Peter Berg began work as an actor, picking up bit parts in film and TV, most destined for the bargain bin if remembered at all. With notable parts in the war drama A Midnight Clear and the neo-noir The Last Seduction, he garnered more acclaim, until landing a starring role on the acclaimed CBS medical drama Chicago Hope. But these days he’s better known as a director, mostly of action movies starring Mark Wahlberg. (His fourth, Mile 22, opens August 17.) His career as a director spans 20 years, so I’ve decided to rank them all from worst to best. (I’m excluding his TV work, including his 30 for 30 documentary Kings Ransom.)
10. Battleship (2012)
Easily one of the worst films of the decade, this big-budget board-game adaptation (even that phrase makes me shudder) has been dubbed “bathtub Transformers,” but even that doesn’t do justice to how thoroughly stupid this movie is at every single point. Poor Taylor Kitsch, the star of Berg’s TV adaptation of Friday Night Lights, picked the wrong year to try to hit it big. Besides this, his other two films that year were Oliver Stone’s vile adaptation of Savages and Andrew Stanton’s mega-flop John Carter. While Berg rebounded, Kitsch's career has yet to recover.
9. Very Bad Things (1998)
While it deserves some points for being unapologetically dark and nasty, Berg’s first film was a misfire. A bachelor party goes wrong when the evening’s entertainment winds up dead (a plot it shares with 2017’s Rough Night) and the guys decide to take care of the problem themselves. The cast is fully committed to every twist and turn, but it’s for a movie that doesn’t deserve it.
8. Mile 22 (2018)
This action/spy/revenge thriller is both overstuffed and undercooked. It’s only 90 minutes, but spends too much time trying to make us care about characters who are only going to get killed anyway. Mark Wahlberg gives a pretty awful performance as the motor-mouthed leader of Overwatch, an elite tactical squad trying to get a witness (Iko Uwais) from the U.S. Embassy in an unnamed Southeast Asian country to a plane to get him out safely. The action is well-staged but incoherently edited. It would have been much better without the high-tech angle, and without Wahlberg’s whole team (including Lauren Cohan and Ronda Rousey).
7. Hancock (2008)
One of the best examples of “great concept, so-so execution,” Hancock is among the many 2000s movies that made a ton of money but almost no one talks about anymore. Will Smith is charming as usual, but the premise of a depressed, alcoholic superhero undergoing image rehabilitation deserves an R rating (and some script revision). Its midway twist – in which it’s revealed that Charlize Theron, the wife of Jason Bateman’s beleaguered PR exec, is also a superhero – throws a promising venture off course.
6. Patriots Day (2016)
The third of Berg’s efforts with Mark Wahlberg playing a real-life survivor of a tragedy is the least successful – critically and commercially – of the three. It’s still an effective thriller, but some casting mistakes (including Nat Wolff as Dhzokhar Tsarnaev and goofball Jimmy O. Yang as a hostage) and a lot of wholly invented scenes (including a shootout involving J.K. Simmons as a Watertown police sergeant) keep it from its full potential.
5. Lone Survivor (2013)
Despite an occasional detour into some jingoism, Lone Survivor is one of the better films about our endless war in Afghanistan. Mark Wahlberg plays – you guessed it – the lone survivor of a reconnaissance team whose mission goes horribly awry. What makes the film better is its focus on brotherhood and on all the bone-crunching details of the ordeal.
4. The Rundown (2003)
The most purely fun movie Berg ever made, The Rundown is a blast from start to finish, featuring Dwayne Johnson flexing his actual muscles to show the star he would become, and Seann William Scott in what’s almost certainly his best role ever. While it’s called Welcome to the Jungle in the rest of the world, it could easily be called Bromancing the Stone. Their team-up makes for one of the better on-screen duos of the ’00s. If you haven’t seen this one, seek it out.
3. Deepwater Horizon (2016)
A film that very nearly made my top 10 that year, this is an astonishing film about corporate greed and human ingenuity, focusing on the various engineers and blue-collar workers – including Mark Wahlberg, Kurt Russell, and Gina Rodriguez) trapped on a drilling platform in the Gulf of Mexico as it erupts in flames. It’s also one of the best sound effects showcases ever. Come for the harrowing spectacle and human inspiration, stay for the scathing indictment of oil company executives.
2. The Kingdom (2007)
While Berg’s handling of U.S.-Saudi relations could generously be described as “problematic,” this is one of the 2000s' most effective thrillers. When a bomb blows up a softball game of American workers and their families, and then blows up the first responders, an FBI team comprised of Jamie Foxx, Jennifer Garner, Jason Bateman and Chris Cooper head to Riyadh to investigate. While they receive help from their local police contact (an excellent Ashraf Barhom), they’re often undercut by more skeptical officers and government officials, while the terrorists responsible plot their next attack. The film’s already memorable for its well-executed action scenes but moves up a level because of its bleak ending.
1. Friday Night Lights (2004)
Football has basically been America’s de facto religion for a long time. It’s even more fervent in my home state of Texas. Buzz Bissinger’s landmark non-fiction book – about the 1988 Permian High School football season – rubbed a lot of Odessa residents the wrong way because of how critical it was of their worship of the local team. The movie keeps all that intact, while adding visceral, heart-pounding game footage and bringing the gorgeous sounds of Austin band Explosions in the Sky to a wide audience. It also laid the groundwork for one of the greatest TV shows of all time. While the young cast is terrific, it’s country singer Tim McGraw who impresses the most as the alcoholic father of fullback Don Billingsley (Garrett Hedlund). It’s both an exciting sports movie and a depressing depiction of the trap of small-town life. It’s easily Berg’s career peak.