“When things are really bad the only thing to do is laugh.” – Jim Carrey
Without the influence of Jim Carrey in the 1990s American zeitgeist, the landscape of contemporary comedy may not have looked quite as vibrant as it does today, with the actor proving pivotal to the change in the genre at the turn of the new millennium. Known as the Western face of funny in the ’90s, Carrey’s popularity extended beyond American waters, with his roles in the likes of The Mask, Dumb and Dumber and Bruce Almighty proving to be international commercial sensations.
A keen comedian and impersonator at the mere age of 15, Carrey toured comedy clubs with his own puerile performances, though his act would take many years to fully hone until it was ready for true success. Deciding to move to Hollywood at the age of 21, Carrey became a regular at The Comedy Store on Sunset Strip, California, a slot that would eventually land him in the lead role for the NBC sitcom, The Duck Factory.
Sparking his industry success, Carrey performed on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson in November 1983 where he was met with a rousing reception thanks to his impressions of Elvis Presley, Clint Eastwood, Bruce Dern and even E.T. What followed in the late ‘80s and ‘90s was a whirlwind of success for the young actor who quickly became Hollywood dynamite and an unlikely industry heartthrob. Let’s take a look at the six definitive films of his extraordinary career.
Jim Carrey’s six definitive films:
Ace Ventura: Pet Detective (Tom Shadyac, 1994)
Though Carrey’s career began to gain steam after his success on Duck Factory, appearing in the films Peggy Sue Got Married and Earth Girls Are Easy, it was his role in the TV series In Living Color that would truly set his stardom alight.
Promoting the performer as one of the most eccentric and whacky in all of the industry, Morgan Creek Productions noticed Carrey on the show and cast him in the lead role for their comedy, Ace Ventura: Pet Detective. Becoming one of the most iconic characters of ‘90s cinema, Carrey’s Hawaiian shirt and distinctive glasses became a fancy dress staple and the actor exploded onto the scene in vibrant colour.
Batman Forever (Joel Schumacher, 1995)
Enjoying a staggering year of success in 1994, Carrey followed Ace Ventura: Pet Detective up with the Oscar-nominated The Mask as well as Dumb and Dumber, as both films helped to solidify the star as the new leading man of comedy.
A year later, Carrey would establish his name outside of comedy obscurity by featuring in the Joel Schumacher superhero film Batman Forever, featuring alongside the likes of Hollywood mainstays Val Kilmer, Tommy Lee Jones and Nicole Kidman. Whilst he was playing the somewhat comedic role of The Riddler, the film represented a major cornerstone in the actor’s career as he transitioned into more serious roles in the direct public eye.
The Truman Show (Peter Weir, 1998)
Starring in the comedy sequel Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls, as well as the subsequent genre flicks The Cable Guy and Liar Liar in 1997, Carrey approached his very first major dramatic role in Peter Weir’s The Truman Show.
Perhaps the actor’s best critical and commercial hit, The Truman Show demonstrated just how great the comedian Jim Carrey was as a dramatic performer, appearing totally at ease in this bizarre science-fiction. With the likes of Laura Linney, Ed Harris and Noah Emmerich supporting, Carrey is allowed to shine in the lead role, giving one of the year’s finest performances that would lead the actor to bigger and better roles.
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (Michel Gondry, 2004)
In back-to-back dramatic roles, Carrey followed up his 1998 success with Man on the Moon the following year, a film that would signpost the personal troubles ahead for the actor as he struggled with the demands of the method acting performance.
Whilst a success, the film paled in comparison to the cult popularity of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Michel Gondry’s heartbreaking science-fiction romance that spoke to a surreal reality of an ever more technologically intrigued world. In his most emotionally wrought performance to date, Carrey demonstrates the true range of his acting, with his historic comedic wit playing a large part in the viewer’s empathy as his character’s life withers along with his own personal reality.
The Number 23 (Joel Schumacher, 2007)
Struggling with the weight of Hollywood life, Carrey experienced sporadic success following the release of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, with the actor later reporting that his depression made it hard to maintain the comedian of old.
Featuring in A Series of Unfortunate Events and Fun with Dick and Jane as well as several other randomly chosen projects toward the end of the decade, the first and only horror film he has starred in well represents the actor’s struggles. From the Batman Forever director Joel Schumacher, The Number 23 saw Carrey feature as a man who becomes paranoid and obsessed that a new novel has been written about him.
Plonked in between the releases of Fun with Dick and Jane and the animation Horton Hears a Who!, The Number 23 represents a time of aimlessness for Carrey as he tried to once again find his feet in the cinema industry.
Sonic the Hedgehog (Jeff Fowler, 2020)
Speaking about his depressive state in an interview with 60 Minutes in 2004, Carrey told the programme: “There are peaks, there are valleys. But they’re all kind of carved and smoothed out, and it feels like a low level of despair you live in, where you’re not getting any answers, but you’re living OK”.
Rightfully taking a step back from the Hollywood limelight, Carrey prioritised his mental health and featured in few films from 2011-2020 in comparison to his busy schedule of the previous decade. Making a significant return to blockbuster cinema, the actor returned to typically theatrical form as the villain in Sonic the Hedgehog, Dr. Robotnik, finding commercial success once again.
With the only film on the horizon for Carrey being a sequel to the SEGA video game adaptation, it seems as though the actor has retired from the frenetic life of showbiz, though we forever hope for the return of his comedy wit and dramatic elegance.