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From Paul Thomas Anderson to Martin Scorsese: Mark Wahlberg’s 10 best films

“I’ve always looked at my career as an athlete would look at his. I won’t play forever. Some don’t know when to walk away, but the smart ones do.” – Mark Wahlberg

The incredibly versatile Mark Wahlberg, who is known for playing a varied range of roles over the last two decades within the film industry, from army officials to a doting adoptive father, a lacklustre slacker with a talking teddy bear to a skilled thief, turns 50 today. Here, we look back at what might be one of the most underrated and eclectic cinematic legacies of the modern era.

Born to a Massachusetts working-class family, a war veteran and a nurse, Wahlberg was deeply affected by his parent’s divorce and engaged in substance abuse by the age of 13. He has often said that “growing up, I think I was arrested 20-odd times by the Boston police. The good news is that I’ve been able to use those experiences in a lot of my roles, and that has been a blessing.”

Wahlberg started as a frontman rapper for Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch before making a debut as an underwear model for Vanity Fair. In 1993, he made his acting debut in the Substitute, followed by appearances in films such as The Basketball Diaries and Fear. However, he garnered audience acclaim with his impressive and audacious performance in Paul Thomas Anderson’s Boogie Nights as a greedy pornstar smitten by the fast life in the porn industry. Wahlberg soon started making lead appearances in meatier and more layered roles. He was praised for his enigmatic performances and ability to morph himself into any character. When asked how he manages to prepare himself for the roles, he attributes it to the “lot of real-life experience that I can draw on. And I think that shows in the characters that I play because I’m always trying to find somebody – or find characters to play that I can identify with on a personal level or relate to. And I think it makes for a little bit more of an honest portrayal.”

Adding: “In my movies, I’m not trying to erase any old image of myself, really. And also I’m not trying to imitate anyone or follow in their footsteps, because I know, Burt Reynolds was just one of the people that told me this, I know how you can only last in this business if you got something special to offer, just by being yourself.”

Despite being a Catholic, he is an LGBTQ+ ally and supports same-sex marriage, defying Church rules. A doting father and a philanthrope, Wahlberg has tried to derive lessons from his past mistakes as a rowdy teenager and has continuously strived to better himself as a human being.

On his 50th birthday, let us take a look at the ten best films starring Mark Wahlberg that are definitely worth bingeing this weekend.    

10 best films starring Mark Wahlberg:

10. Deepwater Horizon (Peter Berg, 2016)

Based on a harrowing real-life 2010 incident, the film follows the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig exploding in the Gulf of Mexico. The intense oil spillage leads to a fireball explosion which kills most of the crew members. Chief electronics technician Mike Williams, along with the rest of his colleagues, fight hard to survive this impending disaster as they become engulfed by flames and heat. Mike tries to use his presence of mind to save himself and his co-workers from this overwhelming situation. 

In one of his more successful collaborations with Peter Berg, Wahlberg plays the dauntless Mark Williams. The film commands the audience attention due to its dramatic action sequences and engaging storyline that reeks of courage and heroism. Wahlberg is compelling in his role. The film and its content shall make the audience seethe in rage over the amount of damage this man-made disaster inflicted. Based on one of the worst US oil spill explosions, the film has vivid visuals, making it an even more harrowing watch. 

“I’d think you money-hungry sons of bitches would at least be good ar math.”

9. The Italian Job (F. Gary Gray, 2003) 

Adapted from the 1969 eponymous British thriller flick, this heist film sees John bridger and Charlie Croker forming a team to pull off an epic $35 million gold bar heist from an extremely secure safe in Venice. After they are successful, one of the heist members, played by Edward Norton, driven by immense greed and envy, plans to kill the rest of the group and inherit the gold. He escapes to Los Angeles, thinking he has killed the team, only to be pursued by the survivors who plan to seek revenge with the help of Stella and some other additions to the team whose skills prove valuable in this valiant heist they pull off.  

Sharp direction and engaging performances make this film a pleasurable and nerve-wracking ride. It is one of the best “homages to the original” films ever made where the director stuck to the same title yet a different set of characters and plot with their own set of twists and turns. After seeing Wahlberg’s impressive performance in Boogie Nights, he was cast as the mastermind thief Charlie Croker who embarks on a quest of vengeance to avenge the betrayal against his mentor John Bridges who gets killed; throughout the film, he wore height-enhancing shoes with lifts, and it was Wahlberg who had recommended Charlize Theron’s name who was an invaluable addition to the cast. 

“Charlie, there are two kinds of thieves in this world: The ones who steal to enrich their lives, and those who steal to define their lives. Don’t be the latter. Makes you miss out on what’s really important in this life.”

