Gary Oldman's Birthday: His 20 Best Movies Ranked

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Newsweek

English actor Gary Oldman, who turns 61 today, is best known for his intense performances in movies such as JFK, Dracula, True Romance and Darkest Hour. Born in South London on March 21, 1958, Oldman wanted to be an actor from a young age. He left school at 16 and worked a range of jobs before securing a scholarship at an acting college.

He graduated in 1979 and soon established himself as one of the stars of the London stage. He also notched up a handful of well-received movie performances that further boosted his profile.

In 1986, he played Sid Vicious—the Sex Pistols’ bassist who died of a drug overdose in 1979—in the acclaimed biopic Sid and Nancy, directed by Alex Cox. The following year, he played British playwright Joe Orton in Prick Up Your Ears. His performances were praised by legendary film critic Robert Ebert: “Like a few gifted actors, he is able to reinvent himself for every role. On the basis of these two movies, he is the best young British actor around.”

Hollywood soon came calling and he played Lee Harvey Oswald in Oliver Stone’s JFK and the blood-thirsty count in Bram Stoker's Dracula, directed by Francis Ford Coppola.

In 1997, he made his directorial debut with gritty London drama Nil by Mouth. He was receiving plaudits across the board and it seemed a question of when, not if, Oldman would win his first Oscar. But fast-forward 20 years and no Oscar had materialized. Nor a Golden Globe.

Then, in 2018, what had once seemed inevitable and then all but impossible finally happened: Oldman’s portrayal of Winston Churchill in Darkest Hour saw him sweep the Best Actor category at just about all the major awards ceremonies—Oscars, Globes, BAFTAs, Screen Actors Guild and more.

Since then, Oldman’s renaissance has continued. Later this year, he will star alongside Meryl Streep in Steven Soderbergh’s The Laundromat, a Netflix movie about the Panama Papers. To celebrate Oldman’s birthday, Newsweek has analyzed data from review aggregation websites Rotten Tomatoes, Metacritic and IMDb to rank his 20 best movies.

01 a the fifth element
Sony Pictures Entertainment

20. The Fifth Element (1997). Total score: 60.79%. 
Directed by: Luc Besson. Starring: Bruce Willis, Milla Jovovich, Gary Oldman, Ian Holm, Chris Tucker, Luke Perry. 
Plot summary: In the colorful future, a cab driver unwittingly becomes the central figure in the search for a legendary cosmic weapon to keep Evil and Mr. Zorg at bay.
What the critics said: "Chris Tucker is flat-out incomprehensible, while Oldman preens evilly enough to leave tooth marks on the scenery." Janet Maslin, New York Times

01 Bram Stoker's Dracula
Columbia Pictures

19. Bram Stoker's Dracula (1992). Total score: 63.21%. 
Directed by: Francis Ford Coppola. Starring: Gary Oldman, Winona Ryder, Anthony Hopkins, Keanu Reeves, Richard E. Grant. 
Plot summary: The centuries old vampire Count Dracula comes to England to seduce his barrister Jonathan Harker's fiancée Mina Murray and inflict havoc in the foreign land.
What the critics said: "The movie is an exercise in feverish excess, and for that if for little else, I enjoyed it." Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times

02 The Contender
DreamWorks Distribution

18. The Contender (2000). Total score: 64.92%. 
Directed by: Rod Lurie. Starring: Joan Allen, Gary Oldman, Jeff Bridges, Christian Slater, Sam Elliott. 
Plot summary: Senator Laine Hanson is a contender for U.S. Vice President, but information and disinformation about her past surfaces that threatens to derail her confirmation.
What the critics said: "Oldman is one of the great actors, able to play high, low, crass, noble. Here he disappears into the character, with owly glasses, a feral mouth and curly locks teased over baldness. He plays the kind of man who, in high school, would rather know who was sleeping with the cheerleaders than sleep with one himself." Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times

03 Air Force One
Columbia Pictures

17. Air Force One (1997). Total score: 65.29%. 
Directed by: Wolfgang Petersen. Starring: Harrison Ford, Gary Oldman, Glenn Close, William H. Macy. 
Plot summary: Communist Radicals hijack Air Force One with The U.S. President and his family on board. The Vice President negotiates from Washington D.C., while the President, a Veteran, fights to rescue the hostages on board.
What the critics said: "Moments of silliness are more than balanced by Petersen's extraordinary ability to keep this movie flight-worthy, Ford's almost-executive presence and an outstanding performance from Oldman." Desson Thomson, Washington Post

