Total Recall: Gary Oldman's Best Movies

We count down the best-reviewed work of the Lawless star.

by |

Gary Oldman

Shia LaBeouf and Tom Hardy are the stars of this weekend's Prohibition drama Lawless, and we don't have anything against either of them -- but we're just as intrigued by the involvement of a certain Mr. Gary Oldman, whose (by most accounts too-brief) appearance adds another chapter to one of Hollywood's most fascinating careers. From indie flicks to blockbuster franchises, Oldman's done it all, and we knew we couldn't pass up the opportunity to look back on some of his filmography's brightest critical highlights. It's time for Total Recall!


10. Kung Fu Panda 2

It somehow seems sort of... wrong to make room on this list for the sequel to an animated comedy about an overweight martial arts warrior who also happens to be a talking panda. But it's also absolutely fitting -- Gary Oldman's filmography is nothing if not eclectic, and although he's made quite a name for himself playing villains and assorted shadowy characters in critically respected dramas, he's also capable of being pretty funny, as evidenced by his role as a cretinous, power-hungry peacock named Lord Shen in Kung Fu Panda 2. "It may not tread new narrative ground," argued USA Today's Scott Bowles, "but Panda echoes some worthy tales that parents heard a long time ago at a theater far, far away."


9. State of Grace

Director Phil Joanou opened his career with a better-than-average teen comedy (Three O'Clock High) and a well-intentioned, albeit indulgent rockumentary (U2: Rattle and Hum) -- which is to say that few could have expected that he had it in him to helm a drama as tense and gripping as 1990's State of Grace. Starring Sean Penn as an undercover cop whose latest case tests his loyalty to his best friend (played by Oldman) -- not to mention his affection for his friend's sister (Robin Wright) -- Grace exploited an instantly recognizable formula while transcending it thanks to outstanding acting from its leads. Janet Maslin of the New York Times singled Oldman out in particular, writing that he "gives an electrifying performance that both establishes a tragic, terrifying character and explains why that character's world is such a perilous place."


8. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

Nearly 30 years after making his film debut, Gary Oldman earned his first Academy Award nomination for his work in Tomas Alfredson's impeccably cast adaptation of the classic John le Carré novel Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. Alfredson's comma-free screen version surrounded Oldman with an impressive array of talented actors, including Colin Firth, Benedict Cumberbatch, Tom Hardy, John Hurt, Toby Jones, and Mark Strong -- and while its languid pace and 127-minute running time annoyed critics accustomed to a little more bang for their spy-thriller buck, the majority agreed with the Philadelphia Inquirer's Steven Rea, who enthused, "Just watching Gary Oldman and his trenchcoated brethren march down the damp, ill-lit streets of Cold War London is enough to make you shiver."


7. JFK

Oldman has made a habit of playing real-life people during his film career, but none of them have been more notorious than the role he took in Oliver Stone's JFK. Just one in a series of famous faces to pop up during the 189-minute political conspiracy epic, Oldman appeared as Lee Harvey Oswald, the assassin whose bullet murdered our 35th president. ... Or did it? Stone's undeniably well-crafted film may not have answered any questions, but it was an unqualified hit at the box office and the Academy, where it garnered eight Oscar nominations. Observed Entertainment Weekly's Owen Gleiberman, "If Stone hasn't exactly solved the Kennedy assassination, he has captured -- with a dark cinematic flair that leaves you reeling -- why it still looms like a sickening nightmare."


6. Batman Begins

After a few fallow years that saw him taking roles in little-seen indie films in order to stay close to home, Oldman resurfaced at the megaplex in the middle aughts with roles in two of the young century's biggest franchises: Harry Potter and Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight trilogy. Starring as Jim Gordon, a key figure in Batman's life and career, Oldman rounded out a stellar cast -- and helped wipe off the Day-Glo coating left behind from the last couple of entries in the series. "Here's how any great franchise should start," pointed out Desson Thomson of the Washington Post. "With care, precision and delicately wrought atmosphere."