As of August 2018, Michael Fassbender is 41 years old. Unless he retires from acting, Fassbender will be nominated for another Oscar, Golden Globe or BAFTA award within the next decade. His Hollywood career has displayed a range between mammoth success (being a staple of the X-Men and Alien franchises), to having eight films on his resume that grossed less than $1-million dollars in the U.S. box office (four from the perspective of the worldwide box office).
There is very little intertextuality in Fassbender’s work. Unlike Clint Eastwood, Tom Cruise, Drew Barrymore, or Mel Gibson – movie stars who operate within their own production companies, thereby maintaining control and authorship over the films they appear in, Fassbender’s name appears in a variety of genres from romance (Angel; Jane Eyre), to action (300; Assassin’s Creed), to drama (Fish Tank; 12 Years A Slave), and the obscure horror flick (Blood Creek; Eden Lake).
Fassbender’s career began in television until landing a supporting role in the box-office hit, 300 in which his energy is on full display. Between 2007 and 2011, Fassbender would be cast in a variety of pictures that would either go by the wayside (Centurion), display his outstanding talent (Hunger), or films that appear awkward in hindsight by having such a recognizable actor in a disposable role (Eden Lake; Inglourious Basterds).
Throughout 2011 Fassbender’s prominence would drastically change as his validity skyrocketed with four films (Jane Eyre; X-Men: First Class; A Dangerous Method; and Shame),that would simultaneously earn him acclamation from critics and boost his popularity. The array of performances secured Fassbender’s reputation as a dynamic actor, which in turn followed with movies of richer cinematic quality.
The characters seen in the 2012-to-present era would exhibit a deeper complexity (Steve Jobs; The Light Between Oceans), or a subtle malice (Trespass Against Us; The Snowman) which indirectly offered an element of a character study within these films. The frightening rage that Fassbender displayed in his earlier years would still be evident (12 Years A Slave; The Counselor; Song to Song).
There is a familiarity with various co-stars that we see repeated throughout, which appears to be the most intertextuality to Fassbender’s work, seen alongside Marion Cotillard (Macbeth; Assassin’s Creed), Brendan Gleeson (Trespass Against Us; Assassin’s Creed); Kodi Smith McPhee (Slow West; X-Men: Apocalypse), Guy Pearce (Prometheus; Alien: Covenant; The Snowman), Brad Pitt (Inglourious Basterds; 12 Years A Slave; The Counselor), Katherine Waterston (Steve Jobs; Alien: Covenant), and Dominic West (300; Centurion).
Looking at these 29 films over a ten year span (2007-2017), often we see a distinguishable actor in a sub-par film, such as Blood Creek and Jonah Hex, where his physical screen presence instills fear.
Even movies that his lauded reputation seems inapporpriately suited for, particularly Eden Lake, Fassbender’s intensity is evident. In the contemporary era, Fassbender’s performances are awe-inspiring, yet he’s cast in a movie that the plot itself burdens the film, such as Macbeth; Assassin’s Creed; or The Snowman. Fassbender rarely hits a false note or flubs delivery. This list is assembled by judgement of the entire film itself.
29. Slow West (2015, John Maclean)
Periodically changing tone, with narrative asides that deter from the central story of two drifters heading west really makes Slow West clunky. Sadly the action is poorly edited and many of the scenes feel as if they were shot on a soundstage.
With the hat, the cigarrillo, beard stubble, and low voice, Fassbender comes across as a counterfeit Clint Eastwood. At this point of his career, Fassbender should be the most rewarding element of Slow West, but even he’s semi-disappointing in that the best parts of his character aren’t consist throughout the picture.
Even with the overblown Jonah Hex, Fassbender’s character is more engaging through his maniacal ticks, face tattoos, and humor. Slow West is the only film of this batch where Fassbender questionably seems miscast, yet the aesthetic of the movie itself has more to do with that than any other element.
28. Macbeth (2015, Justin Kurzel)
The sets are cool. The costumes are detailed. The make-up intimidating. The mise-en-scene outstanding. The editing often unique. Nevertheless Macbeth is stylized to the point of dull.
The film could have easily had an entire 10 or 15 minutes trimmed from it to hurry along the story, where so many of potentially “cool” parts (flashbacks, battles) seem useless in the sluggish narrative. The spurring of Marion Cotillard/Lady Macbeth’s plot doesn’t arrive until the 30 minute mark of the film, at which point the audience arguably has become exhausted trying to stay with the picture.
Even as late as of 2015, we see that Fassbender (again) is a good actor in a bad film. The madness of Macbeth, the character’s rage, ups and downs are frightening and are on display on the behalf of a powerhouse performer, yet it’s difficult to be invested into a film this eccentric.Important plot points of the play become muddled in the overt fancy dialect, which makes it hard to care about Fassbender’s ambitions and motivation.
