The 10 Best Kevin Spacey Movie Performances


Kevin Spacey has established himself as a “chameleon” of the acting world, proving in every role that he has the capability to transform into completely contrasting characters. He began his acting career on Broadway in 1981, although he didn’t make his way into film until Heartburn (1986), where he obtained a minor role as a mugger.

However, Spacey didn’t receive a starring role until Consenting Adults (1992) in which he played a devious man named Eddy Otis. His career began to boom and in less than a decade, he became a household name. He holds a reputation as one of the greatest actors of the past twenty years, earning a Tony, two Academy Awards, and Best Actor of the Decade in 1999 from England’s Empire Magazine.

Spacey refuses to talk about his personal life, stating that, “I’m supposed to convince you, for two hours, that I’m somebody else. Now if you know everything about my life, if you think you’ve got me figured out and you think you know all my dark secrets, how am I ever going to convince you that I’m somebody else?”


10. K-Pax (2001) Dir. Iain Softley

K-PAX, Kevin Spacey, 2001

“ Every being in the universe knows right from wrong, Mark.”

Kevin Spacey stars as Prot, a patient in a psychiatric hospital who believes he’s an extraterrestrial from the planet K-Pax, which is located approximately a thousand light years away. He is assessed by psychiatrist Mark Powell (Jeff Bridges), who doubts Prot’s story and labels him as delusional.

Over time, Dr. Powell slowly begins to doubt his initial diagnosis as begins to tell him accurate information about the solar system that only an elite group of astrophysicists know. Dr. Powell and Prot delve into a journey to discover which is true, that Prot is simply a man on a psychotic break or that he’s a visitor from a different universe.

This science fiction film is rife with magnificent cinematography, compelling storyline, and incredible acting. Both Bridges and Spacey are excel as their characters and give wonderful, nuanced performances. K-Pax is a well-written and captivating film that keeps you constantly guessing which theory about Prot is true.


9. The Negotiator (1998) Dir. F. Gary Gray

THE NEGOTIATOR, Kevin Spacey, Ron Rifkin, Samuel L. Jackson, 1998, (c) Warner Brothers

“I once talked a guy out of blowing up the Sears Tower, but I can’t talk my wife out of the bedroom or my kid off the phone.”

Danny Roman (Samuel L. Jackson), a well respected police negotiator, falls into hot water after being framed for murder. Fearing that he has no other options, he takes a building full of people hostage. Since he knows all of the negotiation techniques and rules, Roman asks for the only negotiator that he knows he can trust: Chris Sabian (Kevin Spacey). After careful discussion, Sabian realizes that Roman is innocent and in order to buy time to prove it, he decides to go inside and become Roman’s partner.

While it’s true that this crime drama contains a few typical action movie cliches and tropes, there are several things makes it truly unique, for instance, Samuel L. Jackson and Kevin Spacey took the already clever script even further, both giving outstanding performances. The gripping dialogue and witty one-liners creates a new, refreshing take on action films making it a truly worthwhile watch.


8. Glengarry Glen Ross (1992) Dir. James Foley

Glengarry Glen Ross (1992)

“You’ve got a big mouth… now I’m gonna show you an even bigger one.”

In this film, a sales motivator (Alec Baldwin) sets up a sales competition between a group of desperate real estate agents in which the top two salesmen will either win a Cadillac or a set of knives and the losers will be fired. The salesmen attempt, and fail, to use the leads they have, until one agent hatches a plan to break into the office, steal the leads, and sell them to rivals.

The film features an A-List cast such as: Jack Lemmon as an elderly deadbeat, Al Pacino as sales leader of the office, and Kevin Spacey as the agitated office manager.

Based on the play by David Mamet, who based the characters and dialogue from people he worked with when he was a salesman. The crass humor and cursing makes the film feel genuine and quotes from the film are instantly memorable. The cast gives excellent, unforgettable performances, especially Kevin Spacey, Alec Baldwin, and Al Pacino, the latter of which was nominated for an Academy Award.


7. Swimming with Sharks (1994) Dir. George Huang

swimming with sharks

“Life is not a movie. Good guys lose, everybody lies, and love… does not conquer all.”

Guy (Frank Whaley) is a naive, newly hired assistant for powerful movie producer Buddy Ackerman (Kevin Spacey). Every day, Guy’s subjected to endure Buddy’s constant abuse and humiliation in and out of the office, which he tolerates in hopes of eventually getting a promotion. But when Guy learns an upsetting personal secret involving his girlfriend and Buddy, he’s snaps, driving him to kidnap and torture Buddy in his own home.

Kevin Spacey completely steals every scene he’s in during the course of this dark drama-comedy. He expertly portrays a malicious, ego-maniacal film producer and delivers memorable lines while yelling and throwing fits over trivial things such as Guy bringing him Equal instead of Sweet-N-Low. He reprises the role of the vile, ruthless boss in Horrible Bosses (2011).


6. L.A. Confidential (1997) Dir. Curtis Hanson

L.A. Confidential (1997)

“Oh, lookee here: the great jerkoff case of 1953.”

This film, set in Hollywood in the fifties, tells the tale of police corruption and sleaze. Three cops each work in their own way to solve crimes: Bud White (Russell Crowe), a hothead, who uses violence to get answers; Ed Exley (Guy Pearce), who tries to do everything by the book; and Jack Vincennes (Kevin Spacey), who rather enjoy keep up his appearance on his television show instead of solving crimes. But after someone close to Vincennes is murdered, he joins Exley and White on their hunt to find the truth.

Hailed by critics as the Chinatown of the nineties, L.A. Confidential is an incredibly clever film with a brilliant script, complex subplots, and phenomenal acting. Russell Crowe, Guy Pearce and Kevin Spacey give outstanding performances and create convincing three dimensional characters.

James Ellroy, the author of L.A. Confidential, described Spacey’s performance as “some of the best self-loathing I’ve ever seen on screen”. This film won two Academy Awards: one for Kim Basinger’s performance in a supporting role and best screenplay.