Career Curve: Ben Stiller

Ben Stiller definitely paid his dues on his climb up the Hollywood food chain. Check out how his career curve leading up to his latest flick, "Tower Heist."

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Being the son of comedy veterans Jerry "Mr. Costanza" Stiller and Anne Meara, certainly helped him get a start in showbiz, but Ben Stiller definitely paid his dues on his climb up the Hollywood food chain, in a career that has been marked by massive successes, lowbrow humor and art-house dramedy. Check out the career that led up to his newest comedy "Tower Heist," opening this week.
While working on an off-Broadway play in 1987, Stiller made a short film called "The Hustler of Money," a spoof of the Paul Newman-Tom Cruise film, which starred some cast mates. It was eventually shown on "Saturday Night Live," which offered him a writing gig two years later.
After his time on "SNL,' during which he continued to make shorts, MTV launched "The Ben Stiller Show," which was a mixture of music videos and sketches featuring Stiller, Andy Dick, Janeane Garafolo and Bob Odenkirk, with Judd Apatow among the writers. It lasted one season on MTV and Fox apiece, but won a posthumous Emmy for comedy writing.
Stiller then made his directorial debut in 1994 with "Reality Bites," which purported to be "A Comedy About Love in the '90s." Starring Ethan Hawke, Winona Ryder, Steve Zahn and Janeane Garafolo, as well as Stiller, it opened no. 1 at the box office despite mixed reviews, and his since achieved minor cult status.
Next was David O. Russell's "Flirting With Disaster," in which he played a new father who decides he can’t name his son until he meets his biological parents, and takes his wife, Patricia Arquette, and adoption agency contact, Tea Leoni, on a road trip to meet them. Some people thought it was brilliant; we thought it a mess.
By this point he was an established movie star, but his career went to another level in 1998 with the release of "There's Something About Marry," the Farrelly Brothers' instant classic in which he plays just one of many men obsessed with Cameron Diaz. It was a game changer for Stiller, Diaz and the Farrellys.
EMPTY_CAPTION"Mary" was followed by three utterly forgettable films, but in 2000 Stiller returned with "Meet the Parents," a family-friendly comedy in which he goes to war with father-in-law, Robert De Niro. Total middle-of-the-road schlock, it made $330 million globally and spawned a franchise that is now mercifully circling the drain.
Stiller made his name doing out-there, goofball comedy, but he's always had his artier side, and in 2001 he played both ends of the spectrum, as the vapid male model with a signature pose called Blue Steel, in "Zoolander," which to this day remains the subject of sequel rumors…
and as a member of a highly dysfunctional family in Wes Anderson's "The Royal Tenenbaums," which co-starred Luke Wilson, Gwyneth Paltrow, Danny Glover, Gene Hackman and Anjelica Hustion.
Then came some relatively lean years, as Stiller starred in "Duplex," "Along Came Polly" (above), "Starsky & Hutch," "Envy" and "Dodgeball," none of which reached the commercial or artistic heights of his more recent efforts. But he did cement his role as the insecure and neurotic, yet built and buff, anti-hero.
Back on the gravy train with "Meet the Parents" in 2004, Stiller followed that up with the launch in 2006 of another huge franchise, "Night at the Museum," that co-starred Robin Williams, Owen Wilson and a host of others, and took in a quarter-billion dollars.
Itching to again do something with a little more dramatic bite, Stiller starred in the Farrelly Brothers' remake of the Charles Grodin classic "The Heartbreak Kid." It failed to connect with audiences, which isn’t surprising given how specific the tone and feel of the original is.
And then came "Tropic Thunder," in which he plays a action movie star shooting a Vietnam epic who finds himself in a real war with a Southeast Asian drug cartel. Propelled by brilliant supporting work from Tom Cruise and Robert Downey Jr., the film will be a staple of cable TV for years to come, as it is, quite simply, a triumph.
After doing another "Night at the Museum," Stiller earned some of the best reviews of his career playing a Gen X-er in Noah Baumbach's "Greenberg" his heaviest character since the heroin addict of "Permanent Midnight."
But he also starred in "Little Fockers," a film so reviled that when De Niro accepted his Lifetime Achievement Award at the Golden Globes, he said, "I was very, very moved and gratified when you made the announcement [of this award] two months ago, well before you had a chance to review 'Little Fockers.'"
Which brings us to "Tower Heist," in which he rallies the troops—including Matthew Broderick, Michael Pena, Casey Affleck, and Eddie Murphy—to rob a Madoff-esque crook who defrauded him and his co-workers of all their lifesavings. It opens Friday; you can watch the trailer here (the movie is way better than the trailer—like, way).
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