Home Films Willem Dafoe’s 20 Best Movies – Ranked! | Willem Dafoe

Willem Dafoe’s 20 Best Movies – Ranked! | Willem Dafoe


20. Tom and Viv (1994)

Dafoe wasn’t a natural cast as secretary TS Eliot in this literary biopic, which chronicled the poet’s troubled first marriage — and it showed, despite his usual acting smarts. If nothing else, it proved that, despite his nerd credentials, Dafoe wasn’t exactly cut out for the Anglophile heirloom photos that littered the 1990s.

19. Burning Mississippi (1988)

A technically accurate but essentially thankless role in Alan Parker’s civil rights picture. Dafoe plays a straight arrow investigating the disappearance of voting volunteers in the Klan-haunted ’60s Deep South alongside co-star Gene Hackman, who has by far the showiest role. Leading with a razor-sharp side parting and horn-edge specs, he’s one of a long line of cops and authority figures who have paid Dafoe rent over the years.

As Ward in Mississippi Burning. Photography: Cinetext/Orion/Allstar

18. Finding Nemo (2003)

An inspired voice cast that gave Dafoe its biggest box office result yet. He played Gill, the leader of the “tank gang” who teaches Nemo self-reliance and – most importantly – comes up with schemes to get the fish out of the dentist’s waiting room. Surreal in itself to hear the gritty tones of Dafoe in a Disney image.

17.Spiderman (2002)

Dafoe was an early adopter of the new wave of comic book photos; he wasn’t the first choice for the role of supervillain Green Goblin, but it turned out to be a smart move on director Sam Raimi’s part, with Dafoe’s ability to project both utter sincerity and a terrifying threat – especially in the now famous mirror scene, where the two halves of his personality clash.

16. Loveless (1981)

Dafoe’s first starring role was for Kathryn Bigelow, fresh out of film school, co-directing with future Wild at Heart producer Monty Montgomery. A slice of early ’80s and ’50s chic, Dafoe is the super-handsome leader of a Wild Angels-style outlaw biker gang. Presumably prioritizing his work with the avant-garde performance group Wooster Group, Dafoe isn’t exactly relaxed in front of the camera – but he looks incredible, like Audie Murphy’s crackhead cousin.

The loveless.
Like Vance in The Loveless. Photography: Christopher Collection/Alamy

15. Streets of Fire (1984)

Dafoe doesn’t have much to do until the final 20 minutes of Walter Hill’s rock ‘n’ roll musical DayGlo, and his nervous greaser supervillain Raven is essentially a meaner version of The Loveless’ Vance. But he makes the most of the climactic fight scene, giving it maximum tension as he hits Michael Paré with a plate-setting hammer.

14. Auto Focus (2002)

Paul Schrader has given Dafoe a number of top-notch supporting roles, and this one, as the suspected murderer of sleazeball TV actor Bob Crane, is one of the more interesting mods. As video genius John Carpenter, Dafoe goes from reckless manipulator to desperate killer with impressive conviction.

13. White Sands (1992)

Dafoe proved he could carry a mainstream image with this entertaining and atmospheric crime thriller directed by Roger Donaldson. Dafoe plays a small-town lawman who happily falls into a high-stakes espionage murder; the patsy-like role doesn’t exactly play to his strengths, but he’s the solid center of the film.

The Last Temptation of Christ.
The Last Temptation of Christ. Photo: Snap Stills/REX/Shutterstock

12. The Last Temptation of Christ (1988)

It was supposed to be Dafoe’s big breakthrough to leading man status – as always, he gives it his all, successfully conveying the deadly seriousness of director Martin Scorsese’s intent. But that didn’t quite happen for him: Dafoe’s self-lacerating contribution was overshadowed by the wider furor, as the film was engulfed in protests, threats and bans.

11. Platoon (1986)

Dafoe had huge mainstream success with Oliver Stone’s take on the Vietnam War as a lawless mass grave. His role, memorably encapsulated in the Christ-like movie poster image, is the moral conscience of the film, Charlie Sheen’s good-earing angel. But, as we know, he is shot by Tom Berenger’s brutal Sgt Barnes, then ended in slow motion by the Viet Cong.

10. Wild at Heart (1990)

Dafoe has been in David Lynch’s Palme d’Or for less than half an hour, but what an impact he’s having. As sneering trigger Bobby Peru, outfitted with a pencil mustache and prosthetic additions to his already prominent choppers, Dafoe pulled off his most alarming grotesque yet. The scene where he terrorizes Laura Dern’s Lula is always moving.

