There aren’t many — if any — directors who can knock it out of the proverbial park every single time. Martin Scorsese, for example, made unimpeachable classics like Taxi Driver and Goodfellas, but he also made flawed-to-terrible stuff like Bringing out the Dead and Shutter Island. Ben Stiller doesn’t exactly enjoy Scorsese’s directorial reputation, but he helmed the absolute laugh-explosion Tropic Thunder and, according to GFR’s own Nathan Kamal (who apparently has never seen Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind or was suffering a head cold during it), he directed Jim Carrey’s best movie, The Cable Guy. Now, while promoting a new series, Stiller admits there’s one movie that was as terrible for him as it was for the rest of us — 2016’s Zoolander 2.
In an interview with Esquire published earlier this week, Ben Stiller admits that the sequel to his 2001 comedy Zoolander was “not a great experience.” Zoolander 2 saw the return of Stiller as the titular male model along with stars like Owen Wilson and Will Ferrell reprising their roles from the original, plus the added star power of Kristen Wiig and Penélope Cruz. Regardless, the second Zoolander failed on both fronts — critically and financially. As THR notes, it grossed only $29 million at the domestic box office; that’s $16 million less than its predecessor according to Box Office Mojo, which is even worse when you consider the 15 years worth of inflation. While the aggregate scores on Rotten Tomatoes for the first Zoolander is 64% from critics and 80% from audiences, the scores take a nosedive with Zoolander 2 — 22% from critics and 20% from audiences.
Esquire details how the years immediately preceding and following Zoolander 2 were tumultuous ones for Ben Stiller. The year before Zoolander 2‘s release, Stiller’s mother Anne Meara died and his father Jerry Stiller followed in 2020. The year after the doomed sequel came out, Stiller separated from his wife of 17 years, Christine Taylor. Add a failed follow-up to a beloved comedy on top of that, and the second half of the 2010’s could have been a lot nicer to Stiller if they wanted to be.
As far as Zoolander 2‘s flop-tastic performance goes, Ben Stiller sees it as a net gain because it gave him the opportunity to work on whatever projects he gravitated to without the added pressure of repeating past successes. “If Zoolander 2 had been a huge hit, and then people were saying, ‘Zoolander 3! Do this movie! That movie!’ — that might have taken me off the road of having the space to work on developing Dannemora,” Stiller explains, referencing his Showtime drama series Escape at Dannemora. “I might have gotten distracted by other bright, shiny objects, but instead it opened a path where I could just do what I’d honestly wanted to do for years and years, which was: just direct something!”
The “something” that Ben Stiller has most recently brought to the table is turning a lot of heads. Stiller has brought together a star-studded cast including Adam Scott, Christopher Walken, John Turturro, and Patricia Arquette in the Apple TV sci-fi thriller Severance. The show’s premise — of office workers who agree to a program in which their work memories are separated from their non-work memories — echoes elements from The Office, Total Recall, and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.
While he might not be any happier with Zoolander 2 than anyone else, Ben Stiller has gone on record saying he’d be willing to appear in a sequel to a film he didn’t direct. Last month, Stiller said he’d be thrilled to reprise the role of Furious in a sequel to the 1999 superhero parody Mystery Men. The film bombed when it was released but considering how much more prevalent superheroes are in today’s cinema, there’s been speculation a revival could hit a sweet spot that didn’t exist yet in late ’90s.