Mickey Rourke is one of the most fascinating living figures of American cinema. Many actors – Brad Pitt, Johnny Depp, Matt Damon, Adrien Brody and many more idolize him, Elia Kazan called his Actors Studio student audition as the best audition piece he’d seen in 30 years. He didn’t rise up to the straight stardom in 80s but he had a lot of fans, he was almost iconic not only because of his talent but also for his personality.
Tom Hanks said back in time that whenever Rourke is on a movie, he’d go and see it. But Rourke had turn down a lot of roles that could turn him into a much bigger star, and yet the “business part” of filmmaking tired him easily, he gave up, went to boxing and then returned to business again, made his comeback with “The Wrestler” but then again disappeared once again.
He’s known to be not get along with many of his co-stars but no matter what you think of his personality, Mickey Rourke is by far one of the best actors of his generation, if not the best. His career may be full of ups and downs but in each decade, he gave us some really terrific work.
20. The Rainmaker (1997)
As mentioned above, Rourke has many fans in the industry. Many actors spoke about their admiration for him. Matt Damon is one of them. So it must be a special experience for him to star alongside his acting idol. Unlike “Rumble Fish”, his first collaboration with Francis Ford Coppola, Rourke doesn’t get a very interesting part in this but he’s still very amusing to watch as a supporting player. But that’s not what makes this performance interesting.
We put this one on the list because even though he doesn’t get much to do in the film, whenever he’s not on screen, your eyes are looking for him. You wonder if we’ll get to know more about his character or not. You keep on waiting for him and that’s what great actors do. Sometimes they make their parts more interesting than they were supposed to be.
19. Ashby (2015)
Rourke couldn’t find enough of decent roles in his post-Wrestler career or maybe he just didn’t care. Who knows? In fact, one can argue that he started to make worse films than he did before. Back then at least directors like Robert Rodriguez (“Once Upon a Time in Mexico”, “Sin City”) and Tony Scott (“Man on Fire”, “Domino”) were hiring him to do stuff but since Wrestler, most of his career started to consist of C-grade actions which is a shame.
“Ashby”, while not a great film in general, is a surprising and pleasant change. Rourke plays a retired CIA assassin who only has a few months left to live and he befriends with a high school student, played by Nat Wolff. Not only he’s funny in the role (Rourke being funny shouldn’t be surprising for those who had seen his Independent Spirit award speech in 2009), he shows that he’s still capable of carrying the show and he still can be great whenever he gets a chance.
18. A Prayer for the Dying (1987)
It’s not particularly a well-written film and rather a weak effort compared to his other films in 1980s but there’s no 80s movie where Rourke is not interesting to watch. Rourke plays an IRA bomber who hangs up his TNT after accidentally blowing up a school bus of children which was intended for another IRA target. He’s haunted by his past, but he’s called back for one last “hit”.
His final contract-killing delivers him into the lives of a priest and his blind niece. While some of the events are way too melodramatic and too unsubtle, still Rourke is compelling enough to make the film work.
17. Body Heat (1981)
It’s “Diner” which he made year later that made him a well-known actor but critics and some audiences took notice of him in this acclaimed neo-noir already. Called by Roger Ebert as “the best supporting work” of the film, he has two brief scenes but he knows how to grab your attention.
It’s in his small gestures, the way he talks, and how he carries himself in his scenes that make him so memorable.
16. White Sands (1992)
Roger Donaldson’s stylish thriller may not have anything original to offer story-wise but it’s still very entertaining thriller which gives Willem Dafoe a chance to shine as an ordinary man who finds himself in an extraordinary situation. But Rourke leaves an equally great impression.
One of the last roles Rourke took before giving himself to the world of boxing; it’s amazing that even though he already lost his interest in acting and the Hollywood in general, he still doesn’t phone it in. His character Gorman Lennox is sleazy but also charismatic arms dealer and Rourke’s magnetic screen presence adds a lot to the film.
15. “9 ½ Weeks” (1986)
It’s an easy film to trash. These days you can even find people calling it “80s Fifty Shades of Grey” while some of the supposedly provocative scenes may be dated and even look silly, and the critics thought while the film had something to say about the dynamics of sexual power in relationship, it couldn’t do too much as it rather focused on steamy sex scenes and the plot left underdeveloped. That said, it’s still a better film than its reputation suggests.
Adrian Lyne is no Zalman King, and “9 ½ Weeks” is no “Wild Orchid”. Lyne creates a certain mood and tone that makes the film somewhat stylish and if the film was a success, it was largely due to chemistry between Mickey and Kim Basinger. Here Rourke gives one of his most charismatic performances, he makes his character charming but also mysterious but more than that: he made him humane as much as possible, bringing him more depth than the script did.
14. Bullet (1995)
Rourke’s career was in deep trouble in the 90s. Suddenly he decided to go back to the acting but obviously he burned too many bridges. Some of his friends and admirers helped him; Coppola got him a role in “The Rainmaker”, Vincent Gallo casted him for a very fine cameo in “Buffalo 66” and Sylvester Stallone brought him bit more to mainstream attention thanks to “Get Carter” remake but still most of his other works were B-movies or supporting parts in films like…. “Double Team”.
Rourke occasionally wrote screenplays around that time though and “Bullet” was one of his own scripts, co-starring Tupac Shakur. And you can see him enjoy playing ex-convict and junkie who grew up in a dysfunctional family. Not many had seen it back in time but it’d be a great reminder for them that what a great actor Mickey still was and how he still had it in him.
13. The Thin Red Line (1998)
Should it be here? Because we had seen only a very small part with him in it but that small part is more than enough. It very brief, it’s not even in the movie but what Mickey shows here is a strong reminder that he’s able to steal the show no matter how much he’s given. It’s a well-known story that Terrence Malick edited some actors out of the film in his final cut.
Rourke was not happy with it: “It was some of the best work I ever did. There were political reasons why I was out of the movie. That really upset me. I’d gone through a really bad time and Terry knew about it so he incorporated it into the character. It really worked. But just because of the temperature of me and the industry, my scenes were cut.” Rourke may take the things too personally because he’s not the only who got cut out but indeed, it’d be great to see him in the film.
12. Animal Factory (2000)
When Steve Buscemi was casting his prison drama, he had Rourke in mind for an unlikely role – a transvestite cellmate of the lead character. Rourke was very committed to the part. ‘I don’t have two front teeth so I went to my dentist and had him take out my fixed bridge to get that lispy accent. I went to Beverly Hills to a real fancy joint and got a French manicure and then they did this thing where they put all this wax over my eyebrows and made me new ones, longer and higher.”
When Buscemi first saw him as transformed into his character, Jan the Actress – he couldn’t recognize him. And as expected, the result was great and the film still stands as a testament to his versatility and range.
11. Johnny Handsome (1989)
Rourke was already bored with business in late 80s and he claims he was not enjoying it anymore but even then, he manages to give a very solid work in “Johnny Handsome”, a stylish neo-noir made none other than genre master Walter Hill.
Rourke plays, John Sedley (“Johnny Handsome”), a man with a severely disfigured face, he’s double-crossed in robbery, went to prison, meets with a plastic surgeon who gives him a new face, and then goes back to life with a revenge on his mind. His astonishing performance, along with original score and Hill’s atmosphere elevates the film considerably.