Total Recall: Willem Dafoe's Best Movies

We count down the best-reviewed work of the John Carter star.

Willem Dafoe

It's Taylor Kitsch's handsome mug that's plastered all over the John Carter trailers and posters, but he isn't going to Mars all by his lonesome this weekend -- he's surrounded by a great supporting cast that includes Ciarán Hinds, Thomas Haden Church, Dominic West, and... drum roll, please... two-time Academy Award nominee Willem Dafoe, whose appearance as the brave Barsoomian warrior Tars Tarkas was just the excuse we needed to devote this week's list to the critical highlights from one of the more admirably eclectic filmographies among today's working actors. Action blockbusters, dramas, even animation -- as we're about to demonstrate. It's time for Total Recall!


86%

10. Inside Man

On paper, Inside Man didn't look like it'd end up being a critical comeback for director Spike Lee -- a cops 'n' robbers action thriller? Please, those are a dime a dozen -- but thanks to a sharp Russell Gewirtz script and an impressive cast that included Jodie Foster, Denzel Washington, Clive Owen, Christopher Plummer, and (of course) Willem Dafoe, it ended up walking away with $88 million at the box office and a healthy 86 percent on the Tomatometer. "As unexpected as some of its plot twists is the fact that this unapologetic genre movie was directed by Spike Lee, who has never sold himself as Mr. Entertainment," admired an appreciative David Ansen of Newsweek. "But here it is, a Spike Lee joint that's downright fun."

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87%

9. Affliction

Dafoe reunited with his Light Sleeper director Paul Schrader for this searing 1997 drama, which earned James Coburn an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor, Nick Nolte a Best Actor nomination, and gave Dafoe the rare opportunity to play a sane, stable, rather noble character -- the brother of a small-town policeman (Nolte) whose investigation of a potential murder parallels his mother's death and his re-involvement with his violent, alcoholic father (Coburn). "Schrader seems to understand these characters implicitly," observed the San Francisco Chronicle's Edward Guthmann, "and the result is probably the best film he has directed."

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89%

8. The Loveless

After having his part cut from Michael Cimino's Heaven's Gate the previous year, Dafoe had to wait until 1982 to make his big-screen debut -- in The Loveless, an indie biker movie written and directed by first-time filmmaker Kathryn Bigelow. A somewhat campy homage to the biker flicks of the 1950s, it didn't achieve much in the way of commercial impact, but Dafoe's role as the ringleader of a group of small-town hoods presaged some of his later work as a charismatic villain, and the movie impressed a number of critics, including Time Out, which admitted, "At times the perversely slow beat of each scene can irritate, but that's a reasonable price for the film's super-saturated atmosphere."

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89%

7. Mississippi Burning

Loosely based on the 1964 murders of three civil rights workers, Alan Parker's Mississippi Burning highlighted ongoing American racial tensions with an engrossing drama that, while it angered some viewers with the way it played fast and loose with certain facts of the incident, still proved a modest box office hit and a seven-time Oscar nominee. Dafoe starred alongside Gene Hackman, the duo portraying a mismatched pair of FBI agents leading the investigation in the backwater Mississippi town where the murders took place -- and although their differing approach to solving a racial hate crime probably raised more questions than it answered, that was more than enough for critics like Rita Kempley of the Washington Post, who wrote, "Mississippi Burning surveys the geography of racism, sheds light on the dark night of the soul."

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90%

6. Born on the Fourth of July

Three years after he plunged filmgoers into the hell of the Vietnam War with Platoon, Oliver Stone took a look at the war's legacy from another perspective with Born on the Fourth of July. An adaptation of Ron Kovic's book about his experiences as a soldier and a veteran, Fourth provided a showcase for Tom Cruise, who earned a Best Actor nomination for his portrayal of Kovic, and it reunited Stone with one of his Platoon stars in the bargain: Dafoe appears here as Charlie, a fellow vet who shares a strange, somewhat violent interlude with Kovic in a small Mexican town. "Whether or not you agree with its politics, and it's sure to spark some debate, there's no denying the film's power," argued Chris Hicks of the Deseret News.

