Ewan McGregor’s Birthday: His 15 Best Movies & TV Shows Ranked

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Newsweek

Scottish actor Ewan McGregor, who turns 48 today, is best known for his roles in Trainspotting, the Star Wars prequel trilogy, Moulin Rouge and the third season of Fargo.

McGregor was born in Perth, Scotland, on March 31, 1971, and left school at 16 to study drama. At 23, he starred in Danny Boyle’s cinematic debut, Shallow Grave. The movie received mixed reviews, but McGregor made a positive impression. At the inaugural Empire Awards in 1996, he was named best British actor for his performance.

He went on to win the same award in both of the next two years. First for Trainspotting, an adaptation of Irvine Welsh’s novel of the same name; and then for A Life Less Ordinary. Both were directed by Boyle.

McGregor reached a global audience when the director George Lucas cast him as the young Obi-Wan Kenobi in his Star Wars prequel trilogy. The Phantom Menace was released in 1999, with Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith landing in 2002 and 2005 respectively.

Meanwhile, McGregor was gaining praise for very different kinds of movies. In 2001, he played the young poet Christian in Baz Luhrmann’s spectacular Moulin Rouge! In 2003, he starred in Tim Burton’s surreal Big Fish. And later the same year, he appeared opposite Tilda Swinton in David McKenzie’s low budget indie Young Adam.  

In 2017, he and the rest of the cast of Trainspotting reunited with Boyle for a sequel, which received generally positive reviews. “T2 Trainspotting adds an intoxicating, emotionally resonant postscript to its classic predecessor, even without fully recapturing the original's fresh, subversive thrill,” according to Rotten Tomatoes’ critical consensus.

In 2018, McGregor was praised for his sensitive portrayal as the grown-up Christopher Robin in Marc Forster’s movie of the same name, a live-action adaptation of Winne the Pooh. "He's an actor who can roll with this movie's punches, whether it requires him to be light on his feet or dragged down by existential despair,” David Fear wrote in Rolling Stone.

He won his first Golden Globe for his performance in the third season of the TV mini-series Fargo. “Thanks in part to a memorable dual performance from Ewan McGregor, Fargo mostly maintains the sly wit and off-kilter sensibility it displayed in its first two seasons,” Rotten Tomatoes writes in its critical consensus.

To celebrate his birthday, Newsweek has analyzed data from review aggregation websites Rotten Tomatoes, Metacritic and IMDb to rank McGregor’s 15 best movies and TV shows (16, actually, because two are tied in 15th place).

01 Christopher Robin
Walt Disney

=15. Christopher Robin (2018). Total score: 65.39%. 
Directed by: Marc Forster. Starring: Ewan McGregor, Hayley Atwell, Bronte Carmichael, Mark Gatiss, Jim Cummings. 
Plot summary: A working-class family man, Christopher Robin, encounters his childhood friend Winnie-the-Pooh, who helps him to rediscover the joys of life.
What the critics said: "It's an odd, melancholic experience that at times recalls Terrence Malick as it does A. A. Milne, but there will certainly be some viewers in its exact wheelhouse." David Sims, The Atlantic

02 I Love You Phillip Morris
LD Entertainment

=15. I Love You Phillip Morris (2009). Total score: 65.39%. 
Directed by: Glenn Ficarra, John Requa. Starring: Jim Carrey, Ewan McGregor, Leslie Mann, Rodrigo Santoro. 
Plot summary: A cop turns con man once he comes out of the closet. Once imprisoned, he meets the second love of his life, whom he'll stop at nothing to be with.
What the critics said: "Such an endearing oddity that you have to wonder exactly for whom it was made. But I'm glad they did nonetheless." Lou Lumenick, New York Post

03 Velvet Goldmine
Miramax

14. Velvet Goldmine (1998). Total score: 66.75%. 
Directed by: Todd Haynes. Starring: Ewan McGregor, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Christian Bale, Toni Colelette, Eddie Izzard. 
Plot summary: In 1984, British journalist Arthur Stuart investigates the career of 1970s glam superstar Brian Slade, who was heavily influenced in his early years by hard-living and rebellious American singer Curt Wild.
What the critics said: "Velvet Goldmine is no masterpiece, but, at its best, it’s a ravishing rock dream." Owen Gleiberman, Entertainment Weekly

