10 Best Willem Dafoe Movies
Willem Dafoe is a deeply gifted actor. Capable of giving performances both deeply terrifying and truly enjoyable, he has found much success in the film industry. Whether in he is in mass-market productions like Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man or working with cult filmmakers like David Lynch and Wes Anderson, Dafoe seems perfectly at home. In spite of a career spanning four decades, he continues to put out commendable work. In fact, he’s given some of his best performances in just the past few years with John Wick, The Grand Budapest Hotel and The Florida Project. He is undeniably talented. Here are ten of his best films to date.
The Last Temptation of Christ (1988)
Martin Scorsese has put out a stunning amount of incredible films throughout his career. It is stunning that he has remained as sharp as he has compared to his contemporaries, many of whom have retired. The Last Temptation of Christ may not be his most recognized film but it is one of his best. With a screenplay by Paul Schrader adapted from the controversial Nikos Kazantzakis novel, the resulting film is equally controversial as Scorsese and Schrader wrestle with the idea of the Abrahamic God made flesh with Dafoe as Christ himself.
Wild At Heart (1990)
Wild At Heart is probably not David Lynch’s best film but it as an invaluable part of his filmography. It is based on the Barry Gifford novel of the same name and functions often as a love letter by Lynch to The Wizard of Oz, one of his favorite films. The film revolves around passionate, short-tempered Sailor Ripley (Nicolas Cage) and the warm and loving but traumatized Lula Pace Fortune (Laura Dern). It is a love story in a way only Lynch could tell it. Dafoe rounds out the cast as the creepy, small-toothed bank robber Bobby Peru.
John Wick (2014)
The film John Wick sees the eponymous world-class assassin (played by Keanu Reeves) pushed to his wit’s end by the heir of a Russian criminal syndicate. In this world, occupied by almost no one but criminals and mercenaries for hire, Wick goes on a revenge rampage as a manner of grieving. Of the few people he can truly trust in this colorful, dynamic world are his mechanic friend Aurelio (John Leguizamo) and a fellow former hitman named Marcus (Dafoe).
Sam Raimi’s run as the mind behind Spider-Man is still arguably the best to date. The series of films were unique to Raimi’s style and remain fun today for that reason. Dafoe has an unforgettable, campy turn as Norman Osborn, father of Spider-Man/Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire)’s friend Harry (James Franco). Norman eventually becomes one of Spider-Man’s main nemeses, the Green Goblin.
Auto Focus (2002)
Other than their most significant collaboration, The Last Temptation of Christ, for which Paul Schrader penned the screenplay, Dafoe and Schrader have worked together a handful of times. Another notable film by the two is Auto Focus. The film dramatizes the rise and fall of Hogan’s Heroes star Bob Crane (Greg Kinnear). The birth of home video and his pseudo-sexual relationship with John Carpenter (Dafoe), who would eventually kill him are also key aspects of the fascinating film.
The Florida Project (2017)
The Florida Project follows a single mother Halley (Bria Vinaite) and her idealistic daughter Moonee (Brooklynn Prince) who live paycheck to paycheck in a castle-themed motel somewhere outside Walt Disney World. It is summer and Moonee is left mostly to her own devices while her mother toils to support both of them. It is a deeply moving film with Dafoe in a key role as Bobby, the motel’s manager.
Shadow of the Vampire (2000)
Shadow of the Vampire plays into an urban legend surrounding the 1922 F. W. Murnau film Nosferatu. So the conspiracy theory goes, in an effort to enhance the film’s realism, Murnau hired an actual vampire to play the eponymous character. Dafoe fills the role of Max Schenk, the enigmatic actor in question hired by Murnau (John Malkovich), who makes many of the people around him rather uneasy. The film is strange and unique with a truly unnerving performance from Dafoe.
To Live and Die in L.A. (1985)
To Live and Die in L.A. is often touted as one of the best films by director William Friedkin. The film details a Secret Service agent named Richard Chance (William Petersen) whose partner is killed in the line of duty. The death rattles Chance and drives him to a vengeful state. He and his new partner go to great lengths to catch the man responsible, a counterfeiter named Eric Masters (Dafoe). It is a great early performance from Dafoe.
The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004)
With The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, director Wes Anderson pays homage to famed oceanographer Jacques Cousteau via his title character (played by Bill Murray). Zissou goes on a sort of soul-searching mission to capture the mythical jaguar shark who killed his partner. In tow are his crew, his illegitimate son (Owen Wilson) and a pregnant journalist (Cate Blanchett). Among his crew is Dafoe as Klaus Daimler, Zissou’s extremely loyal right-hand man who admires him like a father.
Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009)
Fantastic Mr. Fox was Anderson’s first foray into feature-length stop-motion animation. George Clooney plays author Roald Dahl’s titular wise-cracking fox who gets himself, his family and his anthropomorphic animal neighbors in hot water with the local farmers Boggis, Bunce and Bean after he robs them blind. Dafoe lends his voice to Rat, one of Fox’s main antagonists who guards Farmer Bean’s alcoholic apple cider cellar.
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