Actor Matthew McConaughey has had one of the most versatile film careers of his generation, amassing an envious filmography over 27 years. With nearly 70 credits to his name, McConaughey's dedication to the craft of acting is evident in the quality of work seen throughout his films. However, his career hasn't always been a walk in the park. After Dazed and Confused, he struggled to find his footing in the industry, taking on an assortment of different characters in mildly successful films. Eventually, McConaughey was typecast as the romantic comedy leading man for a decade in the 2000s, before finally crawling himself out of career purgatory to win a coveted Academy Award.
McConaughey's physical evolution over the years can be tied to specific films, as most actors constantly change their appearances for the preparation of filming certain roles. His career evolution is as unpredictable and ever-changing as his hairstyle.
Whether he's wearing his hair blonde and curly or brown and straight, or any combination in-between, sporting reading glasses or not, or flaunting a clean-cut or scruffy look, one thing has always remained consistent with McConaughey: his star power is magnetic.
Here are 20 pictures that show his physical and career evolution.
20 The Amistad Days
McConaughey took his first role in a period piece in 1997, the historical drama Amistad. Directed by one of the most well-known directors in the history of cinema, Steven Spielberg, Amistad stars McConaughey as another lawyer, this time real-life personRoger Sherman Baldwin.
The film tells the story of a mutiny on a slave ship that occurred during the passage from Cuba to America, and the lawyer (McConaughey) hired to exonerate the passengers of the ship. McConaughey’s serious look consisted of a beard, an occasional Lincoln-esque top hat, glasses and 19th century attire. We almost didn't recognize him!
19 EDtv And The Everyman
Although EDtv was released to mixed critical reception in 1999, it was a smart role for McConaughey to take, allowing him to remind audiences of his acting range. Directed by Oscar winner Ron Howard (A Beautiful Mind), EDtv tells a tale reminiscent of the far superior The Truman Show, in which a man has his entire life filmed for a television show. Although a perceptive critique on reality television, EDtv’s critical and financial success, or lack thereof, according to Rotten Tomatoes, ultimately didn’t justify the case for a US remake of the French film King of the Airways.
As a video store clerk with larger aspirations, McConaughey does a fine job of portraying the Everyman. Throughout the film, he is seen in short dirty blonde hair, a five o’clock shadow and an assortment of flannel button-downs.
18 The U-571 Era
U-571 is another example of McConaughey taking an interesting role in an otherwise largely mundane film. Another period piece, in this movie McConaughey plays Lt. Andrew Tyler, a submariner from the US sent to infiltrate a German submarine during World War II to steal the Enigma cipher machine. Written and directed by Jonathan Mostow (Terminator 3), and co-written by David Ayer (Fury), U-571 received mixed critical reviews and a modest $77.1 million at the box office in 2000 on a $62 million budget, according to Box Office Mojo.
Nonetheless, it continued to display to audiences that McConaughey could anchor a film alongside other A-list actors along the likes of Harvey Keitel and Bill Paxton. Throughout the film, McConaughey has a buzzed, military hairstyle, and is mostly seen in uniform.
17 The Wedding Planner And The Age Of The McConaughey Rom-Com
The Wedding Planner, McConaughey’s first venture into the romantic comedy genre in 2001, marked the beginning of both a career drought and a seemingly unbreakable typecast within the genre. McConaughey found a niche in the film industry, decided to sit in that niche for as long as his career could handle it and went on acting autopilot for the next decade. Although a harmless romantic comedy, The Wedding Planner fell short in the writing and directing department.
Without a solid story, McConaughey and Jennifer Lopez, a talented actor in her own right, didn’t have much material to work with. McConaughey, who switches back to wavy blonde hair in The Wedding Planner, plays a doctor, frequently dressed in plain v-neck sweaters and, you guessed it, glasses.
16 Frailty And McConaughey's First Foray Into Horror
McConaughey’s first foray into the horror genre in 2001 with Frailty was one of the few relative critical successes in the dry, romantic comedy spell of the versatile actor’s career. However, according to Box Office Mojo, it didn’t receive the audience it deserved, only grossing approximately $17,400,000 worldwide on an $11,000,000 budget.
Frailty reunited McConaughey with his U-571 co-star Bill Paxton, who also directed the film. In the movie, McConaughey plays the troubled son of a religious fanatic. It featured, arguably, his finest performance to date. McConaughey wears one outfit throughout the film: black slacks and dress shoes, a blue T-shirt and a cream leather jacket. In yet another switch, his hair is short, light-brown and curly in Frailty.
15 Going Bald In Reign Of Fire
Reign of Fire (2002) was solid in concept, but somewhere in the process of putting pen to paper and adapting paper to screen, the concept became muddled in the writers’ desire to portray showy action over character and story development. Reign of Fire depicts a dystopian, present-day London forced to survive when a once-dormant species of fire-breathing dragons is exuded from beneath the ground. McConaughey’s character is about as believable as his name, Denton Van Zan.
