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Ranking Every Gary Oldman Role

He transforms into Winston Churchill in 'Darkest Hour,' but is it his greatest role yet?

Focus Features

With Darkest Hour debuting this week, Gary Oldman has amassed over 50 feature film roles in a little over 30 years. What makes him great? In a word: fearlessness. Oldman will take on any role with fervor and make it his own. He's one of the best actors working today and, more than that, one of the few who's worth the price of admission almost every time. 

Oldman endeared himself to film fans in the '80s by playing wild extroverts like Sex Pistols bassist Sid Vicious in Sid and Nancy and psychopathic gangster Jackie Flannery in State of Grace. At the time, film critic Roger Ebert called him "the best young British actor around." 

As Oldman's career progressed into the '90s, he continued making noise with killer roles. Despite the variety of his work, he wasn't recognized by the Academy Awards until 2011 when he was finally nominated for Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. But Oldman's cult of fans have long admired and celebrated the actor. He's one of the few talents around who can lend instant credibility to a film simply by showing up. 

His latest role, as Winston Churchill in Darkest Hour, may land Oldman the coveted Best Actor Oscar. He's lost in the character, behind heavy makeup and Churchill's unique British accent, but the character is undoubtedly Oldman's. His intensity burns through everything. It's easily one of the best performances of his career, and that's saying a lot.

Looking back on that career, I had a hard time choosing his finest work. It's like picking your favorite Ferrari. I first noticed him in State of Grace as a teen, and he's always been a favorite. I even had a chance to interview him a few years back. I'm no Oldman PhD, just an admirer. So don't take this list as gospel. It's more one fan's appreciation for an actor who's done nothing but bring excitement and entertainment to audiences worldwide. These are the 50 greatest Gary Oldman roles:

[Note: The following list includes Oldman's feature film work as an actor. His short film, voice, TV show roles, and bit parts, like his small role in Henry & June, have been excluded.

  • Hannibal

    Ranking Every Gary Oldman Role
  • Nobody's Baby

    Ranking Every Gary Oldman Role
  • Meantime

    Ranking Every Gary Oldman Role
  • Tiptoes

    Ranking Every Gary Oldman Role
  • The Firm

    Ranking Every Gary Oldman Role
  • The Fifth Element

    Ranking Every Gary Oldman Role
  • The Contender

    Ranking Every Gary Oldman Role

50. Pontius Pilate - Jesus (TV) (1999)

49. Johnny - We Think the World of You (1988)

48. Carnegie - The Book of Eli (2010)

47. Rabbi Joseph Sendak - The Unborn (2009)

46. Mason Verger - Hannibal (2001)

45. Daniel - Remembrance (1982) *first role

44. William Holtzer - Rain Fall (2009)

43. Nicolas Wyatt - Paranoia (2013) 

42. Elvis - Guns, Girls and Gambling (2011)

41. Albert Milo - Basquiat (1996)

40. Father Solomon - Red Riding Hood (2011)

39. Counselor Peyton - Man Down (2015)

38. Rev. Arthur Dimmesdale - The Scarlet Letter (1995)

37. Charlie Strom - Sin (2003)

36. O. W. Grant - Interstate 60 (2002)

35. Quaker Wells - Criminal (2016)

34. Dr. Dennett Norton - RoboCop (2014)

33. Vladislav Dukhovich - The Hitman's Bodyguard (2017)

32. Dr. Zachary Smith - Lost in Space (1998)

31. Dreyfus - Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014)  

30. Lynch - Dead Fish (2005)

29. General Mikhail Nesterov - Child 44 (2015)

28. Floyd Banner - Lawless (2012)

27. Martin - Track 29 (1988)

26. Nathaniel Shepherd - The Space Between Us (2017)

25. Ben Chase - Criminal Law (1989)

24. Buford Hill - Nobody's Baby (2001)

23. Paul - The Backwoods (2006)

22. Coxy - Meantime (1983)

21. Emmett Foley - Chattahoochee (1989)

20. Milton Glenn - Murder in the First (1995)

19. Jim Gordon - Batman Begins (2005), The Dark Knight (2008), The Dark Knight Rises (2012)

18. Rolfe - Tiptoes (2003)

17. Egor Korshunov - Air Force One (1997)

16. Sirius Black - Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004), Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (2005), Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (2007), Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2 (2011)

15. Clive "Bex" Bissell - The Firm (TV movie) (1989)

14. Rosencrantz - Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead (1990)

13. Jean-Baptiste Emmanuel Zorg - The Fifth Element (1997)

12. Joe Orton - Prick Up Your Ears (1987)

11. Rep. Shelly Runyon - The Contender (2000)

10. Lee Harvey Oswald - JFK (1991)

Ranking Every Gary Oldman Role
Warner Brothers


Ranking Every Gary Oldman Role

8. JACKIE FLANNERY - State of Grace (1990) 

Ranking Every Gary Oldman Role

7. GEORGE SMILEY - Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011)

Ranking Every Gary Oldman Role
StudioCanal UK

6. SID VICIOUS - Sid and Nancy (1986)

Ranking Every Gary Oldman Role
Samuel Goldwyn Co.

5. DREXL SPIVEY - True Romance (1993)

Ranking Every Gary Oldman Role
Warner Brothers

4. Ludwig van Beethoven - Immortal Beloved (1994)

Ranking Every Gary Oldman Role

3. Winston Churchill - Darkest Hour (2017)

Ranking Every Gary Oldman Role
Focus Features

2. Count Dracula - Bram Stoker's Dracula (1992)

Ranking Every Gary Oldman Role

1. Norman Stansfield - Léon: The Professional (1994)

Ranking Every Gary Oldman Role

[Editor's note: This article was originally published July 10, 2014, and updated November 21, 2017.]

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