Ben Affleck has had quite the career. The writer, actor, and director is now in the fifth decade of his career after beginning to act in the late 1980s. Over that time, there have been some significant ups and downs. But here we’d like to celebrate the ups, and there are many of them. From blockbusters to small-scale dramas, from starring roles to supporting roles and movies where he only worked behind the camera, Affleck has been a part of and/or the creative force behind some of the best films of the last thirty years.
12. Armageddon (1998)
Michael Bay’s Armageddon is a massive movie. There’s the blockbuster-scale premise that a giant asteroid will hit Earth and must be destroyed by a drilling team landing on it, drilling into it, and delivering a nuclear bomb to its insides. But there’s also a huge ensemble cast led by Affleck, Bruce Willis, and Liv Tyler, with support from Billy Bob Thornton, Steve Buscemi, Michael Clark Duncan, and more. What makes Armageddon work aren’t all of Bay’s explosions and space shenanigans, though those are certainly fun to watch, but the performances from Affleck, Willis, and Tyler that sell the emotion.
11. Argo (2012)
Based on “The Canadian Caper,” in which CIA operatives and the Canadian government saved six American diplomats during the Iran hostage crisis by disguising them as members of a film crew, Argo is the first (and as of now only) of Affleck’s directorial efforts to win the Academy Award for Best Picture. Despite the serious subject matter and delivering incredible tension in its final third, Argo is a surprisingly fun watch, as it plays out more like, well, a caper than a high-stakes political thriller for much of its runtime. That’s helped by hilarious supporting performances from John Goodman and Alan Arkin and Affleck’s movie star ability to adapt to the various tones demanded of his lead performance.
10. Phantoms (1998)
While they’re often compared for their prolific and wide-ranging bibliographies, Dean Koontz never became the same book-to-screen phenomenon as Stephen King. But some of Koontz’s books made it to the screen, and Phantoms is one of the best. The film follows two sisters visiting a small, empty Colorado town, except for a few corpses. The sisters soon encounter a sheriff (Affleck) and some of his deputies investigating the mysterious mass disappearances and deaths. Phantoms starts as a small-scale horror movie and develops into something almost Lovecraftian in a way that’s surprisingly natural and impossible to look away from. It also features a fantastic performance from Peter O’Toole, who takes the increasingly wild concept very seriously.
9. Triple Frontier (2019)
Another entry into the “mistreated veterans perform a heist” subgenre of films, Triple Frontier moves that action from the United States (or even more specifically, Los Angeles) to the jungles and mountains of Colombia, Brazil, and Peru. While that shift comes with some undeniably problematic elements, like the portrayal of the entirety of those nations as lawless and criminal, it also offers the film a unique background for its action to play out against. The movie, which features Oscar Isaac, Pedro Pascal, Charlie Hunnam, and Garret Hedlund along with Affleck as ex-special ops soldiers, also benefits from a pretty even split between the first half, which follows the team getting together and the heist, and a second half which tracks their increasingly desperate attempts to escape with the money and their lives.
8. Deep Water (2021)
Based on the novel of the same name by Patricia Highsmith, Deep Water marked director Adrian Lyne’s return to filmmaking after a twenty-year absence and saw him diving right back into the erotic thriller genre that made him a household name. Affleck stars as Vic, the possibly murderous husband of the beautiful Melinda (Ana de Armas), who openly takes lovers. When one of Melinda’s lovers disappears, Vic takes credit and says he murdered the man, using this to threaten her newest lover. From there, the film expands, tracking a thrilling and sexually charged cat-and-mouse game between husband and wife. It’s a movie that’s much more erotic for its tension than any actual depictions of sex, but that’s precisely why it’s so successful.
