Ethan Hawke is the absolute best. He's been turning in solid performances since the 1980s in everything from period dramas to pulpy horror movies, and he always performs like he's gunning for an Academy Award. One of the problems with being so consistently fantastic is that many of Hawke's best roles have gone unnoticed.
Some of Hawke's best-known roles, such as Jesse in the Before Sunrise trilogy, remain underrated because it seems as though he's not even acting. His craft is more on display in films like The Purge or The Black Phone, where it's clear he's not a serial killer or a guy locked inside his house during a one-night crime-a-thon, but even in those films, Hawke is going above and beyond expectations.
All of the following roles played by Hawke are underrated - but which are his best?
- 1110 VOTES
This breakout role for Hawke showcases the depth he can find in his characters, even when he's a part of a large ensemble anchored by one of the most charismatic on-screen performers of all time. As the painfully shy Todd, Hawke grows more comfortable on screen - undoubtedly an instance of art imitating life.
As cheesy as Dead Poets Society can be at times, it's amazing to watch Hawke work with such a hard-hitting ensemble while holding his own with Robin Williams. Audiences may not even remember Hawke in this coming-of-age picture (this is undeniably Williams's movie), but his nuanced portrayal of a sensitive young man echoes throughout his filmography.
- 273 VOTESPhoto: Summit Entertainment
On paper, a spooky horror movie like Sinister shouldn't be in Hawke's wheelhouse. It's essentially a talkie about a ghoul who lives in an 8-mm home movie. When played, the family film enacts a curse that leads children to kill their parents. Hawke plays a true-crime writer who finds himself in the middle of the curse with no way out.
It should be boring to watch Hawke spend an entire movie doing research and calling Vincent D'Onofrio for advice, but he really locks into the piece's moody vibe and gives the audience a character they can really latch onto. On repeated viewings, it's clear that he's playing into Ellison's doomed nature, which is very special in what could be just another Blumhouse movie.
- NEW1 OF 3#11 - Needs VotesPhoto: 20th Century Fox
Reality Bites may distill all of the 1990s into one movie, but Great Expectations distills 1997 into one film. Gwyneth Paltrow is the femme fatale, Robert De Niro has a supporting role, and a Pulp B-side soundtracks one of its best scenes. To top it all off, Hawke is on his A game as a beautiful, sulking painter in this exploration of class, sex, and romance by Alfonso Cuarón.
Hawke felt that a person of color should have played Finn to further punctuate the themes of class present throughout the film, but Cuarón wanted that Before Sunrise magic. As Finn, Hawke really digs into a character who grows up poor and finds himself surrounded by wealth. Even when things are going his way, he's still cynical about the trappings of the big-money art world in which he finds himself.
- 393 VOTESPhoto: Sony Pictures Releasing
Since its release in 1997, Gattaca has grown into somewhat of a cult film, and although mainstream audiences (at least those who remember it) may shove it into the late-'90s evil-perfect-future bargain bin, the film's performances make it a must-see. Hawke is especially on fire as Vincent Freeman, a “genetically inferior” human who uses DNA from a “genetically superior” but paralyzed Jude Law.
Hawke's performance has a robotic energy that elevates the film from a late-'90s sci-fi movie about the evils of technology to something very personal and human. Even if Gattaca wasn’t great, Hawke's performance still makes this movie worth a watch.
- 479 VOTESPhoto: Lionsgate
Hawke is great in genre films. It doesn't matter if he's playing a vampire or a man haunted by a goblin - he finds a way to ground his character. As Edward Dalton, he plays a vampire scientist who refuses to drink human blood. He's working on a cure for vampirism when a former member of the undead comes along and offers him some help.
Daybreakers is absolutely ludicrous in the best way possible, but Hawke doesn't wink at the camera. He plays Dalton incredibly straight and with an air of pathos that audiences need for a real connection.