The Five Absolutely Essential Seth Rogen Movies

Going from lovable slacker to starring in Steven Spielberg dramas, the man with the goofy laugh and sweet demeanor has quietly become one of Hollywood’s most reliably charming stars
The Five Absolutely Essential Seth Rogen Movies

Welcome to “Five Absolutely Essentials,” an overview of the greatest comedians’ most memorable moments. Mind you, these aren’t necessarily their “best” movies — rather, these are the five films that best represent different aspects of their talent, their ambition, their persona and the artistic risks they’ve taken along the way. If you’re looking for a sense of a comic in all their complexity, here’s where to start. 

Seth Rogen hasn’t just worshiped his comedy heroes from afar — he’s been lucky enough to call them friends and collaborators. “I was in high school when Will Ferrell was first on Saturday Night Live, and I remember thinking, ‘Man, that guy is the funniest guy ever,’” he recalled in 2005. “And, you know, eight years later I am able to be on a set with him and kind of work with him in some capacity, and the same with Adam Sandler, Jim Carrey and Owen Wilson.”

Click right here to get the best of Cracked sent to your inbox.

This is not the only reason to envy the man. So many dudes love video games, weed and movies, but Rogen has managed to turn that lifestyle into a career, often playing guys who aren’t that far removed from the slackers out there in the audience cackling along with his irreverent antics. Starting out on the smart sitcoms Freaks and Geeks and Undeclared, cult favorites that failed to attract a large following, he became friends with writer-producer Judd Apatow, who encouraged his enthusiasm for writing and performing. Soon, he made his way to movies, jumping from brash supporting roles to being a star in his own right. It seems odd to call him an auteur, but it’s not that much of a stretch: Rogen writes, directs, produces and acts, sticking to passion projects he digs rather than worrying about becoming the biggest name in Hollywood. He’s very happy in his little corner of the world, thank you. Every time he shows up in something, it’s a treat.

As we await his take on Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, let’s think for a moment about his career. If you had to sum it up in five films, which ones would you pick? I went with four comedies and one drama, which demonstrate his growth and also his willingness to pick the occasional serious role. Whatever movie he chooses, though, his charisma and decency shine through.

The 40-Year-Old Virgin (2005)

Apatow’s feature directorial debut was many people’s first introduction to Rogen, who played Cal, an uncouth, very funny coworker of Steve Carell’s sensitive virgin. Before The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Rogen had been best known for Freaks and Geeks, which was beloved by a small audience before it got canceled. Rogen figured the same fate awaited this crowd-pleasing comedy.

“(T)he movie will be somewhat well-received, (a) few people will flip out over it and then two weeks later it will be as though it never existed, and on DVD I bet it will do well,” Rogen said of his mindset before the film’s release, later adding, “(N)o one thought it would be considered a hit in any capacity whatsoever. I’m so used to doing stuff with Judd that’s good but goes unnoticed, and the fact that we’ve done something mainstream on a large scale is very weird.”

Indeed, The 40-Year-Old Virgin gave audiences a sense of Rogen’s sarcastic, bro-friendly humor, as Cal teases Carell’s Andy and the rest of their buddies, letting fly with pop-culture-specific insults and major DGAF attitude. Years later, Rogen, who was a co-producer on the film, admitted that he regretted his character’s penchant for homophobic put-downs, which certainly haven’t aged well. But on the whole, this winning film set the stage for Apatow’s comedy takeover of the 21st century — and suggested Rogen’s potential as a foul-mouthed jokester, a flip Bill Murray for a new generation.

Knocked Up (2007)

Here’s where Rogen graduated from wiseass sidekick to unlikely leading man. In writer-director Judd Apatow’s follow-up to The 40-Year-Old Virgin, he plays Ben, a good-hearted loser who enjoys getting stoned — until one night, when he has a random hookup with Allison (Katherine Heigl), a driven entertainment journalist who wants to make something of her life. She ends up pregnant, and Ben has to learn to grow up to be a worthy partner for this woman, who definitely didn’t see herself having a child with such a manchild. But Ben is determined to prove to her, and the audience, that he can change.

“I think almost any guy is redeemable, yeah — if you haven’t done anything truly terrible,” Rogen said around the film’s release, later adding, “You can kind of have all the people say all the filthy, despicable things you want and have them do stupid things, but as long as you get that character’s trying to be a good person through it all, that’s kind of all I need to latch onto. It’s simple, but I think, emotionally speaking, it’s true to my experience with people. If you meet someone, everyone has their shortcomings, but as long as you see they’re trying to do well by others, then they’re very redeemable I find.”

Knocked Up didn’t shortchange the uproarious immature punchlines of Apatow’s previous film. But it was a slightly more mature romantic comedy, with Rogen utilizing his charm and likeability to believably portray an every-schlub who, deep down, has a big heart. Rogen was never that great playing horrendous assholes — he’s just too sweet to fully pull it off — and Knocked Up was a perfect platform for highlighting the lovable sweetness beneath the pothead exterior. 

