We can argue all day about the best Ryan Gosling roles. There are no right answers. So let's narrow down the scope of our opinions. What defines Ryan Gosling at this point in his career as an actor? Is it his looks, his smarts, his sense of humor? Like many young stars, Gosling or "The Gos" was once narrowly defined by his good looks, the doubtless result of our shallow sensibilities as Americans. Years later, he's one of the industry's great talents, a top-shelf leading man and two-time Oscar nominee with fans worldwide. So what defines him most?
Cha·ris·ma (noun) - compelling attractiveness or charm that can inspire devotion in others
In a word, charisma is what it's all about. Gosling's success has come largely due to the fact he's so likable. He can be tough, funny, and smart, sometimes all at once, but he's always pretty likable. So what is the ultimate Gosling role? Where can we find him at his most charismatic?
Sorting through Gosling's 23 major film roles, I think I have the answer. His characters are mostly good guys at heart. He rarely plays villains, although he does have a bunch of complex roles that can't be nailed down with a single adjective. They all fit into broader categories of Gos, however. You'll see what I mean. Starting with "Depressed Gos" and ending with "Invincible Gos," here are all of Ryan Gosling's performances ranked by definite science.
23. Henry Letham - Stay (2005)
A sniveling, suicidal artist who's actually living his last minutes (the film is his dying vision), Gosling goes emo in Stay and it's hard to connect with. The film is also highly-stylized and annoying to keep track of. This may be the only Gosling movie where you never want to see him onscreen.
22. Leland P. Fitzgerald - The United States of Leland (2003)
Gosling plays a teenage murderer who's in a constant daze in the aftermath. But, as we find out, Leland is kind of always in a daze, and it's not charismatic. Points for scoring a girlfriend, but negative points for being a tool around her. This is a Gosling performance without signature and without style.
21. David Marks - All Good Things (2010)
Gosling plays a character based on alleged murderer Robert Durst in All Good Things, and any fan of HBO's The Jinx will tell you that's not a good thing charm-wise. Heir to a fortune, David Marks is a portrait of privilege who can't live a normal life and ends up killing his wife. There's little to like about him, but he's mostly normal at the beginning of the film, just normal enough to be ranked 21st.
20. Roy Chutney - The Slaughter Rule (2002)
Gosling at his most vanilla. He plays a depressed high schooler whose father just killed himself. There's nothing special or particularly interesting about him. He's just a good kid who comes back to life thanks to a new coach.
19. Julian - Only God Forgives (2013)
Gosling only speaks 17 lines in this violent fever dream of a movie. He's a fighter who comes from violence and can't seem to escape it. It's a tough performance worthy of respect, but Julian's a hard to like character unconcerned with normal relationships. He is brave, however, so points there. He faces down the film's amazing villain, Chang, in a brutal scene.
18. K/Joe - Blade Runner 2049 (2017)
Gosling plays an android, called replicants, in the Blade Runner sequel. He's an inhuman cop assigned to kill other inhumans and his philosophy is pretty black and white. However, K does dream of more. He yearns for his lost love and comes to believe replicants have souls. He cracks jokes and is not without humanity. Plus, he's an unrepentant badass, which makes him quite likable. Unfortunately, this is a bleak movie of little humor and K doesn't really have enough personality to be ranked higher.
17. Willy Beachum - Fracture (2007)
As rising star district attorney Willy Beachum, Gosling is slick and smooth. He can pull those traits off with the best of them. His cockiness is unattractive, but it's belied by the character's smarts. Plus, he becomes the target of an even smarter villain who ruins him. He's more likable when he's defeated, when he's forced to care about more than money and success and be the good guy. But this is far from peak Gos. He's mostly running around like a chicken with its head chopped off.
16. Sgt. Jerry Wooters - Gangster Squad (2013)
This should be ranked higher, but the movie is such a stinker, it's hard to take Gosling very seriously. His entire cop persona is meant to be a wise-cracking Sam Spade type, but much of it comes off overcooked. He does have some good one-liners, however, and he dresses the part. You won't hate him, but you should like him more. Negative points for his weird Mungo-esque voice work as well.