While scouring the scorched earth in pursuit of the elusive dragons, McConaughey’s wardrobe in the film consists of cargo pants and a wool vest, exposing his arms covered in tribal tattoos. He's often seen chewing an unlit cigar. Perhaps most different about his appearance in Reign of Fire is his hairstyle, which for the first time is bald.
14 The How To Lose A Guy In 10 Days Era
One of his more memorable romantic comedies, How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days united McConaughey with A-list star and Hollywood royalty Kate Hudson, in 2003. Another harmless film, How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days didn’t do much to advance McConaughey’s career artistically, further cementing him into the relatable romantic male lead typecast.
Although the film didn’t receive the best reviews from critics, US audiences thoroughly enjoyed it, as evidenced by the film’s roughly $105,800,000 million domestic box office performance, reported by Box Office Mojo. McConaughey sports light brown, medium-length, wavy hair in the movie and is sharply dressed in every scene.
13 Sahara And That Fake Tan
In the middle of his career drought, McConaughey tried his hand at the adventure genre with the 2005 film Sahara, an adaptation of Clive Cussler’s novel, according to IMDb. Unfortunately, Sahara’s silver screen adaption doesn’t live up to the work of Cussler, widely considered one of the greatest adventure writers of his generation.
In the movie, McConaughey plays Dirk Pitt, expert explorer, who embarks upon a quest to find a lost Civil War ship in West Africa. Throughout the film, McConaughey, who either spent hours under a tanning bed or vacationed somewhere sunny as part of his preparation for the role of Pitt, has long, curly, brown, greasy, slicked-back hair and scruffy facial hair. Impressively, McConaughey did most of his own stunts in Sahara. Perhaps this was the first sign of his method acting tendencies?
12 Failure To Launch: An Apt Metaphor
Weighed down by countless clichés and tired tropes seen repeatedly throughout the romantic comedy genre, Failure to Launch was both a critical and financial flop, as well as an apt metaphor for McConaughey’s career at the time in 2006. The romantic comedy period of his career didn’t help to dissuade critics of their judgment of McConaughey. Surprisingly, the film made $88,700,000 domestically on a $50,000,000 budget, according to Box Office Mojo, proving that there is always a demand for this genre, regardless of output quality.
As an adult who still lives with his parents, McConaughey’s Tripp character is entangled in a plan by his parents to get him out of the house by baiting him with a beautiful woman. His getup consists of wavy, dirty-blonde hair and preppy, East Coast attire.
11 Tropic Thunder And The Turning Tide
At a time when it seemed like McConaughey couldn’t recover from a series of unfortunate typecasts and critical and financial flops, he appeared in Ben Stiller’s Tropic Thunder in a minor roll in 2008, in his first true comedy. It was refreshing to see an unrestrained McConaughey, free of the confines of any character archetype.
Tropic Thunder was the turning point in the second act of Matthew McConaughey’s career. In it, he plays actor Tugg Speedman’s agent, who’ll go to any lengths to get him his TiVo. McConaughey’s dedication to the role sold the comedic moments with his character. As an agent, he is accordingly well dressed, wearing his hair, which is darker in Tropic Thunder, curly and disheveled.
10 The Lincoln Lawyer And The Age of The McConaissance
2011 marked the year that the famed “McConaissance” began, starting with The Lincoln Lawyer. McConaughey plays Mick Haller, a down-on-his-luck lawyer (again), living out of his Lincoln (perhaps his first love affair with the noteworthy car manufacturer), defending a wealthy man who he believes is guilty of more than the accusations against him.
The film received an 83% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and although it grossed a modest $58,000,000 in the domestic box office on a $40 million budget, as reported by Box Office Mojo, it proved that McConaughey was still a capable leading actor in films outside of the romantic comedy genre.
9 The Dazed And Confused Era
Thank Richard Linklater (Boyhood) for Matthew McConaughey’s instant rise to superstardom within the film industry. The critically-acclaimed indie film director cast a then-unknown McConaughey in the iconic role of Wooderson in what would become one of the first cult classics of the 90s.
Dazed and Confused (1993), a touching and hilarious coming-of-age film infused with '70s nostalgia, follows the exploits of a teenager and his friends the summer before freshman year of high school. It features McConaughey with long, straight and blonde hair. He's tatted up and rocking one memorable mustache. Wooderson was the first installment in an envious, Academy Award-winning, albeit occasionally slow, career.
8 His A Time Look
McConaughey slowly started getting more substantial roles in larger films. In 1996, he was cast in Joel Schumacher’s A Time to K*ll as clean-cut defense attorney Jake Brigance. Based on John Grisham’s novel and with a screenplay adapted by Oscar winner Akiva Goldsman (A Beautiful Mind), the film boasts an all-star cast, including Sandra Bullock, Samuel L. Jackson, Oliver Platt, Chris Cooper and Donald and Kiefer Sutherland, according to IMDb.
