Let’s face it, we all love Zac Efron. If you don’t love Zac Efron, it’s just because you haven’t awakened to it yet, but don’t worry, you will.
Given Zefron is now a very much welcome fixture of Australian life, I decided now makes for the perfect time (read: excuse) to journey back through his filmography and come up with the all-time definitive ranking of the movies he has starred in. I must admit, it says a lot about Zac Efron’s charm that I STILL love him after watching some of these stinkers.
Note: Excluded from this list is Melinda’s World, Derby Stallion, and his non-High School Musical TV movies, because they were so hard to track down they may as well not exist (I’m sure Zac wouldn’t mind forgetting about them himself). With that in mind, here’s the (almost) complete list of Zac Efron movies, ranked from worst to best…
27. New Year’s Eve (2011)
This is one of the worst movies I’ve ever seen in my life. It’s a cynical, very American attempt to cash in on Love Actually’s popularity, telling interconnecting stories set around a holiday, but none of the characters are remotely interesting or likeable. Zac plays a delivery driver, but who really cares, because this movie is a total dud.
26. Dirty Grandpa (2016)
I’m not gonna lie, I didn’t make it to the end of this movie. It was that bad. Zac stars as a guy who goes on a roadtrip with his grandfather, played by Robert De Niro. It’s full of gross-out humour of the worst kind and is a cringefest from start to – well, the halfway point where I stopped watching.
25. Baywatch (2017)
Ooft. I actually had high expectations going into this, and you know what, that’s on me. But I enjoyed the show as a kid, and I like The Rock’s persona, and also watching shirtless guys frolic on the beach. But I think it’s actually more regressive than the original show,because it feels like it should know better, and doesn’t. The movie reeks of toxic masculinity, and Zac’s character, rookie lifeguard Matt Brody, is a big part of that.
24. Liberal Arts (2012)
This is a not very good movie about a college advisor who gets involved with a student. Not cute. Elisabeth Olsen is in it, and I love her, but so is Josh Radnor, and I don’t love him. Zac is in a pretty small role as a weird stoner student. Pass.
23. The Beach Bum (2019)
A stoner comedy in which Zac plays a pyromaniac who meets main character Moondog (played by king of the stoners Matthew McConaughey) in rehab. It really wants to be a good time, but it really isn’t.
22. At Any Price (2012)
What starts out as a family drama about farming and a boy (that’d be Zefron) with dreams of being a race car driver goes to some pretty dark places – and a plot twist that feels, well, manipulative to say the least.
20. Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates (2016)
Zac does a lot of bro comedies. This one is pretty bleak, despite the good cast – Adam Driver, Anna Kendrick, and Aubrey Plaza. They do their best, and Aubrey is a particular standout, but the material just isn’t great.
19. Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile (2019)
Zac once again delves into darker territory, here playing serial killer Ted Bundy as the movie chronicles his relationship with single mother Liz Kendall (Lily Collins). Zac’s performance is actually pretty great, and in a better movie he probably would have gotten a lot more attention for it. Alas, this is not that movie.
18. Parkland (2013)
Parkland tries to offer a new perspective on the JFK asssassination – quite literally, taking the point of view of a cast of ordinary characters that wound up connected to the event, including Zac’s Dr Jim Carrico, the first doctor to treat JFK after the attack. He does some great work, as do the rest of the cast – including our own Jacki Weaver – but once again it’s not enough to elevate the movie.
17. That Awkward Moment (2014)
What could be better than Zac Efron teaming up with Michael B Jordan (and also Miles Teller, I guess) for a romantic comedy drama? Well, them teaming up for a decent romantic comedy drama, perhaps. Which this is not. Some of the jokes are pretty gross and the film comes off as tedious and a waste of the talent.
16. The Paperboy (2012)
Zac plays the titular paperboy and is once again joined by an incredible cast, this time Nicole Kidman, Matthew McConaughey, David Oyelowo, and John Cusack. This 1969-set crime drama has so much potential, but the plot is kind of batshit and the film is basically a big sweaty mess. But Zac spends a big chunk of it in short shorts and/or shirtless, so that’s a win?
15. Scoob! (2020)
A reboot of the Scooby-Doo franchise for a new generation, it’s pretty bland to watch as an adult but kids probably love it? Zac voices Fred, and he sounds like a Fred should.
14. We Are Your Friends (2015)
Listen, this movie is terrible. TERRIBLE. Zac plays a DJ named Cole. That’s it, that’s the movie. But it’s kind of so bad, it’s hilariously fun. Like, I would watch it again, preferably with a drinking game to hand.
