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Every Mark Wahlberg Movie, Ranked Worst to Best

From ball-busting blue-collar cops to well-hung porn stars – our complete stem-to-stern breakdown of the ‘Deepwater Horizon’ star’s career

Let’s face some facts: Mark Wahlberg has never quite gotten the respect that he deserves. Once derided as a (not very good) rapper merely playing at trying to break into movies, the artist formerly known as Marky Mark quickly proved his talent and magnetism in the second half of the 1990s by appearing in a series of diverse hits (Fear, Boogie Nights, Three Kings). Even so, he continued to be thought of by some as a mildly talented hunk who’d just lucked out.

Cut to two decades later, and Wahlberg is not just one of the biggest stars in Hollywood, but possibly the most careful: He’s put together a filmography that speaks not just to his abilities but also his obsessions, playing sincere, working-class professionals whose quiet demeanor masks depths of heroism and achievement. His latest, the true-life disaster tale Deepwater Horizon, very much fits into that mold.

Meanwhile, people keep underestimating both his talents and his drawing power. Sure, he might not have the range of a typical “great actor”; he’s not going to be playing Abraham Lincoln anytime soon. But like all great movie stars, Wahlberg seems to understand his own limitations, and seeks out parts that play to his strengths and co-stars that complement his style (think Denzel Washington, Christian Bale, Joaquin Phoenix, or, um, Will Ferrell). Has he had his share of stinkers? Boy, has he! But look over the movies he’s made, and you might find yourself amazed at how much terrific work he’s done over the course of his career. Here are all of Mark Wahlberg’s performances, ranked from worst to best. (Keep in mind we’re ranking the performances, and not necessarily the films – if he’s great in a less-than-stellar movie, you’ll see if near the top, and vice versa.)

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11

‘2 Guns’

Wahlberg teams up with Denzel Washington as a pair of crooks who are secretly both working for the DEA, and Naval intelligence, respectively. But when they're double-crossed by their superiors, they find themselves increasingly, and reluctantly dependent on each other. This is a terrific example of how Wahlberg is at his best when he's got someone to play off – in this case, Washington's grizzled, bitter agent, who makes an excellent foil for his younger co-star's loose-cannon antics. Very underrated.

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10

‘Invincible’

This Disney sports drama (which would make for a pretty good double feature with Rock Star, now that we think about it) is about real-life Philadelphia Eagles legend Vince Papale, a part-time bartender who in 1975 at the age of 31 made the team off open tryouts. It takes some liberties with the truth, but it's surprisingly grim: Philly was suffering some hard times in the mid-1970s, and the film's working-class milieu is effectively drab and despairing. It also works with Wahlberg's tendency to underplay his emotions: He's effective here as a guy who doesn't really believe he'll ever amount to anything, and keeps his thoughts to himself. Thanks to him, when Papale's big moment comes, the cumulative power of all those bottled-up emotions is really something.

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9

‘Pain & Gain’

Michael Bay's garish crime comedy-epic about a trio of dimwitted body builders who attempt to kidnap/extort a wealthy client is meant to be a satirical dissection of the American Dream. That the film occasionally achieves its goals is largely thanks to the efforts of Wahlberg, as the roided-up, ex-con personal trainer who comes up with this harebrained scheme. His seemingly limitless energy and capacity for self-delusion are both grotesque and infectious. This man is part All-American positive-thinker, part zonked-out psycho. The star nails it.

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8

‘Fear’

Here's the creepy-dreamy boyfriend-stalker role that helped turn Wahlberg into a star. With his fixed, narrow eyes, and his half smile, we can tell right from the get-go that his obsessed b.f. David McCall is  no good. But we also can't help but be drawn in by him, and we can understand how Reese Witherspoon's daddy's girl would fall for him. He's handsome, sexy, and dangerous. The initial uncertainty over just how dangerous he is, and the growing menace of his intentions, help build suspense. This is a sleazy, ludicrous Nineties thriller par excellence – and damned if the two talented young leads guarantee that it endures.

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7

‘I Heart Huckabees’

How the hell does one even describe David O. Russell's rambling philosophical fantasy-cum-satire-cum-drama? Or, for that matter, Wahlberg's bizarre, wonderful role in it? While Jason Schwarzman's environmentalist schlemiel looks into his life courtesy of two existential detectives (don't ask), our man plays an enlightened, activist firefighter who teams up and later betrays – sort of – the film's neurotic lead. Opinion is divided on this strange movie, but almost everyone agrees that Wahlberg's presence in it is quite special. By keeping his performance light and casual, he makes the bizarre, philosophical meandering of his lines work. Somehow, by not taking the movie too seriously, he helps to beautifully sell it.

