The 7 Best James McAvoy Movies
James McAvoy first came to the attention of many as Mr. Tumnus in the Disney adaptation of the C.S. Lewis’ fantasy novel The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. He entered the mind of others still with the period piece Atonement and the ostentatious action film Wanted. Today, he is a household name. He enjoys a significant level of attention, mainly for his continuing performances as Professor Charles Xavier in the X-Men franchise. As well, his role in M. Night Shyamalan’s sleeper hit Split garnered both him and Shyamalan much deserved praise. Regardless of genre, here are McAvoy’s seven best to date.
Split is a masterclass of acting on the part of McAvoy. The film toys with the idea that split personalities within a single person may indeed operate as different people entirely. The person in question is McAvoy’s Kevin Crumb, who no longer has control of his body. Instead, a small fraction of the personalities within him have begun kidnapping young women (Anya Taylor-Joy, Haley Lu Richardson and Jessica Sula) for some mysterious purpose. This role required McAvoy to create a handful of unique performances, which he does quite successfully. In all Shyamalan delivers one of his recent best and successfully creates a gripping film, all within the constraints of a PG-13 rating.
Band of Brothers (2001)
Band of Brothers is a sprawling limited-run series more akin to a drawn-out film than a typical television show. Told over the course of 11 hours and 45 minutes, the audience is given a faithful dramatization of “Easy” Company in the Second World War. It follows them from their meeting at paratrooper training, to their role in the Invasion of Normandy, to the end of the war. Band of Brothers’ stars include Damian Lewis, Donnie Wahlberg, David Schwimmer, and Ron Livingston, while McAvoy plays a comparatively smaller role as Private James W. Miller. Its commitment to historical accuracy is as admirable as it is impressive.
In Wanted, McAvoy gives one of his most infamous roles. He plays Wesley Gibson, a prototypical sad-sack who lets people step all over him. That is until he discovers his father who — unbeknownst to him — was a master assassin, and that he has inherited his abilities. True to the graphic novel it is based on, Wanted is highly stylized, using a lot of bullet-time sequences. With supporting performances from Angelina Jolie, Terence Stamp, and Morgan Freeman, the resulting film is fun, gaudy and thrilling.
Atomic Blonde (2017)
Director David Leitch is probably best known for his work on John Wick. As a result, this similarly action-packed, neon-filled, female-centric action flick is lovingly — albeit a bit reductively — referred to colloquially as “Jane Wick.” Charlize Theron plays central character Lorraine Broughton, Cold War-era agent for MI6. She is sent to Berlin to investigate the murder of another agent. Once there, she works with local British Station Chief David Parzival (McAvoy). With incredible action sequences underscored by a synthpop soundtrack, Atomic Blonde is something entirely enjoyable.
Nearly two decades in the making, Glass is The Avengers to his films Unbreakable and Split. He folds in the main characters from each. For Unbreakable, audiences once again meet David Dunn (Bruce Willis) and his son Joseph (Spencer Treat Clark) as well as Elijah Price (Samuel L. Jackson) and his mother (Charlayne Woodard). For Split, McAvoy returns as Kevin Crumb’s many personalities with Anya Taylor-Joy as Casey Cooke. While Glass doesn’t fit together quite as well as the films which preceded it, Shyamalan gives a mostly satisfying and impressively small-scale film. His hand behind the camera is confident and McAvoy offers another truly great performance (or performances).
Atonement tells as tragic a love story as there ever was one. McAvoy plays Robbie Turner, the son of a housekeeper who harbors a secret love for Cecilia Tallis (Keira Knightley), the daughter of his mother’s employer. This potentially blooming love affair is interrupted by the childish actions of Briony, Cecilia’s younger sister (first played by Saoirse Ronan, then Romola Garai). With World War II on the horizon, Briony’s mistakes leave lasting consequences. While Ronan deserves attention for her strong early career performance, McAvoy and Knightley truly establish themselves as the central performances in this heartbreaking film.
The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby (2013)
The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby is a unique film. It seeks to tell the story of young married couple Eleanor Rigby (Jessica Chastain) and Conor Ludlow (McAvoy). The film was made into three cuts Her, Him, and Them. Each tries to achieve something different through its point of view. The story remains very much the same, however. Conor is a bartender and Eleanor is a graduate student. Their relationship becomes turbulent after the loss of their son. It is a moving film with solid performances from both Chastain and McAvoy.
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