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The 15 Best Gary Oldman Movies You Need To Watch

19 November 2014 | Features, Film Lists | by Neil Evans

best Gary Oldman movies

Over the past three decades, actor Gary Oldman (b. 1958) has left an indelible mark on cinema. Whether it be playing strong pillars of society in a world gone wild, such as in the “Batman” trilogy directed by Christopher Nolan or, as has become something of a specialty for the man, unforgettable villains in mainstream Hollywood fare such as Wolfgang Petersen’s “Air Force One” (1997) or, more recently, the surprisingly excellent “Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes” (2014), directed by Matt Reeves.

Oldman created and perfected his craft on stage in Britain before making a major cinematic breakthrough with playing punk rocker Sid Vicious in the Alex Cox biopic “Sid And Nancy” in 1986. A breakout performance, this got the attention of Hollywood at large.

Whatever the role, Oldman brings an intensity and sense of personality to whatever he does onscreen. Even when the role and film is beneath his, such as the godawful Catherine Hardwicke film “Red Riding Hood” (2011), this is an actor that is nothing less than compelling in his onscreen persona and being.

Over time, from a cinematic perspective, it has been an absolute joy to watch him develop and grow as an actor, each role displaying a different facet and quality of this chameleon-like individual.

Here are fifteen films involving Gary Oldman as either an actor or director that are very much worth your time.

 

15. Chattahoochie (1989) Directed by Mick Jackson

CHATTAHOOCHEE

In this criminally underrated film from director Mick Jackson, Oldman , in one of his first American films, plays Emmett Folley, an unstable Korean War veteran placed in the titular mental hospital. While there, he is subjected to cruel and barbaric practices that inspire him to fight against the injustices being hurled against him.

Co-starring Dennis Hopper and Frances Mc Dormand, this is something of an overlooked work and a great showcase for the way that Oldman throws himself into a role, creating an indelible and striking character.

 

14. State Of Grace (1990) Directed by Phil Joanou

State of Grace (1990)

One of three gangster films to be released in 1990 (the others being “Miller’s Crossing”, directed by The Coen Brothers, and Martin Scorsese’s “Goodfellas”), this is a beautifully shot and atmospheric look at crime in the Hell’s Kitchen area of New York, concentrating on the Irish Mob.

Oldman plays Jackie Flannery, a small time gangster whose brother, Frankie (Ed Harris) is the head of the Mob. The film looks at relationships being tested when Jackie’s childhood friend, Terry (Sean Penn) returns after a ten year absence.

Violent, gritty and uncompromising, “State Of Grace” was unfairly dismissed upon release, definitely overshadowed by the other two films that covered similar ground that year. This is a shame, as Oldman is in absolutely electrifying form in this film, stealing every single scene he features in. Oldman has gone on record as saying that this is his favourite performance from his back catalogue.

 

13. The Book Of Eli (2010) Directed by Allen & Albert Hughes

THE BOOK OF ELI

A striking post-apocalyptic action drama, Oldman is Carnegie, leader of a group of survivors and determined to take the titular Book from Eli (Denzel Washington) and rebuild society by any means necessary.

Oldman captures beautifully this driven sociopath, something that, as an actor, he has an incredibly rare gift, only comparable to the late Dennis Hopper, to be able to do.

A somewhat underrated film that was released about the same time as another film that addressed similar material, John Hillcoat’s “The Road”, “The Book Of Eli”, with a strong visual style and attitude to it, definitely deserves another look.

 

12. Rosencrantz And Guildenstern Are Dead (1990) Directed by Tom Stoppard

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead

In Tom Stoppard’s witty and intellectually engaging piece, Oldman and fellow British actor Tim Roth play minor characters in one of William Shakespeare’s best known plays, “Hamlet”.

The film totally pitch shifts the play, and we see events from the points of view of these two characters that constantly discuss and ruminate their fate, not really knowing their place in the world or what is really going on. An underrated gem, there is a wonderful chemistry between Oldman and Roth at play here.

Another underrated gem in the Oldman back catalogue, this is well worth seeking out.

 

11. Prick Up Your Ears (1987) Directed by Stephen Frears

Prick Up Your Ears (1987)

A biopic charting a doomed relationship, Oldman totally gets under the skin of his role here, that of gay British playwright Joe Orton, most famous for the plays “Entertaining Mr Sloane” and “Loot”.

The sophomore effort from director Stephen Frears, it charts the violent and ultimately tragic relationship between Orton and failed novelist Kenneth Halliwell (a brilliant Alfred Molina).

The film has a strong narrative line to it as well as a candid, intimate aura and vibe. This all goes back to the performances, especially that of Oldman. One of the stronger biopics of the late Eighties, it is also a showcase of how brilliant an actor Oldman is.

