The 10 Greatest Sam Rockwell Movie Performances

5. The Way Way Back (2013)

The Way Way Back

The Way Way Back is little indie film that is well worth visiting for two great performances and for capturing a sincere blend of nostalgia. The movie follows Duncan, an awkward 14-year-old through a summer on the beach with his mother and her jerk of a boyfriend, played by Steve Carrell. This is when Carrell proved he could do more than just comedy, but the one who steals the show is Rockwell.

Essentially playing the Bill Murray role from Meatballs, he’s the loveable slob who runs the local water park and takes Duncan under his wing, providing a brother/father role for him. Rockwell goes beyond stereotype and makes the character a flawed human being. If only all lay-about bums could be as charming and witty.


4. Snow Angels (2007)

Snow Angels

Director David Gordon Green (George Washington, The Comedy) weaves this tragic drama about how many lives can be affected by one event, especially in a small town. It’s unique and engrossing with its many layered performances and Green’s skillful direction.

Rockwell portrays an alcoholic who falls off the wagon and who could come off as annoying or unsympathetic if not handled correctly. But he brings tremendous heartache and pity to the character. Rockwell’s great at playing disheveled desperation and he’s seldom as desperate as he is here. A highlight is when he drunkenly beats his head into the side of his truck sobbing.


3. Seven Psychopaths (2012)

Seven Psychopaths

Martin McDonagh is a screenwriter and director to keep your eye on. Though he only has two films under his belt (this and In Bruges) he’s been working a playwright since the mid 90’s and has perfected the concoction of brutal violence and hilarious wit. Seven Psychopaths partially biographical in that it’s about a screenwriter writing the movie he’s living out.

Rockwell plays the best friend of our screenwriter protagonist, who is a carefree con artist who just also happens to be a psychopathic killer. McDonagh has a knack for bringing out the best in actors; he even made Collin Ferrell look brilliant twice. It’s by far, his best comedic performance, pulling no punches with dry wit, over the top reactions, physical comedy, and absurd lunacy. Groucho Marx would be proud.


2. Confessions of a Dangerous Mind (2002)

Confessions of a Dangerous Mind

Confessions of a Dangerous Mind is a movie about America’s growing paranoia and as the 50’s gave way to the 60’s and 70’s, the shiny, Technicolor glow of normal life started to look more like a disheveled, cheap version of itself, but with way more baggage. All of this is channeled through Sam Rockwell’s character Chuck Barris, game show host, producer, and inventor of The Dating Game, who also may or may not be an assassin for the CIA.

If there was a type Rockwell was born to play, it’s the down and out guy, the one who reaches for power but can’t quite reach it, who inevitably ends up in over his head. It doesn’t hurt the movie that it’s also held up with George Clooney’s classy direction, and a touch of Charlie Kaufman’s surrealistic writing, but this is Rockwell’s show through and through.

It’s possible that the guilt Barris wrestles with throughout the picture has more to do with being, in his mind, a failure of a human being, than it actually does with killing people.


1. Moon (2009)


Director Duncan Jones did a great deal with a small budget for his first feature film. The effects are never flashy or distracting, but merely serve to tell this simple, but emotionally complex story. It would make a great double feature with Silent Running or Ex Machina. The script asks a lot of intelligent questions about humanity, but Rockwell gives the movie its heart.

A movie featuring only one actor present for a majority of the running time (though Kevin Spacey’s voice has a very strong presence) is any actors dream. If Rockwell had not worked, the movie would have been a complete failure. Luckily, he doesn’t waste one moment. He plays Sam, an astronaut who has been on the moon for 3 years alone, overseeing harvesters for a large corporate industry. He then makes an unnerving discovery that throws a wrench in his plans of coming home.

Without spoiling anything, Rockwell virtually plays two versions of one person, keeping them the same, while still creating two distinct characters. Who knows why Rockwell didn’t win an Oscar, let alone wasn’t even nominated, but it remains one of the best performances to ever be snubbed by the academy.

Author Bio: Kristopher Pistole is an actor and video blogger at and lives in Los Angeles, CA. You can visit his movie review Youtube channel here.