a box office attraction to be a primary face in several financially successful films. He has shown up on dozens of TV shows in small and large roles, adding more and more depth to the range of his talents. Along the way, he also gets to keep plugging away in quirky comedies like Prince Avalanche. Some of those specific movies aren’t that great, but Rudd generally is.
Prince Avalanche is a genuinely good movie on its own terms. A lot of that is because the movie establishes two strong characters (the other played by Emile Hirsch), and then simply lets these characters build on their relationship. That is essentially the movie, and it’s not an exaggeration to say that much of the film is carried entirely by a grounded, humorous performance by Paul Rudd.
5. Ant-Man and the Wasp (2018)
We have just barely scratched the surface of this guy’s career. Keep in mind that Paul Rudd has more than 100 movie and TV credits. He works at a steady pace, and he is more than ever the kind of actor who can show up and work well in anything. The first Ant-Man is a good indication of what I’m talking about. The movie, indeed, the entire franchise, is only so-so without Rudd. Ant-Man is fun, but it lacks the cosmic grandeur that has now become standard in Marvel Cinematic Universe releases. Without Paul Rudd as the hero in question, it’s difficult to imagine people would honestly care about one of Marvel’s least interesting superheroes.
With Ant-Man, Paul Rudd can honestly call himself an action star, on top of everything else. He gives us the first and biggest reason to become invested at all. The sequel is even better, finally giving Rudd the opportunity to make Scott Lang a little more distinctive. The sequel is also better for simply giving us Evangeline Lilly as The Wasp. Her scenes with Rudd are some of the best in the movie.
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