In this article:
- Joaquin Phoenix is certainly one of the most interesting actors in Hollywood. He was born into the Children of God cult, grew up as a child actor, left acting, and then returned to Hollywood once more after the tragic death of his brother River.
- Over his long and fruitful career, Phoenix’s willingness to dive headfirst into his roles has cemented him as one of the greatest actors to ever appear in front of a camera.
- With so many amazing roles under his belt, it’s hard to pick out the best Joaquin Phoenix movies. But titles like Gladiator, Her, and others on this list are definitely worthy contenders.
Undoubtedly one of the most interesting actors in Hollywood, Joaquin Bottom was born in 1974 in Puerto Rico and was soon indoctrinated into a religious cult known as the Children of God. He traveled through Puerto Rico and South America with his partners, who were missionaries working to recruit more members into the cult.
However, around 1977, his parents decided to part ways with the cult as they grew increasingly wary about certain practices. It was around this time that the family adopted the surname Phoenix, and Joaquin Bottom became Joaquin Phoenix.
In 1979, the family moved to Los Angeles and Joaquin’s mother got in contact with a high-profile child acting agent who got Joaquin his first-ever role. He made his debut alongside his brother River in the TV series Seven Brides for Seven Brothers.
After years of child acting, Joaquin decided to take a long break from Hollywood to travel through Mexico. However, after his brother River tragically died of an overdose, Joaquin was inspired to return to acting.
Since then, Joaquin Phoenix has proven that he’s far more than just a child actor and has cemented himself as one of the best to ever grace the silver screen.
His extreme method-acting tactics, such as starving himself or even putting out real fires with the Baltimore Fire Department, have attracted controversy. However, no one can argue that they don’t produce amazing results.
Throughout Joaquin Phoenix’s career he’s starred in so many amazing movies, let’s narrow it down to the very best films of his career.
The Must-Watch Joaquin Phoenix Movies
Arguably Phoenix’s first notable role as an adult, he co-starred in the Ridley Scott-directed Roman epic film Gladiator in 2000. He his portrayal of the character Commodus was incredibly believable and left the audience seething with hatred by the end of the film.
Commodus is a bratty, sniveling coward who weasels his way into power through betrayal. Though he uses every resource at his disposal to stop Maximus, a former general turned slave, he is eventually bested and killed by the film’s hero in front of a massive crowd of his subjects. Phoenix’s performance catapulted him to stardom and earned him his first Oscar nomination.
2. Walk the Line
Portraying a figure as iconic as Johnny Cash is always an imposing task; however, in the 2005 film Walk the Line, Joaquin Phoenix did just that with expert skill. This film earned Phoenix his second Oscar nomination and his first nomination as a lead actor.
His performance expertly portrayed the mix of vibrant charisma and dark depression that characterized Johnny Cash as a person and musician.
As a method actor, Phoenix actually spent months preparing for the film by learning to sing and play the guitar just as Johnny Cash did. He even performed all of the music in the film.
After Heath Ledger’s infamous role as The Joker in The Dark Knight, his final completed role before he unfortunately died, no one thought it was possible to portray the iconic DC comic villain as well as Ledger did.
While the jury’s still out on who played the role better, the fact that Phoenix’s performance in the 2019 film Joker is even in that conversation is an accomplishment in itself.
In this dark and disturbing look at the backstory of this well-known villain, Phoenix plays Arthur Fleck, a professional party clown and outcast whose failure to find acceptance among his peers drives him to become the murderous psychopath known as The Joker.
For this role, Phoenix lost 52 pounds in a matter of weeks so that his character would look malnourished. It paid off; Phoenix looked decidedly creepier with his ribs and spine protruding from his skin.
In what can certainly be considered one of the stranger movies that Joaquin Phoenix has ever starred in, Her tells the story of Theodore Twombly, a lonely and depressed man who gets paid to write letters to his clients’ beloveds.
As the film goes on, he grows lonelier and lonelier until he purchases an operating system that includes an artificial intelligence virtual assistant. Before long, Theodore finds himself falling in love with the AI and they develop a romantic relationship.
In this oddly heartwarming yet depressing story of love in the modern age, Phoenix’s performance makes us want to cry and scream with frustration but also shows us that the most important thing we have in life is human connection.
Between this fantastic display of acting and this fascinating story by Spike Jonze, Her is an absolute masterpiece.
5. You Were Never Really Here
While Phoenix’s role as Joe in the 2017 thriller You Were Never Really Here certainly doesn’t involve as much dialogue as many of his other roles, his brooding and imposing aura tells the audience all they need to know.
This Lynne Ramsay-directed film follows a troubled veteran who uses his military skills to specialize in recovering girls who have been kidnapped into the sex trade.
In this role, Phoenix delivers an amazing performance that does justice to the experience of being a veteran plagued with post-traumatic stress.
This film also features a heavy dose of violence, which serves as a physical manifestation of the struggles going on within Joe’s psyche. This movie is supremely intense and you’ll find it hard to breathe throughout its 90-minute running time.
6. The Master
The 2012 film The Master is a stroke of pure genius from top to bottom. The film was written and directed by the iconic Paul Thomas Anderson and stars Joaquin Phoenix alongside the late Philip Seymour Hoffman and Amy Adams.
Phoenix portrays Freddie Quell, a traumatized World War II Navy veteran who is having trouble adjusting to post-war life and often displays erratic and violent behavior.
Things start to change, though, when Quell meets the charismatic leader of a religious movement known as The Cause. Things start to change for Quell when he decides to go on the road with the preacher and help spread his message. This is a fascinating film partly inspired by L. Ron Hubbard and the Church of Scientology, and it features incredible performances all around.
7. Inherent Vice
Throughout his career, Joaquin Phoenix has proven that not only can he portray harrowing antiheroes and vicious villains, but he can also be pretty funny as well. And his role as the constantly-stoned private investigator Doc Sportello in the 2014 film Inherent Vice is perhaps the funniest performance of his career.
When Sportello’s ex-lover and her current boyfriend seem to disappear out of the blue, he must navigate the case while under the influence of psychedelic substances.
Inherent Vice is every bit as intense as it is hilarious and Phoenix really shows off his range of ability with his lead role as Doc Sportello. And, while it didn’t win many awards, it has garnered quite a cult following since its release.