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Once upon a time, people used to go to the movies based on who was on them. Even if people didn’t know much else about a movie, they would say, “Oh, Arnold Schwarzenegger is in it? Oh, Tom Cruise is in it? Oh, Tom Hanks is in it? I’ll check it out then.” For a good long while in the 1990s, Jim Carrey was in that group too.

In more recent times, franchises or brand names sell movies more than stars do. People go to a movie because it’s Marvel or DC or Star Wars. But 25 to 30 years ago, star power was as strong as it ever was, and Carrey’s career became a game-changer when he got handed a very large check for a movie that was ultimately seen as a misfire. 

Jim Carrey breaks out

Jim Carrey at a photocall
Jim Carrey | Ben A. Pruchnie/Getty Images

Carrey first became widely known in 1990 when he appeared on the show In Living Color. Carrey made his mark with his rubber-faced antics and his spot-on impressions. He had a few small roles in movies, like a small part in Clint Eastwood’s final Dirty Harry movie, The Dead Pool, but at that point, he hadn’t had a lead vehicle that he could call his own. 

Then, in 1992, Ace Ventura: Pet Detective came along and surprised everyone by grossing $107 million worldwide. Nowadays, that’s the first weekend gross of an average Marvel movie, but 28 years ago, that was an impressive total gross. Many critics turned up their noses, but audiences ate up Carrey’s crude antis and manic energy. And the next hit would be even bigger. 

That would be The Mask. People had previously described Carrey as a live action cartoon, but that comedy, with its wild digital effects, turned Carrey into a literal cartoon, and it made Cameron Diaz a star to boot. It was like a domino effect. According to The Ringer, because Ace Ventura made a lot of money, The Mask got a bigger effects budget, and that surely contributed to its $351 million worldwide gross. 

He got how much for ‘The Cable Guy?’ 

For the next few years, the hits just kept on coming – the good kind of hits. Dumb and Dumber. Batman Forever. Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls — all grossing at least $212 million worldwide. It seemed like Carrey couldn’t miss.

In 1994, his movies made more than $700 million. Then came The Cable Guy

Mind you, The Cable Guy may not be as bad as you’ve heard, but it’s one of the prime examples of a movie distorted by its reputation. The movie made headlines before a frame of it was shot when it was announced that Carry got a $20 million paycheck for that movie. At the time, it was the biggest financial windfall any actor had ever received. 

So imagine the indignity when The Cable Guy came out, and it wasn’t great or even particularly good. The movie made its money back, but it was considered a disappointment in relation to cost. Carrey took it in stride at the time. When he won an MTV Movie Award for The Cable Guy, he joked about the people at the studio: “I hope they found new jobs.’ 

Jim Carrey had a hit this year after a long absence


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The Cable Guy turned out to be a bump in the road, with Liar Liar being seen as a return to form. Shortly after that, Carrey began acting in more serious fare, with mixed commercial results.

The Truman Show was a hit; The Majestic was not. Bruce Almighty from 2004 was arguably the last hit of the “old Jim Carrey” and after that, his track record was a lot spottier. 

Eventually, Carrey seemed to more or less retire from the movies, generating more headlines for tweets than movies. Then he appeared as the villain in this year’s Sonic the Hedgehog, which was lucky enough to become one of this year’s only real box office hits because it came out before the pandemic cast its long shadow. 

Whether this foretells some kind of Jim Carrey renaissance seems unlikely, but for many moviegoers, laughs from that familiar face were most welcome in a year that hasn’t offered much to laugh about.