9. Shadow of the Vampire (2000)

Dafoe earned a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination for his role in this enterprising take on the making of the influential silent film Nosferatu. Beneath the layers of make-up and bald cap, Dafoe does a great job of making his actor-vampire Schreck/Orlok eminently plausible.

Like Max Schreck in Shadow of the Vampire.
Like Max Schreck in Shadow of the Vampire. Photo: Saturn Films/BBC Films/Allstar

8. To Live and Die in Los Angeles (1985)

In retrospect, the highlight of Dafoe’s mainstream pump. As vicious counterfeiter Rick Masters, Dafoe is a properly chilling Hollywood villain, opposite William Petersen’s 501-wearing Secret Service agent Richard Chance. With Masters’ background as an artist, it’s a role that could smartly tap into Dafoe’s never-buried sensitive side.

7. Tommasso (2019)/Siberia (2020)

In Abel Ferrara, Dafoe has found a partner willing to give him free rein to explore his outer concerns – in addition to being one of the few directors to give him serious leading roles. These two films, unofficial companion pieces, are arguably Ferrara’s most personal and show Dafoe at his best: articulate, engaged, and unfazed by even the strangest dramatic situations.

Like Martin in The Hunter.
Like Martin in The Hunter. Photo: Allstar/Magnolia Pictures

6. The Hunter (2011)

Dafoe had to travel a wide range in search of suitably heavy roles, and this one took him all the way to Tasmania. As a freelance secret agent tasked with tracking down the supposedly extinct Tasmanian tiger, he could deploy the tricky acting craft of doing things methodically, alone for extended periods of time. There is also a moral crisis in which Dafoe has mastered.

5. The Florida Project (2017)

Dafoe earned another supporting actor Oscar nomination for this fatherly role, in which he radiates trepidation and exasperation in equal measure as the manager of a motel adjacent to Disney World. The main focus of her anxiety is mother-daughter pairing Halley and Moonee (Bria Vinaite and Brooklynn Prince); they are, in truth, the stars of the film, but Dafoe is the ballast.

The Florida Project.
Like Bobby in The Florida Project. Photography: Cre Film/Kobal/Rex/Shutterstock

4. Antichrist (2009)

Whether or not you believe in the sincerity of arch-provocative Lars von Trier’s occult horror (and The Guardian’s Peter Bradshaw certainly did not), there is no doubt that Dafoe and Charlotte’s total commitment Gainsbourg, the two main actors in this dance of trauma, sex and death. Dafoe is a therapist trying to heal his grief-stricken wife after their infant son falls to his death; its super-serious articulation is imbued with an unusual note of haughtiness – though of course it’s dropped by the time of the film’s nightmarish climactic showdown.

3. At the Gates of Eternity (2018)

With his face stitched and blocky, Dafoe was the perfect cast for Vincent van Gogh in Julian Schnabel’s treatment of the painter’s turbulent final months, and the film is truly a communion from artist to artist. The director focuses on Van Gogh’s act of gazing, and as the wielder of Hollywood’s most piercing gaze, Dafoe wears it beautifully, while convincingly handling the more unsettling later episodes. Many have tried to portray artistic rapture on screen without looking like a fool; Dafoe is one of the few to have succeeded.

2. The Lighthouse (2019)

There’s something about being paired with a gifted co-star (see Antichrist) that brings out the best in Dafoe, and this duet with Robert Pattinson has the added sense of passing the baton to a new generation. As the crusty eldest of a pair of men tending a lighthouse in the late 19th century, Dafoe handles ornate dialogue with aplomb in a battle of wits and authority with the sulky pattinson. And like Lars von Trier, director Robert Eggers goes green and physically tests Dafoe; the actor’s battered body holds up well.

1. The Light Sleeper (1992)

In the early 90s, before the juicy supporting roles and catchy cameos started piling up, Dafoe looked like he had a long stint as a leading man ahead of him, the kind of career that Johnny Depp or Robert Downey Jr had. Looking back, it’s clear that Dafoe was too intransigent a shade to connect with audiences in the same way. But that now-old-fashioned Paul Schrader film gave Dafoe a near-perfect role: a drug courier with an emotional investment in his customers, in love with his ex-wife, and the unwitting focus of his supplier’s (played by Susan Sarandon) romantic attentions. ). Light Sleeper allowed him to convey all the subtleties that make him a great actor: conviction, honesty, self-doubt and weakness. One of the great performances, which deserves to be revisited.