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18 Strange, Surprising Performances That Show Why Everyone Loves Sam Rockwell

List RulesVote up the performances that make you love Sam Rockwell.

The best Sam Rockwell performances span a wide variety of genres. Here's an actor who can do it all - comedy, drama, science fiction, horror, action, and everything in between. It's hard to find a type of movie that he hasn't been in. This versatility has made him one of the most respected actors of his era. He is not, however, a traditional movie star. Rockwell's emphasis is clearly on trying to make the best films possible, so he's perfectly happy as a character actor.

What's really impressive is the way he inhabits the skin of whomever he's playing. Rockwell isn't exactly what you'd call a chameleon; you always recognize him when you see him. But what he brings to each character is unique. The racist cop he plays in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is leagues different than the Hitler Youth camp instructor in Jojo Rabbit. Sam Rockwell roles are never the same, whether he's playing real people such as Chuck Barris, George W. Bush, and Bob Fosse, or fictional figures like Zaphod Beeblebrox and "Wild Bill" Wharton.

The following Sam Rockwell movies and TV shows are just a small sampling of what he has to offer. A closer look at them reveals just what a surprising, endlessly creative actor he is. Everybody loves this guy, and for good reason. Remember to vote up your favorite Rockwell performances.

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  • The Green Mile was a star vehicle for Tom Hanks, and it featured Michael Clarke Duncan in a career-making role as inmate John Coffey. Despite sharing scenes with those giants, Sam Rockwell doesn't get lost in the shuffle. Whenever he comes on screen, it's hard not to pay attention to him.

    His role is William "Wild Bill" Wharton, a psychopath on death row for multiple slayings. His manner of coping with life behind bars is to taunt both the guards and his fellow inmates as mercilessly as possible. Rockwell steals his scenes by making Wild Bill's delight in creating havoc palpable for the audience. This is a genuinely bad man, and the actor has no qualms about making him as loathsome as can be. That willingness makes the story's eventual revelation about his character land even more profoundly.

    Although not as physically imposing as Duncan, Rockwell makes Wild Bill's hatred substantial enough to match Coffey's presence.

    • Actors: Tom Hanks, David Morse, Michael Clarke Duncan, Bonnie Hunt, James Cromwell
    • Released: 1999
    • Directed by: Frank Darabont
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  • In Duncan Jones's 2009 sci-fi film Moon, Rockwell plays Sam Bell, an astronaut in space tasked with mining gas for a gigantic corporation that hopes to end Earth's energy crisis. The loneliness and isolation of being in orbit are starting to get to him. Weirdly, he receives company after an accident in his lunar vehicle - in the form of a clone of himself inside the space station.

    Playing a dual role is tricky for any actor. Playing a dual role in a movie with almost no other characters almost seems impossible. Rockwell does it perfectly. He wisely makes the choice to give Sam #1 and Sam #2 very slight discrepancies, so that they're technically the same person, yet we can always tell them apart. Weirdly and unpredictably, he has great chemistry with himself, turning Sam's puzzling identity crisis into something riveting to watch as the story plays out.

    • Actors: Sam Rockwell, Dominique McElligott, Kaya Scodelario, Benedict Wong, Matt Berry
    • Released: 2009
    • Directed by: Duncan Jones
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  • Rockwell won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for his work in 2017's Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. He's cast as Dixon, a small-town cop who has earned a reputation for violence against people of color. He is, quite frankly, a racist - and a bit of an idiot, too. Despite his often offensive behavior, Dixon ends up doing something remarkable in that he ultimately tries to help the grieving, angry Mildred Hayes (Frances McDormand) find the man who assaulted and took the life of her daughter.

    A lot of actors dislike playing racists because they don't want to be unlikable or use uncomfortable language onscreen. Rockwell doesn't shy away from showing Dixon in all his enmity. At the same time, he tempers the character just enough that we know it stems more from ignorance and weakness than from outright hatred. That makes us willing to follow him even in his worst moments. The actor also makes Dixon's character shift in the film's back half feel justified, as though this prejudiced cop has discovered a piece of compassion inside his heart that he didn't know was there.

    • Actors: Frances McDormand, Woody Harrelson, Sam Rockwell, John Hawkes, Peter Dinklage
    • Released: 2017
    • Directed by: Martin McDonagh
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  • Photo: CBS Films

    Seven Psychopaths stars Colin Farrell as Marty, a struggling writer desperately trying to finish his screenplay. Rockwell is Billy, Marty's best friend. When Billy steals the prized Shih Tzu of notorious gangster Charlie (Woody Harrelson), they both get pulled into the criminal underworld. Marty suddenly has lots of material for his script.

    Written and directed by Martin McDonagh, Seven Psychopaths is a very meta story that constantly references itself and twists its story into a pretzel. There's a madcap feeling to it. Rockwell is a natural for this kind of material. From the start of his career, he's gravitated toward eccentric roles and projects. His offbeat rhythms fit perfectly into McDonagh's story, allowing this wacky dognapper to pop off the screen. 

    The film's supporting cast also includes heavyweights such as Harry Dean Stanton, Christopher Walken, and Michael Stuhlbarg, yet it's arguably Rockwell who steals the show.

    • Actors: Colin Farrell, Christopher Walken, Sam Rockwell, Woody Harrelson, Abbie Cornish
    • Released: 2012
    • Directed by: Martin McDonagh
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