Walter Matthau Movies

matthau 1111Want to know the best Walter Matthau movies?  How about the worst Walter Matthau movies?  Curious about Walter Matthau box office grosses or which Walter Matthau movie picked up the most Oscar nominations? Need to know which Walter Matthau movie got the best reviews from critics and audiences and which got the worst reviews? Well you have come to the right place….because we have all of that information.

Over 4 years ago we published a Jack Lemmon movie page.  At that time we got numerous requests to do a Walter Matthau (1920-2000) movie page.  Not sure why it took so long for us to get around to this page…but we finally have a Matthau page.  Joel Hirschhorn’s Rating The Movie Stars book best describes Matthau.  “Matthau looks less-like a box-office star than any other actor in movies, but people identified with Matthau; they like him.  This he’s-one-of-us charm, plus his enormous talent for comedy and drama, have contributed to his huge success.”

His IMDb page shows 104 acting credits from 1950-2000. This page will rank 58 Walter Matthau movies from Best to Worst in six different sortable columns of information.  Television appearances and movies not released in North America were not included in the rankings.

Tatum O'Neal and Walter Matthau in 1976's The Bad News Bears

Tatum O’Neal and Walter Matthau in 1976’s The Bad News Bears

Walter Matthau Movies Can Be Ranked 6 Ways In This Table

The really cool thing about this table is that it is “user-sortable”. Rank the movies anyway you want.

  • Sort Walter Matthau movies by co-stars of his movies.
  • Sort Walter Matthau movies by adjusted domestic box office grosses using current movie ticket cost
  • Sort Walter Matthau movies by yearly domestic box office rank
  • Sort Walter Matthau movies how they were received by critics and audiences.  60% rating or higher should indicate a good movie.
  • Sort by how many Oscar® nominations and many Oscar® wins each Walter Matthau movie received and
  • Sort Walter Matthau movies by Ultimate Movie Rankings (UMR) Score.  UMR Score puts box office, reviews and awards into a mathematical equation and gives each movie a score.
  • Use the search and sort button to make this page very interactive. For example type “Lemmon” in the search box and up pop the 11 movies that Jack Lemmon and Matthau made together.

Stats and Possibly Interesting Things From The Above Walter Matthau Table

  1. Eighteen Walter Matthau movies crossed the magical $100 million domestic gross mark.  That is a percentage of 31.03% of his movies listed. The Odd Couple (1968) was his biggest box office ht when looking at adjusted domestic box office gross.
  2. An average Walter Matthau movie grosses $71.10 million in adjusted box office gross.
  3. Using’s 60% fresh meter.  37 of Walter Matthau’ movies are rated as good movies…or 93.33% of their movies. Fail-Safe (1964) is his highest rated movie while Hanging Up (2000) was his lowest rated movie.
  4. Eleven Walter Matthau movie received at least one Oscar® nomination in any category…..or 29.31% of his movies.
  5. Six Walter Matthau movie won at least one Oscar® in any category…..or 10.34% of his movies.
  6. An average Ultimate Movie Ranking  (UMR) Score is 40.00.  31 Walter Matthau movies scored higher than that average….or 53.44% of his movies. The Odd Couple (1968) got the the highest UMR Score while Movers and Shakers (1985) got the lowest UMR Score.
Kevin Costner and Walter Matthau in 1991's JFK

Kevin Costner and Walter Matthau in 1991’s JFK

Possibly Interesting Facts About Walter Matthau

1. Walter John Matthow was born in New York City’s Lower East Side in 1920.

2. During World War II, Walter Matthau served in the U.S. Army Air Forces with the Eighth Air Force in England as a B-24 Liberator radioman-gunner, in the same 453rd Bombardment Group as James Stewart.

3.  Walter Matthau’s first movie role was in 1955’s The Kentuckian.  The Kentuckian was the only movie Burt Lancaster ever directed.  Matthau also starred in the only movie Jack Lemmon ever directed…1971’s Kotch.  Matthau directed one movie too……but neither Lancaster or Lemmon appeared in 1959’s Gangster Story….that does not seem fair.

