Total Recall: Willem Dafoe's Best Movies

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

89%

5. Spider-Man

He was considered for the role of the Joker in Tim Burton's Batman, but Dafoe didn't get to play a supervillain until he won the part of Norman Osborn, a.k.a. the Green Goblin, in Spider-Man. It was worth the wait: Even though he spent much of the film acting behind a cumbersome 580-piece suit, Dafoe effortlessly oozed menace as Osborn as well as the Goblin, lending the film a suitably heavy antagonist and helping raise the dramatic stakes for a movie that ended up taking FX-fueled superhero drama to the next level. It was, as Michael Dequina argued for Film Threat, "Just about the truest and most satisfying screen adaptation most anyone could have ever hoped for."

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90%

4. Light Sleeper

A pained elegy for the survivors of the drug culture of the 1980s -- albeit one told with writer/director Paul Schrader's customary emotional distance -- Light Sleeper sent Dafoe prowling through the New York City nightscape as John LeTour, a courier for an upscale dealer (Susan Sarandon) whose plans to leave the business, coupled with what he views as the growing bleakness of his clients' lives, leave him searching for a way out. Dark and deliberate, the film alienated impatient viewers -- as well as critics who felt Schrader was tilling old creative ground -- but for most, it represented a high point for the filmmaker as well as his stars. Argued Roger Ebert, "In film after film, for year after year, Paul Schrader has been telling this story in one way or another, but never with more humanity than this time."

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93%

3. To Live and Die in L.A.

After making a name for himself with The French Connection and The Exorcist, director William Friedkin suffered through some uneven outings in the late 1970s and early 1980s, enduring mixed reviews and lackluster box office for films like Cruising and Deal of the Century before rebounding with To Live and Die in L.A.. Cool and atmospheric, Die starred Dafoe as a ruthless counterfeiter being pursued by a pair of unscrupulous cops (William Petersen and John Pankow); while it wasn't a smash hit, it easily earned back its $6 million budget, along with raves from critics like Wesley Morris of the San Francisco Examiner, who wrote, "The only problem is that Friedkin would never get any better than this."

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92%

2. Fantastic Mr. Fox

These days, it's a rare animated film that doesn't boast a star-studded cast, but most of them don't attract the sort of award-hoarding talent that Wes Anderson lined up for Fantastic Mr. Fox, his stop-motion adaptation of the Roald Dahl book about a rascally fox (George Clooney) whose devotion to his wife (Streep) is tested by his need to have the last laugh against a trio of bloodthirsty farmers. Rounded out by an eclectic list of co-stars that included Dafoe, Bill Murray, and Owen Wilson, Fox thrilled critics like Elizabeth Weitzman of the New York Daily News, who called it "A visual treasure that successfully blends deadpan quirkiness with a wry realism rarely seen in any film, let alone one for children."

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99%

1. Finding Nemo

Before he worked for him in John Carter, Dafoe teamed up with director Andrew Stanton for Finding Nemo, Pixar's 2003 hit about a neurotic clownfish (Albert Brooks) and his panicked efforts to find his son, who has been tossed into a dentist's office fish tank with a motley school of aquatic creatures -- including Dafoe's character, a grizzled aquarium vet named Gill who helps Nemo bust out of the joint. Though it was strictly a voice acting gig, it gave Dafoe a rare opportunity to play a hero -- and it ended up becoming one of the year's biggest critical and commercial successes. Calling it a "seamless blending of technical brilliance and storytelling verve," Entertainment Weekly's Lisa Schwarzbaum wrote, "the Pixar team has made something as marvelously soulful and innately, fluidly American as jazz."

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In case you were wondering, here are Dafoe's top 10 movies according RT users' scores:

1. The Boondock Saints -- 93%
2. Platoon -- 91%
3. Mississippi Burning -- 87%
4. American Psycho -- 83%
5. The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou -- 82%
6. The Last Temptation of Christ -- 82%
7. Inside Man -- 81%
8. The English Patient -- 81%
9. Finding Nemo -- 80%
10. Fantastic Mr. Fox -- 80%


Take a look through Dafoe's complete filmography, as well as the rest of our Total Recall archives. And don't forget to check out the reviews for John Carter.

Finally, here's Dafoe on a trip to Maine with John Lurie in Fishing With John:

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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