Judd Apatow is a force in Hollywood. As a director, as a writer, as a producer, and as a godfather to emerging comedic voices, few have the influence that he does. Both on the big screen and the small screen, Apatow more or less does it all in the world of comedy. He’s one of the most successful studio comedy directors of this or any generation, alongside just making damn good films. This may be a bold claim, but for my money, he’s never made a bad movie. With The Bubble having just hit Netflix, it seemed like a perfect time to take a look at his directing career, so far.
Below, you can see how I’d rank Apatow’s directorial efforts. This doesn’t include his producing efforts or where he just has a writing credit, so as much as I love things like The Big Sick, Forgetting Sarah Marshall, or Superbad, they aren’t here. They have my adoration, but the list you’re about to see sticks just to his movies where he’s in the director’s chair.
Here is how I rank the films of Judd Apatow, so far:
8. The Bubble
It seems like I might be in the minority, but The Bubble is far from a bad work. I just reviewed this film a few days ago, so I’ll refer you to my opening paragraph: “Making a movie during the lockdown days of the COVID-19 pandemic brought up a ton of conflicting emotions in people. Some folks thought it was frivolous and needlessly risky. Others felt it was important to retain a sense of normalcy and give people something to look forward to. For filmmaker Judd Apatow, it eventually became inspiration for his latest comedy. The Bubble is some of his broadest work, but also his most satirical. Taking the piss out of spoiled actors quarantining to make a big blockbuster sequel contains a ton of humorous potential. While Apatow doesn’t explore it to its fullest, this is an amusing film with enough laughs to easily warrant a recommendation.”
7. May it Last: A Portrait of the Avett Brothers
I don’t have a ton to say about this documentary, since it’s somewhat forgettable, but it’s interesting to see Apatow go the music doc route. May it Last: A Portrait of the Avett Brothers works best if you love The Avett Brothers like Apatow does, but any music lover can enjoy it. There are no major revelations, but it’s comforting and mellow.
6. This Is 40
Judd Apatow’s only true sequel, director-wise, continues the story of Pete and Debbie, elevated from Knocked Up supporting players. This Is 40 sees them dealing with marriage, middle age, and the issues that Apatow was clearly tackling. It’s rather uneven, but there’s good acting, strong music, and plenty of laughs. Plus, this is the end of the films from Apatow that don’t fully work. From here on, it’s truly smooth sailing.
5. The King of Staten Island
My number five film of 2020, this is what I had to say when I ran down my top picks of that year: “Judd Apatow and Pete Davidson take the latter’s tragic childhood and reaps gold from it. Davidson’s loss, perhaps surprisingly, is the basis for a stunningly terrific work. Capturing the pain and the pathos, as well as the humor, that define Davidson, The King of Staten Island is not just one of Apatow’s top tier efforts, it’s one of the year’s best films, overall. It’s beyond a home run. This is a grand slam for all involved. In many ways, this is Apatow’s best film yet. Hilarious and heartfelt, it shows the filmmaker at the top of his craft. The 40 Year Old Virgin, Knocked Up, and Trainwreck may be funnier efforts, but this takes the emotions he toyed with in Funny People (his most underrated work), and perfectly calibrates them. The feels are they, but they’re never manipulative. It’s actually achingly real, which makes sense, considering the source. Throw in a wonderful cast and this is one of the best, as well as most underrated, works of the year.”
4. Funny People
I may be one the bigger Funny People fans out there. For a while, I even considered it Apatow’s best work. Truly, it’s his most ambitious, with major emotions, a terrific Adam Sandler turn, and more going on than meets the eye. Initially the reaction to this one was a bit mixed, especially when awards buzz surrounded it, pre-release, but now the tide has turned. Thankfully, folks seem to be with me in considering it a bit of an underrated gem now.
Then again, I think I’m also the biggest Trainwreck fan out there. Side note, what does it say that there’s two more films to come on this list and the prior two movies were ones I champion? Anyway, mixing Apatow and Amy Schumer created a special sauce that not just contained some of that year’s biggest laughs, but truly huge feels. The funeral eulogy still makes me sob.
2. The 40 Year Old Virgin
What more needs to be said about The 40 Year Old Virgin? It’s a comedy masterpiece and a modern classic. The key here is that Apatow, Steve Carell, and company never are laughing at their protagonist. It’s always laughing with him and having empathy for his plight. A different version of this flick is men and nasty. Luckily, this one is sweet (though undeniably very raunchy) and truly has a heart of gold.
1. Knocked Up
What makes Knocked Up ever so slightly Judd Apatow’s best? I think it’s just as funny as his other top tier works, but the story is just a touch more effective. It comes down to personal preference, but it simply is a fuller meal. Seth Rogen in particular really shines, while Apatow is firing on all cylinders. You can’t go wrong with any of these, but having recently revisited this one, it takes the top spot by a hair.
How do you rank the movies helmed by Judd Apatow? Let us know!