8. Instant Family (Sean Anders, 2018)

This comedic family drama focuses on the childless Wagner couple, Pete and Ellie, who foster the teen Lizzy and her younger siblings Juan and Lita as their drug-addict mother is in prison. Despite initial hiccups, the five begin to grow trusting of one another. While the younger ones warm-up to their foster parents and address them as “Mommy” and “Daddy”, Lizzy is still sceptical. After their mother Carla is released from prison and expresses her desire to reunite with her children, chaos ensues. 

The film deftly captures the pain of parents who want to adopt yet have to go through various daunting stages before finally getting the process complete. It focuses on the various complexities embedded in the adoption system while showing the flawed family bondings which strengthen love. Mark Wahlberg delivers one of his best performances as Pete Wagner, who tries his best to be a doting and responsible father to the three children. He is nervous yet willing to give his best while treading unknown waters. Rose Byrne and Wahlberg manage to convey the pain of expectant adoptive parents as well as the bittersweet experiences of foster parents who are desperately trying to connect with the children. 

“We met one little girl who was sitting all by herself, very sweet, a little guarded, kind of had a little wall around her. Really small for her age too, maybe a fetal alcohol thing or something?”

7. Ted (Seth MacFarlane, 2012)

Boston-based slacker John Bennett is in his 30s and lives a hedonistic life with his teddy bear, Ted, who came to life following his Christmas wish as a child as Ted was his only friend. Ted is still his best friend, and John, who is dating Lori Collins, is persuaded by his girlfriend that with this crude-talker and extremely inappropriate talking teddy bear Ted in their lives, they cannot move forward in their relationship. John and Ted’s friendship slowly start crumbling down, and they are forced to face certain uncomfortable truths.

Mark Wahlberg thrives in comedic roles and steals hearts as the demure and immature John Bennett, who is very attached to his teddy bear ted as he is indebted to the latter for being his friend on the loneliest of days. He is torn between appeasing his girlfriend and being a loyal friend. This breezy, feel-good film shows wonderful chemistry between Wahlberg and Seth MacFarlane, who voices the stoner teddy bear. This unlikely bromance is affable and heartfelt and shall make audience members wish for such an amicable friend as Ted, albeit his zany humour is quite embarrassing. 

“Who lives here?i’m coming to get who lives here! You owe me lobster money!”

6. Lone Survivor (Peter Berg, 2013)

In this visceral war drama, Taliban leader Ahmad Shah is infamous for his notoriety and is responsible for the death of US Marines as well as innocent civilians. Brave Navy SEAL Marcus Luttrell is assigned to the mission of capturing Shah with the help of his team in 2005. After the SEALs accidentally run into a group of goat herders who might rat them out to the Taliban, they capture them. Soon they are attacked by the Taliban and must put up a valiant fight in times of distress, trying not to succumb to the obstacles besetting their path.

Mark Wahlberg is fearless in his role as Luttrell. He was one of the first actors to agree to the script. “What makes this story so special is the bond and the camaraderie between the guys, but also the state of where we are in the world today,” said Wahlberg. “The act of heroism by Gulab and his fellow villagers moved me the most. I found it so inspiring, and it gave me so much hope for the world.”

He admitted that playing such a complex and fearless character always leaves a feeling of inadequacy. He said that it was one of his favourite films as he had “the best working experience I’ve ever had, under the toughest conditions.” Wahlberg added that the feeling was inexplicable and best described it with a vivid example, stating, “I remember early on as an actor, you worked a long, hard day, but you did something you felt was special, and that car ride home you couldn’t stop thinking about it. I had that feeling every day on this movie.”

“You are never out of the fight.”

5. All The Money In The World (Ridley Scott, 2017)

In this sensational thriller film set in 1973, billionaire J. Paul Getty is asked to pay a ransom worth $17 million for his kidnapped grandson’s release. Despite his adviser, Fletcher Chase’s advice and the desperate pleas of Gail, his former daughter-in-law, the mercenary refuse to part with a single penny. This forces Gail and fletcher to form an unlikely alliance and save the boy’s life and must race against time to prove the importance of love that triumphs fortune and money. 

The wonderful chemistry between Michelle Williams and Mark Wahlberg keeps the palpable tension alive and make it a gripping watch. Although Christopher Plummer received an Oscar nomination, Wahlberg delivered a wonderful and solid performance as Flecther Chase. There was a discrepancy in the salaries of Williams and Wahlberg, which arose due to the shoot rescheduling that followed Kevin Spacey’s replacement with Plummer; Wahlberg reportedly donated his entire re-shoot wage to the Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund in favour of Williams. 

“Everything has a price. The great struggle in life is coming to grips with what that price is.”