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6

‘We Own the Night’

James Gray's Eighties-set crime epic is a movie pits Joaquin Phoenix's hedonistic, troubled nightclub impresario against Wahlberg's angry, straight-arrow cop brother. And once again, the actor shines when he's put against a performer of competing energies. In many ways, this dynamic expands and improves upon the one from the previous Wahlberg-Phoenix-Gray collaboration, The Yards. By putting righteous anger behind Wahlberg's dedication to the law, the film goes beyond mere indie crime drama and approaches the Shakespearean.

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5

‘The Fighter’

Wahlberg gives one of his greatest performances in David O. Russell's boxing drama as Micky Ward, the true-life has-been who got an unlikely chance at a light welterweight title. Here, he finds an ideal counterpart in Christian Bale, who won an Oscar for his strung-out turn as Mickey's crack-addict brother and trainer Dicky. As a result, Wahlberg's gentle performance as the retiring, fearful palooka speaks to a lifetime of living in his flamboyant brother's shadow. It's touching to watch him as he tries to shake off his family's toxic influence while also remaining loyal to his roots. This is currently the high point of Wahlberg's grand pantheon of working-class achievers – and frankly, it's hard to think that, categorically, he'll ever top his turn.

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4

‘The Other Guys’

An absurdly funny buddy comedy, this. Wahlberg is a small tornado of fury, playing a disgraced, loose-cannon cop who's forced to partner up with nerdy paper-pusher Will Ferrell on a case after two superstar fellow officers (played by The Rock and Samuel L. Jackson) buy it on the job. In their first pairing, the two actors balance out each other very well, in part because each takes his shtick to extremes. Ferrell is surreally geeky to the max; Wahlberg goes to 11 with the pent-up rage and earnest ambition. The actor always had a talent for comedy, but watching him go broad and big with such abandon here is a real joy.

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3

‘Three Kings’

Our man of the hour is the heart and soul of David O. Russell's masterful, bitter action comedy about a group of American soldiers trying to make off with Saddam Hussein's bullion during the first Gulf War. His Sgt. Troy Barlow is a dim, gung-ho patriot whose matter-of-fact acceptance of war is challenged when he finds himself tortured, wounded, and faced with the consequences of his country's actions. George Clooney might be the ostensible star of the film, but Wahlberg's journey is the one that mirrors the movie's emotional trajectory. It all begins with him killing a man in cold blood. By the end, we are totally gripped and moved by his ordeal as he learns to care about people he once thought of as barely human.

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2

‘Boogie Nights’

Behold, the final nail in Marky Mark's coffin, and ground zero for the Wahlberg we know today – it's still his single best lead performance. Paul Thomas Anderson's delirious epic of the porn industry in the Seventies and Eighties has the structure of A Star is Born, and as our generously-hung hero Eddie Adams becomes skin-flick stud Dirk Diggler, Wahlberg gets to put the full range of his talents to good use. His shyness and physicality eventually blossom into earnest grandiosity and peacocking aggression; don't even get us started on his close-up during the "Sister Christian" sequence, when he conveys the sense of giving up and giving in with one single, draining facial expression. A comedy, a drama, a coming-of-age movie (no pun intended), an epic, a spoof, a tragedy…this is a film of many moods and modes, and Mark Wahlberg nails every single one of them.

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1

‘The Departed’

Leave it to Martin Scorsese to find the perfect part for Wahlberg's unique blend of muted aggression and working-class contempt. With his rat-tat-tat delivery, his incessant ball-busting, his absolute and total suspicion of everybody and everything, Wahlberg nearly walked away with the director's star-studded, Oscar-winning gangster epic. Meet the no-nonsense staff sergeant Dignam, who relishes his pissy interactions with Leonardo DiCaprio's undercover officer Billy Costigan, Alec Baldwin's department go-to guy and anyone else who questions him (asked who he is by an incompetent underling, he shoots back, "I'm the guy who does his job. You must be the other guy."). These foul-mouthed tirades are a perfect fit for the actor. He was nominated for an Oscar for the part; frankly, he deserved to win.

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