04 Shallow Grave
Gramercy Pictures

13. Shallow Grave (1994). Total score: 66.95%. 
Directed by: Danny Boyle. Starring: Kerry Fox, Christopher Eccleston, Ewan McGregor, Ken Stott. 
Plot summary: Three friends discover their new flatmate dead but loaded with cash.
What the critics said: "A tight little thriller, filled with exhilarating twists, that quickly establishes its artistic contract with the audience." Edward Guthmann, San Francisco Chronicle

05 Big Fish
Columbia Pictures

12. Big Fish (2003). Total score: 67.74%. 
Directed by: Tim Burton. Starring: Ewan McGregor, Albert Finney, Billy Crudup, Jessica Lange, Helen Bonham Carter. 
Plot summary: A frustrated son tries to determine the fact from fiction in his dying father's life.
What the critics said: "The imaginatively illustrated but precariously precious film offers up a string of minor pleasures but never becomes more than moderately amusing or involving." Todd McCarthy, Variety

06 The Pillow Book
Cinépix Film Properties

11. The Pillow Book (1996). Total score: 67.94%. 
Directed by: Peter Greenaway. Starring: Vivian Wu, Ewan McGregor, Yoshi Oida. 
Plot summary: A woman with a body writing fetish seeks to find a combined lover and calligrapher.
What the critics said: "Greenaway is a unique filmmaker in that he layers images upon one another in a single frame and doesn't require dialogue to make his films arresting." Gene Siskel, Chicago Tribune

07 Little Voice
Miramax

10. Little Voice (1998). Total score: 69.26%. 
Directed by: Mark Herman. Starring: Brenda Blethyn, Jane Horrocks, Michael Caine, Ewan McGregor, Jim Broadbent. 
Plot summary: A shy reclusive woman is convinced by an invisible entity to sing and is noticed by a sleazy talent agent who puts her on stage. She also meets a kind but nervous man who becomes her best friend.
What the critics said: "Horrocks' gift for impersonation is remarkable. If her acting career ever stalls, she can take her singing act on the road. Her Garland impression alone would fill every gay bar in the world." Paul Clinton, CNN. 

08 T2 Trainspotting
Sony Pictures Releasing

9. T2 Trainspotting (2017). Total score: 69.76%. 
Directed by: Danny Boyle. Starring: Ewan McGregor, Ewen Bremner, Jonny Lee Miller, Robert Carlyle, Kelly Macdonald. 
Plot summary: After 20 years abroad, Mark Renton returns to Scotland and reunites with his old friends Sick Boy, Spud, and Begbie.
What the critics said: "The film's four lead actors all slip seamlessly back into their onscreen alter egos as if they've been keeping tabs on them all these years." Chris Nashawaty, Entertainment Weekly

09 Revenge of the Sith
Twentieth Century Fox

8. Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith (2005). Total score: 70.09%. 
Directed by: George Lucas. Starring: Hayden Christensen, Natalie Portman, Ewan McGregor, Ian McDiarmid, Samuel L. Jackson. 
Plot summary: Three years into the Clone Wars, the Jedi rescue Palpatine from Count Dooku. As Obi-Wan pursues a new threat, Anakin acts as a double agent between the Jedi Council and Palpatine and is lured into a sinister plan to rule the galaxy.
What the critics said: "It's a stronger movie than the two previous installments but, as Yoda would say: an out-and-out triumph it is not." Garry Maddox, Sydney Morning Herald

10 Moulin Rouge!
Twentieth Century Fox

7. Moulin Rouge! (2001). Total score: 70.13%. 
Directed by: Baz Luhrmann. Starring: Nicole Kidman, Ewan McGregor, John Leguizamo, Jim Broadbent, Richard Roxburgh. 
Plot summary: A poet falls for a beautiful courtesan whom a jealous duke covets.
What the critics said: "A magnificent mess of a postmodern musical." Rita Kempley, Washington Post

11 Black Hawk Down
Columbia Pictures

6. Black Hawk Down (2001). Total score: 72.69%. 
Directed by: Ridley Scott. Starring: Josh Hartnett, Ewan McGregor, Tom Sizemore, Eric Bana, William Fichtner, Ewen Bremner, Sam Shepard, Jason Isaacs, Tom Hardy, Matthew Marsden, Orlando Bloom. 
Plot summary: 160 elite U.S. soldiers drop into Somalia to capture two top lieutenants of a renegade warlord and find themselves in a desperate battle with a large force of heavily-armed Somalis.
What the critics said: "A first-rate war movie that presents its subject so horrifyingly well that it doesn't need to probe or preach." Michael Wilmington, Chicago Tribune.