7 Best Performances by a Male

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Billy Bob Thorton, Slingblade, 1996

Yesterday, a friend asked me whose performance as a leading male was the best in film. I ruminated for hours and came up with a list of 20. I’m sharing seven whose powerful portrayals made me forget the actor and made my mouth drop in amazement when I watched them on the screen. In no particular order:

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Robert DeNiro, Taxi Driver, 1976

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Jack Nicholson, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,1975

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Sean Penn, I am Sam, 2001

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Daniel-Day Lewis, There Will Be Blood,2007

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Jimmy Stewart, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939)

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Tom Hanks, Castaway (2000)

So many I didn’t mention. What’s your favorite performance? Ever?

33 thoughts on “7 Best Performances by a Male

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  1. Ever? That’s such a very long time. 😉

    Um.

    Marlon Brando’s Vito is amazing.

    But ever? That is so hard to define. So very hard, I’m not certain I’d call him number one, really. It’s just the one that jumps into my mind right now, for whatever reason.

    1. Yes, all of his performances were amazing–Have you ever seen My Left Foot
      That’s one that never gets talked about but I can’t think of another actor who could have pulled that storyline off. A paralyzed artist. But you still haven’t mentioned YOUR favorite, Keith!

  2. Nice list Cindy. It’s tough to choose but I’d probably go with DeNiro in Raging Bull, followed by Daniel Day Lewis in There Will Be Blood, Jack Nicholson in Cuckoo’s Nest and a special mention to Joaquin Phoenix in The Master.

    1. Hi Mark. It’s hard to think of all-time. I really wanted to add Peter Sellers ‘Dr. StrangeLove’ but tried to restrict myself. Joaquin Phoenix’s performance in Master is a great choice. He is an underrated actor, for sure. Ahhh, ‘Raging Bull’ over ‘Taxi Driver’! I flip-flop between those two performances depending on the day and my mood 😉

  3. Good list. Two performances that have always stuck in my mind : (the first time I noticed Martin Sheen as an up and coming actor) “The Execution of Private Slovick” and Robert Downey Jr. as “Chaplin”. It’s difficult to think of the best out of so many.

    1. Hi! You know, I couldn’t agree more with you regarding Robert Downey Jr. as Chaplin. I thought he was fantastic–I can’t see anyone doing Chaplin other than he. Martin Sheen was outstanding in Apocolypse Now and I’ve not seen your choice. I better fix that! Thanks for your comments.

  4. This is a great debatable subject.
    I haven’t seen Slingblade but I agree with your choice of Sean Penn in I am Sam. I only watched that film for Michelle Pfeiffer and ended up being more than impressed by Sean’s performance.
    The first actor that sprang to my mind was Marlon Brando in On the Waterfront, I should think that one would be on most peoples lists.
    Other favourites of mine are Paul Newman inCool Hand Luke, Hud and Hombre. Javier Barden in No Country for Old Men, Steve McQueen in Junior Bonner, and Lee Marvin in just about everything, but especially Point Blank.

    1. Thank you for choosing Cool Hand Luke and Marlon in On The Waterfront for they were on that list I made of 20. Javier Barden is the most impressive actor out there right now. Whatever he does is complex and awesome. I loved him NCOM and thought he was perfectly sinister in Skyfall. Haven’t seen The Counselor yet, but I want to because he’s in it. I haven’t seen Junior Bonner. I will watch that if you watch Slingblade.;) and yes, Lee is the man.

  5. Oh boy – you don’t play it safe do you !? I could probably just list 7 movie with Peter O’Toole and walk away. One performance that comes immediately to mind, however is Gene Hackman in The French Connection …

    I’ll have to think about the rest for a bit …

  6. OH so many to choose from! Out of your list, I still need to see Slingblade and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, but I’d put Stewart in It’s A Wonderful Life as one of my picks. I second Gregory Peck in TKAM, too. Agreed w/ Hanks in Castaway, though I also like his darker turn in Road to Perdition as well. Some of my faves: Charlton Heston in Ben-Hur, Russell Crowe in The Insider & Gladiator, Mads Mikkelsen in The Hunt, Gerry Butler in Phantom of the Opera, just to name a few 😀

    1. It’s too hard to pick but so fun to try.;) Yes, I thought of Gregory, I know you love him so much. I have not seen The Insider! oooohhhh, Gerard in Phantom was amazing, but the one performance from my list of 20 that just missed the cut was the unbelievable Hugh Jackman in Les Mis…. IN fact, I think I”m going to take out Sean Penn and put in Hugh in my top 7. 🙂

      1. Well as you know I’m not fond of Penn so I’m happy w/ the swap, ha..ha..

        Phantom was the role that made me fell head over heels for GB, it was such a soul-baring performance, one I’d love to see again one day in another role.

