Although Matthew Broderick has built a solid reputation as one of the stage and screen's more talented and steadily working individuals, he will forever be associated with the role that gave him permanent celluloid infamy, the blissfully irresponsible title hero of John Hughes's 1986 Ferris Bueller's Day Off. Thanks to his association with the character, as well as his own boyish looks, Broderick for a long time had trouble obtaining roles that allowed him to play characters of his own age. However, with the success of films like Election (1999) and a 1994 Tony Award for How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, audiences finally seemed ready to accept the fact that Broderick had indeed graduated from high school.
The son of late actor James Broderick and playwright/screenwriter Patricia Broderick, Broderick was born in New York City on March 21, 1962. With the theatre a constant backdrop to his childhood, Broderick's entrance into the entertainment world seemed a natural outcome of his upbringing. He began appearing in theatre workshops with his father when he was seventeen, and was soon acting on Broadway in plays like Neil Simon's Biloxi Blues and Brighton Beach Memoirs and Harvey Fierstein's Torch Song Trilogy. Broderick played Fierstein's adopted son in Torch Song; in the Simon plays, he portrayed the playwright's alter ego, winning a Tony Award for his 1983 performance in Brighton Beach Memoirs.
The same year, Broderick made his film debut in WarGames, playing a young man who unwittingly plants the seeds of a nuclear war; the film was a success and launched the actor's onscreen career. Films like Max Dugan Returns and Ladyhawke followed, as did an acclaimed television adaptation of Athol Fugard's Master Harold and the Boys, but it was the 1986 Ferris Bueller's Day Off that made Broderick a star. As a then-23-year-old playing a 17-year-old, Broderick became a champion of smart-asses everywhere, and in so doing earned a certain kind of screen immortality. The success of the film allowed him to work steadily in films like Project X and the screen adaptations of Biloxi Blues and Torch Song Trilogy (in which Broderick now played Fierstein's lover, instead of his adopted son).
Widely publicized tragedy struck for Broderick in 1988 when he and Jennifer Grey were vacationing in Ireland: after losing control of the car he was driving, Broderick crashed into an oncoming car, killing the mother and daughter in it. The actor was hospitalized, and his ensuing legal problems were the subject of much media scrutiny. However, he continued to work, winning critical acclaim for his portrayal of a Civil War colonel in the 1989 Glory. He then kicked off the 1990s with the title role of a naive film student in The Freshman; following that film's relative success, he starred in the poorly received comedy The Night We Never Met, and in 1994, he was cast against type as one of Dorothy Parker's unsympathetic lovers in Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle. That same year, he ventured back to Broadway, where he found acclaim as the lead in How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, winning a Tony Award for Best Actor in a Musical.
Over the next few years, Broderick had his hits (The Lion King) and misses (The Road to Wellville, The Cable Guy, Addicted to Love). In 1996, he made his directorial debut with Infinity, which also featured a screenplay by his mother. A love story based on the life of famed physicist Richard Feynman, the film made a brief blip on the box-office radar, although it did garner some positive reviews. In 1997 he wed actress Sarah Jessica Parker who gave birth to their son, James Wilke Broderick, in October of 2002.
The same couldn't be said for Broderick's massively budgeted, hyper-marketed 1998 feature, Godzilla. The subject of critical abuse and audience evasion, the film was a disappointment. Fortunately for Broderick, his role as the film's hero was largely ignored by critics who preferred to level their attacks at the film's content. The actor managed to rebound successfully the following year, first playing against type as a high-school teacher caught up in an ethical conundrum in Alexander Payne's hilarious satire Election. The film received positive reviews, with many critics praising Broderick's performance as the morally ambiguous Mr. McAllister. The actor then could be seen as the title character in the giddy action flick Inspector Gadget. It was a role that would have made Ferris Bueller proud: not only did Broderick get to shoot flames from his limbs and sprout helicopter blades from his skull, he also got to defeat the bad guys and, in the end, get the girl.
In 2000, Broderick played a supporting role in Kenneth Lonergan's critically acclaimed You Can Count On Me with Laura Linney and Mark Ruffalo, and appeared in a well received television adaptation of The Music Man later that year. Broderick lent his vocal chords for both 2003's The Good Boy and 2004's The Lion King 1/2, and signed on to appear in three hotly anticipated 2004 films; namely, The Last Shot with William H. Macy, Tom Cairns' black comedy Marie and Bruce, and The Stepford Wives with Nicole Kidman, Christopher Walken, and Bette Midler. Of course, Broderick's biggest achievement of the 2000's was not on the silver screen, but on stage with Nathan Lane in Mel Brooks' hugely successful comedy The Producers, which won a record 12 Tony awards in 2001. He reprised the role for a film adaptation in 2005, with Will Ferrell and Uma Thurman joining the cast.
2006 found the actor appearing in the big screen adaptation of Strangers with Candy, as well as the drama Margaret and the holiday comedy Deck the Halls.