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Comments

Dave J

Dave J

Kind of a small role in "The Inside Man" since it's Denzil's and Clive Owen's movie! Mississippi Burning is probably the only role that he's most memorable in!

Mar 7 - 04:37 PM

Mark Hamstra

Mark Hamstra

Same percentage as PLATOON, go figure

Mar 9 - 08:47 PM

Chris Carlin

Chris Carlin

This list is pretty bad. There a lot better Dafoe movies than this list suggests.

Mar 7 - 04:41 PM

Cris Trentadue

Cris Trentadue

BOONDOCK SAINTS AND PLATOON

Mar 7 - 10:26 PM

Jeff Calder

Jeff Calder

THERE WAS A FIREFIGHT!

Mar 8 - 09:38 AM

Amadeus McIntosh

Amadeus McIntosh

Surprised Boondock Saints isn't on here...

Mar 7 - 04:42 PM

Mike Conway

Mike Conway

i agree, what a great role in Boondock saints! as well platoon!

Mar 7 - 07:03 PM

Fanny Thébault-Dagher

Fanny Thébault-Dagher

Boondock Saints only has like 3% on the tomatometer, so... even though this movie is freaking amazing, you wont see it in a top 10.

Mar 8 - 11:37 AM

Tom Trinchera

Tom Trinchera

Figures they wouldn't include The Last Temptation of Christ.

Mar 7 - 04:52 PM

angela m.

angela martin

yeah my thoughts exactly!!

Mar 10 - 05:15 PM

Janson Jinnistan

Janson Jinnistan

I am stunned that "Platoon" didn't make this list. At least the RT user list has his iconic work in "Last Temptation", his Klaus from "Life Aquatic" and his Guano-crazy turn in "Boondock". I am glad to see "Light Sleeper get a little love, but where's his Bobby Peru from "Wild at Heart"? "Shadow of the Vampire"? It's amazing how low these RT scores are for some of his great acting work. Meanwhile "Finding Nemo" has to be one of the most overrated cartoons of the last decade. I mean, it's not bad, very charming, but classic? No. Classic is DeFoe's iconic death scene from "Platoon". That remains, by far, his most accomplished performance.

Mar 7 - 04:56 PM

Bigbrother

Big Brother

Totally concur on Platoon, also where's The English Patient? At least the absences of such great movies shows how diverse and great his career was. Don't know if I've seen a list where the fans disagreed with the critics more.

Mar 7 - 05:31 PM

Dave J

Dave J

Actually, "Platoon" could've made the list since it had the same RT score as "The Inside Man" both with 86%, except that he had a much bigger role and was more memorable in "Platoon" than the dismissal one when he was in "The Inside Man"!

Mar 7 - 05:54 PM

Brant Miller

Brant Miller

I have to agree with Janson J., and am surprised as can be that his Platoon performance was not in the list, even though it was mentioned in the presentation of another movie. WD's performance in Platoon was superb in ever way & completely riveting. He brought so much humanity to that movie. And the other big omission for me is "Last Temptation of Christ." His performances in those 2 films place him in a high ranking among contemporary actors.

Mar 7 - 07:27 PM

Bigbrother

Big Brother

Not as surprised by Last Temptations exemption not because of quality but because it's controversial nature isn't Meter friendly.

Mar 7 - 07:42 PM

Janson Jinnistan

Janson Jinnistan

This reminds me of a Pauline Kael quote I read recently. The best movies usually never have critical consensus precisely because they provoke. This probably explains why my favorites (that aren't already - pre-RT - acknowledged classics) fall in the 70-90% range. Sometimes it's good to piss off SOMEbody.

Mar 8 - 12:16 AM

IrreducibleKoan

Sean Pak

Very true, Janson. Three of my all-time favorites are Pierrot le Fou, Fight Club, and Synecdoche New York and they have relatively low tomatometers precisely for the reasons I like them. Unconventional, divisive. And so are my favorite Dafoe roles. For such a challenging actor who seeks out those types of films, a list based on tomatometer won't do the job.

