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The 12 Best Daniel Day-Lewis Movies You Need To Watch

17 September 2014 | Features, Film Lists | by Neil Evans

best daniel day-lewis movies

If Dustin Hoffman is the American version of an actor who is a proponent of the Method style and approach towards the craft, then Englishman Daniel-Day Lewis is that, only turned up several notches.

The recent recipient of a Knighthood for his services to the craft, the astounding and consistent quality of his performances in a variety of films over the past four decades can never be underestimated.

Day-Lewis came to the attention of the world in the 1985 Stephen Frears film “My Beautiful Laundrette”, which also launched the career of writer Hanif Kureshi. From that point onwards, Day-Lewis has continued to go from strength to strength with what we see on screen.

While over time he has been incredibly selective with his choices or roles, just about every one of them has hit the mark in a spectacular fashion and manner.

The stories behind how this man throws himself into a role are almost as legendary and memorable as the film roles themselves. For example, for the entire duration of the shoot of Jim Sheridan’s “My Left Foot” (1989), in which he played Christy Brown, a man with severer cerebral palsy, even when the camera wasn’t rolling, he remained in his wheelchair, moved around by crew members.

Some would think this as being pretentious and/or a mere stunt, but more often than not with Daniel-Day Lewis, the results are completely there on screen for all to see. More than once, he has proven himself to be one of the finest actors of any generation.

The only actor to receive three Oscars for leading roles (“My Left Foot”/”There Will Be Blood”/”Lincoln”), here are twelve films from the man’s career that are very much worth your time.


12. The Crucible (1996) Directed by Nicholas Hytner

The Crucible

Based on the brutal, unsparing play by Arthur Miller and set during the Salem witch hunts of 1692, “The Crucible” is a classic American work treated with dignity and respect in its on-screen translation.

As John Proctor, a man whose wife (Joan Allen) is accused by one of his former lovers (Winona Ryder) of being a witch. Evocative and a powerhouse of a work, “The Crucible” also works as a metaphor for the Mc Carthy-era witch hunts for Communists in Hollywood during the HUAC trials in America, one of Hollywood’s darkest hours.

To get into character, Day-Lewis didn’t bathe from the start of filming to wrap up. One senses his bitterness and desperation to a complex and loaded situation thrown at him. This is the film that convinces you the man couldn’t hand in a bad performance if he tried.

Fiercely protective of his private life, Day-Lewis also met his future wife on the set of “The Crucible”, author and director Rebecca Miller, daughter of Arthur Miller.


11. A Room With A View (1986) Directed by James Ivory

A Room With A View (1986)

In a complete left turn from the hard hitting “My Beautiful Laundrette”, the next film Day-Lewis made his mark in was in this stylish and charming period set drama directed by James Ivory.

This type of film would become something of a genre staple over time. Detailing a trip to Florence by two of its main characters and the choices they make with their lives, Day-Lewis plays Cecil Vyse, a boorish, well-established man with an utter contempt for the social classes below him or, in his words, ‘the plebians’.

Lushly photographed and well written, “A Room With A View” displayed a remarkable variety and flexibility of Day-Lewis the actor.


10. The Boxer (1997) Directed by Jim Sheridan


Teaming up with director Sheridan for a third time, Day-Lewis plays Danny Flyn, a former boxer just out of jail after fourteen years for an IRA-related crime. Trying to make peace with the past, he opens a non-partisan boxing gym, all religions welcome. Also, he reconnects with his now married former girlfriend, beautifully played by Emily Watson.

Soulful, heartfelt and thoughtful, “The Boxer” shows a proud man attempting to deal with his less than stellar past to create a brighter future. Unfortunately, things don’t always go to plan.

More low key than previous collaborations between Sheridan and Day-Lewis, “The Boxer” does display its lead actor, having trained with professional boxer Barry Mc Guigan, at his best physical peak since the 1992 Michael Mann film “The Last Of The Mohicans”.

