Each year, it feels like a new comedy star is born to feature films, and each year, we watch another one of the once great comedy stars sell out to broader and broader comedy. It happens with all the great comedy actors, but it seems to be happening today with a more alarming speed. It took Eddie Murphy and Steve Martin over a decade to sell out; Russell Brand jumped on the first opportunity he got. Kevin James didn’t even earn the right to sell out before he did.
The two breakout comedy stars of 2011 so far are Kristen Wiig (Bridesmaids) and Charlie Day (Horrible Bosses), both of whom found limited fame on the small screen before landing big roles in feature films. Right now, I can’t envision a scenario in which I wouldn’t want to see a Charlie Day film. Ever. But I also felt similarly about Vince Vaughn after Swingers, Will Ferrell after Old School, and even Zach Galifianakis after The Hangover. Now, it’d take a lot to excite me about any of their upcoming projects. I hate to imagine that, one day, I’ll feel the same about Charlie Day. But it’s almost inevitable. No comedy actor can strike gold each time out. Failures are inevitable. It seems the longer a big comedy actor works, the lower his winning percentage becomes.
I put that to the test today, and ranked the top 25 actors and actresses known for the comedy roles by their winning percentage. I chose only actors and actresses who have released relevant movies within the last two years (which excludes someone like Martin Lawrence, despite Big Momma’s House: Like Father, Like Son). Obviously, there’s a fair amount of subjectivity that might go into a list like this, in choosing which movies succeeded and which did not. The success ratio is thus based on my own comedic sensibilities and the overall general consensus of a mildly discerning viewer. That is to say: A movie like Step Brothers or Billy Madison goes into the win column, but How to Lose a Guy in 10 Dates does not. Note, too, that only comedies are included in the percentages (for instance, Matthew McConaughey overall percentage is probably close to 15 percent, but his percentage as a comedic actor is zero). Moreover, with each actor, the winning percentage only begins after their breakthrough comedic role, and it only counts if they had a crucial comedic role in the movie.
In other words, there’s a lot of bullshit criteria, and since I’m not showing my math, go ahead and take the results with a grain of salt. What it does say, however, is that even the best comedy actors don’t make hilarious movies even 70 percent of the time. In fact, the top two, Jonah Hill and Jason Segal, don’t yet have a long filmography, so if you want to assess a comedy actor based on a longer track record, Paul Rudd is likely the most successful of the bunch with a modest 58 percent winning percentage.
1. Jonah Hill: 66 percent (starting with Knocked Up)
2. Jason Segal: 60 percent (starting with Knocked Up)
3. Paul Rudd: 58 percent (starting with Clueless)
4. Seth Rogen: 57 percent (starting with 40 Year Old Virgin)
5. Steve Carell: 50 percent (starting with 40 Year Old Virgin)
6. Jim Carrey: 50 percent (starting with Ace Ventura)
7. Reese Witherspoon: 50 percent (starting with Pleasantville)
8. Danny McBride: 50 percent (starting with Pineapple Express)
9. Russell Brand: 50 percent (starting with Forgetting Sarah Marshall)
10. Ben Stiller: 45 percent (starting with Cable Guy)
11. Will Ferrell: 41 percent (starting with Old School)
12. Vince Vaughn: 41 percent (starting with Swingers)
13. Cameron Diaz: 54 percent (starting with My Best Friend’s Wedding)
14. Jack Black: 33 percent (starting with High Fidelity)
15. Owen Wilson: 28 percent (starting with Bottle Rocket)
16. Sarah Jessica Parker: 27 percent (starting with Girls Just Wanna Have Fun)
17. Zach Galifianakis: 25 percent (starting with The Hangover)
18. Adam Sandler: 23 percent (starting with Billy Madison)
19. Sandra Bullock: 20 percent (starting with While You Were Sleeping)
20. Jennifer Aniston: 20 percent (starting with Office Space)
21. Katherine Heigl: 20 percent (starting with Knocked Up)
22. Matthew McConaughey: 0 percent (starting with EdTV)
23. Kate Hudson: 0 percent (starting with How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days )
24. Ashton Kutcher: 0 percent (starting with Dude, Where’s My Car?)
25. Kevin James: 0 percent (starting with Hitch)