4.  Walter Matthau screen-tested for the lead role in 1955’s The Seven Year Itch.  After seeing his test, director Billy Wilder believed he had found his leading man. Unfortunately, executives at 20th Century Fox were unwilling to take a risk on an unknown newcomer.  Ten years later Wilder would direct Matthau in his Oscar® winning role in 1966’s The Fortune Cookie.  Wilder would direct Matthau two more times….1974’s The Front Page and 1981’s Buddy Buddy.

5. Walter Matthau was nominated for 3 acting Oscars®.  He won the Best Supporting Actor Oscar® for 1966’s The Fortune Cookie.  He was nominated for Best Actor Oscars® for 1971’s Kotch and 1975’s The Sunshine Boys.

6.  Walter Matthau was nominated for 8 Golden Globes®.  He won Best Actor for 1975’s The Sunshine Boys.  Other nominations: The Fortune Cookie (1965), The Odd Couple (1968) , Kotch (1971), Pete ‘n’ Tillie (1972), The Front Page (1974), Hopscotch (1980) and First Monday in October (1981).

7.  Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon acted together in 9 movies: Buddy Buddy (1981), The Fortune Cookie (1966), The Front Page (1974), The Grass Harp (1995), Grumpier Old Men (1995), Grumpy Old Men (1993), The Odd Couple II (1998), The Odd Couple (1968) and Out to Sea (1997). The only movie Jack Lemmon directed was 1971’s Kotch….which starred Matthau. Lemmon and Matthau also both appeared in JFK (1991), but had no scenes together.

8.  Walter Matthau was married twice; first to Grace Geraldine Johnson from 1948 to 1958..they had two children, Jenny and David.  His second marriage was to Carol Marcus from 1959 until his death in 2000…they had one son, Charlie.  Charlie Matthau is an actor and a director.   He directed his father in The Grass Harp (1995).

9.  Walter Matthau’s lasting impact on pop culture.  In the Oscar® winning Pixar movie Up, Carl the main character is a combination of Spencer Tracy and Walter Matthau.  Dan Castellaneta has said that his original voice for Homer Simpson was simply an impression of Matthau.

10.  In the blockbuster box office hit Earthquake (1974) , Matthau did a cameo as a drunk.  He used the name Walter Matuschanskayasky in the credits.

Check out Walter Matthau’s movie career compared to current and classic stars on our Most 100 Million Dollar Movies of All-Time page.

Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau worked together on 11 movies

Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau worked together on 11 movies

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29 thoughts on “Walter Matthau Movies

  1. 1 STEVE It had to be !! As sure as night follows day your Walter video had to come after Jack’s. Unlike some of the more formal comedy teams [Martin & Lewis/Abbott & Costello for example] Jack and Walt liked each other and really enjoyed each other’s company. What I loved about Walter was the he had almost a “One size fits all” screen persona in that he could use the same expressions and delivery to play on the one hand a menacing villain [The Kentuckian/Charade] and by contrast to do comedy. I love listening to his voice especially when he was indulging in sarcasm “Do you think that for once we could be in the company of a couple of people whose voices have a higher register than our own?” [Walter to Jack in The Odd Couple.]

    2 Another glut of fine POSTERS to entertain including Sunshine Boys, Buddy Buddy, House Calls and the foreign language one for Bad News Bears with special standouts for my money being the ones for The Kentuckian and Plaza Suite. Good STILLS from Hello Dolly, The Front Page and Grumpy Old Men. Again though there were two standouts in my opinion, those being the ones with Walter & Elvis in King Creole and Walt with Audrey Hepburn from Charade.

    3 Overall I felt a 95.5% rating is warranted though two surprises were that you excluded The Odd Couple from your Top 5 and did not include Grumpy Old Men 2 at all in your selections. Bruce though DID include The Odd Couple in his Top 5 as well as A Face in the Crowd one of the movies that I have most admired over the years. For once in a long while now you and WH are agreed on just 2 of the Top 5 in Walt’s case.

    1. Hey Bob….good review on Steve’s latest you tube. I would say it looks like you agree more with my rankings than Steve’s……proud day.

