Judging by the outcry when the decision was announced, this may be an unpopular opinion, but we were on board with the casting of Ben Affleck as Batman/Bruce Wayne in the upcoming "Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice." Less perhaps out of all-out fandom than out of a recognition that Batfleck, as he quickly came to be dubbed, seemed to suggest a nuance in the approach to the film that precious little else had given us hope for. (Plus, we also got to call him "Batfleck" — not the first time Affleck's career has been blessed/cursed by a specially-coined portmanteau).
Affleck has a complicated sort of charisma as an actor, with the blockish all-American handsomeness of a clean-cut leading man, but something else as well — supporters might call it an intelligence, but detractors see it as a sort of sly smugness: Affleck can be both heroic and hateable. In fact, when he's been cast as simply the former, as a straight-up romantic lead or a dashing aspirational ubermensch, that's when the surrounding film has often collapsed into blandness, or worse. If the combination of those qualities, as well as a kind of hard-won orneriness that the passage of time has lent him, makes him a good choice for the broken-down, bitter, aging Batman of 'BvS,' just as often his appeal has been slightly misdirected.
So, with Zack Snyder's behemoth around the corner, we thought we'd take a stab at ranking Affleck's films. This is a slightly different tack to normal where we examine an actor's performances, but here the correlation is pretty close — Affleck, never a particularly showy actor tends only to be as good or bad as the film he's in, be it often only in a supporting role. So here we go: the top 15 of Affleck's films (as an actor, we'll look at his writing and directorial output another time), followed by a quick rundown of our ranking of every other movie he's had an above-cameo-level role in.
15. "Boiler Room" (2000)
It's long since been eclipsed by cleverer and more insightful investigations into moral turpitude in the stockbroking industry, but as a cautionary tale that came before the global economic bubble burst, you could do worse than Ben Younger's "Boiler Room." It features a cast brimming with turn-of-the-millennium nearly-men, in which Vin Diesel is maybe the revelation — to see him in a suit, playing a guy who doesn't just crack skulls and drive cars for a living is a bit of a trip. But Nicky Katt, Tom Everett Scott, Scott Caan, Nia Long, Jamie Kennedy all date the movie as much as the fashions and outlook, to say nothing of Giovanni Ribisi as the perfectly bland leading man, whose drive to satisfy his Dad (Ron Rifkin) is such that he cuts all sorts of moral corners to be successful. Amongst all this ho-hum stuff, though, Affleck's turn as the kind motivational equivalent of Alec Baldwin's character in "Glengarry Glen Ross" is a particular pleasure, as is one rather great scene in which all the young cubs lounge around quoting along to "Wall Street" as though it were the new gospel.
14. "Extract" (2009)
Undoubtedly slighter than a lot of Mike Judge's other work, and less catchy as a potential cult favorite than his previous directorial outings "Idiocracy" and "Office Space," still "Extract" is an enjoyable ensemble comedy featuring cracking turns from a great cast including Jason Bateman, Kristen Wiig, David Koechner, JK Simmons, Mila Kunis, Clifton Collins Jr. and erm, Gene Simmons, along with TJ Miller who's gone on to be such a cornerstone of Judge's most recent venture, TV show "Silicon Valley." Possibly because of such a stacked cast all jostling for space, the film feels a little unfocussed and cursory, but even in that setting Affleck's Dean, the stoner barman, dealer and best friend to Bateman's straitlaced Flavoring Extract factory owner is a small pleasure. As so often, when the spotlight is off him and Affleck is allowed to be funny or weird or goofy on the sidelines, he rises to the occasion — perhaps proving how much more valuable he is as a team player than as a leading man.
13. "Dogma" (1999)
Kevin Smith's "Dogma" is kind of a mess, but it's a mess that comes from overreach rather than laziness, and from attempting something of surprisingly ambitious scope rather than going back to the trough of tired pop-culture cliches and warmed-over genre riffs that have comprised too much of his more recent back catalogue. It is, in a nutshell, a likable mess. The story of two fallen angels wandering about New Jersey and attempting to cheat their way back into God's good graces, it's a bit of a muddle, theologically speaking, and the quirk overload can be all-consuming at times, but it's hard to stay mad at a film that imagines Alanis Morissette as God (oh, the '90s!), or Chris Rock as a disciple written out of history because he is black, or humanity's last hope coming in the spiky, sarky form of Linda Fiorentino. Affleck's Bartleby and Matt Damon's Loki are perfectly cast as the rather despicable ex-angels whose story, almost inadvertently allows a glimpse of a miraculously rare sight: Kevin Smith being sincere, and, under all the poop monsters and sexual innuendo, sincere about faith.
12. "Shakespeare in Love" (1998)
To maintain that John Madden's slight, frilly trifle "Shakespeare in Love" did not deserve to win Best Picture that year (and it didn't, certainly not when "The Thin Red Line" was in the frame) is not to say that the film is without merit. In fact, when you step away from its over-awarded dazzle, it's a genuinely solid, occasionally very funny film, that wears its erudition lightly and keeps everything moving along at a snappy pace. And a lot of its laughs come, as is often the way in these things, not so much from the central star cross'd pairing of Gwyneth Paltrow and Joseph Fiennes, but from the supporting cast. Affleck, though he has only a small role as the egotistical superstar actor Ned Alleyn is kind of a hoot, lampooning his own star persona and the Hollywood system in general with his portrait of an utterly self-centered and rather doltish actor who must nonetheless be courted for his bums-on-seats clout.
11. "Armageddon" (1998)
One of Michael Bay's overblown, high-concept festivals of nonsense, nonetheless "Armageddon," we'll maintain, is one of his very least bad films too. Partly because no matter how underwritten and sketchy their roles, any film that features Bruce Willis, Billy Bob Thornton, Steve Buscemi, Owen Wilson, Peter Stormare, Michael Clarke Duncan, William Fichtner, Liv Tyler, Jason Isaacs and Udo Kier (Udo Kier, for heaven's sake!) has to have at least some passing pleasures. And "Armageddon" really does -- if it's a rare example of a film that works, in which we are asked to root for Affleck as an uncomplicatedly heroic good guy that's probably only because 1) there are so many other fun elements to distract us, 2) it's entirely lunk-headed to begin with, and 3) the real love story actually happens between the father/daughter pairing of Willis and Tyler anyway. For evidence of how wrong a Bay movie with Affleck as the hero can go, just see "Pearl Harbor." Or rather, don't, not ever, if you can help it.