With the recent release of Joker, actor Joaquin Phoenix has once again been thrust into the spotlight. Even aside from this film, the actor has always received high praise for his many works and ability to play a variety of characters. Over the years, Phoenix has proven time and time again that he is capable of delivering some of the most powerful performances in cinema. With so much Oscar buzz around him at the moment, now is the perfect time to look at some of the actor’s biggest achievements over the years. Looking specifically at Rotten Tomatoes scores, here is our list of the 10 best films starring Joaquin Phoenix.
10 Two Lovers (82%)
In Two Lovers (2008), Phoenix portrays Leonard Kraditor, a young man who is down on his luck and has just moved back in with his parents. However, with the help of his neighbor (Gwyneth Paltrow), Leonard’s interest in life suddenly begins to look up. While critics came to praise the film, audiences weren’t as intrigued. However, both critics and viewers can agree that Joaquin Phoenix does a fantastic job in the role. No matter how you look at the film, Phoenix’s talent is truly undeniable. Though he has certainly had better roles, it is easy to see how this film ranks among his best.
9 Walk The Line (83%)
Unlike with Two Lovers, audiences and critics came to a much closer agreement with Walk The Line (2005). In this film, Phoenix portrays Johnny Cash, one of the most famous country singers ever. As a biopic, the film looks closely at certain events in Cash’s life, including his troubled past. However, the film also focuses on the romance between Cash and June Carter, and how the real-life romance between the two not only saved Cash, but blossomed into one of the strongest love stories of all time. Phoenix truly excels in the role, delivering a very powerful performance as such an iconic figure. With Reese Witherspoon at his side, Walk The Line is a great film, even for those who aren’t fans of country music.
8 The Master (85%)
Following World War II, Phoenix’s character, Freddie Quell, returns home and begins struggling to fit back in. Shortly after, he comes to meet Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman), who takes him under his wing and begins to offer him guidance. Throughout the film, Freddie is constantly worrying about his future, despite the reassurances from others in his life. After The Master (2012) was released, it was praised for its portrayal of a U.S. soldier, post WWII. Of course, with Phoenix as the film’s protagonist, it makes sense that he would deliver one of the most honest performances possible for a film like this.
7 The Immigrant (85%)
Marion Cotillard is the main protagonist of The Immigrant (2013). In this case, Joaquin Phoenix plays Bruno Weiss, the main antagonist. After Ewa Cybulska (Cotillard) and her sister move to America, the two are separated due to an illness. With nowhere to turn, Ewa finds herself under the care of Bruno, who takes her in, but forces her into prostitution. In the end, Bruno comes to have a change of heart and helps Ewa, though not until after a lot of death and deception. Full of twists and turns, The Immigrant is ideal for any fan of drama. Phoenix, while he has played the villain several times, easily delivers one of his stronger performances as well.
6 The Sisters Brothers (87%)
The Sisters Brothers (2018) stars both Joaquin Phoenix and John C. Reilly. Unlike some of Phoenix’s other roles, The Sisters Brothers has a nice mix of comedy thrown in with the Western drama. While Phoenix is no stranger to comedic roles, he has certainly kept a bit closer to dramas, especially recently. A star in his own right, Phoenix knows how to share the screen, as he and Reilly blend very well together. With the two acting opposite Jake Gyllenhaal and Riz Ahmed, The Sisters Brothers mixes the two genres in a surprisingly unique way. The humor all fits very well within the story, which is also a great modern Western.
5 To Die For (88%)
As another dark comedy, To Die For (1995) stars Nicole Kidman in the leading role as she comes to manipulate Jimmy Emmett (Phoenix) into killing her husband. With a few more characters involved, Kidman’s character, Suzanne Stone, eventually lies her way in and out of all sorts of wild situations. Shot like a documentary, To Die For is a mockumentary that still holds up today. Though Phoenix doesn't a terribly big role in the film, he still plays a very important part, letting his natural talent shine through.
4 You Were Never Really Here (89%)
You Were Never Really Here (2017) is a gritty mystery-thriller directed by Lynne Ramsay. The film stars Phoenix in the lead role as Joe, a hitman who specializes in tracking down missing girls. After accepting a contract, Joe’s mission goes fairly well, until things suddenly don’t. Throughout the film, all sorts of twists and turns are made, revealing a much greater master plot at hand. The film itself is structured in a unique way as well, often showing “fight scenes” through camera footage, or skipping them altogether. While it may not be everyone’s cup of tea, You Were Never Really Here is easily one of the actor’s best performances.
3 Parenthood (91%)
In one of his first roles, Phoenix found himself in the role of Garry in Parenthood (1989), starring Steve Martin. Not only was the film Phoenix’s third movie ever, but he was only 15 at the time. Though he once again doesn't have a large role, Phoenix still set up a lot of laughs in the film, helping to put him on the map for future projects. Likewise, it is almost frightening to see Phoenix come from the role of Garry and work his way to someone like the Joker. For how drastically different the two characters are, it is a true testament to Phoenix's talent that he can pull off the two characters.
2 Hotel Rwanda (91%)
Inspired by the true events of the Rwandan genocides, Hotel Rwanda (2004) takes an incredibly personal look at the effects of these atrocities. The film focuses mostly on Don Cheadle’s character, Paul Rusesabagina, as he and his wife try to survive the violence. Once again, Phoenix is more of a side character in the film. Regardless, the film is full of powerful performances all around and provides one of the more disturbing looks at the conflict. Needless to say, it is very easy to see why this ranks as such a highly praised film.
1 Her (94%)
In what is easily one of Phoenix's weirder roles, Her (2013) sees the actor as Theodore Twombly, an average but depressed man. Eventually, he comes to find close comfort in Samantha (Scarlett Johansson), an artificial intelligence system so advanced that she can actually adapt to emotions as well. The two grow so close that a romance soon blossoms between them, despite the odd nature of their relationship. The film itself serves as a great discussion of what love is, helping it to earn its high praise. However, with Joaquin Phoenix easily being the biggest part of the movie, Her truly shines because of him.