Through nearly two decades of American comedies, Seth Rogen has been a defining personality. Beginning with a stand-up career in Vancouver, Rogen relocated to Los Angeles at the age of 17 to take a part on Judd Apatow’s Freaks and Geeks. Long-loved but short-running, that show was canceled after one season, leaving in its wake a partnership that would stand the test of time.
That partnership fully took root with 2005’s The 40-Year-Old Virgin, beginning a miracle run of hit comedies that embraced Seth Rogen as a leading man, from Knocked Up to Pineapple Express. An actor, writer, producer, and director, the Canadian-American comic has become one of the main fixtures of Hollywood, notable for his crass but warm sense of humor and his mega-watt likability.
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Rogen has been active for nearly 20 years of films, yet he’s only 38 years old, with a wide-open future career still stretched out long ahead of him. Here’s a look at his major films, ranked from super-bad to pretty rad.
You, Me and Dupree
The Russo Brothers may have directed the biggest movie of all time with Avengers: Endgame. However, their 2006 stinker about men who refuse to grow up and the women who have to deal with them led Seth Rogen to say in GQ, “Never again do I want to have to tell people to go see a movie that I myself actually wouldn’t see.”
Monsters vs. Aliens
Featuring Rogen’s voice as a giant blob named B.O.B., Monsters vs. Aliens isn’t necessarily a bad movie. It’s just one of those animated family films that disappeared into the ether almost as soon as it was released.
The Lion King
The Green Hornet
Directed by Michel Gondry from a Rogen-Evan Goldberg script, Rogen’s only superhero outing boasts a fair amount of visual whimsy. Compared to the homogenized offerings of Marvel, there’s a lot here that’s actually quite visionary and interesting. It’s a film whose bad rap isn’t entirely warranted, even if its sub-par action consistently gets in the way of its “Iron Man by way of Apatow” ambitions.
The comedy that almost started World War III, The Interview could’ve been an opportunity for Rogen and his frequent collaborator, James Franco, to graduate from stoner shenanigans to Dr. Strangelove-esque political satire. Alas, this is mostly the same-old, same-old, except this time the pot smoking goes down in North Korea. It’s far from the duo’s best collaborations, and certainly not worth nuclear apocalypse.
An absolutely insane, filthy ride from beginning to end, Sausage Party never really transcends into the kind of “Toy Story on acid” masterpiece one might have hoped it could be. Still, it’s an absolutely insane ride from its Alan Menken-composed opening number to its gloriously-NSFW finale.
An American Pickle
Featuring two versions of Seth Rogen for the price of one, An American Pickle boasts a tale as old as time – boy meets girl, boy moves with girl to America, boy falls in a vat of pickles where he’s embalmed in brine, only to wake up 100 years later in contemporary America. It’s an initially fun premise, but it’s too often impeded by weird tonal shifts and a screenplay that can’t seem to decide what it should ultimately be about.
In between Hot Fuzz and The World’s End, Simon Pegg collaborated with Cornetto Trilogy co-star Nick Frost on this sci-fi comedy featuring Rogen’s only motion-capture performance as the foul-mouthed titular alien. It’s not the writers’ best, but it’s still a decently good time with plenty of laughs.
The Kung Fu Panda Franchise
Across the board, the three Kung Fu Panda films make up a shockingly consistent trilogy, and some of the finest films Dreamworks Animation has ever turned out. Rogen voices the kung-fu master Mantis, rounding out a voice cast also featuring Angelina Jolie, Dustin Hoffman, and of course Jack Black as the panda himself.
Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising
While it lacks the surprise and powerhouse comedic set pieces of its predecessor, this above-average sequel shockingly has some interesting stuff to say about gender roles and dying masculinity in the 21st century. Rogen is reliable as ever, returning with one of his best comedic partners, Rose Byrne, and teaming up with a wildly funny Zac Efron to take on a neighboring sorority that’s threatening the peace on the block.
