The 10 Best John C. Reilly Movies

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The 10 Best John C. Reilly Movies

John C. Reilly has always been a solid character actor.  It seems as if we are always laughing at him. Sometimes that laughter is on purpose with one of his many hysterical comedies.  Sometimes it is at him when he plays a tragic character such as Amos Hart in Chicago.  He brings a vulnerability and an innocence to his roles that go a long way.  He is that rare actor whose mere presence can elevate a movie, no matter how bad that movie may be, and be the best thing about it.  

Well, John C. Reilly is about to take the end of 2018 by storm.  September 21st saw the release of his and his costar, Joaquin Phoenix’s adventure comedy, The Sisters Brothers.  On November 9th, he re-teams with Will Ferrell in the detective comedy, Holmes and Watson.  On November 21st, he returns to voice Ralph in the Disney sequel, Ralph Breaks the Internet.  Rumor has it, fresh of incredible film festival buzz, his turn as Oliver Hardy in Stan & Ollie will be released in time for Oscar consideration.  When was the last time anyone has had that prestigious a release schedule?  Before these films are all released into the public consciousness and possibly replace several titles in a top 10 list, here are the best 10 roles John C. Reilly has given us throughout his career.

Hank Marlow in Kong: Skull Island (2017)

Kong: Skull Island was not a good movie.  It was a decent attempt at a monster-movie version of Apocalypse Now and the effects were ok, but the absurdly outstanding cast was just boring and flat.  Does anyone remember what Brie Larson was doing there? What was Tom Hiddleston’s motivation for going to that island?  Samuel L. Jackson and John Goodman offered nothing new or memorable. It was all a slog until John C. Reilly shows up. He is a nutcase that has been marooned on the island for years and understands the rules and dangers surrounding Kong.  His insanity, unruly appearance, and all around Reilly-ness injects some much needed life into an otherwise snooze-fest.

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Ralph in Wreck-It Ralph (2012)

Many Disney characters are wonderfully realized. Sometimes they are great regardless of their voice actor.  Think Marlin from Finding Nemo or Merida from Brave.  Then sometimes, the voice performance, and therefore the actor behind it, is everything.  Think Robin Williams as the Genie in Aladdin or Ellen Degeneres as Dory in Finding Dory.  John C. Reilly’s work as Ralph is one of these latter performances.  His clumsiness, his friendliness, and his warm-heartedness are vintage Reilly.  Sure, the kids in the audience won’t understand that…but their parents will.

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Michael Longstreet in Carnage (2011)

Carnage is Roman Polanski’s 2011 cinematic adaptation of Yasmina Reza’s stage play. It is a brilliant actors’ showcase about a pair of parents trying to work out what to do after their kids have a fight in the schoolyard.  Kate Winslet and Christoph Waltz are the aggressor’s father. Winslet is the oppressed upper-class wife making the best of things and Waltz is the busy attorney who couldn’t be bothered.  Jodie Foster is the mother of the victim, and she is a hippy ideologue whose opinions are riling up the other parents. But it really is Reilly that is the glue that holds this project together.  Reilly has the biggest character arc of the film, with his mousy, eager-to-please house-husband deteriorating into a drunken, right-wing vulgarian.  Every second is riveting.

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Dean Ziegler in Cedar Rapids (2011)

John C. Reilly had a lot to live up to in this Ed Helms comedy.  Helms plays a rookie insurance salesman sent to the annual conference in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.  He is warned time and again to steer clear of Dean Ziegler, an infamous loose canon. When he does run into him, his usual by-the-book attitude is thrown into upheaval as he, Dean, and a few fast friends paint the town red.  Reilly as Ziegler is perfect because he is obviously a train wreck and a bad influence. However, you understand why Ed Helms is so attracted to his gravitas.

