Strangely enough, Carlito’s Way came out the same year as Super Mario Bros. and showcases a much better performance from John Leguizamo—still, the former is the one that got him all the attention instead of the latter. The movie sees the actor playing a cold-blooded killer, utilizing his personality to fit in perfectly to this all-time great Brian De Palma film.
The John Wick trilogy has proved to be one of the most interesting series of action movies to come out of the 2010s. Keanu Reeves absolutely nails the titular role, but Leguizamo brings plenty of dry comic relief as Aurelio, one of Wick’s associates.
Getting third billing after Nicole Kidman and Ewan McGregor would be an honor for any actor, but it’s much-deserved in Leguizamo’s case. Bad Luhrmann’s Moulin Rogue! gives Leguizamo the opportunity to shine as Toulouse-Lautrec, a right hand man of sorts to McGregor’s character Christian.
A miniseries that debuted on the Paramount Network and covered the infamous showdown at the Branch Davidian compound near Waco, Texas in spring 1993, Waco puts Leguizamo alongside a cast of great actors like Michael Shannon, Andrea Riseborough, Shea Whigham, and Melissa Benoist. The series lasts six episodes, but Leguizamo’s only in three—it’s no matter, though, because you’ll be thinking about his character long after the show ends.
John Favreau’s first film after leaving his director’s chair for the Iron Man franchise, Chef tells the story of a head chef who quits his job at a notable restaurant and buys a food truck in an attempt to rekindle his creativity (sound familiar?). Leguizamo brings the comic relief as Martin, an old colleague of Favreau’s character Carl.
Released a couple of years before Leguizamo’s big break, the actor appears in Todd Haynes’s anthology film Poison under the name Damien Garcia. The film is devoid of famous faces in exchange for a more realistic feel, and so it makes sense why Leguizamo is featured here. In hindsight, he’s the most recognizable face in the film.
A heartfelt and compassionate look at the lives of three drag queens as they attempt to travel cross-country only to end up stuck in a disapproving town, the strangely-titled To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar sees Leguizamo playing an up-and-coming drag queen with a lot to learn. It’s incredibly tolerant for a mid-90s movie, a time when “gay panic” was a common and well-trodden trope in the world of comedy.
One of the first films at the forefront of Matthew McConaughey’s critical reevaluation as an actor, The Lincoln Lawyer puts Leguizamo up against the Oscar-winner as Val Valenzuela. The supporting cast here is great, with the actor joined by Michael Peña, William H. Macy, and Marisa Tomei.
Another early one, released three years before the actor’s big break, 1990’s Die Hard 2 puts Leguizamo in yet another supporting role—this time, he’s playing Burke. Leguizamo has often been used as comic relief, and it’s always a joy to see him pop up here and there in this solid action sequel.
A film about a woman who becomes convinced she was kidnapped as a child, Nancy showcases magnificent performances by Andrea Riseborough, Steve Buscemi, and John Leguizamo alike. It’s a quick little thriller, but one that harkens back to his early performance in Carlito’s Way.