This Is the End (2013)

From early in his career, Rogen didn’t just want to be an actor. All along, he had filmmaking aspirations, and he and creative partner Evan Goldberg have written, produced and/or directed several projects. The best of the bunch is this R-rated riff on the post-apocalyptic thriller, which the writer-directors reimagined as a broad comedy in which Rogen and his celebrity pals, all playing exaggerated versions of themselves, grapple with the end of the world. Of course, because none of them have any real-world skills, they’re totally helpless — hilariously so.

This Is the End started out as a short film, Jay & Seth vs. the Apocalypse, featuring Rogen and his good buddy Jay Baruchel. But fans kept pestering Rogen about developing it into a feature. “(I)t seemed to be an idea that really resonated with people, for some weird reason — just the idea of guys stuck in a house together if the world was ending,” Rogen later told Entertainment Weekly. “And I honestly think that’s why we kept talking about it, is because people kept bringing it up to us. And then (after hearing), ‘Are you gonna make it into a real movie? Are you gonna make it into a real movie?’ Eventually we were like, ‘What if we did make it into a real movie? How would that go?’”

Unlike some of his co-stars, such as James Franco and Jonah Hill, who really exaggerate their ego-driven, lunatic versions of themselves — at least I hope it’s an exaggeration — Rogen plays his onscreen alter ego fairly normally, which doesn’t make his performance any less hilarious. In essence, he and Baruchel — who play old friends who have lost connection over the years — are the straight men, and it’s amusing to see Rogen in that role. Plus, as anarchic and WTF hysterical as This Is the End is, there’s also real emotion to that story of a friendship in need of repair. Rogen and Goldberg have never hit the same sweet spot of foul-mouthed brilliance and touching sincerity since. 

Neighbors (2014)

Seth Rogen, over the hill? It’s impossible to imagine the sophomoric big kid of The 40-Year-Old Virgin ever being able to hold a normie job and live in the suburbs, but that’s what made the premise of Neighbors so perfect: He and Rose Byrne play married parents who move into their first house, only to discover that they’re next to a rowdy frat house ruled by Zac Efron’s cocky party animal. And the more that Rogen’s office drone tries to prove to this college student that he can still rage like he did as a younger man, the more comically pathetic he comes across.

Produced by Rogen and Goldberg, and written by Andrew J. Cohen and Brendan O’Brien, Neighbors was an ingenious pivot for the star, poking fun at his outrageous, immature on-screen persona, making himself the butt of the joke and acknowledging that, like it or not, eventually everybody has to grow up. The movie gets plenty of laughs from Rogen’s character coming to that realization as Efron keeps needling this boring old dude for his lame lifestyle.

“We are getting older and a lot of us have kids and we’re all married pretty much, and we’re always looking for ways to creatively write about wherever we are at in our lives,” Rogen explained when asked what appealed to him about the Neighbors script. “And it seemed like the idea of exploring a couple that is really struggling with their kid and the fact that they want to party more was something that we haven’t really seen in a movie before, and it seemed like a cool thing to explore.”

Laughing at encroaching middle age did nothing to diminish Rogen’s popularity: Neighbors was a big hit, inspiring a less-than-great sequel. But the film made clear that he could age on-screen and still be funny. After all, the young fans who came of age with his early movies were getting older, too — no doubt they could relate to Rogen’s plight.

The Fabelmans (2022)

Rogen doesn’t just do comedies: He’s tackled more serious fare in films such as 50/50, Take This Waltz and Steve Jobs. Still, he tends to be pretty self-effacing about what he perceives as his limitations as a dramatic actor. When he was asked in 2018 if there were roles he’d wished he could have gotten, he replied, “If that’s happened it’s been with a role Jonah (Hill) got, and he’s a better actor than I am, so it’s okay.”

Nonetheless, he’s quite good in Steven Spielberg’s semi-autobiographical 2022 film about a young aspiring filmmaker (Gabriel LaBelle) and his dysfunctional family. Rogen played Bennie, best friend and coworker of the kid’s dad (Paul Dano) who’s secretly in love with his buddy’s wife (Michelle Williams). Rogen isn’t trying for laughs, but he doesn’t strain for effect, either. He’s such a relaxed, natural presence that he fits in perfectly with The Fabelmans’ mixture of pathos and wistful humor.

In recent years, he’s only continued to stretch himself, executive producing the hit Amazon series The Boys and earning an Emmy nomination for his role on Pam & Tommy. Don’t let the dorky laugh and aw-shucks demeanor fool you: He’s an ambitious guy even if he doesn’t carry himself as a pretentious artiste.

Scroll down for the next article
Forgot Password?