With three Academy Award nominations and one win, Russell Crowe has more than proved himself as a compelling and capable actor. Even with a few blemishes on his resume (looking at you Les Miserables), Crowe remains one of Hollywood’s most interesting leading men.
His new film, The Nice Guys, directed by none other than Shane Black (Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang; Iron Man 3) hits theaters May 20th, and he was also recently announced to be joining Tom Cruise in Universal’s The Mummy, coming out in 2017. So now seems to be as good a time as any to debate the actor’s greatest performances.
Here are The 14 Best Russell Crowe Performances Of All Time.
15 L.A. Confidential
This is the film that made Hollywood really pay attention to Crowe. A classic 1950s murder mystery starring Crowe, Kevin Spacey, Guy Pearce and Kim Basinger, the film garnered 9 Oscar nominations and two wins.
Crowe stars as hothead detective Bud White, who uncovers corruption in the LAPD. Brimming with anger for almost the entire runtime, White is a character who can seemingly lose it at any moment (and often does), and Crowe brings his trademark intensity to the role. He has particular chemistry with co-star Basinger, who allows Crowe to show a more vulnerable side. Basinger is appearing alongside Crowe once again in the upcoming The Nice Guys.
13 Man of Steel
In one of the most divisive superhero movies ever, Crowe stars as Jor-El, father of Kal-El (better known as Superman). Following in the footsteps of the late Marlon Brando, Crowe also adds a gravitas to an otherwise outlandish world.
Regardless of how you feel about the film itself, it’s hard to deny that Crowe makes for an ideal Jor-El, as he embodies all the morality, confidence, and strength that one expects from the house of El. Crowe even shows that he still has what it takes when it comes to a fight scene. Hopefully, future films in the franchise can find even the smallest place for Crowe to reappear.
12 The Water Diviner
The Water Diviner is Crowe’s feature directing debut about an Australian father’s journey to locate his 3 sons after they were presumed dead in World War I's famous Battle of Gallipoli, years earlier.
It’s not too surprising to see Crowe step behind camera, especially having worked with masters like Ridley Scott, Curtis Hanson and Michael Mann. The result is a deeply effective story of loss and grief, and Crowe commands the screen as only he can, and gives a much more vulnerable performance than he is usually known for. Response from critics ranged from mixed to positive, and the film performed modestly at the worldwide box office. Still, the performance from Crowe can’t denied and here’s hoping he steps behind the camera again sooner rather than later.
Directed by Darren Aronofsky, fresh off the success of Black Swan, Noah is a loose (very loose) adaptation of the Biblical story about Noah and his ark, starring Crowe as the titular character.
Aronofsky was given a huge $100 million budget to bring his version of the story to life, and while most critics enjoyed it enough (76% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes), audiences found it be quite divisive. The film made $362 million worldwide, in large part thanks to Crowe’s stardom overseas. Crowe gives another vulnerable performance here and shows again that he isn’t afraid to go dark.
10 American Gangster
His third collaboration with director Ridley Scott, American Gangster stars Crowe as real life 1970s detective Richie Roberts, as he attempts to bring down one of Manhattan’s most notorious gangsters, Frank Lucas, played by Denzel Washington. American Gangster was huge hit in 2007, grossing $130 million and going on to earn two Academy Award nominations.
Stepping away a bit from his known persona, Crowe plays Roberts as less of a tough guy and more of an average joe, albeit one that’s a great detective. Roberts can handle his own of course, but he’d rather take bad guys in safely rather than chase them down in a shoot out. The film might be a better showcase for Washington, who has a much showier part, but Crowe is a great straight man to Washington’s larger than life persona.
9 A Beautiful Mind
In another true story, Crowe stars as John Nash, a brilliant mathematician in the mid-20th century who may or may not be embroiled in government espionage. The film is one of Crowe’s biggest hits, grossing over $170 million, and it won 4 Oscars, including Best Picture, the second film starring Crowe to do so.
Crowe once again embodies an everyman going through larger than life situations. It’s a great performance that details the devastating effect of mental illness in a way rarely shown on screen. Crowe received his third Academy Award nomination in a row for the performance, but went on to lose to his frequent co-star, Denzel Washington, for his iconic performance in Training Day.
8 Cinderella Man
Reteaming with his A Beautiful Mind director Ron Howard, Cinderella Man is yet another true story, following Jim Braddock, a Depression-era boxer who captured the heart of the nation during one of its darkest times.
Crowe lost over 50 pounds to play the role of Braddock, and even dislocated his shoulder during a fight sequence, delaying the films production for 2 months. The actor’s dedication didn’t seem to pay off, as Cinderella Man got lost at the box office in the summer of 2005 among such huge films as War of the Worlds, Batman Begins, and Mr. and Mrs. Smith. Still, Braddock remains one of Crowe’s most endearing characters, once again showing a softer side of the actor that he rarely gets credit for.
