Aaron Eckhart’s Birthday: His 15 Best Movies Ranked

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Newsweek

Aaron Eckhart, who turns 51 today, is an American actor best known for playing the smooth-talking tobacco lobbyist in Thank You For Smoking and Harvey Dent in The Dark Knight—and, in some eyes (arguably his own included), as one of those celebrities who have never quite hit the heights they wanted to.

Born in Cupertino, California, Eckhart was brought up in a Mormon family, and over the course of his childhood moved countries and continents frequently. By the time he was 17, he had lived in America, Britain and Australia. Acting was one of the few constants, as he starred in school plays, from Charlie Brown to Waiting for Godot.

While studying at Brigham Young, a university owned and operated by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Utah, he met Neil LaBute, a fellow Mormon and a budding director, and the pair began a productive professional partnership that continues to this day. 

After acting in several of LaBute’s plays, Eckhart’s breakthrough moment came in LaBute’s first feature film, the critically acclaimed In the Company of Men, released in 1997. Eckhart’s portrayal of Chad, a nasty and misogynistic managerial type who dates a deaf colleague only to dump her without reason, was so convincing that he was often booed by women at Q&A screenings.

At the Independent Spirit Awards, the movie won Best First Screenplay, and Eckhart won Best Debut Performance. The Washington Post hailed him as “the movie’s most malignant presence and its top draw.”

A star was seemingly born. In 2000, he gained mainstream attention as George, the love interest of Julia Roberts’s character Erin Brockovich in Steven Soderbergh's drama of the same name. While the movie was a box-office hit, Eckhart’s performance received mixed reviews. “So dominant in In the Company of Men,” Roger Ebert wrote, “…here, wearing a twerpy John Ritter beard that he doesn’t seem comfortable with, [Eckhart] is a shallow cipher.”

More movies followed with a similarly mixed success rate. Between 2001 and 2003 he co-starred with Jack Nicholson, Cate Blanchett, and Ben Affleck in The Pledge, The Missing and Paycheck respectively. Eckhart sensed he was on the brink of stardom. “I'm feeling that everything I've done is just a preamble,” he told The Guardian in 2004. “I'm not even in the first trimester of my life, my birth. I really want to do some great work.”

In 2006, that moment arrived, as he received a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actor for his leading role in Thank You for Smoking . His “standout, whip-smart performance” was praised by USA Today .

However, even though more big movies followed, including Christopher Nolan’s 2008 Batman epic The Dark Knight, his sense of unfulfilled potential persisted. “I’m not happy with my career,” he told Vanity Fair in 2011. “I feel like I have much more to give, and I feel like I need to have more courage, and to get out there and take more chances.”

At 51, Eckhart still has time. To celebrate his birthday, Newsweek has analyzed data from review aggregation websites Rotten Tomatoes, Metacritic and IMDb to rank his 15 best movies.

01 Olympus Has Fallen
FilmDistrict

15. Olympus Has Fallen (2013). Total score: 58.43%. IMDb users: 6.5. Metacritic: 41. Rotten Tomatoes: 5.37. Rotten Tomatoes users: 3.7. 
Directed by: Antoine Fuqua. Starring: Gerard Butler, Aaron Eckhart, Ashley Judd, Morgan Freeman, Angela Bassett, Melissa Leo. 
Plot summary: Disgraced Secret Service agent (and former presidential guard) Mike Banning finds himself trapped inside the White House in the wake of a terrorist attack; using his inside knowledge, Banning works with national security to rescue the President from his kidnappers.
What the critics said: "While Gerard Butler is no Bruce Willis, his Mike Banning is a better facsimile of John McClane than the guy Willis is pretending to play these days." James Berardinelli, ReelViews.

02 My All-American
Aviron Pictures

14. My All-American (2015). Total score: 58.48%. IMDb users: 7.2. Metacritic: 34. Rotten Tomatoes: 4.79. Rotten Tomatoes users: 4. 
Directed by: Angelo Pizzo. Starring: Aaron Eckhart, Finn Wittrock, Robin Tunney. 
Plot summary: Freddie Steinmark, an underdog on the gridiron, faces the toughest challenge of his life after leading his team to a championship season.
What the critics said: "Yes, there will be tears, and they are well-earned." Soren Andersen, Seattle Times

03 The Missing
Columbia Pictures

13. The Missing (2003). Total score: 60.83%. IMDb users: 6.5. Metacritic: 55. Rotten Tomatoes: 6.13. Rotten Tomatoes users: 3.1. 
Directed by: Ron Howard. Starring: Tommy Lee Jones, Cate Blanchett, Evan Rachel Wood, Jenna Boyd, Aaron Eckhart, Val Kilmer. 
Plot summary: In 1885 New Mexico, a frontier medicine woman forms an uneasy alliance with her estranged father when her daughter is kidnapped by an Apache brujo.
What the critics said: "There's a pretty good Western hidden somewhere amid the extraneous scenes, unnecessary characters and adoring shots of the New Mexico wilderness, but Howard didn't have the heart to cut his movie." Bill Muller, Arizona Republic