        1. To do Phantom and then follow with 300 took a lot of nerve, and he pulled it off. I never tire listening to Phantom. BTW, you might actually like Penn in this role. He was quiet, sensitive, and charming. I had a lot of respect for him. Pfeiffer was outstanding and so was Datoka….

  7. Some great choices there Cindy. So many to choose from. Just a few I’d include in my list would be Brando in On The Waterfront and The Godfather, DeNiro in Raging Bull, Michael Fassbender in Shame and DDL in There Will Be Blood (as you mentioned).

    1. Hi Chris! Yes, I had hoped someone would mention Godfather and Waterfront (thanks) for they deserve to be on the list, however, I wanted to limit to 7. Godfather would be Brando’s best role. With DeNiro, it’s Taxi Driver, as his greatest role. I have not seen Michael Fassbender in Shame so must put that in the queue!

  8. Ever!! I’ll have to rack my brains for that. But from your list – Jack Nicholson going cuckoo, Robert De Niro’s Taxi Driver and Daniel-Day Lewis’ blood (in that order), Hanks was good too, but I liked him more in and as ‘Forrest Grump’. I haven’t watched ‘Mr. Smith Goes to Washington’ yet, nor have watched ‘I am Sam’ or ‘Slingblade’.
    Other roles I like, Malcolm McDowell ‘A Clockwork Orange’, Marlon Brando ‘Godfather’, Gael Garcia Bernal ‘Bad Eduction’ and ‘Motorcycle Diaries’, Day Lewis’ in ‘Lincoln’, Gregory Peck in ‘How to kill a Mockingbird’ ..etc etc… so many I can’t think of right now.
    Is there link to your 20, there’s only 7 here.
    Anyway nice ‘Set of Seven’.

      1. You’re funny. No worries. Your list is great. Malcolm in Clockwork deserves a nod as well as DDL for Lincoln. Once you start thinking about it, the choices rattle inside your brain and you start comparing and contrasting like with Hanks. Yes, he was good in Castaway but I thought he was better in Philadelphia and both performances better than his Forrest Gump. I think I’m the only human who was not impressed with the movie no matter how many times I’ve watched it. I thought Gary Sinise was the better actor! 🙂

  9. Oh my. My instant reaction is:-
    Brando, Godfather
    DDL, Lincoln
    Hanks, FG & Philadelphia
    Peck, TKAMB
    De Niro, Taxi D [never seen Raging Bull]
    Pacino, Godfather & Glengarry Glen Ross
    Bardem, Jamon Jamon, The Sea Inside & NCFOM
    With more time to think, I may change it. 7 is a difficult number! SD

    1. I love your list. Can’t disagree with any of them. For Pacino, I did like him tons in ‘The Scent of a Woman’. Yes, Bardem is the best actor out there (except for Bale) today. Thanks for your comments!

  10. OK … sorry this is so belated. But the task is so daunting. Impossible really. Subjective stuff. I haven’t seen every movie.

    My criteria:
    – they own that role – you can’t envision anybody doing it better – you can’t see them acting – they ARE that person.
    – difficulty of the role.
    – depth, breadth, power, impact of emotion.

    1. Alastair Sim in Scrooge – one of only about 10 movies that I consider to be perfect films.
    2. Gene Hackman in The French Connection – a once in a career performance.
    3. Peter O’Toole in The Lion in Winter – you don’t know how good this guy is until you see someone try the same role.
    4. Rod Steiger in The Heat of the Night.
    5. Paul Newman in The Verdict. ??
    6. Christopher Walken in The Deer Hunter
    7. Alec Guiness in The Bridge on the River Kwai

    Weak in a couple of places.

    Next week I’ll think of 7 others I like better.

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