Total Recall: Laurence Fishburne's Best Movies
We count down the best-reviewed work of the Predators star.
When Predators arrives in theaters this weekend, it'll mark a renewal for a film franchise that has thrilled action fans for almost 25 years -- and it'll also be the latest chapter in the long and distinguished film career of Laurence Fishburne. Since making his film debut with Cornbread, Earl and Me 35 years ago, Fishburne has appeared in an incredibly diverse collection of projects, on stage (Thurgood, Two Trains Running), on television (CSI, Pee-Wee's Playhouse), and, of course, the big screen. And while you probably remember many of his showiest roles, chances are you've forgotten just how many great movies he's been in -- so we decided now would be the perfect time to celebrate his biggest critical hits with a Laurence Fishburne Total Recall!
10. King of New York
There's nothing quite like a Christopher Walken movie, and the idiosyncratic actor found a kindred spirit in Abel Ferrara for 1990's King of New York, a cult classic in which Walken plays Frank White, a fresh-out-of-prison drug lord who decides he wants to build a children's hospital -- and is willing to slay anyone who stands in his way. Helping him achieve his goal by any means necessary, Fishburne plays Jimmy Jump, a ruthless lieutenant who enters the film by handing one of White's rivals a suitcase full of tampons ("for the bullet holes") before pumping him full of lead. (Steve Buscemi is the second gunman, because it's just that kind of movie.) It only grossed a little over $2.5 million during its brief theatrical run, but King of New York has enjoyed a healthy second life on home video, as well as the appreciation of critics like Combustible Celluloid's Jeffrey M. Anderson, who wrote, "Ferrara's dangerous vision of the city at night goes beyond what most creampuff directors are capable of; he gets to the core of everything from the silent, dark windows of towering penthouses to the vicious rattling of crime-ridden subways."
One of the most eagerly anticipated sequels in recent memory, The Matrix Reloaded faced almost impossible expectations -- and even if it fell short of meeting them, it still did a pretty good job of continuing the saga the Wachowski brothers started with The Matrix, not to mention earning plenty of money at the box office. While it may be bogged down with elaborate Matrix mythology, puffed-up drama, and straight-faced sci-fi silliness from characters with names like the Merovingian, the Architect, and the Keymaker, Reloaded also did what sequels are supposed to do: Use the framework established in the first chapter to tell a deeper, broader story. It also provided plenty of eye-popping action set pieces, lots more of Hugo Weaving's sneering Agent Smith, and a crisis of faith for Fishburne's Morpheus, who discovers that everything he's believed about the Matrix might be wrong. "On balance," argued James Berardinelli of ReelViews, "The Matrix Reloaded does an admirable job of filling the niche it's supposed to -- that of an action-oriented science fiction adventure."
From the instant you look at the poster, you know Akeelah and the Bee is going to be another one of those feel-good pictures about someone (in this case, a cute little girl) overcoming the odds to achieve an unlikely triumph in the final act. But as Roger Ebert is fond of pointing out, it isn't a formula unless it works, and this is a perfect example of familiar ingredients being used in all the right ways. The story of Akeelah Anderson (Keke Palmer), an 11-year-old girl whose gift for spelling earns her a shot at national acclaim -- but places stress on her relationship with her widowed mom (Angela Bassett)! -- Bee gave Fishburne a chance to play the wise-but-mysteriously-reluctant mentor role as her coach, an English professor with a tragic past. We probably don't need to tell you how it all turns out, but what it lacks in surprises, it more than makes up in a smart script, some sensitive direction from Doug Atchison, and typically strong work from its cast. As the Denver Post's Michael Booth put it, "Akeelah and the Bee carefully diagrams every cliche we've absorbed from sports movies, urban dramas, mentor flicks and precocious-children portraits. Yet it works."
7. Deep Cover
Fishburne followed up his profile-enhancing role in Boyz N the Hood with a rare starring project: Deep Cover, a Bill Duke-directed crime thriller that pitted Fishburne's undercover cop character against Jeff Goldblum as a sleazy, drug-dealing lawyer. It's the kind of storyline setup that leads direct to video these days, but in the early 1990s, the genre still had a few fresh rounds to fire -- and with Fishburne and Goldblum locking horns on the screen, and Dr. Dre (with a young Snoop Dogg in tow) making his solo debut on the soundtrack, this is a movie you want to reach for the next time you're feeling tempted to watch a late-period Steven Seagal flick. As James Rocchi summed it up for Netflix, "Deep Cover was probably conceived as a quickie crime film, but thanks to Fishburne's and Goldblum's performances, it became much more."
6. The Matrix
Head shorn, resplendent in shades and a black leather trenchcoat, Fishburne reached action deity status with his role as the formidable resistance leader Morpheus in The Matrix. Though Keanu Reeves -- and, perhaps more importantly, the film's cutting-edge special effects -- gave The Matrix its marquee draw, the movie got its dramatic heft from Fishburne's grim portrayal of Morpheus. After all, this is a character who not only led a long war against the sentient machines that took over the planet and reduced humanity to unwitting energy sources, but also snuck into the Matrix's power plant and cracked open the pod containing Neo (Keanu Reeves), the "chosen one" prophesied to lead humans to victory. It's a role requiring a certain amount of gravitas, which Fishburne supplied in spades. In later installments, Morpheus would travel his own storyline arc; here, he exists mainly to help set up the trilogy's dizzying blend of sci-fi, martial arts, and pure visual wizardry. Declaring that "Dimension-hopping has never been so exhilarating and breathlessly lyrical," Mark Halverson of the Sacramento News & Review applauded the way The Matrix's "brilliant visuals and bracing Hong Kong action stunts punch through lengthy streams of technobabble."