The 10 best Matthew McConaughey films
(Credit: Alamy)

Reliving the McConaissance: 10 best Matthew McConaughey films

Matthew McConaughey, now a devilishly handsome 50-year-old, cannot be pigeonholed into understanding the kind of films he starred in. He has acted in a wide range of movies, starting from comedies, romantic comedies, dramas, thrillers, sci-fi, action films as well as courtroom dramas. McConaughey, despite his sheer brilliance and raw charm, had to struggle in order to be considered an A-list actor. In his initial years of being inducted into Hollywood, he realised that his free-spirited “lifestyle, living on the beach, running with his shirt off, doing romantic comedies” would typecast him as the typical bodacious and handsome hero meant for a visual treat and nothing more.

After the 1990s, McConaughey’s diversity in the roles he bagged fizzled out; nobody ever imagined him returning to playing such deep and well-layered characters in projects such as Dazed and Confused, A Time to Kill and more. With back-to-back box office flops in films like Ghosts of Girlfriends Past, Wedding Planner, the actor was finally forced to self-reflect and took a break from starring in movies.

This kicked off the cultural phenomenon, better known as The McConaissance, which witnessed McConaughey being back with a bang to deliver splendid performances in films like The Lincoln Lawyer, Mud, Magic Mike and more. The movement reached the pinnacle of success when, in 2014, he won the coveted Oscar for his glorious performance in Dallas Buyers Club and, then with Christopher Nolan’s blockbuster Interstellar, the first wave of the McConaissance came to an end. While the Oscar merely served as a tangible chip appreciating his bombastic return, the McConaissance was a journey of self-fulfilment for McConaughey who wanted to take control of his career as well as his life.

While fans wait with bated breath for a sudden onset of the second-wave of the much-awaited McConaissance, it is only fair that we pay tribute to the dashing legend by looking back on some of his brilliant performances in the past. It takes great courage and determination to stand out in supporting roles; McConaughey has consistently his competence and mastery by outdoing the lead actors, irrespective of heavyweight ensemble names.

Here, on his 51st birthday, we delve deep into the best work of Matthew McConaughey.

Matthew McConaughey’s 10 Best Films:

10.  Magic Mike (Steven Soderbergh, 2012)  

Magic Mike was one of the first movies to have ever sexualised male strippers, subverting Hollywood’s inherent culture of capitalising on nude women. Channing Tatum, who starred in and produced the film, drew heavy inspiration from his experiences as a stripper as an eighteen-year-old. The movie is essentially about the life of strippers, dominated by sex and drugs, which compel them to fall into heavy debts. The film became the talk of the town; despite its meagre budget, and made a whopping $167 million globally.

Matthew McConaughey played the role of Dallas, the owner of the Tampa strip club, Xquisite, where Channing Tatum’s character, Mike, was working. He is a mercenary, greedy, charming and cocky, who is desperate to earn money but he loves pleasing and teasing his female audience. McConaughey, who has a knack for delivering brilliant performances in supporting roles, was the first person to be cast for the role of Dallas. He had been offered the role via a phone call and found it so intriguing that after a good ten-minute laugh, he accepted it.

Originally, the actor had not been assigned a stripping scene, but he insisted on it and bagged the last dance number where he sang ‘Ladies of Tampa’, before stripping to show off his sculpted body. The cast visited a strip club to gain plenty of information on the world of stripping; McConaughey went the extra mile and became a regular at a Los Angeles strip mall to get used to waxing. He was nominated for an Indie Spirit award under Best Supporting Actor which he ended up taking home.

9. The Lincoln Lawyer (Brad Furman, 2011)

A neo-noir legal drama, The Lincoln Lawyer revolves around a suave and charming criminal defence attorney, Mick Haller, whose unique modus operandi includes working from a chauffeur-drawn Lincoln Town car instead of an office. He is hired to represent Louis Roulet, the son of a wealthy real estate mogul, who has been accused of brutally assaulting a prostitute. On getting involved, Haller discovers a sinister connection between Roulet’s case and the previous case he represented, and thus ensues an intense investigation which includes uncovering the truth, gruelling interrogations and extracting testimonies.  

