Dodgy ending aside, How I Met Your Mother can rank among the finest US network sitcoms of the 21st century. At its best, the formally daring show had heart without the schmaltz, pacy, knowing comedy, and best of all, a great cast of characters.
The core was built around five familiar performers who’d go on to become bonafide stars, but the high concept sitcom had a deep bench, and filled its ranks with fantastic guest stars, recurring parts, and beloved supporting players.
But the question with any long running sitcom is: what next? Traditionally, the answer would be to step onto the big screen, something each of the main cast has managed to do with at least some success. There have also been some pretty traumatising failures, too.
In looking to springboard their way into major motion pictures, the following ten movies were most certainly not what these talented actors had in mind. They can’t all be winners, and everyone’s allowed a couple of duds on their resumes, but even the most ardent HIMYM fans will find little to enjoy about these turkeys.
10. The Smurfs
How I Met Your Mother’s secret weapon was the revitalised Neil Patrick Harris. Finally shedding the shackles of his Doogie Howser childhood, he was a revalation as the catchphrase laden womaniser Barney Stinson. An actor with rare energy, it’s no surprise that he’s had perhaps the finest career post-sitcom.
His obvious passion for performing may explain his decision to take the live action lead in the excerable The Smurfs (and its sequel – a glutton for punishment, this one). He plays Patrick Winslow, a New Yorker and expectant father whose life is turned upside down by the arrival of a load of charmless CGI Smurfs.
The dynamic Harris is tasked with standing around and looking dismayed as as-yet unrendered blue gnomes tear around his apartment, causing havoc, and ultimately teaching him a lesson about fatherhood or some such saccharine slop.
He’s absolutely fine in the part, and one would hope the paycheque was hefty enough, but this is a blip on an otherwise excellent second act of a career. Perhaps he did it to entertain his own kids – we can’t imagine even they got much out of this, though.
9. Afternoon Delight
Not unlike his onscreen counterpart, Josh Radnor lives life as something of a renaissance man. Alongside TV work, he directs, acts on stage, and has an active music career to boot. Indeed it seems he’s so indelibly linked to his most famous role that he continues to get cast as somewhat annoying, privileged men in everything he does.
Case in point: Afternoon Delight, a solid enough if entirely predictable indie movie that sees Radnor put his irritating vibes to uses good and bad. For the purposes of the story, he’s well cast as the sauceless husband of protagonist Kathryn Hahn. Their relationship has lost its spark, and his milquetoast character makes this easy to understand.
As the next step in a still-young career, though, this wasn’t the best choice. Afternoon Delight was the biggest film on Radnor’s CV to date, and sees him rehashing all the worst elements of Ted Mosby (often a problematic character in himself) only without the protection afforded to the protagonist of a sitcom.
Radnor has since shown range (if a continued lack of quality control) in Amazon’s Hunters, but as a big screen coming out party, this wasn’t the finest choice.
Of all Barney’s long term love interests, one of the most compelling is Nora. Played with grace by Nazanin Boniadi, she was never in it for the long haul but fit in nicely for the duration of her run, and gave some viewers something to root for.
Boniadi’s career has been exciting and varied, but one outright dud in which she plays a prominent role is the 2016 remake of Ben-Hur, the DOA flop that took one of cinema’s most successful and beloved stories and turned it into a CGI snooze that did nothing for anyone involved.
Bonadi actually emerges from the project better than most – she plays love interest Esther in a role substantially larger than that in the most famous 50s rendition and as such has less of a looming shadow to live up to – but the character is still somewhat of an archetype, with little in the way of her own motivation or urgency.
She’ll return to the world of epics in Amazon’s upcoming Lord Of The Rings series, where once again she’ll have to battle against the legacy of an incredibly popular existing version. Let’s hope things go a little better this time.
7. Delivery Man
If you’d like to see a film based on the notion of Vince Vaughn masturbating a great deal, you’re in luck. Delivery Man is the story of David, a prolific sperm donor whose hundreds of in vitro offspring file a class action to reveal the identity of their father, which doesn’t bode well for his relationship with Emma.
Emma is played by Cobie Smulders, in an utterly thankless role. Throughout nine seasons of playing Robin, she proved herself to be a truly versatile comedic actress, delivering on laughs and emotional beats in equal measure.
Here, as is sadly the case with many comedies of this era, she is perpetually sidelined so that Chris Pratt can yuck it up as David’s boorish lawyer best pal and Vaughn can effectively sleepwalk through the film as a lazy but ultimately goodhearted schlub out of his depth.
The film’s not terrible by any means, it’s just bizarre and unloveable (and a near-shot by shot remake of a Canadian film by the same director – a strange use of time for all involved). Smulders seems to eschew straightforward comedy for the most part these days, and this may be part of the reason why.
6. Social Animals
Of all the things you can be typecast as, “lame husband who’s not having sex with his wife” is among the least enviable, but somehow this is the path Josh Radnor’s career has taken. Five years after Afternoon Delight, Radnor once again found himself in the role he’s sadly born to play, the unappealing bloke in a minor indie release.