04 Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead
Cinecom Pictures

16. Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead (1990). Total score: 65.67%. 
Directed by: Tom Stoppard. Starring: Gary Oldman, Tim Roth, Richard Dreyfuss, Iain Glen. 
Plot summary: Two minor characters from the play 'Hamlet' stumble around unaware of their scripted lives and unable to deviate from them.
What the critics said: "Gary Oldman and Tim Roth make a charmingly guileless Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. You never get tired of looking at their earnest, questioning faces. But the movie, while occasionally funny, is a hollow experience." Owen Gleiberman, Entertainment Weekly
 

05 State of Grace
Orion Pictures

15. State of Grace (1990). Total score: 65.92%. 
Directed by: Phil Joanou, Michael Lee Baron. Starring: Sean Penn, Ed Harris, Gary Oldman, Robin Wright, John Turturro. 
Plot summary: A New York cop is recruited to return to his hometown and infiltrate the mob ran by his best friend's brother.
What the critics said: "Mr. Oldman gives an electrifying performance that both establishes a tragic, terrifying character and explains why that character's world is such a perilous place." Janet Maslin, New York Times

06 Nil by Mouth
Sony Pictures Classics

14. Nil by Mouth (1997). Total score: 66.29%. 
Directed by: Gary Oldman. Starring: Ray Winstone, Kathy Burke, Charlie Creed-Miles. 
Plot summary: A rough, short-tempered patriarch of a working-class family has his life and the relationships around him slowly unravel.
What the critics said: "Nil by Mouth is extremely strong, and, at times, shattering. Oldman's direction is sure and the performances he culls from a talented cast are consistently remarkable." James Berardinelli, ReelViews. 

07 Léon- The Professional
Columbia Pictures

13. Léon: The Professional (1994). Total score: 68.58%. 
Directed by: Luc Besson. Starring: Jean Reno, Gary Oldman, Natalie Portman, Danny Aiello. 
Plot summary: Mathilda, a 12-year-old girl, is reluctantly taken in by Léon, a professional assassin, after her family is murdered. Léon and Mathilda form an unusual relationship, as she becomes his protégée and learns the assassin's trade.
What the critics said: "Oldman indulges in a performance so operatically unhinged you’d think the actor was galloping toward the playing fields of Mickey Rourke." Lisa Schwarzbaum, Entertainment Weekly

08 True Romance
Warner Bros.

12. True Romance (1993). Total score: 69.08%. 
Directed by: Tony Scott. Starring: Christian Slater, Patricia Arquette, Dennis Hopper, Val Kilmer, Gary Oldman, Christopher Walken, Brad Pitt, Bronson Pinchot, Samuel L. Jackson. 
Plot summary: In Detroit, a lonely pop culture geek marries a call girl, steals cocaine from her pimp, and tries to sell it in Hollywood. Meanwhile, the owners of the cocaine, the Mob, track them down in an attempt to reclaim it.
What the critics said: "Made with such energy, such high spirits, such an enchanting goofiness, that it's impossible to resist." Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times

09 Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
Warner Bros.

11. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (2007). Total score: 71%. 
Directed by: David Yates. Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint, Michael Gambon, Maggie Smith, Robbie Coltrane, Jason Isaacs, Gary Oldman, Alan Rickman. 
Plot summary: With their warning about Lord Voldemort's return scoffed at, Harry and Dumbledore are targeted by the Wizard authorities as an authoritarian bureaucrat slowly seizes power at Hogwarts.
What the critics said: "Terrific work from the all-star British cast, and the special effects are as seamless as ever." Richard Roeper, Ebert & Roeper. 

10 Sid and Nancy
New Line Cinema

10. Sid and Nancy (1986). Total score: 74.25%. 
Directed by: Alex Cox. Starring: Gary Oldman, Chloe Webb, David Hayman. 
Plot summary: The relationship between Sid Vicious, bassist for British punk group Sex Pistols, and his girlfriend Nancy Spungen.
What the critics said: "Both are brought to life in complex, deeply felt performances from two actors who have abandoned themselves to enormously demanding and difficult roles." Desmond Ryan, Philadelphia Inquirer