McConaughey, sporadically sporting glasses throughout the film, evokes an intelligent exterior, and has short, curly, brown and slicked-back hair. It’s one of the many times McConaughey’s hair colour and length has changed for a role throughout his career.
7 Mud And The Depth Of McConaughey
Nobody expected Mud. In it, McConaughey gave, to date, the finest performance of his career. As a titular character in Mud (2012), he is mesmerizing in every frame of the film. Having broken out of the romantic comedy typecast and gained confidence with critically-acclaimed films liked the aforementioned Tropic Thunder and The Lincoln Lawyer, we saw a new level to McConaughey's depth as an actor.
"Chameleon" isn’t the first word one would use to describe McConaughey’s ability as an actor, but he disappears into the role of the mysterious fugitive called Mud. With long, untidy, dark brown hair, unkempt facial hair, and covered in dirt, McConaughey is almost unrecognizable in the role.
6 Comedic Relief In The Wolf Of Wall Street
Perhaps one of the most critical characteristics to the success of the McConaissance has been McConaughey’s willingness to take minor but memorable roles in critically successful films. Tropic Thunder was the first sign of this. Then Bernie, and Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street (2013). In it, McConaughey plays stockbroker Mark Hanna, Jordan Belford’s (Leonardo DiCaprio) mentor, responsible for one of the funniest monologues in the film. McConaughey is dressed in a pricey '80s pin-striped suit, with dark-brown and parted hair.
It was around the same time that McConaughey began filming his next film, Dallas Buyers Club, the physical transformation for which can already be seen in The Wolf of Wall Street.
5 The Impressive Transformation In Dallas Buyers Club
We have finally arrived at the height of the McConaissance. Going full method actor in 2013, McConaughey underwent one of the most impressive and noticeable physical transformations for his role in Dallas Buyers Club. In giving himself fully to the role, McConaughey deservedly won his first Oscar for Best Actor in a Leading Role. Often seen wearing jeans, a white T-shirt and a cowboy hat throughout the film, McConaughey is particularly gaunt as the character of Ron Woodroof. His hair is dark brown, his mustache thick and the soulful delivery of his lines sonorous.
In his Oscar acceptance speech, The Atlantic reports that McConaughey said his hero is always himself in 10 years, and in that sense he’ll never be his hero, but it always gives him time to strive toward that goal.
4 Interstellar And Matthew McConaughey’s Continued Everyman Sensibilities
McConaughey continued the McConaissance with Interstellar in 2014. The film united McConaughey with formidable film director, Christopher Nolan. In the movie, McConaughey plays the Everyman archetype again as Cooper, a farmer by heritage but a trained NASA pilot and expert engineer by vocation.
There’s nothing new about McConaughey’s appearance in Interstellar. He has a dark brown crew cut and wears T-shirts, jeans and a brown jacket throughout the film when he's not in space gear. Perhaps most noteworthy about McConaughey’s performance in Interstellar is that it features the most believable crying scenes of his career.
3 The True Detective Craze
Cary Joji Fukunaga and Nic Pizzolatto revitalized peak TV with HBO’s True Detective in 2014, a dark, gritty crime drama that narratively spanned nearly two decades. Much of this success was attributed to the producers and lead actors, Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey. McConaughey as Detective Rustin Cohle vanished into the role. In one narrative timeline, he plays a clean-cut detective with short brown hair and he's full of vigor.
In the later narrative timeline, McConaughey rocks a long, grey ponytail, seemingly disillusioned and distraught by years of regret. His Golden Globe-nominated performance solidified him as an icon in both film and television.
2 Free State Of Jones And A Hefty Beard
Free State of Jones (2016) was a film that went under the radar of the general filmgoing audience. Written and directed by Oscar nominee Gary Ross (The Hunger Games), it marked another historical drama for McConaughey in which he played a real-life person.
As Confederate army deserter Newton Knight, McConaughey delivered another compelling performance in the film. Divided by critics, Free State of Jones earned only $20,800,000 at the domestic box office on a $50,000,000 budget, according to Box Office Mojo. Throughout the film, an unruly beard accompanies long, wavy, dark brown hair on McConaughey.
1 McConaughey's Vintage White Boy Rick Getup
McConaughey portrays another real-life figure in White Boy Rick (2018). He plays the titular character’s father, Richard Wershe, a single father struggling to make ends meet while raising two children in the '80s. After he gets involved in illegal activities, his son becomes an FBI informant. As Wershe, McConaughey’s wardrobe consisted of fur coats, patterned linen pants and shirts, fancy sunglasses and his hairstyle was a straight brown mullet of sorts.
Produced by Oscar nominee Darren Aronofsky (Black Swan), White Boy Rick was divided critically, as IMDb reports. However, it featured an impressive performance from McConaughey.
Are there signs pointing to the McConaissance slowing down? Not many. The actor continues to surround himself with talented people in the industry and step out of his comfort zone to deliver memorable roles.