McConaughey: Everything’s Not Alright Alright

When this blog started in the fall of 2012, Matthew McConaughey was coming off a solid two-year period which saw him headline the surprise legal drama hit The Lincoln Lawyer and attract rave reviews for his supporting role in Magic Mike.

Yet 2013 elevated the actor to a whole new stratosphere. His work in the acclaimed indie pic Mud garnered Oscar chatter. He had a memorable cameo alongside Leonardo DiCaprio in Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street. It ironically turned out that McConaughey’s scene partner in that film was his biggest competition for an Oscar. Dallas Buyers Club would see the Texan playing Ron Woodruff, a real life AIDS patient in the 1980s. McConaughey’s work was praised and he took home the gold statue. His luck streak continued into the following year starring in Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar, which stands as his largest grossing live-action feature.

Since then? Well, let’s just say the McConaissance has been interrupted. Or borrowing his most famous catchphrase from 1993’s Dazed and Confused – it’s not Alright Alright.

This weekend, his stoner comedy The Beach Bum tanked at the box office. Its approximate $1.8 million opening is the worst release of the actor’s career. And it follows a pattern of now seven live-action duds (he did provide voice work in the animated pics Sing and Kubo and the Two Strings). And to give a modicum of credit, he did skip the subpar sequel Magic Mike XXL.

At least Nicolas Cage had a string of action hits after his Oscar before delving into VOD territory. McConaughey hasn’t been so fortunate and he quickly needs a critical or commercial success to redeem things. His list of recent material is an unsuccessful and largely forgettable one. In three years, we’ve had:

  • Free State of Jones, his summer 2016 Civil War drama that took in $20 million domestically against a $50 million budget. Its Rotten Tomatoes score was 46%.
  • The Sea of Trees from later that summer. The drama wasn’t even released wide and didn’t make a million dollars (13% RT score).
  • True life crime drama Gold in January 2017. 42% RT. $14 million gross stateside.
  • The Dark Tower in summer 2017. The critically maligned Stephen King adaptation had a 16% RT rating and immediately ended the possibility of a franchise with earnings of $50 million.
  • Another based on actual events crime drama from last fall – White Boy Rick. 58% RT and $24 million gross.
  • Noir thriller Serenity from earlier this year. Barely promoted, it made an embarrassing $8 million total with a 23% RT score.

And now The Beach Bum, which won’t reach $10 million domestically either. It’s time for McConaughey’s people to find him some better stuff. His most memorable appearances lately have been in car commercials. If they can’t manage to do so, there’s always 2013.

2013: The Year of Matthew McConaughey

Seventeen years ago, Matthew McConaughey burst onto the film scene with a starring role in A Time To Kill, Joel Schumacher’s adaptation of John Grisham’s bestseller. His luck continued into the following year with Steven Spielberg’s Amistad and Robert Zemeckis’s Contact.

After that, things went off the rails a bit as McConaughey headlined one lackluster pic after another. The Newton Boys. EDtv. Two for the Money. And there were too many predictable rom coms (some of which did decent business at the box office): The Wedding Planner, How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, Failure to Launch, Fool’s Good, and Ghosts of Girlfriends Past.

The actor’s biggest flop came in 2005 with Sahara, a big budget action spectacle meant to turn McConaughey into the next action star. It failed grossing $68 million domestically against a reported $130 million budget.

For a while, it looked as if McConaughey’s film portfolio would consist of lame rom coms and not much else. In 2011, everything began to turn around with an acclaimed turn in the unexpected hit legal thriller The Lincoln Lawyer. In 2012, McConaughey was lauded for his supporting roles in the indie comedy Bernie and especially Magic Mike, which was a major summer hit.

The actor’s transformation into critical darling has come full circle in 2013 and that’s why he earns a spot in this blog series. First there was Mud, a $10 million budgeted coming of age drama that sits at 98% on Rotten Tomatoes. It has earned $28 million domestically and furthered McConaughey’s status as a performer who suddenly knows how to pick quality material.

It has continued this fall with Dallas Buyer’s Club, where he stars as a drug addicted cowboy in the 1980s who contracts the AIDS virus. McConaughey lost 50 pounds for the part, critics are raving, and chances are that he’s on his way to his first Oscar nomination.

And this Christmas comes a supporting role in The Wolf of Wall Street, Martin Scorsese’s eagerly awaited film about Wall Street corruption. McConaughey is featured prominently in the pic’s brilliant trailer and this looks to be the actor’s third winner in a row for 2013.

McConaughey has been a terrific example of what happens when a quality actor stops slumming with projects he chooses and goes a different and more fascinating route. In 2013 and beyond, McConaughey is reaping the benefits of his decision. His next project up in 2014: starring in Christopher Nolan’s next feature Interstellar that is sure to be one of the next year’s most anticipated titles. For McConaughey lately, everything has indeed been alright alright.

Part five of my six part blog series focusing on performers with great 2013’s rolls on tomorrow with a comedic actress who broke out in 2011 and solidified her box office clout this year.