Ben Stiller Makes ‘No Apologies’ for ‘Tropic Thunder’ 15 Years Later: ‘It’s Always Been a Controversial Movie’

“Proud of it and the work everyone did on it,” the actor said of the biting 2008 satirical comedy


When asked by a fan on Twitter to “stop apologizing” for his 2008 satirical comedy “Tropic Thunder,” Ben Stiller said that he makes “no apologies” for the film and that he’s still proud of it 15 years later.

“I make no apologies for ‘Tropic Thunder.’ Don’t know who told you that. It’s always been a controversial movie since when we opened. Proud of it and the work everyone did on it,” Stiller tweeted.

“Tropic Thunder” earned critical and audience acclaim when it was released for its biting, no-holds-barred mockery of all things Hollywood, from the fights between agents and studio executives to the lengths actors will go for a chance at an Oscar. Stiller directed the film and stars in it as Tugg Speedman, a declining action star looking for a career rebound by starring in a Vietnam War movie.

But when Tugg travels to Vietnam to shoot on location, the production quickly goes south thanks to the uncontrollable egos of Speedman and his co-stars, including five-time Oscar winner Kirk Lazarus (Robert Downey Jr.) who underwent lengthy surgery to resemble a Black man so he could take a role in the film. In a last ditch effort to save the film, the director drops Tugg and co. in the middle of the jungle to shoot the film “guerrilla-style” with hidden cameras. But that plan is also ruined when the director accidentally steps on a mine and Tugg is captured by a heroin-dealing cartel.

“Tropic Thunder” became a box office hit, and in a bit of irony, Downey Jr. earned an Oscar nomination for his portrayal of a white actor willing to take blackface to a new level in order to earn another Oscar nomination for a role that should have gone to a Black actor.

But Stiller came under fire in the leadup to the film’s release from disability rights activists who condemned the film’s portrayal of (and language use regarding) the mentally disabled and a running gag about Tugg Speedman playing a mentally disabled man in a film called “Simple Jack” for an Oscar grab. “Simple Jack” is the favorite film of the cartel that captures Tugg, and they force him to repeatedly perform the role while holding him hostage.

Stiller said during the film’s release and in interviews in the subsequent years that the “Simple Jack” gag was meant, like everything else in the film, to be a tweak at Hollywood. Specifically, it was a satire at famous Oscar-winning performances of mentally disabled people by actors who do not have such disabilities, such as Dustin Hoffman in “Rain Man” and Tom Hanks in “Forrest Gump.”

In 2018, when snowboarder Shaun White was criticized for wearing a “Simple Jack” Halloween costume, Stiller tweeted: “‘Tropic Thunder’ was boycotted 10 years ago when it came out, and I apologized then. It was always meant to make fun of actors trying to do anything to win awards. I stand by my apology, the movie, Shaun White, And the great people and work of the @SpecialOlympics.”