Mar 8 - 12:50 PM

Janson Jinnistan

Janson Jinnistan

Plus, Dafoe has a knack for giving excellent performances in films that aren't very good (ala Boondock Saints) which further makes an RT meter rating of his films irrelevent.

Mar 8 - 12:58 PM

Yolanda Brown

Yolanda Brown

Where the HELL is Boondock Saints? He almost stole the damn film!

Mar 7 - 05:01 PM

infernaldude

Infernal Dude

Tomatometer.

Mar 7 - 09:57 PM

Daniel Cullen

Daniel Cullen

wheres Boondock Saints!!???

Mar 7 - 05:03 PM

redrooster0

Charlie Voelker

It was left out because of its ridiculous 10%

Mar 7 - 05:35 PM

infernaldude

Infernal Dude

Tomatometer. Need user vote option.

Mar 7 - 09:58 PM

Dan Kauble

Dan Kauble

Dude... Platoon? The movie Dafoe was OSCAR-NOMINATED for? Where is that?

Mar 7 - 05:05 PM

Bigbrother

Big Brother

How the heck does Platoon and The English Patient not make the list?

Mar 7 - 05:26 PM

infernaldude

Infernal Dude

Tomatometer. Top 10 lists need a user top 10 list to fix this.

Mar 7 - 09:59 PM

Igor Zanga

Igor Zanga

and platoon!!!!??

Mar 7 - 05:29 PM

Bigbrother

Big Brother

Totally concur on Platoon, also where's The English Patient? At least the absences of such great movies shows how diverse and great his career was. Don't know if I've seen a list where the fans disagreed with the critics more.

Mar 7 - 05:31 PM

redrooster0

Charlie Voelker

It was left out because of its ridiculous 10%

Mar 7 - 05:35 PM

Sean D.

Sean D

He was the bomb-diggity in "Shadow of the Vampire." And I love 'Mississippi Burning."

Willem Dafoe is always exciting.

Mar 7 - 05:45 PM

D.

Delon Lier

Finding Nemo has 98% stange that they would mess that up.

Mar 7 - 05:46 PM

Dave J

Dave J

Actually, "Platoon" could've made the list since it had the same RT score as "The Inside Man" both with 86%, except that he had a much bigger role and was more memorable in "Platoon" than the dismissal one when he was in "The Inside Man"!

Mar 7 - 05:54 PM

Tod Symons

Tod Symons

I think Shadow of the Vampire is my favorite of his films...

Mar 7 - 05:59 PM

Paul Traynor

Paul Traynor

boondock saints, english patient and platoon? 3 of his best movies? sorry, but awful. I would have even put speed2 in there over nemo. obviously not a willem dafoe fan who wrote this

Mar 7 - 06:03 PM

King  S.

King Simba

Speed 2 over Finding Nemo? Okay, I won't deny that Dafoe was the highlight of the film, but that was because he was the only good thing about it. I don't think that film is as bad as its tomatometer score, but it's still really bad. I mean, at the very least most sequels promise to be bigger and more action packed than the original, but with Speed 2 they were on the boat for half an hour before anything happened (compare that to the original where the action started right away) and when it did it wasn't nearly as tense as the original, because they were out in the open sea without anything to crash into on a boat that was going so slow that calling the film Speed was practically an insult.

As for Finding Nemo, despite its massive success, I actually found it to be one of Pixar's weakest films (at times the plot was too much of an obstacle course) but that still makes it better than most films (heck, the opening scene is more touching than what a lot of films can deliver in their entire runtime), though interestingly, I never knew Dafoe was in it until now. That's what I love about Pixar. You get so immersed in the characters that you completely forget who's voicing them.

Mar 8 - 07:07 AM

Brantastic16

Brandon Williamson

Why is Finding Nemo listed as 93%?

Mar 7 - 06:05 PM

Erin Reeves

Erin Reeves

No Boondock Saints?

Mar 7 - 06:14 PM

Kristijonas Fussman

Kristijonas Fussman

Nope - and we're all the better for it.

Mar 7 - 06:19 PM

Kristijonas Fussman

Kristijonas Fussman

Nope - and we're all the better for it.

Mar 7 - 06:19 PM

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