It begins with a hirsute teenager alone in his room, fixated by funny men on the television. Johnny Carson, Merv Griffin, David Letterman, these were the people that changed a young Judd Apatow’s life. They offered a window into another world, away from Syosset, a cloistered small town in upstate New York.
It was that world — one driven by comedy — where Apatow believed he belonged. He found solace in jokes, thrived off the pleasure of making others laugh. Soon enough Apatow was interviewing a myriad of his icons for the high school radio station (Jerry Seinfeld, Jay Leno, etc.).
Apatow’s origin story — one of an outsider in search of value — has been relayed in intimate detail on multiple occasions. And each time the story is told, his ascent to “King of Comedy,” as Rolling Stone claims, is not so surprising. He’s a man who has tirelessly worked to achieve success in the one place he found consistent happiness. With the concurrent release of his latest book (Sick in the Head: Conversations about Life and Comedy) and film (Trainwreck), there’s only one question left to ask: Now what?
Until his next move, we have ranked every film under the Apatow Productions banner.
20. YEAR ONE (2009)
It’s a shame that this was Harold Ramis’ final film.
19. DRILLBIT TAYLOR (2008)
With its PG-13 rating, the movie plays like a watered-down version of Superbad, without the emotional weight or crude humor. Although, Owen Wilson claiming he was “discharged on unauthorized heroism” by the Army is a damn great line.
18. THE FIVE-YEAR ENGAGEMENT (2012)
Jason Segel and Emily Blunt are national treasures. And yet, for reasons that defy logic, they don’t seem to work well when romantically paired together in Nicholas Stoller’s overlong rom-com.
17. GET HIM TO THE GREEK (2010)
P. Diddy haranguing his employees about how many “Air Jordans black kids wear” is all you probably remember about this movie. Coincidentally, that’s all you really need to remember about this movie.
16. ANCHORMAN 2: THE LEGEND CONTINUES (2013)
As much as it is enjoyable to watch Kanye West and Marion Cotillard in the same movie, this sequel fails to justify its existence.
15. BRIDESMAIDS (2011)
Unfortunately, it’s not as funny as you remember. While it displays McCarthy’s penchant of physical comedy, but given Wiig’s latest triumphs (see Welcome to Me, Skeleton Twins, and Diary of a Teenage Girl), her performance comes across as cloying.
14. BEGIN AGAIN (2014)
Of the 20 films in the Apatow oeuvre, John Carney’s whimsical rom-com has to be the oddest detour. With Mark Ruffalo and Kiera Knightley at the center, the film features none of Apatow’s iconography. There’re no schlubby man-children. No chronic pot smokers. No crude humor. It’s a sweet movie, though, and the two leads have enough chemistry to make the contrivances palatable.
13. PINEAPPLE EXPRESS (2008)
The film’s anthem (“weed makes everything better”) certainly applies to David Gordon Green’s unhinged stoner comedy. Even if a lot of this falls flat, Rogen and company deserves some credit for enlightening the culture with the cross joint. The world is a better place because of this creation.
12. STEP BROTHERS (2008)
Despite some oddly dated bits (a Fergy joke?), the indomitable synergy of John C. Reilly and Will Ferrell makes even the most unremarkable movies kind of remarkable in their juvenile revelry.
11. THIS IS 40 (2012)
Similar to Woody Allen (see Bananas, Annie Hall, or Husbands and Wives), Judd Apatow has artfully placed his partner in life (Leslie Mann) and his two children at the center of his cinematic universes. That is especially true in This is 40, which intimately chronicles the peaks and valleys of marriage as its two main characters (begrudgingly) retreat into domesticity. It’s less funny than Knocked Up, but the movie signifies Apatow’s desire to go darker.
10. WANDERLUST (2012)
One of the few movies on this list that seemed to slip through the cracks upon its theatrical release. For those unfamiliar with David Wain’s characteristically eccentric romp, the logline: a recently unemployed bourgeois Manhattan couple (played by Paul Rudd and Jennifer Aniston) elopes to a free-loving commune in search of something different. A scene involving Rudd unraveling, talking dirty in a country accent to himself in the mirror makes the film worthwhile.
9. TALLADEGA NIGHTS: THE BALLAD OF RICKY BOBBY (2006)
The gleefully preposterous NASCAR farce you never knew you wanted.
8. TRAINWRECK (2015)
As seen in the trailer, Apatow’s fifth feature opens with an irascible father (Colin Quinn) informing his children “Monogamy isn’t realistic.” It’s a bold statement to lead with — and one that evaporates by the film’s conclusion. Thankfully, the movie benefits from a triumvirate of talents: Amy Schumer, Bill Hader, and, yes, LeBron James.
7. KNOCKED UP (2007)
The sexist claims hurled at this movie upon its release still don’t seem to stick. With wide-eyes and a big heart, Apatow crafts a believable portrait of romantic uncertainty — two people who are forced to make an insoluble situation manageable.
6. FORGETTING SARAH MARSHALL (2008)
Everyone involved (Segel, Kristen Bell, Mila Kunis) turns in career-best work. This is especially true for Russell Brand, who manages to sing “Inside of You” without bursting out into laughter.
5. ANCHORMAN: THE LEGEND OF RON BURGUNDY (2004)
No words will be able to encapsulate what may be the most quotable comedy to exist. It’s still a fantastic comedy that eschews the theory of diminishing returns.
4. THE 40-YEAR-OLD VIRGIN (2005)
Arguably the finest comedic directorial debut in the 21st century. The movie is packed wall-to-wall with jokes that still work. Footage of Steve Carell describing the texture of breasts needs to be secured, stored, and saved for posterity.
3. WALK HARD: THE DEWEY COX STORY (2007)
Takes every great music biopic and upends them to genius comic effect. It’s like the Forrest Gump of incisive spoofs, mocking everyone from Johnny Cash to The Beatles to Ray Charles.
2. FUNNY PEOPLE (2009)
At 153 minutes, the movie is unquestionably Apatow’s most intimate, sprawling work to date. But it’s really Adam Sandler as a cancerous movie star — bored by his own vanity — that makes this work. For anyone who grew up watching his trifles, it’s impossible to not watch this as a sort of heightened biography of Sandler’s vexing career.
1. SUPERBAD (2007)
It opens with kaleidoscopic silhouettes dancing to The Bar-Kays and ends with a pair of best friends moving onward to a Curtis Mayfield love song. The film, still equal parts heartwarming, insightful, and uproarious, was envisaged by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg before they even entered high school, taking the concept of a passion project to a whole new level. As it stands now, this is their magnum opus, and the finest film to be released under the Apatow banner.
Founder of Movie Mezzanine, Sam Fragoso is a San Francisco-based journalist whose work has appeared in Interview Magazine, The Daily Beast, Forbes, RogerEbert.com and The Week. You can follow him on Twitter @SamFragoso.