“The Boxer” is a tough watch on an emotional level that, if you’ll pardon the pun, doesn’t pull any punches. At the same time, it is a rich and rewarding experience.


9. Lincoln (2013) Directed by Steven Spielberg


“Lincoln” is one of director Stephen Spielberg’s more accomplished films in the past few years. Concentrating on the latter years of Lincoln’s time as President, and his efforts to abolish slavery, this biopic displays some excellent research and writing.

To the eternal credit of the film, it refuses to be dry, stuffy and/or boring, as many films about history can unfortunately be. This all comes down to Day-Lewis as Lincoln. Never sinking into caricature, we feels this man’s frustration and anguish with regards to trying to change world history when his aim and vision is seen as unpopular in the eyes of the general public.

Day-Lewis, and his portrayal of this iconic figure in American history, is once again the beating heart of a film. This particular actor really is the thespian equivalent of fine wine-he just keeps getting better with age.


8. The Unbearable Lightness Of Being (1988) Directed by Philip Kaufman

The Unbearable Lightness of Being

A compelling and spellbinding adaptation of Czech author Milan Kundera’s novel, “The Unbearable Lightness Of Being” eschews the more philosophical aspects of its source material but is no less a film for it.

Set during the 1968 Prague Spring in Czechoslovakia, in which students protested and rioted against the Russian occupation of their land, the film concentrates on the personal, looking at the love triangle at play between philandering doctor Tomas (Day-Lewis), Tereza (Juliette Binoche) and Sabina (Lena Olin).

Beautifully photographed by Ingmar Bergman’s cinematographer of choice, Sven Nykvist, and directed with restraint and care by Philip Kaufman, it is at times a slow moving film but never a boring one.

Provocative, sexy and immensely enjoyable, “The Unbearable Lightness Of Being” was a great display of Day-Lewis developing and deepening as an actor.


7. My Beautiful Laundrette (1985) Directed by Stephen Frears

My Beautiful Laundrette

A comedy-drama directed by Stephen Frears and written by Hanif Kuneshi, “My Beautiful Laundrette” also serves as a searing comment on mid-Eighties Britain under then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. Day-Lewis plays Johnny, a homosexual white gang member who strikes up a relationship with Pakastani immigrant Omar, who in turn is trying to make a laundrette business venture a success.

Day-Lewis shines in a fearless performance as the embodiment of everything that the Thatcher government stood against. A critique of the ‘get rich quick’ mentality that was encouraged by the British government, amid financial cuts to important aspect of life such as health care and the arts, which resulted in at one point three million unemployed in the United Kingdom, “My Beautiful Laundrette” also marked Day-Lewis as an actor to watch.



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  • TimFootman

    There was no pub called The Guilford. The bombs went off in two pubs (the Horse and Groom, and the Seven Stars) in the city of Guildford (with a d) in Surrey.

  • hellboyz

    liked in the name of the father much more than there will be blood

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  • Brian Lussier

    I always thought he was bland in The Last Of The Mohicans, and in The Crucible he’s WAY over-the-top, and not in a good Gangs Of New York way! He did it bad. Only two weak performances I’ve seen out of him though…

    • malta14

      Bland?! OMG…….oh, you must be a hetero man…….my apologies……. ALL the acting was spot on and the music and scenery were GORGEOUS

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  • DaveMindi O Riordan

    Nope. I can’t believe there wasn’t even a mention of his incredible portrayal of Christy Brown in “My Left Foot”. Exceptional, incredible, it was his absolute best performance. Well out ranks these others!

    • RockyJohan

      Maybe you should read the list again since its number 2.

  • Patrick Hill

    Day-Lewis is one of only 3 actors that manage to reach me in ways no other can, and those being Sir Anthony Hopkins and Kevin Spacey, it’s a fine club to be part. It took me a long time to stop hating him after GONY and TWBB, quite telling.

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  • Adrian

    I think he’s fantastic in Gangs Of New York, and the irony of it being the worst movie I’ve seen him in.