13. The Lorax (2012)
In the vein of Despicable Me but with less charm, The Lorax is nevertheless pretty watchable. The animation is really bright and cute. Zac voices main character Ted, and he’s joined by Taylor Swift, Danny Devito, Betty White, and Ed Helms.
12. Charlie St Cloud (2010)
I’m not going to lie, I have huge nostalgia for Charlie St Cloud, which definitely colours its place on this list. It was one of Zac’s early “serious” roles; he plays a boy whose little brother is killed in an accident while he’s driving and who is then haunted by him. It’s not great. But I can’t help it, I have a soft spot for it.
11. Me and Orson Welles (2008)
The Zefron is really into period pieces, especially if they’re based on true stories, and this is one of his early entries into the genre – and one of his best. Zac plays Richard, a student who is cast by Orson Welles in his new theatre production, Caesar. Zac is very handsome and charming here, but it’s Christian McKay who really steals the show as Welles.
10. The Lucky One (2012)
Here’s where I admit I’m total trash for a Nicholas Sparks movie, even though they’re 98% extremely bad. There’s something about the melodrama and kisses in the rain that I just can’t resist. In this one, Zac plays a US marine who tracks down the woman in a photograph he finds while serving in Iraq and falls in love with her. Honestly, who cares about the plot though – Zac looks really, really hot in this movie and that’s what I came for.
9. Bad Neighbours 2 (2016)
Of all Zac’s bro comedies, the Neighbours movies are actually the best. This sequel is not quite as fun as the first movie, but it’s still very entertaining. Zac reprises his role as frat boy Teddy Sanders, and shows how excellent his comic timing can be with the right material and co-stars (Seth Rogen, Rose Byrne and Dave Franco here).
8. The Greatest Showman (2017)
This movie is not just a period drama based on a true story, it also features another Zefron hallmark (and one he should lean into more often) – it’s a musical! Hugh Jackman stars as PT Barnum, while Zac plays a playwright who becomes his partner. Michelle Williams, Rebecca Ferguson, and Zendaya round out the main cast. It’s cheesy and over-the-top and definitely not perfect, but it’s also aggressively entertaining.
7. High School Musical 2 (2007)
Everyone has strong opinions about the High School Musical movies, and while the second entry offered us iconic moments like Zac’s Troy Bolton emotional-dancing his way across a golf course, it’s not quite as good as the other two movies in the series. Which means it’s still pretty great, of course.
6. The Disaster Artist (2017)
The James Franco of it all has soured this movie, which is about the making of the best worst movie of all time, The Room. But looking at it objectively, it’s a fantastic, funny and even moving film. Zac’s role isn’t huge – he plays Dan Janjigian, the actor who plays Chris-R in The Room, but he’s a lot of fun in it.
5. High School Musical 3: Senior Year (2008)
The only High School Musical movie to get a theatrical release, everything about it is bigger and brighter than what came before. While the songs don’t have quite the same staying power as those from the first movie, they are still absolute earworms – and feature Zac’s actual singing voice, which is something the first movie does not have.
4. Bad Neighbours (2014)
This is an absolutely ridiculous movie in which a married couple move in next door to a frat house and start a war with them. But like its sequel, it’s actually so much fun and is genuinely hilarious. It turns out a slightly evil frat dude is the role Zac Efron was basically born to play.
3. High School Musical (2006)
Sing it with me now: we’re aaaaaaaall in this together! High School Musical is an icon and put Zac Efron – and the rest of the cast – on the map. As already mentioned, it sadly doesn’t feature Zac’s own singing, but he is nevertheless perfect as Troy Bolton.
2. 17 Again (2009)
This movie earns its place near the top for the scene where Zac enters the school in his leather jacket and aviators alone. But the rest of it is wonderful too; both funny and warm. Zac plays a 37-year-old in a 17-year-old’s body, and he is absolutely hilarious in the role.
1. Hairspray (2007)
Zac as Troy Bolton is fantastic, but Zac as Link Larkin is on a whole other level, tapping into his dream boy persona in a lightly satirical way and delivering incredible performances like “Ladie’s Choice”. The way Link stares at Tracey in this scene is embedded in my soul forever. Hairspray is not without its faults, but it’s a dazzling and joyful ride from start to finish. Musical Zac Efron is the best Zac Efron.
Written by Jenna Guillaume, an entertainment journalist and author of YA rom-coms What I Like About Me and You Were Made For Me. Follow her at @jennaguillaume.