What the Hell Happened to Matthew Broderick?
Matthew Broderick is a triple threat. He has been a star of stage and screen. His filmography includes iconic roles like Ferris Bueller and the voice of the Lion King. He’s even fought Godzilla. But these days, you are far more likely to see the former Ferris Bueller on Broadway than starring in a hit movie. The former A-lister’s film career is still active, but it has definitely cooled.
What the hell happened?
Broderick started his acting career in theater. He was noticed by a New York Times theater critic in an Off Broadway production of Torch Song Trilogy which led to roles on Broadway.
Broderick starred as Eugene Morris Jerome in two plays written by Neil Simon. Brighton Beach Memoirs and Biloxi Blues were the first two-thirds of Simon’s Eugene trilogy. The third play, Broadway Bound, starred Jonathan Silverman who would go on to play Eugene in the film version of Brighton Beach Memoirs.
The three plays were semi-autobiographical accounts of Simon’s life. The successful plays lead to Broderick getting offers for film and TV roles. Originally, Broderick was offered the role of Alex P. Keaton on Family Ties. But he backed out when he realized bigger offers were on the horizon.
Brighton Beach Memoirs also lead to Broderick being cast in his first film role, Max Dugan Returns, which was also written and produced by Neil Simon. Max Dugan was released in 1983 and starred Marsha Mason, Jason Robards and Donald Sutherland. Sutherland’s son, Kiefer, also appeared in a small role.
The film was not a hit at the box office, but it was a start.
Later that year, Broderick co-starred opposite Ally Sheedy and Dabney Coleman in the Cold War thriller, War Games.
Beverly Hills Cop director, Martin Brest, was originally hired to direct War Games. But the producers found his take on the material to be too dark. Brest was fired and replaced by Saturday Night Fever director, Jon Badham.
Badham has said that Broderick and Sheedy were “stiff as boards” when he arrived at the set. They were concerned about being fired along with Brest. So, Badham tried to put his young actors at ease in order to give the film a lighter tone. He wanted to make it seem like the characters were having fun in spite of the film’s serious undertones.
War Games received very positive reviews and was the 5th highest grossing film of 1983.
1983 was an incredible year for Broderick. He starred in a hit summer movie and he became the youngest actor to win a Tony Award for Best Featured Actor in a Play for Brighton Beach Memoirs.
In 1985, Broderick co-starred opposite Michelle Pfeiffer and Rutger Hauer in Richard Donner’s fantasy film, Ladyhawke.
Broderick played a thief called The Mouse who helps a couple of star-crossed lovers. The couple (played by Hauer and Pfeiffer) were cursed. During the day, Pfeiffer’s character is transformed into a hawk. At night, Hauer is transformed into a wolf. With the help of The Mouse, they attempt to free themselves of the curse.
Ladyhawke received mixed to posituive reviews. But it was not a hit at the box office.
Later that year, Broderick appeared in his second Neil Simon production on Broadway, Biloxi Blues, which co-starred Penelope Ann Miller. 1985 wasn’t quite the grand slam year Broderick had in 1983. But he was still starring in big budget movies and Broadway shows.
In 1986, Broderick starred in John Hughes’ teen comedy, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. It is the role that would define his film career.
Ferris Bueller is a teenage fantasy about a charming boy who gets away with goofing off through the sheer magnitude of his charisma. The movie follows Ferris and his friends as they skip school and go on a series of adventures around Chicago.
Hughes wrote Ferris with Broderick in mind. “Certain guys would have played Ferris and you would have thought, ‘Where’s my wallet?’” Hughes said. “I had to have that look; that charm had to come through.”
Ferris Bueller’s Day Off got positive reviews and was a hit at the box office. But more importantly, it became a cultural touchstone of the decade. At a 2010 Oscar tribute to Hughes, Broderick talked about the film’s lasting impact:
“For the past 25 years, nearly every day someone comes up to me, taps me on the shoulder and says, ‘Hey, Ferris, is this your day off?’”
Broderick was nominated for a Golden Globe for the role. A sequel and a remake have both been discussed but have yet to materialize. Broderick starred in a Super Bowl commercial in 2012 which showed him enjoying a Ferris-like day off.
In 1990, the film was adapted into a short-lived TV show starring Charlie Schlatter as Ferris and Jennifer Aniston as his sister. The pilot episode included a bizarre scene in which Schlatter as Ferris acknowledges the movie and cuts up a cardboard cutout of Broderick as he explains why he hated Broderick’s performance. The show was cancelled after one season.
