The 10 Best Edward Norton Movie Performances

5. Moonrise Kingdom (2012)

Moonrise Kingdom (2012)

This 2012 film was directed by Wes Anderson in typical quirky fashion. Moonrise Kingdom is set during the summer of 1965 on a fictional island, and it is about two 12 year old children, Sam and Suzy, who are in love. The young couple make a secret pact and run away together. The island is only reachable to the main land by ferry and there is a violent storm approaching.

Norton plays Scout Master Randy Ward, a troop leader, very straight faced and a serious scout leader. He is charge of a local troop of Scouts. He is earnest and optimistic, and this role is very light compared to many other Norton roles.

It was a lovely change for Norton to play such a light character. It’s nice to see that he is being cast regularly by Anderson, as his persona works really well in the fairyland universe. Again, Norton adapts to a new role with ease.


4. Birdman (2014)

Edward Norton - Birdman

Ed Norton plays his part to sheer perfection in Birdman, one of the most popular and well known films of 2014. He plays Mike Shiner, an acclaimed Broadway method actor with a highly acclaimed ego. He is very much a method actor, thus very difficult to work with. He gets drunk whilst performing live, tries to have actual sex with his on stage lover and generally won’t shut up.

Ed Norton was the star of this film. It is a great film, and Keaton’s performance is magnificent, but Norton just tips it. He is an absolute joy to watch, and you can’t wait to see what he does next. His character in Birdman may indeed be a part of himself, as he does seem to reach the highest limit when it comes to his acting to maintain a perfect performance.


3. Primal Fear (1996)

Primal Fear (1996)

Primal Fear is one of the greatest Courtroom thrillers of all time. High profile defence lawyer, Martin (Richard Gere) loves the attention he gets, and takes cases on to increase his profile.

When an altar boy (Norton) is arrested for the murder of an archbishop, Martin (watching it on the news) immediately becomes interested in the case due to the publicity it will attract, and immediately offers him his services. He at first doesn’t care if the boy is innocent or not, he just wants to take the case for his public profile.

However, after getting to know the boy he comes to believe that the boy is innocent, even though there is so much evidence pointing towards his guilt. Martin believes the boy has multiple personality disorder, one side of him being the lovely young shy boy with a stutter he gets to know, and the other personality, a horrid violent aggressive young man with a temper.

Norton is so charismatic throughout and for his first film it is an absolutely amazing performance. He keeps the audience guessing till the very end. It is definitely a re-watcher. He manages to drift between both personalities he has in the film terrifically and keeps not only everyone in the film guessing but also the audience until the final minute. Indeed, Norton’s performance absolutely stole the show.


2. Fight Club (1999)


‘I want you to hit me as hard as you can’, as the protagonist and antagonist Tyler Durden says in one of the most talked about films of the 1990s.

We begin the film by being introduced to Norton’s character in the first person. He loathes his life, detests his job, walks around in a trance, he is a hypochondriac, unable to sleep, engaged in a reckless buying habit at Ikea. Then he finds something that makes him happy, attending groups for people with cancer. He finds his release. He can cry again. He can sleep.

Then ‘she’ walks into his life, Marla Singer (Helena Bonham Carter). This disturbs him greatly. He knows she is an imposter and doesn’t have cancer, like him. Then ‘he’ walks into his life, Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt), his flat burns down and he moves into a dilapidated house with Tyler, creating the famous ‘Fight Club’.

The film is violent, fantastic, mysterious, funny, dark, rude and leaves so much to talk about it’s impossible to write a few paragraphs about it. It could quite easily be Norton’s best performance of all time, although we have ranked one performance (below) a decimal point higher.


1. American History X (1998)

American History X (1998)

American History X begins with Danny Vinyard (Edward Furlong), a high school student falling down a wrong path and becoming a neo-Nazi.

The principal of his school can see that Danny is going down a very bad path, so asks him to write an on his brother Derek (Norton) who has just been released from prison for manslaughter. If Danny does not write the paper he will be expelled. The remainder of the film alternates between Danny’s life in the present and Danny and Derek’s past and present.

Derek is portrayed in the past as a racist, scary and violent Neo-Nazi. He is sent to prison after violently killing two men as part of a gang war. Whilst in prison he joins the Aryan brotherhood, but he soon gets upset by their hypocritical views as to who they are friendly with. He also becomes friendly with a black man whom he is assigned work duty with.

After voicing his opinions however, he is brutally attacked and raped by members of the Aryan brotherhood. After this he begins to see the errors in his ways, and becomes a loner just getting through his prison time as quickly as he can.

Without the protection of the Aryan brotherhood he fears for his life, but the protection he receives from his black friend helps him survive. Once he is released he then has to teach Danny that going down the same path as him is not worth it, but it may be too late.

The film is boosted by an excellent cast, script, story, cinematography and direction. Edward Norton just completely envelopes the character of Derek, and the audience can absolutely despise his character during the first half of the film, but then he becomes so likeable at the end through learning the errors of his ways.

At the dinner table scene in which Derek makes it so uncomfortable and hideous to watch I just want to throw something at the screen because he is absolutely so despicable. But towards the end of the film audiences might begin to hope all the best for him, and hope for his redemption. Norton just blows this one out of the water. We chose this as the top film of Edward Norton’s career because his performance and transformation in it is just amazing.

Author Bio: Tessa has been a film fanatic and list writer since she learned to walk. She has a Bachelor’s degree in Film and Television Studies, and a Masters Degree in Scriptwriting from Aberystwyth University. She has a particular interest in horror films, and is currently attempting to write her debut horror script whilst living the dream in Bristol. Follow her on Twitter @Tessicat.