The film is a brilliant representation of how corruption and deceit are endemic to the judicial system, where the rich bail themselves out while the poor are sent to the prison cells to serve their time. Matthew McConaughey’s performance is a visual treat. He is street-smart, clever, and not always an ethical man, often plays the devil’s advocate. Quite effortlessly, he blends into the charm of Haller, transitioning from being a mercenary int the beginning to a kind-hearted, empathetic soul in the end. This is the second time McConaughey played a lawyer, after the 1996 film A Time to Kill. The Lincoln Lawyer was the first movie to witness the beginning of the “McConaissance”. Prior to this, McConaughey had been starring in rom-coms which flopped at the box office. Deciding to take control of his career, the devilishly handsome actor took a few years off, before making a dramatic return with The Lincoln Lawyer which subsequently changed the course of his career.

8. A Time to Kill (Joel Schumacher, 1996)

“Can you see her? I want you to picture that little girl. Now imagine she’s white!”

Adapted from John Grisham’s novel of the same name, the film was a critical as well as commercial success at the box office and made $152 million worldwide. The legal cliff-hanger is charged with the problems of racial discrimination as a ten-year-old African American child, Tonya, is abducted, brutally raped and beaten mercilessly by two local white men, and later dumped following a failed attempt to hang her to death. Enraged, her father, Carl Lee Hailey, seeks help from his friend, Jake Brigance, a white lawyer who did not discriminate among the white and black compatriots. Realising how difficult it is for a black man to get justice for his young daughter, Carl takes matters into his own hands, revenge killing both rapists, and unwittingly injures the local Deputy. Carl is imprisoned and subjected to the death penalty; what follows is a gripping courtroom drama where Brigance fights relentlessly to bring justice to Carl and his family.

The role of this conflicted, white hero was much coveted; the world was taken aback when the role was bagged by someone as less-known as Matthew McConaughey. However, the actor did immense justice to the role and, as described by Schumacher, was “in business mode”.  His engrossing performance as a black ally and loyal friend caught the attention of the audience as well as John Grisham, the novelist himself, who wants McConaughey to continue playing the character of Jake Brigance: “I owe a lot to Matthew because he was an unknown actor in 1995 when he was picked to play Jake,” he said.

Adding: “He did such a wonderful job it made his career. He’d said that many times and we haven’t talked about A Time for Mercy yet. I know he has read the book and he probably will be approached to do the movie…. I would love for Matthew to play Jake again.” The electrifying atmosphere of the film at the end due to his brilliant closing statement will remain etched in the minds of the audience forever.

7. Amistad (Steven Spielberg, 1997)

Unlike his other film Schindler’s List which wins accolades, Steven Spielberg’s Amistad, a historical drama loosely based on true events, is an underrated masterpiece. It is based on the legal battle the Mende tribesmen get embroiled in when they rise against their captors onboard La Amistad. They are brought to trial in the New England court where their fates are to be decided. The dichotomy that exists states that the court must reach a conclusion if they were meant to be slaves and live a life of servitude, which would make them guilty of murder, or if they had been illegally shipped from Africa, in which case it would be perceived as their right to defend themselves. They are represented by a legal team, led by Roger Baldwin, and are supported by Boston abolitionists.

McConaughey stars as Baldwin alongside heavyweights like Anthony Hopkins, Morgan Freeman and more. As the defense lawyer for Joseph Cinqué, McConaughey’s character undergoes a necessary change via the progression of the film. In an argument, he urges on behalf of the veteran as both the barrister and a decent human being, which adds direction to the movie. Alongside the towering presence of veteran actors like Freeman and Hopkins, McConaughey is polite yet stellar. His fight for freedom on behalf of Cinqué is heart-rending. Well-crafted and emotionally stirring, Amistad is a brilliant film where Matthew sheds his usual ‘eye-candy’ image and undertakes poignant role that proves his acting prowess.

6. Frailty (Bill Paxton, 2002)

“Sometimes, truth defies reason, Agent Doyle.”