      1. HI BRUCE

        1 Yes I did agree with your markings more than I did Steve’s on this occasion though he has made Grant’s Charade his No 1 and I could not see you disagreeing TOO strenuously with that choice !!

        2 I also liked your coloured miniatures above of Jack and Walt and of Kevin Costner and Matthau which I feel are of the good quality that Steve keeps churning out normally in larger format. [“Who keeps stealing my clothes?” Steve Lensman. Serve him right for daring to enter the realm of stats in his directors’ videos !!]

        1. Hey Bob…..good to know. I have Charade at #6…..but it is a personal favorite of mine…I will be checking out Steve’s latest videos after I catch up here. Glad you like these photos. We are here to please.

    2. Hi Bob, thanks for reviewing and rating my Walter Matthau video, much appreciated.

      The Odd Couple did make the top 10, just not the top 5, the highest score from any of my sources was 8 for that film.

      Grumpier Old Men was a low scorer and wasn’t included in either film, ditto Out to Sea and Odd Couple II. They didn’t even make the top 50 on Bruce’s chart.

      Only one Walter Matthau movie scored 10 out of 10 from my sources and that was Charade, it also scored 9 from a number of sources. So that was the film to beat on this chart.

      I didn’t include his cameo in Earthquake, where he was billed as Walter Matuschanskayasky, not even sure he spoke a word in that. I’ll have to watch the film again.

      Matthau on Elvis – “He was an instinctive actor…He was quite bright…he was very intelligent…He was not a punk.”

      Matthau on Barbra Streisand – “The most extraordinary … er … uninteresting person I have ever met. I just found her to be a terrible bore … She was doing something and asked the director if I wouldn’t mind saying my lines in a certain way. I think I said something to her like, “I was acting before you were born, so please don’t tell me how to act.” And she said, in her own inimitable way, “Is this guy crazy or something?”. I was exasperated at her tendency to be a complete megalomaniac.”

      1. HI STEVE

        1 Well Sexy Rexy indicated that he found Chuck an awe-inspiring figure because of his sheer physical presence so the usually articulate and witty Walt may have been tongue-tied when Heston was about I! Chuck was in his prime one of the most marvellous physical impressive figures that I’ve ever seen in movies which has why he has been in my own Top 20 all time faves even until today.

        2 Putting The Odd Couple in your Top 10 doesn’t completely cut it for me. Excluding from a Lemmon or Matthau Top 5 The Odd Couple is in my book akin to profiling Ladd and leaving Shane outside the 5 or ignoring Godpop in a Pacino or Mumbles Top 5. So Viva La Work Horse!

        3 Interesting take on Streisand. As I’ve said before on this site Babs used to go on – what she insisted were platonic – road trips with Mr Mumbles so maybe the quirkiness of THOSE TWO suited each other. Walter on the other hand COULD get on well with his co-stars
        as for example (1) I saw a TV interview in which he and Lemmon ribbed each other and their mutual admiration and compatibility were patently obvious to viewers (2) Tony Curtis warmed to Walt when they made Little Miss Marker and Goodbye Charlie together and in an interview Curtis spoke highly of him. Mumbles and Walter were both in the 1968 Candy but it was an ensemble movie and they may not have shared scenes so I do not know what they thought of each other. Strangely enough your idol the outwardly affable Gene Kelly had a reputation for upsetting his female co- workers – Esther Williams for example – and it would be interesting to know how he got along with Babs when he directed her and Walt in Hello Dolly.

        4 In fairness to Gene Judy Garland seemed to take to him. Also movie stars seem able to harbour completely conflicting emotions for each other. For example Liz Taylor said in an interview that when she made Reflections in a Golden Eye with ole Mumbles he tried to intimidate her with his acting techniques but she added “I wasn’t frightened of him. I stood up to him.” However when the interviewer suggested that Liz must have hated Mr M for trying to bully her she replied “Oh no ! I adored him.”

