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Top 10 Matthew McConaughey Performances (REDUX)

VO: Rebecca Brayton
Born November 4th, 1969 in Texas, Matthew McConaughey is an actor who was once best known for his laid-back demeanor, his charismatic personality and his abs. His breakout role came in 1991 when he was cast in Richard Linklater’s "Dazed and Confused," and since then he has played lawyers, contract killers, strippers and everything in between to great success. Whether he’s playing a romantic lead, a football coach or an overzealous agent, McConaughey brings his trademark cool guy factor to the part, and shines in both lead and supporting roles - and that has even won him an Oscar for Best Actor. In this video, counts down Matthew McConaughey’s top 10 performances.

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Top 10 Matthew McConaughey Performances (REDUX)

He went from the it-boy of rom-coms and serial movie lawyer to an Oscar-winning A-lister. Welcome to, and today we’re counting down our picks for Matthew McConaughey’s top 10 performances.

#10: Denton Van Zan
“Reign of Fire” (2002)

In this post-apocalyptic action romp, McConaughey uses his southern swagger to play a roughhewn tough guy, the requisite American cowboy and a slayer of dragons. After some long-dormant dragons awaken and annihilate humanity, McConaughey steps in with his tenacity and badassery to lead a veritable army to take them down. Though he clashes violently with Christian Bale, McConaughey proves he’s got the goods to back up his arrogance – after all, who else is crazy enough to battle a dragon with just an axe and brute force?

#9: Jack Lengyel
“We Are Marshall” (2006)

While this based-on-a-true-story film got a mixed reception from critics and fans, McConaughey was almost universally praised for his portrayal of the new football coach at a school that just lost its entire team in a plane crash. The part gives him an opportunity to show another side of his skills, and the result is an inspirational, emotional, sometimes funny, and charismatic performance that is a definite touchdown.

#8: Danny Buck Davidson
“Bernie” (2011)

Bizarre, darkly funny and true, this Richard Linklater film is named for a small-town Texas mortician who befriends and eventually murders a wealthy local, but keeps his crime hidden for months. Beside a career-best Jack Black, McConaughey shines – like he always does in Linklater films – as the DA who finally nails Bernie. And, he pulls out all the stops to give us a typical McConaughey character: cool, proud, calculating and always charming. But in this case, it’s tougher than usual to tell the good guys from the bad.

#7: Jake Tyler Brigance
“A Time to Kill” (1996)

Though he had very few roles under his belt by this point in his career, and almost no training as an actor, he manages to shine beside a killer ensemble cast as a young lawyer who must try an almost impossible case. And while he portrayed another young lawyer the following year in “Amistad,” it’s with this John Grisham adaptation that McConaughey proved his mettle, by reminding us of the film’s most disturbing themes and questions in an unforgettable courtroom speech.

#6: Mickey Haller
“The Lincoln Lawyer” (2011)

Instead of getting lazy and playing out his career with a string of interchangeable romantic comedies, McConaughey uses this movie to remind us he can still act. He plays a cheesy, crooked lawyer who is somehow forced to fight for the good guys. The author who penned the novel on which the story is based said McConaughey nailed the role, and you can’t get much higher praise than that.

#5: Mud
“Mud” (2012)

A colorful and sometimes scary fugitive on the run from a murder rap, Mud is an outlaw who needs help from some local teens. Driven by character and strong performances, this thoughtful and moody movie is yet another role that distanced McConaughey from his rom-com past. Paralleling great American novels like “Tom Sawyer,” “Huckleberry Finn” and “To Kill a Mockingbird,” this Southern drama is both uplifting and enchanting, with a convincing and understated performance by McConaughey in the title role.

#4: David Wooderson
“Dazed and Confused” (1993)

Not only was this McConaughey’s memorable breakthrough role; Wooderson was also the character that set up the McConaughey stereotype we knew and loved for years. This is the first of many collaborations between McConaughey and director Richard Linklater, and all have been some of the best work of the actor’s career. Though his role in “Dazed” is not much more than a cameo, he provides some of the most unforgettable material in the entire flick, and is able to sum up his charming, laid-back character with one quote: “that’s what I love about these high school girls, man; I just keep getting older but they stay the same age.”

#3: “Killer” Joe Cooper
“Killer Joe” (2011)

One of the most merciless entries on McConaughey’s résumé, this William Friedkin film gives the actor a chance to use his charm and charisma in a decidedly darker arena. As “Killer Joe,” McConaughey shows off his ability to play slimy and self-assured roles as an assassin-for-hire who is tapped to kill a woman for her life insurance money. In a film full of gripping performances, McConaughey’s is a head above the rest, and it reminds us that his range expands far beyond rom-coms.

#2: Detective Rustin Spencer “Rust” Cohle
“True Detective” (2014-)

Bringing his undeniable star power to the small screen, McConaughey takes on the antihero role of an engaging yet nihilistic, cynical and disillusioned Louisiana cop. Dedicated and gifted but burdened by his past and his demons, Cohle gives the actor plenty of juicy monologues – or as they’ve been dubbed online, McConaulagues – with which to spread his acting wings. Spouting philosophical truths to his partner Woody Harrelson, instead of typical buddy-cop small-talk, McConaughey helps make this HBO series a must-watch, and television a viable medium for tense and outstanding drama.

Before we unveil our number one pick, here are a few honorable mentions:
- Dallas “Magic Mike” (2012)
- Rick “Pecker” Peck “Tropic Thunder” (2008)
- Palmer Joss “Contact” (1997)
- Fenton Meiks “Frailty” (2001)
- Mark Hanna “The Wolf of Wall Street” (2013)
- Benjamin Barry “How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days” (2003)

#1: Ron Woodroof
“Dallas Buyers Club” (2013)

After years of honing his trademark swagger in rom-coms and courtroom dramas, McConaughey convinced everyone – including the Academy – to take notice of his talents. Still typical of his style, but with all pretense and about 50-pounds stripped away, this story sees McConaughey portray a real-life AIDS patient who’s struggling for access to drugs that could prolong his life. With newfound urgency, power and hope, McConaughey goes from a homophobe in denial to a man accepting of those around him – and that won him his first Oscar.

Do you agree with our list? Which is your favorite Matthew McConaughey performance? For more entertaining top 10s, be sure to subscribe to

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