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Dale Doback in Step Brothers (2008)

John C. Reilly is actually better than Will Ferrell in this popular comedy.  Ferrell seems to be forcing his performance as Brennan.  He plays Brennan as an outrageous, hyperactive caricature. Reilly’s Dale feels effortless and subtle.  From the moment he shows up wearing that Special Edition Return of the Jedi t-shirt, you know this is a man-child.  Small moments like when he uses too much ketchup, his reaction to the collapsed bunk bed, and fighting back impending vomit is comedy gold.

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Dewey Cox in Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story (2007)

Anyone who doesn’t think John C. Reilly’s performance as Dewey Cox as a comedic masterpiece is out of their mind.  Jake Kasdan, recently killing it as the director of Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, directed this brilliant mash-up of Ray & Walk the Line in 2007.  The movie came and went during the busy Christmas season of that year, but everyone must see it.  Reilly so perfectly emulates Johnny Cash, Roy Orbison, Bob Dylan, Brian Wilson, and many other musicians throughout his fictional musical career, and it all works.  The songs are perfect and John C. Reilly can really sing.  Besides all that, the film has almost every popular comedian you can imagine in it.  There is Kristin Wiig, Jenna Fischer, Chris Parnell, Tim Meadows, Jack Black, Paul Rudd, Justin Long, Jason Schwartzman, Craig Robinson, David Krumholtz, John Michael Higgins, and Ed Helms. Dewey Cox interacts with every single one of them and upstages them completely.  It is not fair. A role like Dewey Cox underlines the fact that comedies rarely get recognized on Oscar night.  It is infuriating.

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Cal Naughton, Jr. in Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby (2006)

Yet, another example where John C. Reilly may be a funnier, more talented performer than his perpetual co-star, Will Ferrell.  In Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby, Reilly plays Ricky Bobby’s best friend and always-comes-in-second teammate.  A lot of jokes fall flat in the film but none of them involve Reilly. He is the perfect, unconfident foil to Ferrell’s egomaniac.  When the friendship dissolves and Ricky’s wife latches on to Cal, his naïveté is hilarious. That phone call between Cal and Ricky so Cal can find out how to use his remotes is loud out loud funny.

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Noah Dietrich in The Aviator (2004)

Make no mistake, Martin Scorsese’s The Aviator is Leonardo DiCaprio’s film.  As Howard Hughes, he is the dreamer, the innovator, and eventually the crumbling hermit.  John C. Reilly proves that he is the go-to actor for comfort, stability, and sympathy, because the way he plays Noah is all of that.  He doesn’t play the man who runs Hughes’s affairs as a frustrated man in the shadow of a titan.  He plays him as a colleague out to help by focusing on the details as his friend reaches for the stars.  When DiCaprio brings the proceedings, as he should, to insane, enigmatic heights, Reilly brings him right back again.

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Happy Jack Mulraney in Gangs of New York (2002)

In a Scorsese film with Daniel Day Lewis and Leonardo DiCaprio, it should be hard for anyone else to stand out.  John C. Reilly does as Happy Jack Mulraney. When we first meet him in the opening battle sequence, he is simultaneously an imposing figure and a comforting presence to young Amsterdam.  But his betrayal to the Dead Rabbits by becoming the police constable in Bill the Butcher’s pocket, leads to his demise. It is a small, but incredibly crucial role. Only an actor of Reilly’s caliber could be used for such a fulcrum for the plot to spin on.

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Amos Hart in Chicago (2002)

Reilly was up for a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his role as the forgotten husband Amos Hart in Chicago.   He mopes around the film as a broken, gullible man that the audience really sympathizes with.  Then, has a show-stopping number with Mr. Cellophane where he points out that everyone ignores him.  It is heart-wrenching.  It is quite an accomplishment since the entire movie is focused on Roxy, Velma, and Billy Flynn.  Amos is far, FAR in the background of everything that is going on, but when he arrives in Flynn’s office as the milquetoast trying to do the right thing, he puts his own personal stamp on the Best Picture winner.

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