Since 2003, when he made his Hollywood breakthrough thanks to the twin successes of Old School and Elf, Will Ferrell has been one of the industry’s most reliably bankable stars. But he hasn’t done it alone. We’re not talking about agents, directors or publicists either. No, the former Saturday Night Live standout has consistently made comedies that feature him working off an equally funny sidekick.
This weekend’s Daddy’s Home 2 is no exception: It’s the third pairing of Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg, and their first two movies (The Other Guys and Daddy’s Home) were both big hits, grossing about $270 million combined.
Basically, Ferrell’s brand of self-aware dopey mainstream comedy works best as a doubles act — with his onscreen partner serving either as a foil or as a co-conspirator in his inspired stupidity.
So without further ado, here’s our ranking of the most memorable Ferrell sidekicks, from worst to best. Some quick ground rules first, though: We didn’t count romantic interests, or that terrible Land of the Lost remake because we want to forget it ever existed. Also, no Old School, because Ferrell’s actually more of a sidekick himself in that one.
Okay? Let’s dive in.
8. Amy Poehler
Movie: The House (2017)
What Does This Sidekick Bring to the Table? Although they’re both SNL alumni, Ferrell and Poehler barely overlapped on the show, which raised expectations for their partnering on The House, about a milquetoast suburban couple who decide to open an illegal casino in their home to pay for their daughter’s college tuition. That’s a funny idea — and one of the rare times that Ferrell has costarred with a comedienne — but The House is so shockingly bad you might forget that these two ever made you laugh.
Allowed to ad-lib at will, Ferrell and Poehler still can’t wring hilarity from lame scenarios. Even worse, The House carries the stench of a vanity project where the stars just assumed that their inherent hilariousness would rescue the terrible material. It’s sort of heartbreaking that the only woman on this list ends up at the bottom of the rankings, but we’ll suggest that at least his weirdo duet with Kristen Wiig on the deadpan-serious Lifetime movie A Deadly Adoption showed Ferrell could do funny work with a female costar.
7. Kevin Hart
Movie: Get Hard (2015)
What Does This Sidekick Bring to the Table? In theory, Get Hard was meant to be Ferrell’s 48 Hrs., teaming up with a rising black comic for provocative commentary about race and class in America. Instead, we got a lame “white guys are like this, but black guys are like this” stand-up routine inflated to movie length.
Ferrell plays a wealthy hedge-fund manager who befriends a blue-collar dude (Hart) so that he can get lessons in being a tough guy before he’s sent to prison for insider trading. Hart tries too hard, and Ferrell doesn’t try hard enough. Get Hard was roasted for its racist, homophobic attempts at satire, but it also demonstrated that Hart’s irritable-little-man shtick has its limits. He’s not a great comedic wingman because he’s too big a presence to play well with others. (For further proof, check out Central Intelligence, where Dwayne Johnson is great but Hart is mostly irritating.)
6. Zach Galifianakis
Movie: The Campaign (2012)
What Does This Sidekick Bring to the Table? The Campaign should’ve been fantastic, combining the talents of two comics whose tastes tend toward the surreal and bizarre. Unfortunately, Galifianakis and Ferrell mostly cancel each other out in this broad, boring comedy about an upstart weirdo (Galifianakis) who runs for Congress against a corrupt career politician (Ferrell). If nothing else, The Campaign demonstrates that even hilarious people need quality material to work with. Ferrell gets stuck playing a less-inspired version of his Dubya/dumb-guy persona, while Galifianakis does his patented oddball routine. Honestly, their Between Two Ferns episode is funnier — and a lot shorter.
