Ben Stiller has a history of making comedy films that are just different. He is a comedian with his own flavor. When people talk about his movies, they bring up films like Zoolander, Meet the Parents, and Tropic Thunder. However, before any of those classic comedy films happened, the actor was working hard to climb the Hollywood ranks. In 1999, he decided to take his particular type of comedy to the superhero genre. He made Mystery Men, a movie with a cast of comedians that maybe wasn’t for everyone at the time, but has become a cult classic superhero story.
Netflix has now picked up the title so you can catch Ben Stiller’s take on the superhero genre, long before DC and Marvel became what they are today in that sphere.
To really get a feel for this one, you’ll want to watch the trailer. Fortunately, it’s pretty funny.
Have you heard people make jokes about the plural for “nemesis”? After this Ben Stiller movie came out, that was a thing for a while. There were a lot of great one-liners in Mystery Men. A lot of them were delivered by William H. Macy, who was just hilarious as Shoveler. “We’re not your classic heroes,” he says in the trailer. “We’re the other guys.” Janeane Garofalo plays Bowler, and as she is known to do, plays the character like she’s always a touch annoyed with everyone around her for not being as smart as she is. Greg Kinnear plays Captain Amazing. If you watch this one, you’ll get to spot Eddie Izzard, Tom Waits, and a lot of other faces you may know today.
While 1999’s Mystery Men is a cult classic today, it’s clearly not for everyone. At the time the Ben Stiller movie came out, Roger Ebert gave it a big no. They said, “Mystery Men has moments of brilliance waving their arms to attract attention in a sea of dreck. It’s a long, shapeless, undisciplined mess…” Rotten Tomatoes has it at 61% and IMDb has it at 6.1, which are actually fairly okay ratings for off the wall comedies on these sites.
Today, a lot of websites like to bring up this Ben Stiller movie as one of his more underrated options. Mystery Men is a superhero comedy movie that people tend to watch differently today. Today’s viewers are familiar with Ben Stiller, so we know what to expect. Our views on superhero movies are also very different than they were in 1999. At the time, it wasn’t common for your average audience member to be familiar with the superhero tropes that mostly lived in comic books. With the viewing history most people have today, this superhero movie on Netflix just hits different.
In 1999, we didn’t really know Ben Stiller yet. This is strange to consider, since he is so well-known today. He had an uncredited role in Adam Sandler’s Happy Gilmore. He was Tommy the screaming guy in that episode of Friends. Mostly, we knew him fresh off of his 1998 success with There’s Something About Mary, which was hilarious and a big hit. This was a delicate moment, and a strange time for this oddball movie to come out.
At the box office, Mystery Men hit hard. The Ben Stiller movie was made with a stellar cast. The budget took $68 million. At the box office, this one only earned out $33 million worldwide. A lot of stars would have found it difficult to find work after starring in a movie that flopped this hard.
Fortunately for Ben Stiller, one year later, he had Meet the Parents come out. That movie performed much better. In fact, it earned $330 million worldwide at the box office on a budget of $55 million. Meet the Parents would go on to have a sequel and become one of Stiller’s most well-known movies. If that movie hadn’t come out so soon after Mystery Men, and performed so well, Ben Stiller may have had trouble finding work for a while after that. The timing was fortunate for the young actor’s career.
Today, Ben Stiller is working as a director and writer. He is currently working on a project adapting Rachel Maddow’s work for a movie called Bag Man. While he doesn’t have any acting projects in the pipeline, that may change soon. We’ll have to wait and see what his next moves are.
For now, you can catch him in one of his lesser-known classics in Mystery Men on Netflix.