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 that are very much worth your time.
15. Chattahoochie (1989) Directed by Mick Jackson
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
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
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
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
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
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
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”.