Total Recall: Christopher Walken's Best Movies

We count down the best-reviewed work of the Seven Psychopaths star.

by Jeff Giles | Thursday, Oct. 11 2012

Christopher Walken

From junior soap star to Oscar-winning film actor, Saturday Night Live mainstay, and music video legend, Christopher Walken has carved out one of the most cheerfully inimitable career paths in Hollywood since making his screen debut nearly 60 years ago. This weekend, the amazingly prolific actor -- who's acted in nearly 30 films over the last 10 years alone -- pops up in Seven Psychopaths, so we decided to take the opportunity to take a fond look back at some of his most critically beloved performances. Break out your cowbells, it's time for Total Recall!


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10. Biloxi Blues

Ever wondered what the word "latrine" means? Look no further than Biloxi Blues. In one of the most colorfully memorable scenes from Mike Nichols' adaptation of the Neil Simon play, Walken's marvelously named Sergeant First Class Merwin J. Toomey provides a rather in-depth definition for his latest batch of U.S. Army recruits. This being a family site, we can't reprint the whole thing; suffice it to say that it's pronounced, as Toomey puts it, "La-trine, from the French." The interplay between Walken and Biloxi's star, Matthew Broderick, was what set the movie apart for the New York Times' Vincent Canby, who chortled, "With superb performances by Mr. Broderick and Christopher Walken, who plays Mr. Simon's nearly unhinged, very funny variation on the drill sergeant of movie myth, Biloxi Blues has a fully satisfying life of its own."


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9. At Close Range

Adding a cop mustache, co-starring support from Sean Penn, and a Madonna hit on the soundtrack to Walken's arsenal, 1986's At Close Range dramatized the tragic real-life story of a Pennsylvania crime family whose patriarch (played by Walken) returns from exile to darken the lives of his grown sons (Sean and Chris Penn). In spite of its compelling story and excellent cast -- which included Mary Stuart Masterson, Kiefer Sutherland, and Crispin Glover -- the movie didn't make much of an impact at the box office, but it resonated with critics like Roger Ebert, who wrote that "Penn and Walken [are] at the top of their forms in roles that give them a lot to work with."


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8. Pennies From Heaven

If you're filming a musical and you need someone to play a singing, dancing pimp, there's really only one person to call. Walken added a little bit of off-kilter genius to 1981's Pennies from Heaven, screenwriter Dennis Potter's adaptation of his hit BBC miniseries about an unhappy married couple during trying economic times; here, directed by Herbert Ross and starring Steve Martin as a Depression-era sheet music salesman, it went down as one of the decade's more ignominious flops at the box office, although it's gained something of a cult following over the years -- and it's always been a favorite among critics like Mark Athitakis of Flimcritic.com, who called it "Dark as night but perfectly lit, a little sad but with a song in its heart."


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7. The Dead Zone

Walken earned a Saturn Award nomination for his role in David Cronenberg's The Dead Zone, an adaptation of the Stephen King novel about a psychic (played by Walken) who discovers that a Presidential candidate (Martin Sheen) will trigger nuclear war if elected -- and sets about planning a one-man assassination attempt. Unlike a number of 1980s King adaptations, The Dead Zone proved successful with audiences as well as critics; Luke Y. Thompson of New Times called this "The classic Walken role, by which all subsequent ones are measured" and argued that it's "Possibly the best Stephen King adaptation too."


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6. True Romance

We don't normally include single-scene roles in Total Recall, but Christopher Walken's appearance in True Romance is something special -- in fact, the character he plays in the movie, Vincenzo Coccotti, boasts his own Wikipedia entry, thanks to the memorably racist monologue delivered by Dennis Hopper during their few moments of shared screentime. And as for the rest of the movie, which stars Christian Slater and Patricia Arquette as a couple on the run from bloodthirsty mobsters? It isn't bad either. As TIME's Richard Corliss observed at the time, "If shoot-'em-up, gobble-'em-down movies like The Fugitive and Jurassic Park are rated PG-13 these days, what does an R-rated action adventure look like? Like True Romance: violent to a fault, glam to the max."

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