The Guilt Trip
Totally panned upon release, ranking this lemon so high may seem worthy of its own “guilt trip”, but it’s nice to see Rogen vibing with a comedic partner who exists so extremely outside the realm of stoner movies, particularly one as legendary as Barbra Streisand. It’s light on laughs, but heavy and heart, and its weeper of an airport finale would melt even the coldest heart.
Zack and Miri Make a Porno
After mega-hits The 40 Year-Old Virgin, Knocked Up, and Superbad, Rogen was scooped by Clerks director Kevin Smith for this comedy about friends who turn to the adult film industry to pay the bills. It could ultimately use a bit more raunch than it has up its sleeve, but this is still a totally solid effort with a fairly conventional rom-com heart at its center.
This is the End
This is the End is the kind of movie Rogen could’ve only made after a slew of undeniable successes, a meta-apocalyptic ribbing of the Apatow boys’ own celebrity nature that attempts to disguise its self-indulgence with jokes. Some of it works, but a lot of it misfires. That said, what remains clear is the love these guys have for one another, and their absolute dedication to push the boundaries of what’s acceptable in a big studio comedy, even if they have to drag Michael Cera into the bowels of hell to do it.
The Night Before
The Night Before isn’t topping any holiday movie lists with the likes of It’s a Wonderful Life and Miracle on 34th Street, but it’s still one of the better post-Elf Christmas flicks out there and a pure feel-good party from beginning to end. It helps that Rogen is joined by less-frequent collaborators Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Anthony Mackie, with a wonderfully weird supporting turn by Michael Shannon.
Rogen paired with perhaps his most unlikely co-star in 2019’s Long Shot, a heart-on-its-sleeve rom-com that imagines a 2021 inauguration celebrating President Charlize Theron. Some of the satirical elements involving Bob Odenkirk as a television star-turned-commander-in-chief and Andy Serkis as a shock-jock anchor attempting to sway the election feel on-the-nose, but Rogen’s chemistry with Theron is shockingly good.
The ’80s had Cheech and Chong, and the late 2000s had Pineapple Express, which is to say that if this peak James Franco-Seth Rogen buddy comedy is primarily viewed by those used to viewing Rogan’s films while stoned. For the sober, it remains a bit of a head-scratcher, with some great action and a phenomenal James Franco performance.
Take This Waltz
The Seth Rogen films that aren’t out-and-out comedies are few and far between, but this is one of the best. A beautifully-shot humanely observed romance about a married woman (Michelle Williams) who falls in love with a single man (Luke Kirby), Director Sarah Polley harnesses an interesting twist on Rogen’s movie star charisma as Williams’ husband, showing how his unflagging sense of humor could be equal parts turn-on and turn-off.
Observe and Report
Ten years before Joker, there was Observe and Report, a black-as-bile Paul Blart by way of Taxi Driver that shows what might happen if a mall cop thought he was the last line of defense in the battle for America’s soul. Writer-director Jody Hill can’t always walk the tonal tightrope Martin Scorsese walked before him, often flipping from razor-sharp satire on what’s now been termed “incel culture” to the type of mean-spirited misogynistic humor that often fuels said culture. However, it’s an undeniably interesting subversion of Rogen’s “slacker who lives in his mother’s basement” charm into something truly demented.
The Disaster Artist
Adapted from Greg Sestero’s and Tom Bissell’s tell-all book about the making of The Room, once-called “the Citizen Kane of bad movies,” The Disaster Artist is an Ed Wood-esque backstage comedy about the making of a truly bad film. Aside from James Franco’s Golden Globe-winning turn as Tommy Wiseau, the true standout performance comes from Rogen himself, as the script supervisor trying to wrangle Wiseau’s vision.
