10. The Pledge (2001)
As mentioned in “The Thin Red Line”, Rourke has an ability to steal the show with just one scene. There are a lot of great actors who randomly appears in Sean Penn’s underrated “The Pledge”, starring Jack Nicholson but probably none of them leaves an impression as strong as Rourke did.
The film is about Jerry Black (Jack Nicholson), an obsessed man searching for the identity of a child murderer. He comes across a slew of people void of hope. Rourke plays a man whose young daughter went missing years ago. When Nicholson’s character starts to question him, the camera mostly focuses on Rourke and he gives an effecting, heart-wrenching performance. Kind of performance that would make you to re-watch it again and again.
9. Year of the Dragon (1985)
Rourke always gives a special shout out to Michael Cimino, who got him a small part in “Heaven’s Gate” and later a lead role in “Desperate Hours” but their best collaboration remains as “Year of the Dragon”, an Oliver Stone-scripted New York crime drama which also remains as one of Quentin Tarantino’s favourite films.
The film was not without controversy, as some were bothered by the film’s portrayal of Asian Americans and complained about a xenophobic tone which Cimino responded as that the people who criticized the film didn’t pay attention to the film as it’s “not a racist movie but a movie about racism”.
Despite of controversy and early negative reviews, “Year of the Dragon” gained cult following. No matter what you thought of the film in general, one can’t deny that Rourke’s performance as a grey-haired, uncompromising, tough New York cop which was great like almost every film he did in the 1980s.
8. The Pope of Greenwich Village (1984)
One of the most underrated buddy films of 80s, “The Pope of Greenwich Village” is one of the most fun Rourke ever had while playing, when he was still loving his profession and not only that, in a podcast with Alec Baldwin, he also called his co-star Eric Roberts here as one of the three best actors he ever worked with, up there with Robert De Niro and Christopher Walken.
Rourke and Roberts make a great duo here. They later starred together in “Spun” and “The Expendables” but didn’t share scenes as they did here. The Pope of Greenwich Village has a great soundtrack, cool style, and an interesting story but still all these wouldn’t have the same effect without Rourke whose performance was notably inspired by De Niro’s acting style, but he still was a unique actor who knew how to give a great performance and make it totally his own.
7. Diner (1982)
Even though there was something about him already memorable in “Body Heat”, his big break came with “Diner”. Rourke was outspoken about the fact that he doesn’t get the humour here and/or why the film was successful. Luckily, the audiences and critics did though.
Earning him the Best Supporting Actor award at National Society of Film Critics, “Diner” basically introduced Rourke and his undeniable charm to the wide audiences. “Diner” had more complex and more original characters than some other similar types of films. Its witty script gives Rourke a rare chance to show his comedic ability, and with Barry Levinson’s masterful direction, the performance comes alive as very natural and vivid.
6. Sin City (2005)
If “The Wrestler” was “Pulp Fiction” of Rourke’s career, then “Sin City” was “Look Who’s Talking”. It may sound like a nonsense comparison but when John Travolta got disappeared, “Look Who’s Talking” was the film that reminded audiences of him once again before his major comeback with Pulp Fiction.
“Sin City”, unlike that film, is actually a great film though and is very original. It gives Rourke one of his most powerful turns as Marv, a man who wakes up next to a dead hooker and tries to find who killed her. Rourke underwent an hours-long makeup process to transform into Marv for the film and it’s a very physically demanding performance and not so surprisingly Rourke nailed it.
5. Francesco (1989)
A very less known Liliana Cavani film about the life of St. Francis of Assissi. The film failed to get much of positive reviews and probably didn’t find enough of good distribution to be widely seen. And since Rourke’s career started to get downfall afterwards, probably not so many people cared about the film.
Some may find Rourke as a weird choice for playing a religious figure but it was 80s, Rourke was still a very committed actor and Cavani should be celebrated for making such an inspired casting. While the production in the film overall is not that impressive, Rourke actually is. He’s so dedicated to the part and even the scenes where some may find “over-the-top”, there’s something so unique about Mickey’s acting that comes off just fascinating and moving.
