29th May2014

Ten Best: Gary Oldman Films

by Phil Wheat


Ask pretty much any of his peers and they would tell you that Gary Oldman is one of the most eclectic and brilliant actors of our generation. With a list of characters under his belt that threatens to rival the greats of yesteryear, Oldman is the go-to character actor of our time, consistently delivering dependably top rate performances regardless of genre. In RoboCop, he plays Dr. Dennett Norton, the chief scientist of Omni Foundation and creator of the human cyborg, who battles with ethics and the corruption of the company he is a part of. With the Limited Edition Blu-ray Steelbook, DVD and Blu-ray release set for 9th June 2014 from Studiocanal, we count down the ten best Gary Oldman films.

Sid and Nancy (1986)

This 1986 British biopic portrayed the life of Sid Vicious, bassist of rock band The Sex Pistols, and his famed relationship with girlfriend Nancy Spungeon (here played by Chloe Webb). Oldman took on the role of Sid, garnering acclaim as a consequence. Even Pistols lead singer John Lydon – appalled at the film’s existence – stated that Oldman was ‘bloody good’ in the role.

True Romance (1993)

Amongst a starry cast ranging from the likes of Christian Slater, Dennis Hopper and Brad Pitt, Gary Oldman rears his head in True Romance as Drexl Spivey, a dreadlocked pimp who permits Oldman to display another performance to add to his memorable catalogue of characters.

Léon (1994)

Subtitled The Professional, Luc Besson’s French thriller stars Jean Reno in the lead role as a mob hitman paired with a young girl (a 13-year-old Natalie Portman in her debut role) when her family is murdered by Oldman’s mentally unhinged DEA agent Norman Stansfield. A madman to be feared, Oldman plays Stansfield with a theatrical flair, solidifying the character as one of cinema’s greatest villains.

The Fifth Element (1997)

Delivering another standout performance under the directorial guide of Luc Besson, Oldman plays an industrialist who goes by the name Jean-Baptiste Emanuel Zorg, With this character, Oldman doesn’t just layer theatricality into the performance but a disturbing vibrancy with Zorg emerging as the role where the actor looks like he had the most fun.

Nil by Mouth (1997)

Here, Gary Oldman didn’t star, but turned his hand to writing and directing for Nil by Mouth, a deeply personal drama portraying a family of characters living in a South East London estate (Oldman was raised in New Cross). Starring Ray Winstone and Kathy Burke, the film was a critical success, with Oldman going on to win a BAFTA for his original screenplay.

Harry Potter (2003-2011)

In the past decade, Oldman has appeared in two of the biggest franchises the world has seen – one of which bears no introduction. As the wizarding godfather of Harry Potter, Oldman played the beloved character Sirius Black, first appearing in Alfonso Cuarón’s Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. Oldman took the character of Black and brought him to life on the screen in a way which carved him out as one of the most popular characters in the entire series.

The Dark Knight Trilogy (2005-2012)

The other franchise Oldman was a part of was Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy, playing James Gordon, the lieutenant-turned-commissioner of Gotham and friend of Bruce Wayne. Representing good in a city which is continually tainted by bad, Gordon is Gotham’s moral compass who supports Batman in his mission to rid the city of corruption.

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011)

Taking a role created by author John le Carré and made familiar by Alec Guinness (in the 70s TV miniseries), Gary Oldman played George Smiley in Tomas Alfredson’s big screen adaptation of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. Set in London in the early 70s, the storyf ollowsthe hunt for a Soviet double agent at the top of the British secret service. Oldman earned an Oscar nomination for his role as the bespectacled, silent and deeply intense intelligence officer.

Lawless (2013)

Not content with playing the good guys for too long, Oldman returned to his villainous ways in Lawless, John Hillcoat’s drama set in prohibition era Virgina, playing mobster Floyd Banner. Upon our introduction to the character, through the eyes of Jack Bondurant – one of three brothers who made and sold moonshine, and here played by Shia LaBeouf – we see Banner shoot down a competitor in cold blood. Only a character actor such as Oldman can play a character such as this to the extreme effect that he does.

RoboCop (2014)

Oldman plays Dr. Dennett Norton, a force for good amongst the corrupt mega-corporation that is Omnicorp. The chief scientist of the corporation and the person responsible for transforming deceased cop Alex Murphy into a human cyborg, Norton becomes increasingly aware of the corruption surrounding him, headed by Michael Keaton’s Raymond Sellars. A welcoming and re-assuring presence, Oldman turns in yet another solid performance.

RoboCop is released on Limited Edition Blu-ray Steelbook, Blu-ray and DVD on June 9th 2014 from Studiocanal.

4 Responses to “Ten Best: Gary Oldman Films”

  • GO is G.O.D.

    Only a casual watcher could have come up with this list. Apart from “Tinker” and “S&N” it’s way more of a popularity contest than a serious accounting of the finest performances by the world’s greatest actor. A true fan wouldn’t dream of leaving out such masterful work as “J.F.K.”, “State of Grace”, “Prick Up Your Ears”, “Bram Stoker’s Dracula”, Immortal Beloved”, “The Contender”, “R&G”, “Chattahoochee”, “I-60”, “Romeo Is Bleeding”, “The Firm”, “Meantime”, “Basquiat”, and “Criminal Law”. I realize that’s far more than 10 and that’s where the difficulty in choosing comes in. I don’t begrudge anyone their opinion but if one is going to presume to make a list then it should be done only once all the available information has been summated. Even things like “Scarlet Letter”, “Hannibal”, “Sin” or “Book of Eli” show how much you’ve barely scratched the surface of this brilliant artist’s career.

  • frank

    i agree. state of grace is one of his best movie and is a great irish mob movie. whenever idiots say boondock saints i tell them to watch state of grace he is perfect in that. also immortal beloved. romeo is bleeding is also terrific.

  • liverbush

    león the profesional a classic movie Gary oldman jean reno and Natalie portman are great in this movie

  • VLR

    Fifth Element? Where is Romeo is Bleeding? DRACULA? My God, State of Grace, for goodness sake!