This time Radnor’s asked to do a lot more of the heavy lifting as a prominent part of the ensemble. He’s a commendably reserved actor outside of the sitcom bubble and he certainly sells the character (an adult video store owner, for some daft reason) to the best of his abilities, but he’s betrayed by a script that never goes anywhere.
With a talented cast including Aya Cash and Samira Wiley, there was plenty of opportunity to make something more than half decent here, but the finished project is a bit of a plod. To say Radnor would like us to forget this one is probably a little generous, on the basis few remember it in the first place.
5. The Discovery
This po-faced high concept sci fi comes close to being something properly decent. It has a neat concept – suicide rates skyrocket after proof of the existence of an afterlife – and a solid cast including Robert Redford, Rooney Mara, and HIMYM’s Jason Segel. And then it all goes a little wrong.
The Netflix release lives in the shadows of far better modern sci fis like Midnight Special, and takes the worst cues possible from the genre’s current top dog Christopher Nolan – i.e a complete lack of humour and a seriousness that saps the fun out of the proceedings, without the necessary depth to make up for it.
This is a particularly damaging position for Segel to be in. He’s an actor of immense vulnerability, easily equipped for more serious movies, but he needs a little space to strut his stuff, and this production runs out of puff long after the concept loses its novelty.
He shares many of his scenes with Rooney Mara, and the two never quite seem to click on screen. It’s easy to see why the ambitious actor would pick a film so far out of his comfort zone, but the script does him no favours.
The great Kyle MacLachlan enjoyed a spectacular guest spell in the latter years of the show. Playing The Captain, Ted’s nautically obsessed love rival, the Twin Peaks star built on his many years as a cult favourite to create a bizarre but believable character as HIMYM reached its endgame.
MacLachlan is best known as a David Lynch collaborator, but it’s a Lynchian outlier that earns his place here. Dune and the director seemed a match made in heaven – a famously weird sci fi property and an auteur with true vision.
Lynch fell victim to the studio system, who wouldn’t allow the Eraserhead director the creative control he was used to, and the final product was a limp (if occasionally interesting) box office bomb that no one involved wanted to attach their names to.
This was MacLachlan’s feature debut, and his career was in no way harmed by Dune’s failure, but the movie still stands as a totem of what can happen when an individualistic creator tries to lock horns with big money Hollywood – no one comes out looking great (except maybe Sting).
3. The Slammin’ Salmon
A decade plus removed, it sounds like a fever dream that a troupe called “Broken Lizard” was allowed to continually make and release movies, but the mid to late noughties was a strange time. The Slammin’ Salmon gave one of the earliest named film roles to Cobie Smulders, who was by then four years into HIMYM but underutilised by the Broken Lizard boys all the same.
The Slammin’ Salmon is the movie’s titular restaurant, wherein a competition is underway for the wait staff to earn the most tips on a shift. A cash prize is the incentive for the winner, with a beatdown promised to the loser. What follows is some bro-centric hijinks, and in theory, some laughs.
Smulders is once again completely wasted, playing the down to earth Tara who can merely watch on while the five members of the troupe hog every scene, horde every so-called joke, and essentially pay themselves to goof around.
No doubt the Broken Lizard posse had a super time making this film, but such fun is not shared by the audience. Three years later, Smulders would join the MCU, a choice she probably hasn’t regretted.
2. The Wicker Man
Fans of HIMYM or Six Feet Under will know that Frances Conroy is a tremendous actress. A magnificent screen presence capable of manic comedy while remaining entirely sympathetic, Conroy’s later career has provided some televisual gems as well as major recognition.
Sadly, this recognition led to her casting in Neil LaBute’s remake of The Wicker Man. A film made instantly infamous for Nic Cage’s demented performance, it’s an exceptionally watchable, incredibly bad film which few come out of with any credibility.
Unfortunately, few are made to look as foolish by LaBute’s vision as Conroy. She takes one of the main antagonistic roles, and she certainly serves the director’s concept of the film. The problem: that concept is totally mad, and Conroy plays up her usual airy, bizarre persona to the max, coming close to out-weirding Cage – no mean feat.
Conroy’s work on Six Feet Under alone means she’s golden for life, and she steals scenes as Barney’s mom on HIMYM, so this did her no harm, but one can only imagine how badly she’d cringe were she to watch herself in The Wicker Man – which, presumably, she avoids doing at all costs.
1. Date Movie
With major roles in Buffy and the American Pie franchise behind her, Alyson Hannigan joint HIMYM with the greatest profile (perhaps aside from Harris), and yet her career doesn’t boast nearly the highlights of her contemporaries besides the aforementioned pop cultural sensations. This is particularly true on the big screen, where a succession of poor choices led to the leading role in Date Movie.
Perhaps the nadir of the ‘00s spoof boom, Date Movie was as lazy and distasteful a way to spend 90 minutes as you could imagine, and poor Alyson Hannigan has the misfortune to appear in almost every scene. It’s worth saying that the failure of the film is in no way her fault – she throws herself into every sketch and pastiche in the vague hope of salvaging the project.
It’s unsalvageable, though – settle in for an hour and a half of lame gags at easy targets (fat suit work that Eddie Murphy would blush at), out of date parodies, nonsensical references (a lengthy recreation of that famous rom com Kill Bill) – there’s no depths they won’t plumb here.