        5 As always I enjoyed your back chat and the fine extra detail that you often provide.

        1. Hi Bob, thanks for the comment and info.

          I know what you’re saying about The Odd Couple, it is Jack and Walter’s iconic movie and strange not to seeing it headlining a video of their top films. Walter was in JFK for less than 5 minutes and it’s in the top 5 on my chart. Might not seem right but my method of rating movies is cold and cruel and evil and merciless (like Ming). 🙂

          I think it was Leonard Maltin who said that when he was rating all the movies it didn’t feel quite right giving 4 out of 4 stars to The Court Jester, arguably Danny Kaye’s best film, but a more important film like Seven Days in May gets 3 out of 4. Does this mean The Court Jester is a much better movie than Seven Days in May? Well, it’s funnier for one thing. I face a similar dilemma when I put my videos together. Should Matthau’s funniest and best loved movie be placed above more serious films like Pelham 123 and Fail Safe? How do you rate different genres?

          1. HI STEVE

            1 It’s hard to know how to compare movies between one genre and the next but I think that a RANKED review of a movie should be comprised of the reviewer’s own opinion and public opinion if there is knowledge of such and Bruce’s overall UMR rankings take account of both considerations Accordingly the Work Horse’s format gets him off the hook when he might be too hard on a movie’s artistic qualities because public perceptions [ie the grosses] can balance things out.

            2 Some critics will argue that it is THEIR OWN opinion that they are paid to give which is a fair point; but it seems to me that many of them are arrogant to the point where they are totally dismissive of public opinion. For example Joel Hirschhorn made the highly subjective statement that “Nobody cared about Desiree,” sweeping aside the fact that the movie was a big hit with the public if not with critics. In Theatre of Blood Vincent Price was a ham actor who went around slaughtering critics who panned his performances and I wonder what his character would have done if he had got Joel in his clutches !!

          2. Hohoho… Bob, I’d never even heard of this Joel Hirshhorn before a few days ago!

            Yeah Bruce’s UMR rating is pretty unique, though I have rolled my eyes at it more than a few times I should give Bruce credit for trying something new with the old rating system.

            You mentioned a list of favorites instead of historical worthiness and thats viable too, youtube is filled with ‘my 20 favorite this’ and ‘my 10 favorite that’ videos and they get a lot of views because people are naturally curious what that persons favorites are and if they match their own, “is this a kindred spirit I wonder?”

            The rating system on my videos is similar to Bruce’s critics chart, totting up online ratings to get an overall average. It’s not ratings by robots, it’s still people giving their ‘informed’ opinion and ratings.

            The ‘Wild Card’ ratings source is youtube in which the average film fan is allowed to give 10 out of 10 or 1 out of 10 to any movie that strikes their fancy and no one can point a finger and laugh or send them abusive comments. 🙂

          3. Hey Bob and Steve. Nice conversation between the two of you. Well….I have mentioned Joel Hirschhorn many times on this website. This about “About” page has been at HubPages, Cogerson Movie Score and now UMR. You only have to go to the second paragraph before he and his book gets mentioned. Also in some of the interesting facts of the stars…I have listed the top movies according to Joel for that UMR subject as an interesting fact.

            I guess when I released the Joel “Kraken monster” Hirshhorn on Marlon Brando…that you guys (especially Bob) noticed him.

            As for the rankings….there is no right answer or wrong answer… the end….they are all interesting…..Steve and I rarely come up with the same critic/audience rating top movies….and generally I think we are using the same sources.

            Good feedback on Steve’s latest video…I am now two behind on that channel. I will be checking it out very soon.

            We figure you Steve for getting You Tube and IMDb mixed up.

  2. 1 Walter was so menacing and evil in his debut movie The Kentuckian that one would not have immediately guessed that he could do great comedy as well. I rank him along with the likes of Cary Grant on the big screen for the remarkable ability to go seamlessly from comedy to drama and back again. On TV Kelsey Grammar as Frasier also had that ability.

    2 I always saw Walter as to some extent a successor to Buster Keaton in his comic roles as no matter how funny the plot Walt usually maintained that deadpan sad face and gave us that dreary voice.

    3 I loved the line in The Odd Couple where tiring of Lemmon’s constant hanging round him Walt says to Jack “Do you not think that for once we could get the company of others whose voices have a higher register than our own?” Magic Matthau!