5. Jon Heder
Movie: Blades of Glory (2007)
What Does This Sidekick Bring to the Table? Heder’s post-Napoleon Dynamite career has had more valleys than peaks, but he’s pretty funny as Jimmy MacElroy, an effeminate figure skater who, for very convoluted reasons, has to join forces with his longtime rival Chazz Michael Michaels (Ferrell) to get back into the sport’s good graces. Blades of Glory is fairly mediocre, but there’s a nice tension between Jimmy’s fussy, squeaky-clean demeanor and Chazz’s boorish, moronic, sex-fueled narcissism. Still, this is Ferrell doing a riff on Zoolander — hee hee, it’s guys acting all girly!! — without as much inspiration.
4. Chris Kattan
Movie: A Night at the Roxbury (1998)
What Does This Sidekick Bring to the Table? The big-screen version of the popular SNL sketch is as hit-or-miss as you’d expect, but it sure helped that Ferrell and Kattan had established a rapport from doing their Steve-and-Doug bit for years beforehand, starting with their time together in the Groundlings. Kattan never developed a film career the way his partner did, but he worked really well opposite Ferrell — he’s the small, silly counterpoint to Ferrell’s large physique and oblivious oafishness. Steve and Doug were never quite Beavis and Butt-head or Wayne and Garth, but their sweet hedonism and goofy moves made them awfully endearing, setting the stage for the kinds of onscreen partnerships that would help launch Ferrell’s career.
3. The Channel 4 News Team (Paul Rudd, Steve Carell and David Koechner)
Movies: Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy (2004) and Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues (2013)
What Do These Sidekicks Bring to the Table? With apologies to Christina Applegate, who’s terrific as the voice of reason in these screwy comedies, Ferrell’s true Anchorman sidekicks are the collection of dolts who work with him behind the anchor desk. None of Ron Burgundy’s cohorts are as well-drawn as he is, but it’s a testament to Ferrell (and co-writer and director Adam McKay) that he likes to surround himself with funny supporting characters that can all play off each other. In a vacuum, Rudd’s wannabe-suave Brian Fantana, Carell’s dumb-as-dirt Brick Tamland and Koechner’s meathead loudmouth Champ Kind wouldn’t be all that amusing. But put them together with Ron’s unflappable (and unearned) self-regard and you get a special kind of comedic alchemy. Sure, they’re sexist jerks, but their combined idiocy becomes almost charming.
2. Mark Wahlberg
Movies: The Other Guys (2010), Daddy’s Home (2015) and Daddy’s Home 2 (2017)
What Does This Sidekick Bring to the Table? Ferrell’s decision to work with Wahlberg proved beneficial to both actors, shifting their onscreen personas in rewarding ways. For Ferrell, The Other Guys was the first time one of his starring vehicles saw him playing the buttoned-down character while his partner got to be the more outrageous half of the duo. For Wahlberg, the buddy-cop satire allowed him to really show off his comedic chops, which he hadn’t tried much beforehand.
That formula worked just as well with Daddy’s Home, where once again Ferrell is the nerdy, middle-aged loser, while Wahlberg gets to play the cool, handsome ex-husband who Ferrell is convinced will steal his wife back. Ferrell’s other partners bring out his zany side, but Wahlberg plays everything super-straight, inspiring some of Ferrell’s best normcore performances.
1. John C. Reilly
Movies: Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby (2006) and Step Brothers (2008)
What Does This Sidekick Bring to the Table? Of all of Ferrell’s comedic partners, Reilly is the one who seems to most perfectly mirror the star’s loopy man-child persona. In Talladega Nights, Reilly’s Cal is the sweet, passive imbecile to Ferrell’s Ricky, who’s all turbo-charged bravado and idiocy. The two actors are more equal partners in Step Brothers, playing fierce rivals who eventually become best friends. (They are, of course, still idiots, though.) In Ferrell’s bad movies, his characters’ stupidity always feels labored, but when he teams up with Reilly, they’re both so supremely silly that there’s a lightness and confidence to their moronic behavior. Sadly, Step Brothers 2 never got off the ground, but maybe that’s for the best: These two movies are Ferrell and Reilly at their peak, so why diminish the legacy with a bad sequel?