 

10. JFK (1991) Directed by Oliver Stone

JFK oldman

An incredibly ambitious look at the assassination of American president John F. Kennedy, Oldman shines as doomed gunman Lee Harvey Oswald. Proving to be something of a chameleon as an actor, Oldman vividly embodies this individual who was, at the time, marked as Public Enemy No. 1 due to his violent actions that changed the course of history and robbed America of its supposed ‘innocence’.

An important and compelling work, while having a small amount of screen time, Oldman totally makes his mark.

 

9. Harry Potter And The Prisoner Of Azkaban (2004) Directed by Alfonso Cuaron

Harry Potter And The Prisoner Of Azkaban (2004)

In what has proven to be the best of the “Harry Potter” films, Oldman plays Sirius Black, uncle of Harry Potter and apparently a dangerous criminal. The way that Oldman plays with how others perceive his character, who in actual fact is one of the more positive in the Potter Universe, is a joy to watch.

At the time, he was thought to be a rather unconventional choice for the role, but proved to be absolutely spot on, especially in his introduction in “Azkaban”.

 

 

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  • missannthrope

    My favorite is, “We Think the World of You.”

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  • Ted Wolf

    I’m kind of surprised Immortal Beloved is not here.

    • Hosaka

      Great list but I too was hoping to see Immortal Beloved.

  • Jonathan Brand

    Sirius is Harry’s Godfather, not Uncle

  • Bryan Stardust

    U fUckin didn”t Mention rOmeo”s Bleeding !

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  • Alex Nasaudean

    No love for The Contender? Gary Oldman stole the show, while being part of an impeccable cast!

    • CQ617

      Love this movie. This author probably did not recognize him in that role which he played excellently. Great movie too. I was surprised its not on the list, but my guess is that he was unrecognizable as Shelly Runyon creepy politician do anything to win.

      • Annabelle

        I’ve heard that Oldman does not like the way this performance turned out because of the way the role was edited. Apparently there were parts cut where Runyon is depicted as a more fleshed out/complex character instead of just becoming the stock villain. He’s still terrific in his scenes though!

  • Minz

    Nobody’s Baby, there are just way to many amazing performances to name. In my opinion, Oldman is the greatest actor around.
    It kind of bugs me that everyone goes crazy about DiCaprio not having an Oscar.

  • Nathaniel Poe

    Where in the Hell is “Immortal Beloved”?! Or “Romeo is Bleeding”?

  • Silje Mari Mo

    Sirius Black was HPs godfather, not uncle though

  • Sharon J.

    He’s absolutely wonderful in “We Think the World of You” which was regretfully overlooked on this list.

  • Janine Feczko

    And Basquiat is not here either. bummer.

  • mkonezw

    Umm, nothing. (edit)

  • Gary Oldman’s mum

    Meantime!

  • ColinK

    Agree Immortal Beloved belongs on this list.

  • billinga

    If you like him in Leon, you can’t miss Romeo Is Bleeding.

  • Valasaki Irene

    C’mon guys …..where is Romeo is Bleeding and Immortal Beloved!!

  • CQ617

    Did you not see the Contender or did you miss him in that as he was barely recognizable. Great, great movie. He was fabulous in that as was Joan Allen. He played the conservative hypocritical senator and should have been nominated as best supporting actor for that role.

  • wecandobetter758

    Nobody’s Baby.

  • Bharathy Singaravel

    Ah, Sirius is Harry’s Godfather.

  • Mark

    While I love Gary Oldman, I cannot watch Tinker, Tailor.. without comparing it to the BBC series of this book with the late great Alec Guiness as Smiley. I know the film had to deal with time constraints, but I do believe the BBC version to be the definitive potrayal of this amazing book, and Alec Guiness to be the ultimate George Smiley. (The same is true of BBC’s Smiley’s People with Guiness again.)

    • John Addey

      Guiness was brilliant as Smiley as well as all aspects of the novel’s adaption. Brilliant supporting cast as well.

  • abbynrml

    who are the “Cohen” brothers?

  • abbynrml

    How is Prick Up You Ears the “sophomore effort from director Stephen Frears”? It was his fourth feature film after Gumshoe, The Hit and My Beautiful Laundrette.

  • John Addey

    Just read the comments and see how much this actor is respected and loved. Give us more Gary Oldman.

  • lucky gmail

    I gotta admit “True Romance” was really great, but Gary was only PART of the reason why. Lest we forget Walken and Hopper!

  • Hedge685

    Instead of …’An incredibly ambitious look at the assassination of American president John F. Kennedy,’ you should describe the film as ‘a completely fictionalized look’ at the JFK shooting by Oliver Stone.