27. Frank (2014, Lenny Abrahamson)
Somewhat of an engenious concept that blends social media, music, avant garde, and pop-culture trends, yet the resolution is weak. Frank isn’t an avant garde film, but rather a story about artist (accidentally?) being avant garde, yet seems to substitute and excuse their behavior for mental illness.
Could Frank be accused of being offensive? Maybe, as the band members seem to remain in their strange isolated fix by story’s end. Fassbender indirectly remains the center of attention via the large mask, but he’s so guarded through the helmet that he’s hard to relate to until the confusing finale.
26. Blood Creek (2009, Joel Schumacher)
The same year as Inglourious Basterds, Fassbender also portrayed another fictional WWII figure in a Nazi scientist researching the occult. Fassbender spends the majority of his screen time in frightening makeup as a demonically possessed pseudo-monster; a cringeworthy disturbing performance.
However, Blood Creek suffers from a predictable storyline in which the final act loses its previous thrill due to the elongated grizzly violence. The story of the two brothers, a war veteran, a family held hostage in time, and the lore of the occult is overshadowed by outrageous action (demonic CGI horses), where the disinterest in Blood Creek’s resolution long before the end credits roll.
Fassbender’s on-camera presence is worth noting as he eventually becomes the center-point of the movie. Particularly as a villian (Alien or X-Men franchise) Blood Creek seems like a dress rehearsal for what would come in a few years.
25. Assassin’s Creed (2016, Justin Kurzel)
As with Macbeth, the film is exceptionally beautiful on a cinematic level, yet the story is muddled in confusing dialogue. As Shakespeare’s plays appeal to an exclusive audience, so too does the world of the video game, so the transitions to the “big screen” is poor.
Considering the science-fiction nature of Assassin’s Creed, it runs the risk of outlandish sounding dialogue, hence Fassbender’s powerful acting loses charisma when saying over-sappy lines.
The main improvement over Macbeth is the action, which remains intriguing due to the “virtual reality” element, but lacks the same conviction as other modern action films such as Quantum of Solace (2008, Marc Forrester); Jason Bourne (2016, Paul Greengrass); or Ready Player One (2018, Steven Spielberg).
24. Angel (2007, François Ozon)
As one of Fassbender’s earlier films, it can be seen as a foreshadow of his career in the following ten years. By no means a cinematic masterpiece, Angel seems to have tick-marked-off each of Fassbender’s typecast: dashing, artistic, soft-spoken, yet with a profound darkness lurking underneath.
Angel is executed with melodrama that teders on the nonsensical – yet as opposed to 300, Fassbender seems better cast for this role than the Spartan super soldier.
23. Centurion (2010, Neil Marshall)
Throughout the 2000s, the runaway success of Gladiator (2000, Ridley Scott); The Lord of the Rings (2001-2003, Peter Jackson); Troy (2004, Wolfgang Petersen) and even 300 (2007, Zack Snyder) turned many studios towards movies of similar genre: the pseudo-medieval era. Centurion is clearly inspired by the previous decades blockbusters, yet lacking the production value and cathartic narrative substance of the latter.
As one of Fassbender’s first formal leading roles, he has a larger stage to show off his energy, fury, and menace. Similar to Eden Lake and Blood Creek, Fassbender’s performance is overshadowed by a sub-par production, more interested in gore.
The character arch of a Roman gladiator turned soldier, with a small band of survivors, on the run from a hunting party is ideal for an epic, yet Centurion allows itself be tongue-in-cheek with the dialogue. The film is so gratuitous with the violence that it loses the substance of a Gladiator-esque film.
22. Jonah Hex (2010, Jimmy Hayward)
Another mainstream Hollywood production, although with less publicity than either 300 or Inglourious Basterds – yet similar in being another fiction in a historical setting. Fassbender is another creepy villain oozing with charm with a very nasty side to him.
Jonah Hex is in the same league as these other fairly budgeted action movies we see Fassbender cast in that doesn’t beckon the audience to take very seriously. There is nothing special about Jonah Hex, yet it knowingly remains fun and campy.
21. Eden Lake (2008, James Watkins)
Considering Fassbender’s career, we don’t expect to see a him play victim in a horror flick, much less a slasher-flick. As one of his earlier Hollywood films, Eden Lake appears to be the only film in the collection that doesn’t seem to belong.
A couple on a weekend vacation turns horribly wrong when local teenagers harass, and eventually torture the pair in grizzly fashion. Fassbender’s chiseled physique and romantic flair are cast for show, but in a movie where the lead characters make one bad decision after another, the audience seeking mature drama won’t find it here until the final moments of the picture.