15. Richard Haywood - Murder by Numbers (2002)
"You cannot live fully without embracing crime." Gosling plays a popular, secretively sadistic high school charmer who commits a murder with a classmate to see if they can get away with it. This is B-movie stuff with the typical melodrama, but Gosling is a stand-out. Murder by Numbers made him in many ways, showing he could carry a film opposite a big star (Sandra Bullock). He also proved he could be a solid charismatic villain. A little less snark and a little more camp would've landed this role higher.
Rock Star Gos
14. BV - Song to Song (2017)
Terrence Malick's experimental film doesn't leave much room for character development. We, as the audience, are more observers than anything. It's hard to connect with Gosling as BV in the film, but it's fun watching him flirt and have fun with Rooney Mara, Lykke Li, and Cate Blanchett. Yes, he's a young musician on the verge of something bigger, but he still seems down to earth. BV is what we imagine Gosling might really be like. If this were a more traditional movie, the role would be ranked higher.
Average Guy Gos
13. Lars Lindstrom - Lars and the Real Girl (2007)
There's something great about humiliating honesty and Gosling personifies that notion in Lars and the Real Girl. As the title character, Gosling is a quiet small towner who orders a sex doll and treats it like his girlfriend. His family plays along, but they're worried Lars might be disturbed. Ya think? He just seems so content, it's hard to rain on his parade. Gosling is sad and weird here, but his down home shyness is pretty charming.
12. Alan Bosley - Remember the Titans (2000)
Another football role and Gosling's first major movie, Remember the Titans combined football and race relations in one combustible Disney drama! It's actually a pretty solid sports movie, and Gosling is humble and funny in a brief role. He's one of the "good" white kids who welcomes the black players when they transfer into town. He dances to the Temptations and, most crucially, surrenders his starting spot when he sees the black kid is better than him. He's the ultimate team Gos!
11. Dean - Blue Valentine (2010)
Blue Valentine begins a subsection of Gosling roles that are both despicable and endearing. As Dean in the film, he plays a man on opposite ends of a marriage. Early on, he's romantic, funny, and hopeful in wooing a nurse at a retirement home. And, later, as their lives together slowly disintegrate, Dean becomes abusive, drunk, distant, essentially disgusting. It's one of Gosling's best performances, his range on full display, but the bad parts are pretty disheartening. All of his early charm wears off by the end, which seems to be exactly the point. He should probably be ranked lower, but that's how charming he is in his younger years. For half of the film, he's as charismatic as it gets.
10. Luke - The Place Beyond the Pines (2012)
Bleach blond and covered in tattoos, testaments to the carny life as a stunt bike driver, Luke is an impressive specimen. He knocks up a local girl in small town Poughkeepsie, although he doesn't know it until he returns the next year. Invigorated by the news, Luke wants to be a good dad, but she has a new guy and Luke takes exception to that. It's not pretty. Exiled, he turns to robbing banks, hoping the money will do some good for his family. Luke is a classic anti-hero and ethical nightmare you will simultaneously be repulsed and intoxicated by.
9. Daniel Balint - The Believer (2001)
Another paradoxical Gosling role. He plays a Jew who's also a skinhead. Released three years after American History X (which dealt with similar subject matter), The Believer wasn't seen by many, but critics took note of Gosling. He's ferocious as Danny Balint early in the film, beating a Jewish kid in the street and brandishing swastikas openly. But, as we learn, Balint is actually a brilliant and articulate young Nazi. His aggression comes from intense self-hatred, but he's not a lost cause. He's a lost kid, and he proves too smart for his stupid philosophies. Balint isn't an easy character, but he's charisma incarnate. Try not to be impressed by his impassioned arguments and intellect. He could be a cult leader.