04 Possession
USA Films

12. Possession (2002). Total score: 61.3%. IMDb users: 6.4. Metacritic: 52. Rotten Tomatoes: 6.32. Rotten Tomatoes users: 3.3. 
Directed by: Neil LaBute. Starring: Gwyneth Paltrow, Aaron Eckhart, Jeremy Northam, Jennifer Ehle, Toby Stephens. 
Plot summary: Based on the novel by A.S. Byatt. A pair of literary sleuths unearth the amorous secret of two Victorian poets only to find themselves falling under a passionate spell.
What the critics said: "If you're expecting Linda Blair's head to spin around at some point, you might want to skip it." Bill Muller, Arizona Republic

05 Towelhead
Warner Independent Pictures (WIP)

11. Towelhead (aka Nothing Is Private) (2007). Total score: 61.65%. IMDb users: 7. Metacritic: 57. Rotten Tomatoes: 5.36. Rotten Tomatoes users: 3.3. 
Directed by: Alan Ball. Starring: Summer Bishil, Aaron Eckhart, Maria Bello, Peter Macdissi, Toni Collette, Eugene Jones. 
Plot summary: A young Arab-American girl struggles with her sexual obsession, a bigoted Army reservist and her strict father during the Gulf War.
What the critics said: "Towelhead is definitely not for all tastes, but it shows a bravery that's increasingly rare in American movies." Lou Lumenick, New York Post

06 Bleed For This
Open Road Films

10. Bleed for This (2016). Total score: 66.13%. IMDb users: 6.8. Metacritic: 62. Rotten Tomatoes: 6.25. Rotten Tomatoes users: 3.6. 
Directed by: Ben Younger. Starring: Miles Teller, Aaron Eckhart, Katey Sagal, Ciarán Hinds. 
Plot summary: The inspirational story of World Champion Boxer Vinny Pazienza who, after a near fatal car crash which left him not knowing if he'd ever walk again, made one of sport's most incredible comebacks.
What the critics said: "Yes, it's a boxing comeback story. But the car accident makes it different, and Teller and Eckhart make it better than it ought to be." Bill Goodykoontz, Arizona Republic

07 Conversations with Other Women
ITN Distribution

9. Conversations with Other Women (2005). Total score: 67.25%. IMDb users: 7. Metacritic: 62. Rotten Tomatoes: 6.5. Rotten Tomatoes users: 3.6. 
Directed by: Hans Canosa. Starring: Helena Bonham Carter, Aaron Eckhart, Brian Geraghty, Olivia Wilde, Brianna Brown. 
Plot summary: When a man and woman flirt with each other at a wedding reception, the sexual tension seems spontaneous. As they break from the party to a hotel room, the flirtation turns into a night filled with passion and remorse.
What the critics said: "Eckhart delivers a complicated performance, veering from aggressive to abashed, and stopping at puppy-eager, jealous, and conflicted along the way." Tasha Robinson, AV Club. 

08 Your Friends and Neighbours
Gramercy Pictures

8. Your Friends & Neighbors (1998). Total score: 67.55%. IMDb users: 6.4. Metacritic: 70. Rotten Tomatoes: 7.02. Rotten Tomatoes users: 3.3. 
Directed by: Neil LaBute. Starring: Amy Brenneman, Aaron Eckhart, Ben Stiller, Catherine Keener, Nastassja Kinski, Jason Patric. 
Plot summary: Unhappy couples fall apart and hop into other beds with other people.
What the critics said: "LaBute's Your Friends and Neighbors is to In the Company of Men as Quentin Tarantino's Pulp Fiction was to Reservoir Dogs." Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times

09 The Pledge
Warner Bros.

7. The Pledge (2001). Total score: 67.93%. IMDb users: 6.8. Metacritic: 71. Rotten Tomatoes: 6.87. Rotten Tomatoes users: 3.2. 
Directed by: Sean Penn. Starring: Jack Nicholson, Dale Dickey, Benicio Del Toro, Patricia Clarkson, Aaron Eckhart. 
Plot summary: A retiring police detective pledges to catch the killer of a young child.
What the critics said: "It's the rare—and rewarding—police drama that cares more for character than plot." Susan Stark, Detroit News

10 Erin Brockovich
Universal Pictures

6. Erin Brockovich (2000). Total score: 72.35%. IMDb users: 7.3. Metacritic: 73. Rotten Tomatoes: 7.34. Rotten Tomatoes users: 3.5. 
Directed by: Steven Soderbergh. Starring: Julia Roberts, Albert Finney, Conchata Ferrell, Pat Skipper, Aaron Eckhart. 
Plot summary: An unemployed single mother becomes a legal assistant and almost single-handedly brings down a California power company accused of polluting a city's water supply.
What the critics said: "One of the gutsiest, most exciting, and most satisfying courtroom docudramas ever, one that genuinely lifts the spirits as you watch it." Michael Wilmington, Chicago Tribune

11 Rabbit Hole
Lionsgate

5. Rabbit Hole (2010). Total score: 73.43%. IMDb users: 7. Metacritic: 76. Rotten Tomatoes: 7.57. Rotten Tomatoes users: 3.6. 
Directed by: John Cameron Mitchell. Starring: Nicole Kidman, Aaron Eckhart, Dianne Wiest, Miles Teller, Sandra Oh, Giancarlo Esposito, Phoenix List. 
Plot summary: Life for a happy couple is turned upside down after their young son dies in an accident.
What the critics said: "Eckhart works close to the top of his range here—Howie is a guy's guy ill-equipped to fight something he can't see—but Kidman simply goes above and beyond." Ty Burr, Boston Globe.