Bill Paxton’s directorial debut and an underrated psychological thriller, Frailty, centres on a father and his two sons, Adam and Fenton Meiks. The father, who is a religious fanatic, has a vision one day where God allegedly entrusts him with the duty of rendering Divine Justice by murdering demons disguised as people. A staunch believer, the father ropes in his two young sons, trying to project his beliefs upon them. The twisted ending of the film is quite unexpected and it is a brilliant commentary on the ambiguous relationship between good and evil; the FBI agent, Doyle, who is taken to be a protector of truth and values is revealed to have murdered his own mother.

Thought-provoking and creepy, the film focuses on the belief system of religious fanatics. The father is not abusive yet his horrific actions deeply impact his sons. The obsessions and vulnerability that lies within every relationship could have been explored better; however, McConaughey steals the show. His narration with the flashbacks in the backdrop keeps the agent as well as the audience transfixed to the very end. The ambiguity of his identity followed by his tale of gradual indoctrination of Christian beliefs add on to the eerie atmosphere of the film.

5. Mud (Jeff Nichols, 2012)

A bold take on Mark Twain’s usual narratives of the adventures of Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer, Mud is focused on two boys, Ellis and Neckbone, who aid the eponymous Mud hide on the little island to evade arrests and act as a bridge of communication between him and his alleged lover, Juniper. In return, they expect Mud to give them his boat and his pistol.

Mysterious and stunning, the film is neatly crafted with a set of authentic performances from the talented ensemble. The leisurely pace of the movie adds to the humid and surreal atmosphere of the movie which conceals within itself a rich, spiritual world. The boys bask in their ability to move their audience as two coming-of-age Southerners. McConaughey is outstanding as Mud, a poetic, lovesick fugitive. He is honest and yearns to provide a better life for Juniper and his arc of sin and redemption is portrayed beautifully by him which resonates with the audience. As McConaughey was himself quoted saying, “The love he has for this woman is a very simple thing…Didn’t matter if she loved him back or not. He didn’t love her any less ever… This man has a passionate love for somebody as passionate as it was the first three hours and that just doesn’t really happen in real life real often. You can say it does, but it’s pretty tough to keep that light burnin’ like that.”

4. Dazed and Confused (Richard Linklater, 1993)

Listed by Quentin Tarantino as one of the top ten greatest films of all times, Dazed and Confused is a coming-of-age comedy movie which has become a cult classic. The film follows different groups of students at Lee High School in Austin, Texas on the last day of in 1976. From hazing to getting high at parties and indulging in romance, the film is a nostalgic conglomeration of various elements and starred various actors like Ben Affleck, Matthew McConaughey, Jason London and more who would later go on to be popular stars.

Matthew McConaughey was cast as David Wooderson, the older and lecherous graduate, driving a Chevrolet, on the lookout for “good buzz”, preying on high school girls who will forever “stay the same age”. Although it was a minor role, McConaughey’s charismatic portrayal of an older sleaze with terrific one-liners made him stand out. The film belongs to him, and his iconic one-liner “alright, alright, alright” which, of course, goes on to become a pop-cultural phenomenon.

David Wooderson arrived as the actor’s breakthrough character and helped him establish a footing in the industry and, in truth, McConaughey would never have bagged this precious role had he not gone out for drinks in the spring of 1992. He met the casting director for the film, Don Phillips, whom he befriended over tipsy conversations and lots of drinks. Although Linklater had his doubts about a man as handsome and athletic as Matthew playing the role of a creep, his doubts vanished into thin air as soon as the latter got into character. As he was reported saying by Rolling Stone, “ o he took a step back, shrugged his shoulders like an athlete would, his eyes kind of narrowed- a little stoned, like- a certain swagger came over him, he lost about an inch, and he’s a new guy, right in front of me, a 30-second dissolve into a new person…. I just said, ‘Hey, man, you are this guy.’”

McConaughey was eternally grateful to the film as well as the filmmaker. At the end of his unforgettable Oscar acceptance speech, he was quoted saying, “Whatever it is we look up to, whatever it is we look forward to and whoever it is we’re chasing, to that I say Amen; to that, I say alright, alright, alright… to that I say just keep livin’.”

