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Six Definitive Films: The ultimate beginner's guide to Matthew McConaughey


Career transformations don’t come as dramatically as that of Matthew McConaughey, converting his identity from an icon of eye candy to one of Hollywood’s most impressive leading actors. The unofficial rallying cry of Matthew McConaughey’s revival donned ‘The McConaissance’, outlining his career transformation, welcoming his evolution with a simple, “Alright, Alright, Alright”.

Reciting the three-worded mantra during his acceptance speech for Best Actor at the 2014 Academy Awards for Dallas Buyers Club, it was this very moment that Matthew McConaughey had completed his industry evolution, all with a smart quip too. This wasn’t the first time he’d uttered this catchphrase, however, having used his famous tagline in Richard Linklater’s coming-of-age classic Dazed and Confused in 1993. 

Since then, McConaughey has thrived throughout cinema and television, starring in The Wolf of Wall Street by Martin Scorsese, HBO’s wildly successful True Detective as well as in Christopher Nolan’s sci-fi epic Interstellar.

Captivating critics and audiences in practically every contemporary role he undertakes, just how did Matthew McConaughey become the treasured actor we love today. Let’s take a look back at six of his most definitive films. 

Matthew McConaughey’s six definitive films:

Dazed and Confused (Richard Linklater, 1993)

Though Dazed and Confused was Matthew McConaughey’s feature film debut, with the benefit of hindsight, it is clear that the actor already held all the charm and acting chops of his later career, depicting a character oddly similar to his contemporary persona. 

Playing the quickly-ageing jock Wooderson in Richard Linklater’s seminal coming of age masterpiece, Matthew McConaughey’s character suffuses his charm into the film, eliciting a laid-back slacker philosophy. Outside of the juvenile pot-smoking musings of adolescent teens in Dazed and Confused, which can be easily satirised, there is a genuine philosophical approach to the films of Richard Linklater that accesses a unique cinematic quality.

Matthew McConaughey’s Wooderson embodies the spirit of such a philosophy, acting as Linklater’s conduit throughout the film. 

A Time to Kill (Joel Schumacher, 1996)

Thanks to McConaughey’s good looks and dominating screen presence, it didn’t take long for the actor to receive multiple offers for supporting roles, appearing in The Return of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Boys on the Side and Lone Star before his high profile role in Joel Schumacher’s A Time to Kill.

Starring alongside the likes of Sandra Bullock, Samuel L. Jackson, Kiefer Sutherland and Kevin Spacey, McConaughey found himself in his most star-studded cast yet as Jake Tyler Brigance, a young lawyer asked to defend a vulnerable, and wrongfully accused, black man. His first dramatic role of considerable weight, Joel Schumacher’s film would provide insight into the potential of the actor and would influence the direction of his later career. 

Before then, however, he would be attracted to the allure of Hollywood’s bright, monetary lights. 

How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days (Donald Petrie, 2003)

Joel Schumacher’s A Time to Kill was a fork in the road, with McConaughey tasked with the choice of potentially lesser-paid dramatic roles, or the attraction of high-paying Hollywood shlock. Choosing the latter, McConaughey embarked on a career he would later try to rectify. 

Guff like 1996s Larger than Life would set McConaughey on this collision course, whilst The Newton Boys alongside Ethan Hawke was likely the film that made him a Hollywood hunk, sparking later appearances in both The Wedding Planner and How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days. Starring alongside Kate Hudson, McConaughey plays an advertising executive who bets that he can make a woman fall in love with him in ten days. 

Flirtatious and borderline smutty, his role would embody all that which Matthew McConaughey was defined by in his rom-com era of moviemaking. 

Tropic Thunder (Ben Stiller, 2008)

In amongst the smog of Matthew McConaughey’s noughties identity, Tropic Thunder cleansed the air, reigning the actor in to reflect a far more fulfilling version of the actor we know and love today.

Despite appearing in career flops Failure to Launch and Fool’s Gold shortly before Ben Stiller’s modern comedy classic, McConaughey proved with Tropic Thunder that he was beginning to find his acting niche. Starring in a minor role as Stiller’s Hollywood agent Rick Peck, McConaughey rescues a morsel of his stylish Dazed and Confused persona, playing a laid back egomaniac hilariously playing Wii golf whilst his client ‘suffers’ abroad. 

Ruminations of a ‘McConaissance’ were brewing. 

Dallas Buyers Club (Jean-Marc Vallée, 2013)

From 2008 – 2013, Matthew McConaughey defined his career, transforming himself from Hollywood fodder to the top-billed leading man, all thanks to the spark of Tropic Thunder. Whilst Killer Joe, Mud and Magic Mike helped to formulate the actor’s new identity, it was Dallas Buyers Club that would consolidate his change. 

Winning him his first Academy Award for Best Actor, Matthew McConaughey’s transformative performance as AIDS campaigner Ron Woodroof alongside Jared Leto’s Rayon, is nothing short of spectacular. Completing his transition into a fully-fledged icon of contemporary cinema, Dallas Buyers Club proved to be a culmination of the actor’s efforts, finishing the metamorphosis with a flourish. 

Little did the actor know, this would start just the beginning of his reign. 

The Beach Bum (Harmony Korine, 2019)

Fueled by the success of Jean-Marc Vallée’s Dallas Buyers Club, Matthew McConaughey’s career sprung into life, appearing in Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street and Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar before the release of The Beach Bum in 2019. 

Representative of a career that had come full circle, Matthew McConaughey’s character of Moondog in Harmony Korine’s contemporary classic is a philosophical, laid-back slacker; a mature version of Wooderson from Dazed and Confused. Starring alongside Snoop Dog, Isla Fisher, Jonah Hill and Zac Efron, McConaughey leads effortlessly from the frontline, helping Korine to create a meditative analysis on the unnecessary flurry of modern life. 

So suffused with McConaughey’s frenetic energy, The Beach Bum is a celebratory culmination of the actor’s career so far, defined by ceaseless ambition, creative dynamism and an undeniable aurora of style.