7. Dogma (1999)
Affleck and fellow writer/director/actor Kevin Smith have worked together multiple times throughout their careers, often with Affleck starring in Smith’s films. The best is Dogma, Smith’s 1999 religious satire adventure film. The movie follows two angels, expelled from heaven for disobeying god millennia ago, and a ragtag group of two stoner prophets, a forgotten apostle, an embodiment of inspiration, and the last surviving blood relative of Jesus himself who have to stop them from entering a Church that will absolve them of their sin and allow them to re-enter heaven through plenary indulgence. It’s a movie with a lot going on, and honestly, not all of it works. But the many brilliant and incisive jokes and Affleck’s chemistry with real-life friend Matt Damon as the two angels make the movie succeed.
6. Dazed and Confused (1993)
Affleck isn’t the star of Richard Linklater’s quintessential cult classic hangout film Dazed and Confused, but no one really is. Instead, it’s a big ensemble movie about high schoolers celebrating the last day of school in the 1970s that also features early performances from Matthew McConaughey, Parker Posey, and Milla Jovovich. The movie follows ostensible lead Randall “Pink” Floyd (Jason London) as he moves through various social groups, each celebrating the end of the school year in their own way, and uses him as an audience surrogate to explore and luxuriate in what can only be described as the vibe of 1970s high school culture.
5. Good Will Hunting (1997)
The film that won Affleck his first Oscar (for writing, he still hasn’t won one for acting), Good Will Hunting features a supporting role from Affleck as the best friend to the titular Will Hunting (Matt Damon, who co-wrote the film with Affleck). It’s some of Affleck’s finest work as an actor, as he pushes his brilliant friend to leave behind the South Boston working-class life they’ve known together and seek better things for himself.
4. The Last Duel (2021)
Decades after Good Will Hunting, Damon and Affleck re-teamed as writers and co-stars for the based on a true story, Ridley Scott-directed medieval Rashomon-style film The Last Duel. But unlike the loving best friend in Good Will Hunting, here Affleck plays a villainous lord who regularly taunts and chastises Damon’s knight. The film, like Rashomon, tells the same story three times from three different perspectives, those of two knights played by Damon and Adam Driver, and the wife of one of those knights who was raped by the other. It’s a bold narrative gambit, but The Last Duel pulls it off remarkably and delivers excellent acting from all involved, including Affleck.
3. Zack Snyder’s Justice League (2021)
While Affleck’s first outing as Bruce Wayne/Batman in Zack Snyder’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice includes one of the best Batman action sequences ever put to film, it’s not the best movie overall where Affleck plays the legendary billionaire superhero. Zack Snyder’s Justice League is a marvel in many ways. It’s a four-hour movie that flies by because of the many stunning action scenes while also allowing enough time for character development and humor in the dynamics of the superhero team. It’s a quintessential Zack Snyder movie full of over-the-top style that makes room for emotion and delivers a superhero movie that may bring you to tears.
2. Gone Baby Gone (2007)
The second-best Ben Affleck movie is one that he’s not even in. Affleck directed and adapted Gone Baby Gone from the novel of the same name by Dennis Lehane, but he isn’t in it, allowing his brother Casey to lead the movie. The film follows the younger Affleck brother as a private investigator hired to investigate the disappearance of a young girl by her addict mother. The film takes audiences into the Boston underworld and soon expands from a story about a missing girl to one of intrigue and conspiracy at higher levels than anticipated. It’s an excellent neo-noir that’s sometimes shockingly brutal but never without purpose.
1. Gone Girl (2014)
Based on Gillian Flynn’s novel of the same name and directed by David Fincher, Gone Girl isn’t just Ben Affleck’s best movie; it’s one of the best movies of the 21st century. The film follows Affleck’s Nick after the disappearance of his wife Amy (Rosamund Pike), as all evidence implicates him as her murderer. But things aren’t as they appear; they’re far more complicated. As the film goes on, the audience is introduced to the twisted and fascinating dynamic that’s impossible to take your eyes off.
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Kyle Logan is a film and television critic and general pop culture writer who has written for Alternative Press, Cultured Vultures, Film Stories, Looper, and more. Kyle is particularly interested in horror and animation, as well as genre films written and directed by queer people and women. Along with writing, Kyle organizes a Queer Film Challenge on Letterboxd.