7 3:10 to Yuma
Revisiting the Western genre, Crowe stars as notorious outlaw Ben Wade in this remake of a 1957 film of the same title. Crowe walks a fine line between charming and despicable in the villainous role with great confidence, resulting in one of his most crowd-pleasing performances. His chemistry with co-star Christian Bale helps give the film an unexpected weight.
The two characters find themselves having great respect for one another, with Crowe essentially helping Bale walk him into the authorities in one of the great final shootouts of modern Westerns. It’s a role that only reinforced Crowe’s tough guy status, while displaying his knack for shaping charismatic characters. The film itself received general praise from critics and audiences alike, and went on to gross a respectable $53 million at the box office.
Virtuosity starred Crowe as a virtually-created serial killer that escapes into the real world and can only be caught by former cop-turned-prisoner Denzel Washington. The film itself is as dated as other 90s cyber thrillers like The Net, Hackers, and Johnny Mnemonic, but Crowe is having a blast and chewing all of the scenery as SID 6.7.
Even the chemistry he shares with co-star Washington is the real deal. The film itself was met with a big shrug from critics and audiences alike when it was released in 1995, but it remains an interesting artifact on the actor’s resume, and one of the few times he played a villain.
5 The Quick and the Dead
The Quick and the Dead, directed by a post-Evil Dead, pre-Spider-Man Sam Raimi and co-starred Sharon Stone, Gene Hackman and a baby-faced Leonardo DiCaprio. Also released in 1995, Crowe delivered a much more restrained performance than in his virtual reality thriller, but nonetheless made an impression even against the legendary Hackman.
His calm yet stoic demeanor here would serve as a hint of things to come from the actor. The film was another box office bomb for Crowe, but with its huge cast and a fan favorite at the helm (the film’s script even had some revisions done by Joss Whedon), The Quick and the Dead has found a healthy following in the years since its release.
4 Romper Stomper
If L.A. Confidential was the film that made everyone really pay attention to Russell Crowe, then Romper Stomper is the film that put Crowe on everyone’s radar in the first place. Starring as a Nazi skinhead in his native Australia, Crowe leads his band of misfits in a tirade against Vietnamese who are threatening the local "purity" of the region.
It’s a no holds bar performance from the actor, and quite possibly his most intense to date, not to mention the most confrontational and brutal, in a way that simply can’t be denied. The film received high received from Australian critics, winning numerous local awards for the film itself and its leading actor.
3 Master & Commander: The Far Side of the World
Marketed as a rousing adventure in the spirit of Gladiator, Master & Commander turned out to be a much more somber, yet fascinating character study of men at sea during the Napoleonic Wars. While it does feature some incredible battle sequences, the film chooses to focus more on the camaraderie between the soldiers aboard the ship, and the toll that life on the sea can take on them.
Crowe is at his most charismatic here, while also displaying the confidence and leadership that made him famous in Gladiator. His scenes with co-star Paul Bettany are a particular treat, as the two friends often have long debates about all things right and wrong, black and white, and everything in between. Audiences didn’t quite take to the film as much as critics, as it earned $93 million off a $150 million budget. The filmed fared better worldwide, and even went on to receive 10 Oscar nominations.
2 The Insider
Directed by Michael Mann, The Insider tells the true story of Jeffrey Wigand, a former research biologist for Brown & Williamson who went on to become a whistleblower against the tobacco industry.
Another one of Crowe’s everyman performances, the actor does incredible work playing a man going up against a giant, a true David vs. Goliath match up, and the enormous toll it takes on him and his family. The role got Crowe the first of three Oscar nominations for Best Actor and went on to get 6 other nominations, including Best Picture. Audiences didn’t quite take to it, with a gross of only $29 million, but the film is widely considered to be one of Mann’s best works, alongside Heat and Collateral.
The role Crowe will be forever remembered for. Gladiator is the rousing revenge epic of Maximus, a Roman General thrown into a life of slavery after his family and King are murdered by Commodus, played by Joaquin Phoenix. Directed by frequent collaborator Ridley Scott, Gladiator was a huge success upon release in May of 2000, grossing over $180 million. It soon became one of the few summer blockbusters to win the Academy Award for Best Picture, not to mention the first and only win (so far) for Crowe as Best Actor.
For many, Crowe has received a lifetime pass thanks to his work here, and it’s easy to see why. Tough but fair. Confident yet cautious. Leader and fellow soldier, Maximus is an iconic character that only Crowe could bring to life.
What say you, Screen Rant readers? What are your favorite Russell Crowe performances? Let us know in the comments!
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