“Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby” is Will Ferrell’s best movie, and I’ll come at anyone like a spider-monkey who disagrees.
10 years after its theatrical debut, “Talladega Nights” still ranks in the top six Will Ferrell films in terms of box office performance. That’s not too shabby when you consider two of those six films are animated ensembles, and another one features Mark Wahlberg, cinema’s greatest monster. Only “Elf” outperforms “Talledega Nights” in box office gross, and there’s a solid argument to be made that “Elf” did as well as it did because it was a Christmas movie. Not because it’s better than “Talladega Nights.” (It ain’t.)
But putting the impressive (and often forgotten) box office performance aside, there are many reasons why “Talladega Nights” is Ferrell’s greatest film. Since list posts and Dose go together like cocaine and waffles, here’s three reasons it’s definitely worth a rewatch.
1. It’s As Quotable Now As It Was Then
A lot of today’s comedies won’t age well. They’re big on improv and dropping as many current cultural references as they can. As funny as the “Fat Gandalf” line is in “Deadpool,” 10 years from now, nobody is going to care about that excellent “Lord of the Rings” joke.
Although “Talladega Nights” does have some referential humor, it’s not dependent at all on lazy film trends. Many of the best lines, like Cal Naughton Jr. thinking cocaine and waffles are two entirely reasonable things to combine, are hilarious and outrageous in and of themselves. You don’t need to go into “Talladega Nights” knowing anything beyond what’s presented to you.
And so many of those lines can still be used today in different contexts—that’s not the case with other Ferrell movies besides “Anchorman.”
2. The Film Was Loved By The Thing It Mocked
You can measure the worth of a movie based on its real life impact. Case in point: Wonderbread is Ricky Bobby’s sponsor for most of the movie, but it was never an actual NASCAR sponsor. At the time “Talladega Nights” was produced, the company behind Wonderbread was bankrupt, so they made a no money exchanged handshake deal with the film’s producers—something that’s highly unusual when you look at the product placement bonanza we’ve seen in the years since.
That all changed three years ago when NASCAR driver Kurt Busch linked up with Wonderbread to sponsor his car at Talladega. A year earlier, Busch drove a similar “Talledega Nights”-themed vehicle, which came with its own stuffed cougar, making him my favorite NASCAR driver.
If people are still actively paying tribute to it like Kurt Busch, that tells us the film has transcended to classic status. This is especially remarkable because NASCAR is mocked relentlessly throughout the film, yet the sport and its fans have embraced it.
3. We Are Ricky Bobby
Most Will Ferrell roles lean on the “overconfident idiot” trope, which allows us to quietly laugh at our stupid mistakes through the trials and tribulations of his characters. None more so than Ricky Bobby.
Bobby starts out successful and soon finds himself with nothing. Not his wife. Not his wonderfully deranged children Walker and Texas Ranger, and not his best friend, Cal Naughton Jr. He has to rebuild himself. And although we may not have the things Ricky Bobby starts the film with, or an arch nemesis, (which is something I’ve always wanted), we can relate to a fall from grace. Or doing something incredibly stupid that costs us a job or a partner.
More importantly, we’re a society of overconfident idiots. That may sting to hear, but what exactly do you think telling someone “Fake it until you make it” means when they don’t know what to fake or how to get what they want? (Don’t get me wrong. It’s not bad advice. It’s just that you have to have a clear plan to do that well.) And the reason why that advice works so well in America is because we’re ok with looking and sounding dumb.
By admitting we don’t know what we’re doing and failing, like Ricky Bobby, that’s how we learn valuable life lessons and make the changes we need to in our life. And that’s what makes Ricky Bobby so memorable. Ron Burgundy doesn’t change. He just loses his job and then gets it back. Buddy the Elf is still Buddy the Elf at the end of the movie, but Ricky Bobby’s life is significantly different at the end of his journey in “Talladega Nights,” much like we hope ours to be.