3. The Wolf of Wall Street (Martin Scorsese, 2014)

Based on a true story of a stockbroker named Jordan Belfort, Martin Scorsese’s drug-fuelled and sex-soaked comedy chronicles his journey from rags to riches. Driven by corporate greed after founding his own firm, Belfort, along with his accomplices, goes on to defraud wealthy investors in millions, which in turn, has a dwindling effect on his relationships. A hedonistic saga of sex, drugs, crime and the ensuing thrills of being chased by the federal government, this film is indeed an unabashed, unapologetic and shameless commentary on the desire for excess.

Leonardo DiCaprio as Jordan Belfort delivers a stellar performance and Matthew McConaughey, who has a flair for outperforming lead actors with his striking supportive roles, plays the sleazy senior broker, Mark Hanna, under whose tutelage Belfort gets inducted into the world of hedonism; cocaine, masturbation and hookers should advisably be his top priority. Amidst a remarkable ensemble, McConaughey’s blazing performance is commendable. In one of the scenes that are considered the most memorable, the lunch meeting comprising Belfort and Hanna, McConaughey is outstanding as he lends questionable career advice and tries to explain the tricks of the trade to the former, by saying “the secret is cocaine and hookers”, followed by the iconic chest-thumping scene and the humming, which was incorporated at DiCaprio’s insistence.

“How the fuck else would you do this job?”

2. Interstellar (Christopher Nolan, 2014)

One of Christopher Nolan’s finest films, Interstellar is set in the dystopian future where humanity is on the brink of extinction. Former NASA pilot must adhere to the call of duty and make a brave attempt at trying to save humanity by travelling through the wormhole in search of a new home. However, in this process, he has to abandon his beloved children, Murphy and Casey. An emotional saga of fatherhood sprawled over time and space, Interstellar is not only an epic mind-bending sci-fi film with stunning visuals but also a tear-jerker.

McConaughey as Joseph Cooper is the heart and soul of the movie. As he transcends into a new dimension and awakens, he finds his beloved “Murph” as an old lady on her deathbed. The advice she lends to her father is poetic and heart-wrenching. The immeasurable love between a father and daughter is accentuated by a magnificent background score by Hans Zimmer and terrific performances. McConaughey as the duty-bound astronaut caught in the dilemma of choosing the world over his children is compelling. As he embarks on this daunting odyssey, a longing for his loved ones take up a huge place in heart, which spectacularly shines through his performance.

“We used to look up in the sky and wonder at our place in the stars. Now we just look down and worry about our place in the dirt.”

1. Dallas Buyers Club (Jean-Marc Vallée, 2013)

Dallas Buyers Club is a biographical drama which is based on the story of Ron Woodroof, a cowboy electrician based in Texas, diagnosed with AIDS in the mid-1980s when not much was known about the disease which led to stigmatisation and ostracisation of the diagnosed patients. Given a month to live, in a desperate attempt to experiment with the treatment of the disease, he illegally smuggled in pharmaceutical drugs. He distributed these drugs to fellow patients and established the “Dallas Buyers Club” despite the growing resentment and protest of the Food and Drug Administration.

McConaughey’s stunning performance wowed the audience. Jared Leto is brilliant as well, but McConaughey’s phenomenal performance is sure to blow everyone’s minds. His epic portrayal of Woodroof’s desperation and anguish, as well as the harrowing path he chooses for his own survival, is indeed shocking. The actor had to lose around fifty pounds for the role to get into character and did so by eating nothing but egg whites, fish, tapioca pudding and plenty of wine. Within five months, he went from 188 to 135 pounds. Following this intense weight loss journey and incredible performance, Matthew won his first-ever Academy Award in 2014 for Best Actor in Leading Role; a reward he well deserved after the weight loss left him hyper and clinically aware. Commenting on his legendary character, Matthew McConaughey praised Woodroof’s resilience and expressed his gratitude for the warm reception of the film saying, “It’s vital it has translated, it has communicated with people, it’s become personal with people. That’s something I’m very proud of.”

“I got one life, right? Mine. But I want somebody else’s sometimes.”

Subscribe to our newsletter
Delivering curated content