8. Stephen Meyers - The Ides of March (2011)
Meyers belongs in the hotshot character category also, but this is an actual good movie so he's ranked higher. Meyers is a lot like the character Gosling plays in Fracture. He's a young political star who sees it all come crashing down around him. He knows how to play the game, but makes a mistake and pays dearly for it. His idealism crushed, we get to see what Stephen is really made of and Gosling gets serious. He seems to tie every loose end with a final scheme that proves he's been paying attention and learning all along.
7. Noah - The Notebook (2004)
Despite all the bickering and sentimental nonsense in The Notebook, it's hard not to fall for Noah and Allie in this movie. Their star-crossed romance wasn't meant to be, but fate seems to pull them back together. Most of all, Noah fights for her. We, of course, root for him to get her. This is also the signature "bearded Gos" performance so extra points there.
6. Jared Vennett - The Big Short (2015)
He narrates and only appears in a couple scenes, but Gosling is fantastic in The Big Short. This role is all charisma. As Deutsche Bank salesman Jared Vennett, Gosling embodies the film's hustling, big money spirit. He has to be charming to sell his swaps, and he does it by being smarter than everybody else. He's sharp, fast talking and very funny. I love when he gets all angry and combustible. He looks like he's about to cry.
5. Holland March - The Nice Guys (2016)
This is a curious role for Gosling. He's essentially Joe Pesci in Lethal Weapon 3, a wannabe cop who nobody takes seriously. Thus, he's not the expected lead character -- Russell Crowe is. Instead, Gosling takes a backseat and becomes the film's comic relief, literally tumbling head over heels down a hill on top of a corpse in one scene. (His reaction to seeing it will slay you.) It's a throwback comedic performance and the Gos is great. Bonus points for the mustache.
4. Jacob - Crazy, Stupid, Love (2011)
This guy calls his penis his "schvantz," otherwise he'd be ranked even higher. Yes, Crazy, Stupid, Love is mostly just stupid, but it's filled with great actors we all like to hang out with. Gosling's Jacob should top any list. He's the ultimate Gosling character in many ways. First, he might be Gosling's most attractive character, at least in style. He looks good. And I say that with a staunch record of heterosexuality. Second, he's a womanizing mentor in a comedy, a part he was made for. Starting from pole position, Gosling has nowhere to go but down with this role. He's a superstar who gets the great girl. He's just a little too cocksure to top this list. And the schvantz thing.
The Complete Gos
3. Sebastian - La La Land (2016)
Unless you demand violence in all your films, you'll have a hard time disliking La La Land, a celebration of love in the time of Hollywood. Gosling plays an idealistic jazz pianist who struggles to make ends meet while chasing his dream of performing every night. On a gig playing a party he connects with an aspiring actress and they fall for each other against the backdrop of Los Angeles. Gosling cracks dumb jokes, sings, dances, and wins her heart (and ours) in the process. He's great because he's not a professional and the clumsiness of his performance makes it all the more endearing. It's his greatest romantic role.
2. Dan Dunne - Half Nelson (2006)
I know this is a controversial number two pick, but let me explain myself. Half Nelson contains chemistry most films only wish they could attain. And the reason for that chemistry is Ryan Gosling. He has it with a 13-year-old student named Drey (played by Shareeka Epps) whom he also coaches on the basketball team. Drey comes from a hard neighborhood, but "Coach" makes her crack up and takes her mind off home life. That is, until she finds out Coach is a junkie. It's the drug-addicted side to Dan that isn't too endearing, but he does his best to overcome it. Gosling is a natural with the kids, and this is one of the all-time great teacher performances in movie history.
1. The Driver - Drive (2011)
This character is the beautiful result of an actor and director at the height of their collective game. Set to an orgasmic soundtrack and shot with every intention of being as cool as humanly possible, Drive is a remarkable film thanks to the vision of director Nicolas Winding Refn. But, Gosling deserves much of the credit also. As an unnamed getaway driver for hire, he's in Clint Eastwood mode, saying little, bashing skulls, befriending innocent children, and falling in love -- all with his life on the line. He even wears a signature jacket like some of film's greatest rebels. This is an all-time movie character you stand up and cheer for. Guys and girls alike fall in love with the Driver.