In 1987, while vacationing with Bueller co-star and secret girlfriend Jennifer Grey in Ireland, Broderick had a bad car accident. Broderick crossed over into the wrong lane instantly killing a local mother and her daughter. Broderick suffered a fractured leg, fractured ribs, a concussion, and a collapsed lung. Broderick faced the potential of prison time for the accident, but ended up paying only $175 in fines for careless driving.
In 1987, Broderick starred opposite Helen Hunt and a chimp in Project X.
Broderick played an airforce pilot who was assigned to work with a chimp on a top-secret project. Eventually Hunt and Broderick team up to save the chimp from cruel experimentations. Ironically, the film’s producers were accused of animal cruelty during filming.
Project X got mixed reviews and disappointed at the box office.
In 1988, Broderick appeared in film adaptations of two of his early plays. The first was Mike Nichol’s take on Biloxi Blues.
Broderick co-starred opposite Christopher Walken and Penelope Ann Miller who reprised her role from the play. Reviews were mixed to positive. But far from enthusiastic. It was a solid hit at the box office.
Later that year, Broderick starred opposite Harvey Fierstein and Anne Bancroft in the big screen version of Torch Song Trilogy.
Fierstein plays a female impersonator and Broderick plays his lover. Both reprised their roles from the Off Broadway play. Originally, Broderick passed on the movie as he was recuperating from his car accident in Ireland. Tate Donovan was cast. But two days into rehearsals, Broderick changed his mind and Donovan was fired.
Torch Song Trilogy got mixed reviews and was not a hit at the box office.
In 1989, Broderick starred opposite screen legends, Sean Connery and Dustin Hoffman in Sidney Lumet’s Family Business.
Connery, Hoffman and Broderick played three generations of the same family despite looking nothing alike. They embark on a caper to steal a million dollars.
Family Business got terrible reviews and bombed at the box office. But I think it shows that Broderick (in spite of a spotty track record at the box office) was regarded as one of the leading movie actors of his generation at the time.
At the same time, Broderick appeared in Edward Zwick’s Civil War drama, Glory. The film went into limited release the same week as Family Business but didn’t receive a wide release until 1990.
Glory told the story of the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, the first all-black regiment of the Union. Broderick and Cary Elwes played the leaders of the regiment. Denzel Washington and Morgan Freeman who were relative unknowns at the time, played soldiers.
Glory received positive reviews, but critics were split on Broderick’s performance. Many thought the boyish Broderick was miscast as the military leader. But others saw his performance as a step towards more mature roles.
Denzel Washington won Best Actor for Glory which was a hit at the box office.
In 1990, Broderick co-starred opposite another screen legend. This time, it was Marlon Brando in Andrew Bergman’s Godfather spoof, The Freshman.
Broderick plays a film school student who is drawn into a real-life world of crime. The film also featured Bruno Kirby and Broderick’s Biloxi Blues co-star, Penelope Ann Miller.
Brando actually called the film “lousy” when it finished shooting. But it got great reviews and was a modest hit. Brando may be a legendary actor, but he was a lousy film critic.
In 1992, Broderick reuinted with Bueller co-star Jeffrey Jones for the farce, Out on a Limb.
The plot really defies explanation. In a reversal of his Bueller image, Broderick plays a guy who is definitely not in control. This time, it is Broderick who is tormented by Jones who plays an evil twin brother. John C. Reilly also appears.
Out on a Limb got terrible reviews and bombed at the box office. And yet, Broderick would play similar roles for most of his movie career as an adult.
In 1993, Broderick grew a beard and starred opposite Annabella Sciorra in the romance, The Night We Never Met.
Broderick plays an uptight chef who rents an apartment on certain nights to get away from his roommates. The apartment is occupied on other nights by the yuppie owner and another tenant played by Sciorra. Despite never having met, Broderick and Sciorra eventually fall in love.
I think the beard tells you everything you need to know about this one. Broderick was desperately trying to shed his youthful image and be taken seriously as an actor.
Reviews for The Night We Never Met were mixed to negative. It was a disappointment at the box office.
Broderick also appeared on TV in A Life in Theater for which he was nominated for an Emmy.
In 1994, Broderick leant his voice to the adult Simba in Disney’s The Lion King.
Voicing a cartoon character didn’t have much of an impact on Broderick’s career. But it is arguably his second most iconic film role.