Before Aaron Sorkin began directing his own scripts with Molly’s Game and The Trial of the Chicago 7, he turned to some of the best directors working to translate his words from page to screen. Most recently, this distinction fell to Steve Jobs’ Danny Boyle, who wrestled Sorkin’s supremely underrated portrait of the flawed Apple founder into a stylish but contained triptych of distinct, isolated moments in his life. Rogen plays Steve Wozniak, Apple’s co-founder with an axe to grind, in a performance that gives a peek at the layers still to be explored should he choose to take on more dramatic fare.
Seth finally settles down with Rose Byrne and a baby girl in Neighbors, until a noisy fraternity moves in next-door and incites an all-out war. Zac Efron plays the hot frat president Teddy in a career-turning-point role and Rogen is good as ever, but it’s Byrne who steals the show, bringing a welcome new sensibility to the usual frat bro proceedings. Absolutely one of the best comedies of the 2010s, Neighbors is brimming with the consistent laughs and heart of gold audiences have come to expect from director Nicholas Stoller, who also helmed the note-perfect Forgetting Sarah Marshall.
Written by Rogen’s real-life friend Will Reiser, based on his personal experience with cancer, 50/50 is an underrated gem of a film with awards-worthy performances from Joseph Gordon-Levitt (as the cancer-suffering Adam Lerner), Anna Kendrick, and Anjelica Huston, who is heartbreaking as Adam’s mother, a woman clearly trying to keep a lid on her bubbling grief. Rogen plays the best friend role he played to Reiser in real life, in a performance that highlights a signature trait of the performer too often obscured by crassness and bro-humor – his unwavering decency.
The 40-Year-Old Virgin
The one that started it all is still one of the finest comedies the Apatow gang ever made, with one foot firmly planted in the man-child comedy that would blossom in its wake and another in an exploration of the deep-seated human need to break out of the horn-dog boys club and grow up. It’s the urtext for all things Apatow, and as such, it launched not only a brand but a whole host of careers into their next phases, including Steve Carell, whose Office character of Michael Scott was given a full Season 2 rewrite in response to his performance here.
Funny People was polarizing upon initial release. At two and a half hours, it was deemed too long and too light on the belly-laughs audiences had become accustomed to with studio comedies. Looking at it now, though, it’s exactly what makes a Judd Apatow film so special, the sense of a comic mind with real ambition and feeling. Rogen’s and Adam Sandler’s chemistry is dynamite, and together they tell a story of laughs and loss, joy and anger, and of the incredible loneliness of a life lived telling jokes.
Rogen’s breakout lead debut and still his best star vehicle, Knocked Up may well be the finest film Judd Apatow has yet directed. Subverting the typical role of “guy who gets girl pregnant and gets out of dodge,” Rogen plays a slacker who would give anything to commit, if only he had the upbringing and tools to actually make it happen. What follows is a fairly scathing critique of male arrested development, where the boys sit around smoking weed and crafting a website documenting movies where female celebrities take off their clothes, and the women (represented here with great performances from Katherine Heigl and Leslie Mann) are left to wonder if it’s really worth it being a glorified babysitter for their partners. If that all sounds introspective and heady, rest assured Apatow and company imbue it with the buoyancy of any great comedy, and Rogen anchors it all with plenty of laughs and his signature warmth.
Raucously funny and bursting with the sincere heartbreak of growing pains, Superbad isn’t just the best Seth Rogen film, it’s graduated to the ranks of the greatest comedies of all time. Opposite a brilliant Bill Hader and a breakout debut for the ages by Christopher Mintz-Plasse as the instantly iconic McLovin, Rogen only plays a supporting role. However, the fact that he co-wrote the screenplay with Evan Goldberg in his teen years, and the fact that this premiered less than two months after Knocked Up, cemented Rogen as a bona fide Hollywood presence. It’s the amalgamation of a whole bevy of talents coming together at exactly the right time: Jonah Hill, Michael Cera, Emma Stone, and Apatow himself. Together, they created a primal, generation-defining high school comedy, one that perfectly encapsulates the hormonal highs of adolescence and the heartbreaking lows of growing apart from your high school best friend.
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