4. Three Kings (David O. Russell, 1999)

Following the end of the Persian Gulf War, a group of four soldiers, led by the cynical Sergeant Major Archie Gates, discover a small map in between a man’s butt cheeks that shall allegedly lead them to Saddam Hussein’s massive cache of gold. After Sergeant Troy Barlow gets captured and tortured immensely by Iraqi intelligence while rebels rescue the other three. Together, the trio agrees to help fight alongside the rebels against Hussein’s group in exchange for Troy’s freedom. 

This zany dark comedy, which is a clever conglomeration of comedy, humour and war, stars George Clooney and Mark Wahlberg, among others. Spot Spike Jonze in a rare acting role the characters are engrossing, and the director, who is a long time collaborator of Wahlberg, brings out the absolute best in the latter. Three Kings is their finest collaboration of three films and is in itself an extremely exciting and intriguing film.    

“Hey, I got a family. If I’m gonna shit in a bag for the rest of my life because I got shot after the war was over, that’d be pretty fuckin’ stupid, wouldn’t it, Major?” 

3. The Departed (Martin Scorsese, 2006)

Constantly at loggerheads and busy infiltrating each other’s organisation, Billy Costigan, a Boston Police officer, Colin Sullivan, a Boston mob member, gets embroiled in a dangerous cat and mouse chase. They discover moles within their respective systems and go to great lengths to prevent the secrets from getting exposed.

One of Scorsese’s most gripping films to date, the film boasts of a talented ensemble that includes Leonardo DiCaprio, Jack Nicholson, Mark Wahlberg and Matt Damon, among others. Scorsese, who has the genius streak of producing one classic film per decade, does not disappoint with this Mafia thriller. In his third successive film collaboration with Scorsese, it was a shame to see Leonardo DiCaprio get snubbed at the Oscars; his performance completely overlooked, as was Nicholson’s. Mark Wahlberg, as the profane and potty-mouthed Sgt. Sean Dignam, who appointed Leo to go undercover for Boston PD, won the only Best Supporting Actor nomination at the Academy, which was a testament to his brilliant performance.

Additionally, he also won a Golden Globe nomination for his memorable and impressive portrayal.

“When I was your age, they would say you could become cops or criminals; today what I’m saying to you is this: When facing a loaded gun, what’s the difference?”

2. The Fighter (David O. Russell, 2010)

Micky Ward’s entire family is invested in his welterweight boxing career. With his tough nut mom as his manager and his half-brother Dicky, a promising ex-boxer, his volatile trainer. Despite all his sweat, Micky loses, and his last fight is fatal, nearly killing him. He decides to follow what his girlfriend Charlene, whom his mother and sisters blame for demotivating him, says and parts from his family only to return again and have a last chance at restoring his family’s honour and repute at a world title-winning championship. 

The film earned Wahlberg an Oscar nomination and two Golden Globe nominations, and a SAG ensemble award. Wahlberg, who is a self-proclaimed “huge fight fan”, has compared some great classics like Raging Bull and Rocky and said that “the fighting just wasn’t as realistic as what we hope to achieve and accomplish in this movie.” Micky Ward and Wahlberg had their working-class roots in common as well as an over-populated house filled with siblings. The “against-all-odds” story caught Wahlberg’s attention, and he put in his utmost, including getting punched for real and breaking his nose several times in the film as he refused to use a stunt double. He was trained in boxing by Freddie Roach and Manny Pacquiao as he sweated it out in the gym to ready himself for this challenging role.

“What are you doing, running in here like a silverback fucking gorilla?”

1. Boogie Nights (Paul Thomas Anderson, 1997)

Paul Thomas Anderson’s period piece revolves around Eddie Adams, who walks into the porn industry. Soon enough, he finds pleasure and success in the newfound carefree lifestyle; however, soon, he spirals down the dangerous drug-fuelled path that leads to subsequent downfall. The film is also a blistering yet humorous commentary on the porn industry and the people associated with it, grappling to secure their place and find their purpose.

The film has incredible visuals and surreal long takes. Wonderful dialogues complement the nuanced performances by Julianne Moore, Mark Wahlberg, Burt Reynolds and more. This disturbingly funny and engrossing commentary on the porn industry reveals the secrets of being a pornstar and their lifestyle. Wahlberg’s unforgettable performance as Eddie Adams, who operates under the alias of Dirk Diggler, reeks of a certain boyish charm which makes it one of his best performances to date. His exceptionally well-endowed self adds to his bold cockiness. Wahlberg’s sheer ability to shake off all inhibitions to play this character established his fate as a bonafide Hollywood star. This film also won him his first SAG award nomination.  

“Well, if you just wanna see me jack off, it’s ten. But if you just wanna look at it, it’s only five.”