Later that year, Broderick appeared opposite Jennifer Jason Leigh in Alan Rudolph’s Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle.
Leigh played writer Dorothy Parker and the film included an ensemble cast of stars playing other famous writers from the period. Broderick played Charles MacArthur. The film also featured a young Heather Graham.
Despite the lofty pedigree (Mrs. Parker was produced by Robert Altman) the film got mixed reviews and bombed at the box office.
Later that year, Broderick appeared in another ensemble in Alan Parker’s The Road to Wellville.
Wellville starred Anthony Hopkins as John Harvey Kellogg, inventor of corn flakes and founder of the Battle Creek Sanitarium. Broderick and Bridget Fonda played a husband and wife couple who came to the Sanitarium for its unconventional treatment.
The film is intended to be a comedy with the humor supplied by Hopkins’ bizarre treatments. But nothing in the movie is remotely funny in spite of a talented cast that also includes John Cusak and Dana Carvey.
It got bad reviews and bombed at the box office.
In 1996, Broderick returned to mainstream movies in the dark comedy, The Cable Guy which starred Jim Carrey and was directed by Ben Stiller.
At the time, The Cable Guy made headlines for Carrey’s then-unheard-of 20-million dollar paycheck. Carrey was on a string of box office hits based on his goofy physical comedy.
Broderick played a guy whose life is turned upside down by a crazed cable installer played by Carrey. The Cable Guy was a departure from Carrey’s usual brand of comedy. Audiences didn’t know what to make of its dark twists especially the film’s black-hearted ending.
Reviews were mixed, but critics were not kind to Jim Carrey movies at the time. The movie was a hit, but fell short of expectations given Carrey’s track record and salary.
Broderick also produced, directed and starred in the film, Infinity, which was written by his mother. Broderick played physicist Richard Feynman whose books were the basis for the screenplay. Patricia Arquette played his wife.
In 1997, Broderick co-starred with the Queen of the Rom-Com, Meg Ryan, in Addicted to Love.
Both Broderick and Ryan were trying to subvert their squeeky-clean images. Notice the return of Broderick’s “adult” beard? The movie casts them as a couple who falls in love while stalking their respective exes.
Ryan’s usual romantic comedy fans rejected the dark subject matter. Additiced to Love got mixed to negative reviews and bombed at the box office.
In 1998, Broderick starred in Roland Emmerich’s big budget Hollywood version of the Japanese monster classic, Godzilla.
Godzilla was the sure-fire hit of the summer. The studio had been promoting the movie for a year. The slogan, “Size matters” was everywhere as were the Taco Bell tie-ins. I still don’t know what a Japanese monster has to do with Mexican fast-food.
Unfortunately, the Godzilla remake got everything wrong. Emmerich decided early on to update the classic monster which was the selling point of the movie. Godzilla fans across the world were offended by the changes.
Worse still, the movie was dumb and incredibly bloated. Instead of focusing on a giant lizard smashing New York (which is what audiences paid to see) the movie spends much of its two-hour-plus running time on the troubled love life of Broderick’s character.
Critics savaged Godzilla which isn’t surprising since Emmerich went out of his way to offend them with characters clearly intended as comedic send-ups of Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel. Eventually, even Emmerich himself admitted Godzilla was a mistake.
Despite the reviews, Godzilla had a huge opening weekend. It was a box office hit. But not nearly as big of a hit as it was expected to be.
In 1999, Broderick starred opposite Reese Witherspoon in Alexander Payne’s dark comedy, Election.
In Election, the former Ferris Bueller is cast as the loser high school teacher who has to deal with an irritatingly peppy and successful student played by Witherspoon. Broderick’s character can’t stand the fact that Witherspoon’s Tracy Flick will inevitably win an election for school president so he sets about rigging the vote.
Election got positive reviews and was a modest hit at the box office. It has since developed a cult following.
Later that year, Broderick made another attempt at summer movie success with the big budget adaptation of the kid’s cartoon, Inspector Gadget.
Like Godzilla, Inspector Gadget was a big, bloated mess of special effects. The film got bad reviews but was modestly successful at the box office. Eventually, disney released a direct-to-DVD sequel without Broderick.
In 2000, Broderick appeared opposite Laura Linney in Kenneth Lonergan’s drama, You Can Count on Me.