4. Rumble Fish (1984)
When someone asks you what a poetic performance is, you can simply just show them Francis Ford Coppola’s “Rumble Fish” and Rourke’s mesmerizing turn in it. Real-life motorcycle enthusiast, Rourke plays “The Motorcycle Boy”, a character whose name we never know which only adds to his mythology.
Rourke here gives a very mature performance for his age, which only makes sense as the Motorcycle Boy is kind of character who is wise beyond his years, his age, his time. He’s “merely miscast in a play. He was born in the wrong era, on the wrong side of the river…
With the ability to be able to do anything that he wants to do and… findin’ nothin’ that he wants to do”. That’s how Dennis Hopper character describes him and it basically says a lot about him. To get Rourke into the mindset of his character, Coppola gave him books written by Albert Camus and a biography of Napoleon and given how often Rourke praises Coppola, it’s obvious that’s he’s proud of the film and his performance.
3. Barfly (1987)
Rourke is a dynamite as Charles Bukowski’s alter ego, filthy, always drank and eccentric writer in Barbet Schroeder’s “Barfly”. Mickey didn’t get along with Barbet Schroeder (then again he didn’t get along with many people), and Bukowski was initially dismissive of his performance but later on, he also warmed up to it and it’s better to leave him to describe his performance: “Mickey Rourke stayed with the dialogue to the word and the sound intended. What surprised me was that he added another dimension to the character, in spirit. Mickey appeared to really love his role, and yet without exaggeration he added his own flavor, his zest, his madness, his gamble to Henry Chinaski without destroying the intent or the meaning of the character. To add spirit to spirit can be dangerous but not in the hands of a damned good actor.”
He sure was. While Rourke couldn’t get a Golden Globe nomination unlike his co-star Faye Dunaway (also great), he ended up getting his first Independent Spirit award nomination.
2. Angel Heart (1987)
According to rumors, Rourke and Robert De Niro didn’t get along well on the set but who knows, maybe it added something to the genuine tension between their scenes. This supernatural thriller caused a bit of controversy, mainly because of the explicit (and very memorable, kind of scary) sex scene between Rourke and Lisa Bonet (very underrated performance, by the way) but luckily all these didn’t overshadow the film and the film gained large cult following that one can see its influence in many films made since then.
Just look at Roman Polanski’s “Ninth Gate” which borrowed a lot of things from it. It’s not hard to catch some similarities. Alan Parker’s exceptionally well made “Angel Heart” gave Rourke a true leading man role. Sometimes he’s cocky, sometimes charismatic, sometimes he’s confused, angry, scared, shocked, intrigued and he carries the whole film on his shoulders, giving a tour-de-force performance. His facial expressions in the last scene alone once again prove his great talent.
1. The Wrestler (2008)
There was one unfair thing that often said about this film. That it was a reflection of Rourke’s own life. Yes, Rourke also had to go through some terrible times. Yes, he also disappeared from spotlight. Yes, he also had to deal with his demons but that’s no reason to diminish his performance to “he played himself”. No, he didn’t. He puts an extraordinary character work in here. Both physically and psychologically, he creates a fascinating profile.
Maybe Darren Aronofsky’s most raw and most genuine film, “The Wrestler” looks at isolation and self-destructiveness of wrestler’s life and Rourke’s performance is what makes the film works strongly as it is.
There are melodramatic moments that could go unnecessarily sentimental but with Rourke’s hands, everything feels completely natural and touching. While the most gut-wrenching scene is probably the one between Evan Rachel Wood and him, we should give a mention to his scenes with Marisa Tomei (who’s also outstanding and deserves to get a strong part like this as soon as possible) as well which is just pure cinema.
Many rooted for Rourke at the Oscars that year, he lost. But the fans were still OK with it as they thought it’s just the first part of his comeback and many more are yet to come but unfortunately with an exception of thankless villain role in “Iron Man 2” and stuff like “The Immortals” which no one cared, he didn’t get enough of career resurgence but Rourke is still alive and still has many fans. Hopefully yet another director will give him a great role his talent deserves again.