    1. Hey Bob…thanks for the thoughts on Matthau….I agree who would have guessed that Matthau would be able to do comedy so well…after seeing his performance in The Kentuckian. Very interesting comparisons between Matthau and Grant, Keaton and Grammar. That is a good line in The Odd Couple…a movie filled with great lines from beginning to end. Good stuff.

  3. Walter Matthau is a welcome addition to your site. I’ve seen and enjoyed many of his films, but question the BO of one of my favorites; The Taking of Pelham one, two three supposedly grossed 16 million in the U.S. back in 1974-75… I would think that it would certainly adjust higher after 40+ years. Either way I love your site and look forward to you hopefully adding more year end reviews!

    1. Hey John….interesting…let me check my sources. Let’s see in the Variety issue January 8th, 1975 page 75…the Taking of Pelham 1,2,3 is listed as the 94th biggest hit of the year with 1.1 million rentals. Granted the release month was October….but when I check my All-Time Rental list (Variety -May 4th 1983) it is not listed…and if it had over 4 million in rentals it would have made that list. So….I will have to do some deeper research……but I agree with you the adjusted gross of $15 million seems pretty low….especially for a movie that is pretty good. Thanks for the heads up…I will see what I can find in the next couple of days.

  4. Hi, Bruce.

    My all-time favourite Walter Matthau movie is Charade. I watch it several times a year. So my favourite of his films is without Jack Lemmon.

    My favourite of his films with Jack Lemmon is The Odd Couple. There is one of their acting pairings I have yet to see and that is Buddy Buddy. I have not seen Kotch.

    In regards to your rankings:

    The highest ranking film I have seen is The Odd Couple at Number 1.
    The lowest ranking film I have seen is The Odd Couple II at Number 50.
    The highest ranking film I have not seen is Pete n’ Tillie at Number 11.

    Thus, I have seen all of Walter’s top 10.
    I have seen 12 of his top 15.
    I have seen 14 of his top 20.
    I have seen 18 of his top 25.
    I have seen 20 of his top 30.
    I have seen 23 of his top 40.
    I have seen 26 of his his films overall.

    So you win this time Bruce!

    My favourite five films are:

    The Odd Couple
    Fail -Safe (which didn’t sell tickets because it was released after Dr. Strangelove)
    Cactus Flower

    I find that Matthau is one of those actors who can have a good performance even in a bad film.

    I prefer Onionhead to a Face in the Crowd. I have had a hard time getting through A Face In the Crowd after seeing it once.

    I’ve enjoyed this look at Walter Matthau-five years after his most frequent collaborator.

    I too would like to see an Earnest Borgnine page.



    1. Hey Flora…thanks for checking out my Matthau page.
      1. I am a huge Charade fan too….although Father Goose seems to be the Cary Grant movie that I watch the most….Charade is a close second.
      2. Buddy Buddy is not the best of Lemmon, Matthau and Wilder…actually it is probably the one movie that would have liked to do over….so I do not think you are missing much.
      3. Kotch is a good movie but not one that begs for repeat viewings…Lemmon’s only directorial job makes you wonder why he did not direct more movies.
      4. Tally count….wow…I won a classic actor….though I think that he made so many movies from 1980 to 2000 is the main reason I topped you and Steve…Me The Gold….you the Bronze and poor little Stevie the bronze.
      5. Of your Top 5 I have seen and enjoyed all of them with the exception of Mirage…that one has escaped me so far. I recently rewatched Fail Safe….Matthau is good but Fonda is excellent..
      6. I had not even heard of Onionhead before doing this page…I was really surprised when it showed up on Variety’s list of big hits…I will have to check that one out. Walter is not in A Face In The Crowd very much.
      7. Hard to believe that so much time went by between doing the Lemmon page and the Matthau page….but it has been a fun ride.
      8. I have added you to Steve’s request on Ernie….he might take awhile to research…as his career was long and filled classics…but also filled with some lemmons (spelled that way in honor of Jack)
      As always…thanks for stopping by and commenting. My latest page is Julie Andrews….in my rotation she is listed as a current performer….so it will probably be three pages in a row that fall in your wheelhouse….Matthau, Andrews and yet to be determined.

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