Linney played a single mother who has to deal with an irresponsible sibling played by Mark Ruffalo. Broderick played Linney’s new boss who is hard on her until they start up an affair.
You Can Count on Me got great reviews and was a modest hit at the box office.
In 2001, Broderick retreated back to the stage for the Broadway version of Mel Brook’s 1968 comedy, The Producers.
In the original film, Gene Wilder played an anxious accountant who gets drawn into a scheme by a failed producer played by Zero Mostel. They realize they can make more money bilking their investors if they produce a flop than they could with a hit. So they set out to procude a play that can’t succeed.
In the Broadway show, Broderick played the accountant, Leo Bloom. His Lion King co-star, Nathan Lane, played the producer, Max Bialystock. The play opened to rave reviews and was a huge hit. Broderick and Lane were nominated for Tony Awards against each other. Lane won the award.
Having tasted success again on Broadway, Broderick returned to the big screen opposite Nicole Kidman in Frank Oz’s comedic remake of The Stepford Wives.
The Stepford Wives was a notoriously troubled production. Broderick stepped in after John Cusack left the picture. Oz feuded with several members of the cast including Christopher Walken and Bette Middler (who stepped in for Joan Cusack when she quit).
The original Stepford Wives had satirical elements, but was not played for laughs. It told the tale of a town in which the men replaced their wives with robots who made perfect housekeepers. It was creepy.
The remake couldn’t decide on a tone. Massive changes were made after filming was complete which resulted in some gaping plot holes. The film can’t even keep clear whether or not the wives have actually been replaced by robots.
The remake was a disaster in just about every way imaginable.
In 2005, Broderick and Lane reprised their roles for the film adaptation of their Broadway hit, The Producers.
The play was based on the film and making the 2005 film an adaptation of a play which was an adaptation of a 1968 film. Uma Thurman and Will Ferrell joined the cast for the movie.
The movie failed to recapture the success of the play. Reviews were mixed. The movie disappointed at the box office.
If you are going to see a film version of The Producers, stick with the original. You can’t beat Gene Wilder.
In 2006, Broderick co-starred with Danny DeVito in the Christmas comedy, Deck the Halls.
Broderick and DeVito play neighbors who feud over Christmas decorations. Or something. Reviews were terrible. There is no way I’m subjecting myself to this holiday turd.
Deck the Halls flopped at the box office.
Since then, Broderick has worked steadily on stage and screen. He continues to appear in Broadway shows like 2005′s The Odd Couple and 2012′s Nice Work If You Can Get It. His screen roles tend to be on TV more often than not including guest apperances on Louis, 30 Rock and Modern Family.
In 2011, Broderick returned to the big screen in Brett Ratner’s crime comedy, Tower Heist.
Tower Heist starred Ben Stiller and Eddie Murphy and co-starred Broderick, Casey Affleck; Alan Alda and Tea Leoni. It looked like a can’t miss hit on paper and many expected it to rejuvenate Murphy’s flagging career.
But that didn’t happen. In spite of great tracking numbers and decent reviews, audiences failed to turn out for Tower Heist. In spite of a great cast, the movie feels extremely lazy. As our own Daffystardust opined, “Pretty much everybody in Tower Heist except Casey Affleck was looking noticably old.”
So, what the hell happened?
I have to start out by noting that by any reasonable measure, Broderick is still outrageously successful. He is a leading man on Broadway and married to Sex in the City star, Sarah Jessica Parker. While he may not be on the Hollywood A-list, he does still get work in TV and movies.
But why wasn’t Broderick’s film career more successful?
It’s tempting to say that Broderick was type-cast as Ferris Bueller. For much of his career, Broderick had a youthful look that made it diffiuclt to transition into more mature roles.
But, Broderick had more than his share of big budget movies to try to reinvent his image. The problem is, most of them were terrible. He continually popped up in crap like Godzilla, Inspector Gadget and The Stepford Wives.
Also, Broderick was rarely the star of these movies even when he had the leading role. He was frequently cast as the thankless straight man to Jim Carrey or even Danny DeVito.
Broderick’s filmography is filled with movies that were expected to be big hits but weren’t. Or if they were, they fell short of expectations. The only two movies he made that were legitimate hits with critics and audiences were War Games and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.
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Posted on January 12, 2013, in Movies, What the Hell Happened? and tagged cable guy, ferris bueller, glory, godzilla, Lion King, matthew broderick, stepford wives, tower heist, war games. Bookmark the permalink. 48 Comments.