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The 10 Best Paul Dano Movies You Need To Watch

30 May 2016 | Features, Film Lists | by Justin Gunterman

best paul dano movies

One look over Paul Dano’s filmography and one will quickly realize that the man has undeniable talent. Despite his lack of big starring roles, Dano nevertheless stands out in each and every film he appears in.

This list is a combination of both Dano’s performances and the films themselves. In other words this list is not exclusively dedicated to the quality of Paul Dano’s performance nor is it dedicated to the quality of the film itself. Rather, it’s looking at both of those things in conjunction with one another.


10. Being Flynn (2012)

Being Flynn (2012)

Being Flynn is a solid but forgettable film that benefits entirely from the chemistry between the two leads. The melodrama can get a little sappy and the script often feels generic, but the solid cast works with what’s given to them. In the end, Being Flynn is enjoyable solely because of the actors involved. Starring alongside De Niro and Julianne Moore, it’s a wonder that Dano isn’t completely forgotten.

While most of the praise went to De Niro, it’s also important to note that De Niro got the beefier role. Paul Dano’s role as Nick Flynn is a calmer role with less raw energy and more nuance. It can be hard to appreciate the more subtle roles especially when they’re up against bigger, more powerful roles. So although De Niro is probably the star of the show, Dano still makes a case for himself in the small indie movie.


9. Ruby Sparks (2012)

ruby sparks

The directors of Little Miss Sunshine upgraded Dano from supporting actor to leading man and the results are pretty great. Paul Dano’s performance is charming and likeable. Proving that he can play a character that the audience is supposed to hate and a character that they’re supposed to love, Dano’s portrayal of Calvin Weir-Fields will have you smiling and cheering all the way to the finish line.

Though the movie isn’t as magical as Little Miss Sunshine, mostly due to the fact that it’s honestly pretty generic, it succeeds in doing what it sets out to do – charming the viewers. Ruby Sparks is a simple film about love and the male ego. It’s easy to appreciate even if it’s hard to fall in love with. Though this isn’t Dano’s most powerful performance, it’s one of his most charming.


8. Looper (2012)


Looper is a fantastic sci-fi movie that proves that Hollywood isn’t out of original ideas. In all honesty, it’s likely what got Rian Johnson the job directing the 8th installment in that little-known franchise known as Star Wars. The modestly budgeted sci-fi time bender was a hit with critics and audiences.

Once again playing a supporting role, Paul Dano plays Seth, a fellow looper who gets himself into a bit of trouble. Unfortunately, like a majority of the movies on this list, Dano’s screentime is limited. However, also like a majority of the list, he makes up for it by bringing everything he’s got.

Dano isn’t well-known for action movies. He typically sticks with indie dramas, and that’s because he excels at playing the characters found in those films. If Looper is anything to go by though, one can assume that Dano is just as solid at playing a time-traveling telekinetic as he as at playing an aspiring pilot gone mute.

Once again playing a character you want to punch in the face, Dano is crazy good as Joseph Gordon Levitt’s movie best friend. Even though he’s not a key player in the movie, he’s still a ton of fun to watch.


7. Meek’s Cutoff (2010)

Meek's Cutoff

Despite being a critical success, Meek’s Cutoff polarizer the average filmgoer due to its experimental nature, ambiguous ending, and incredibly slow pacing. At times, it really comes across as an arthouse Western film. Considering the fact that western fans and arthouse fans don’t often cross paths, it makes sense that the film confused viewers.

There are plenty of viewers that find the film to a slog, but there are a few lights at the end of the tunnel even for people that don’t like the movie. Michelle Williams is probably the highlight of the film, but Paul Dano and Bruce Greenwood definitely shine as well.

Dano’s character is much simpler than what we’ve come to expect from him. Instead of playing a dastardly villain, Dano plays someone who’s very human. He’s a simple man trying to survive, and we’re rooting for him to make it through.

It’s interesting to see Paul Dano in these roles because it’s out of the ordinary for him. Known for playing very hateable characters, it’s a nice change of pace seeing Dano tackle this kind of role. He does a great job strengthening the movie even if he’s not the strongest part.


6. L.I.E. (2001)


Dano almost exclusively plays supporting roles, but that certainly doesn’t mean he isn’t capable of playing the lead. Sure, Gigantic was kind of a mess, but movies like L.I.E. prove that Dano can take on larger roles and succeed. L.I.E. was the role that put Paul Dano on the map. At the young age of 15, nobody even knew who Paul Dano was. And while he still didn’t earn big-name recognition from the flick, L.I.E. was still a hit with the indie crowd.

The movie is a deeply unsettling look into pedophilia and sexuality in general. The controversial film originally earned an NC-17 for its graphic sexual content. It’s disturbing and hard to watch, but it’s also undeniably gripping thanks largely to Dano’s breakthrough performance. The intricacy of his performance is what keeps viewers hypnotized. The movie itself is also captivating, even if it can be tough to sit through.



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  • Brandon Thompson

    I really like the movie ‘Youth’ and I think Paul Dano was great in it.

    I just hope he doesn’t get sucked into doing a superhero movie.

    • John Barry Ballaran

      That said, he probably would’ve pulled off the nerdy Lex Luthor character that Jesse Eisenberg was going for in BvS much better. I think he looks it.

  • Here’s a trivia about There Will Be Blood that is interesting. Originally, Dano was just supposed to make an appearance as Paul Sunday as he was there for the day in that role. When the original actor that was supposed to play Eli dropped out of the film, PT Anderson asked Dano if he could play Eli Sunday with an extra fee and Dano said sure.

  • Ilse Ape


  • Daniel Hunt

    I remember seeing him in L.I.E. Years ago and just hoping that this kid would become big – and he has, but in a way he hasn’t. Paul Dano will never be a big “movie star” and that’s a good thing. I’d rather see him in smaller interesting roles.
    He’s definitely the man!