An Oscar-winning actor and one of the biggest personalities in film culture of the past three decades, Russell Crowe has made a successful career as a leading man across some of the most publicized blockbusters ever made and the most intimate of independent dramas. From Australia to Hollywood, his intensity as an actor would help him forge working relationships with several great filmmakers (particularly Ridley Scott) before becoming a director and producer himself.
From some of his most recent roles to some of his earliest, here are the ten best movies that Russell Crowe has starred in, according to review aggregate site Rotten Tomatoes.
10 Boy Erased (80%)
In many ways, Joel Edgerton’s second film as a director was a change of pace from his creeping horror debut The Gift; in other ways, it wasn’t different at all. His adaptation of Garrard Conley’s memoir of the same name is just as frightening as The Gift in certain parts, if not more so. It follows Conley’s experiences with conversion therapy when he was a teenager living at home with his religious parents in Arkansas.
Crowe plays the movie’s version of Conley’s father (the names are changed) who’s a Baptist preacher and clearly disapproving of homosexuality. The performances are generally great but Crowe has a particularly difficult role in that, while still a bigot and never excused for it, the film doesn’t deny that the character genuinely loves his son despite his own shortcomings.
9 American Gangster (80%)
You’d be forgiven for assuming that the highest-rated outing from the duo of Crowe and director Ridley Scott would be their Oscar-winning epic Gladiator. Beating it and all of their other collaborations is their dramatization of the confrontation between drug kingpin Frank Lucas and police officer Richie Roberts.
The movie belongs as much to Denzel Washington (in the role of Lucas) as it does to Crowe, both giving compelling performances of richly detailed characters, but the lion’s share of the credit has to go to Scott. Famed for his crisis management, the director came on board after Antione Fuqua’s production had already fallen through and the ever-changing screenplay and budget were managed into something that was praised for its intelligent filmmaking without ever appearing showy or pretentious.
8 True History of the Kelly Gang (82%)
Another true crime story, Justin Kurzel’s upcoming adaptation of Peter Carey’s novel of the same name has already garnered a large amount of critical praise. Crowe plays a real-life cohort of the infamous Ned Kelly named Harry Power. He’s joined in the cast by George Mackay as the eponymous Ned Kelly, as well as Nicholas Hoult and Charlie Hunnam.
After premiering earlier this year at the Toronto International Film Festival, the rights were sold to a streaming service in its native Australia but were picked up for a theatrical release in North America scheduled for 2020.
7 State of Play (84%)
Crowe stars as a Washington D.C. journalist that’s wrapped in a series of deaths tied to an old Senator pal in this political thriller. Think All the President's Men meets A Few Good Men, but with lots more guns. Crowe and his partner in conspiracy-busting, Rachel McAdams, do a great job of keeping up the Sorkin-esque Hollywood banter, and they’re never let down by the impressively strong supporting cast.
Like American Gangster, Crowe’s lead role wasn’t developed with him in mind when things began – it was originally intended for Bard Pitt – but Crowe made it his own nonetheless.
6 Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World (85%)
Peter Weir’s navally-driven Napoleonic war film took its story and characters from several novels in the Aubrey-Maturin series by English novelist Patrick O’Brian. Like the series of novels, the film follows the friendship between the Captain of the HMS Surprise, Jack Aubrey (played by Crowe), and the ship’s surgeon, Dr. Stephen Maturin (played by Paul Bettany).
Master and Commander is a sweeping epic and a roaring adventure film that never sacrifices reality for its thrills and emotion. It would be nominated for numerous Oscars (including Best Picture) but would be mostly overshadowed by that year's The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, and the more family-friendly swashbuckler Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl.
5 3:10 to Yuma (89%)
Crowe plays the charismatic – but vicious – leader of the band of outlaws in James Mangold’s bloody Western. The film is the second adaptation of Elmore Leonard’s story of the same name, with Crowe filling to boots that Glenn Ford wore in the 1957 original.
Much more morally murky than the original film, or most films in general, 3:10 to Yuma would arrive as an impressive contemporary Western in a time when Westerns of its size weren’t really made anymore. Mangold would parlay a lot of the film’s spirit and look into the more profitable comic book craze a decade later with Logan.
4 The Nice Guys (93%)
Shane Black’s '70s-set detective comedy is a miraculous gem on all counts. Crowe proves perfectly matched with ‘buddy cop’ co-star Ryan Gosling and Black’s off-kilter sense of humor. The Nice Guys manages to perfectly send up the highly distinct world of noir fiction whilst telling its own story and – most importantly – its own original characters.
Crowe plays Jackson Healy, a hired thug with a clawing itch to do better with his life. His character meets Gosling’s, an alcoholic single father and slimy private detective, and the two get swept up in a hilarious murder mystery about sex, environmentalism, and Hollywood.
3 Proof (94%)
One of Crowe’s most acclaimed films to date is one of his earliest. Proof follows the strange day-to-day life of Hugo Weaving’s character, a blind photographer, as he begins a new friendship with Crowe’s character, a young and directionless worker at a local restaurant who describes photographs to him with a level of honesty that he enjoys.
Trust is the key theme in Jocelyn Moorhouse’s unique dramedy, with Weaving stealing the show as the permanently suspicious blind man trying to find people he can depend on. It may sound overly gloomy, but the soundtrack from Australian band 'Not Drowning, Waving' and the quirky humor makes Proof a charming classic of contemporary Australian cinema.
2 The Insider (96%)
Michael Mann’s searingly tense drama film adapts the true story of tobacco company whistleblower, Jeffrey Wigand, and the co-ordinated harassment that he suffered for trying to bring his concerns over the unscrupulous tactics of his employers to light.
The film was a big critical success, if not – similar to many of Mann’s films, unfortunately – a financial one. It was nominated for seven Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Actor for Crowe. He would lose to Kevin Spacey in American Beauty before taking the award home next year for Gladiator.
1 L.A. Confidential (99%)
As the critical score shows, Curtis Hanson’s '50s-set crime film is almost-universally beloved. It’s Oscar-winning screenplay – itself an adaptation of James Ellroy’s novel of the same name – weaves a complex but always engrossing tale of corruption and murder in the titular city of angels.
Crowe plays blunt-but-effective cop Wendell “Bud” White opposite Guy Pearce as his more straight-laced counterpart. Every bit as smart as it is exciting, L.A. Confidential is as golden as the showbusiness era that it so lovingly recreates.