Best Movies of Willem Dafoe According to Rotten Tomatoes: In cinema and other forms of pop culture, the one person who has been a personal icon for me is Tilda Swinton. The way she brings her trademark grace and a stab of honesty to a character only enhances her performance in some mysterious ways. It cannot reasonably be defined by slipping into the skin of the character she plays- there is a method only she can champion. And that is precisely what makes her a lady of few parallels, in her gender or otherwise. If there is just one parallel I can seemingly extract from somewhere, it must be the great Willem Dafoe.

Among the veteran Hollywood actors who have expertly essayed various characters without sticking to a specific template, Dafoe is one of the most charismatic. He has found his calling lately in his career as well, and many modern auteurs have made a frequent collaborator out of him, a task that he lives up to exceptionally. And yet again, there’s little sense of a ‘method’ here; you figure out his presence in the character he plays and nothing else.

He especially shines when there’s not much he is given to do because then you see Dafoe truly ‘into’ the minor character, which carries its own specific pleasures. And so, it feels wrong to call the actor, who turns 68 this year, an acting serpent. He is truly an acting deity.

Here is a list of eight of Willem Dafoe’s best movies according to the critical consensus of Rotten Tomatoes. Do comment below your favorite Willem Dafoe performance!

8. Spider-Man (2002) | RT Score: 90%

Willem Dafoe Movies Rotten Tomatoes

Not many American superhero films can be said to have broken the mold- not even the early ones and certainly not the ones we get these days (barring the one recent exception that no one seems to stop talking about, of course). Having said that, Sam Raimi came with this spark of early brilliance and hit a home run much before Nolan would do it differently and to more acclaim in 2008 with The Dark Knight. Spider-Man was a fantastic superhero origin story that worked perfectly as a coming-of-age romance and an energetic ode to New York City.

The story of Peter Parker is also the story of Tobey Maguire’s success as the iconic superhero. However, that story would undoubtedly be incomplete without the utterly scary and villainous Green Goblin, essayed by Willem Dafoe, who brings a deranged amount of antagonist energy into the film. Kenneth Turan, the Los Angeles Times film critic, said that his performance was the film’s high point. The critical consensus for the film says, “Not only does Spider-Man provide a good dose of web-swinging fun, but it also has a heart, thanks to the combined charms of director Sam Raimi and star Tobey Maguire.”

7. The Lighthouse (2019) | RT Score: 90%

Robert Eggers makes period films of utterly bleak and fucked-up anatomies, wrestling with mature themes in his grandstanding fashion, which is uncompromising to the point of utter dread and discomfort. In the course of three films, he has established himself as a true auteur, and his sophomore feature, The Lighthouse, has become no less than a cult classic. Often slyly referred to as the most incredible love story of 2019, the film is an austere, scary, and at the same time, consuming meditation on male loneliness.

Although Willem Dafoe’s performance as the lighthouse keeper Thomas Wake can hardly be talked in isolation from the ferociously brilliant turn of Robert Pattinson as Ephraim Winslow, it can also be said that it’s the sensory sickness of Willem’s Wake that enables the monstrously good Pattinson of the film.

A Vox article said that probably the one delightful thing about the film is that it gave Dafoe the performance of a lifetime, something that is true in more ways than one. It is a rare turn of his that finds him blending into the atmosphere of his film itself, taking in all the sexual, psychoanalytical, and mythological undertones and understanding the gravity of it as a horror film. The critical consensus says, “A gripping story brilliantly filmed and led by a pair of powerhouse performances, The Lighthouse further establishes Robert Eggers as a filmmaker of exceptional talent.”

6. The Northman (2022) | RT Score: 90%

Willem Dafoe - The Northman

Although deemed on occasion as the weakest film of Robert Eggers and at times as a change of pace for the best, Robert Eggers’s latest film is the first non-horror studio epic. The Northman is a brilliant telling of the story of Prince Amleth, a Nordic noir of Shakespearean proportions. It’s the origin story of a character who became the direct inspiration of Prince Hamlet, one of the definitive Shakespearean heroes. Fantastically acted and atmospherically shot, it also came out as one of last year’s most underrated English pictures.

Speaking of Willem Dafoe’s character, he plays Heimir the Fool in the film, a court jest with little involvement either in the course of the story or in the movie. However, Eggers muscularly uses his character and makes the best of the little running time he is provided, almost a tribute to his distinctive facial features and archetypal dark comedic menace.

He plays a solid supporting character, one who stays very much in the background yet empowers the macho hero in muted ways. The film’s critical consensus reads, “A bloody revenge epic and breathtaking visual marvel, The Northman finds filmmaker Robert Eggers expanding his scope without sacrificing any of his signature style.”

5. The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014) | RT Score: 92%

A work of confectionary sourness nearly as internally sweet, The Grand Budapest Hotel finds Wes Anderson sticking to his aesthetics and crafting a dazzlingly good whodunit hailed as his best film. In a period drama full of precious and engaging details that are laudable, Wes Anderson can obscure this sense of humanity and kindness, going so deep with these themes that the sweetness feels deceptive. An adaptation of the writings by the Austrian novelist Stefan Zweig, The Grand Budapest Hotel doesn’t merely feel like the auteur taking a literary work and putting his artistic stamp on it. In fact, the sentiment of it registers so powerfully that it feels like a deeply personal work, which, in most probability, is.

The film finds Willem Dafoe, yet again in a minor character, playing the role of JG Jopling, the cynical assassin and murderer who kills the Kovacs. Although, yet again, it is not an exercise of too much involvement, he seems to have the time of his life peeling off the sinister yet absurdly funny ruthlessness of the psychotic Jopling and sinking into the indulgences of the auteur behind the film. The film’s critical consensus says, “Typically stylish but deceptively thoughtful, The Grand Budapest Hotel finds Wes Anderson once again using ornate visual environments to explore deeply emotional ideas.”

4. Spider-Man 2 (2004) | RT Score: 93%

Willem Dafoe Movies Rotten Tomatoes - Spider Man 2

I have already said what I had to about Willem Dafoe’s bit-sized characters, which are as essential and, at times, more than his central characters. So it should be no surprise that this compelling Spider-Man sequel comes higher on the list. An exciting and terrific American entertainer by all standards finds Sam Raimi doing his thing yet again. It stars Dafoe as Green Goblin yet again, not in his flesh and blood, of course, but as a hallucination who appears to his son Harry, asking his son to avenge his death but ultimately gets “shattered” in the mirror by his son who refuses to do that.

Apart from this minor detail, Spider-Man 2 was held as a brilliant follow-up to the original, which expanded the myth of the web-slinger and introduced a brilliant villain in the form of Dock Ock, played diligently by Alfred Molina. A small trivia: a video went out from the sets of Dafoe trying to play Otto Octavius, and he was perfect! The critical consensus for the film says, “Boasting an entertaining villain and deeper emotional focus, this is a nimble sequel that improves upon the original.”

3. Togo (2019) | RT Score: 93%

One of the most well-received yet severely underrated films of 2019, Togo is the rare charming Disney film that got overlooked and also a rare film from Willem Dafoe’s career that has him as the poster boy. Starring in a brilliant role as the real-life dog breeder Leonhard Seppela, the film shows his sled dog Togo and the harsh conditions of the 1925 serum run to Nome. The film is minimalistic yet assuredly heartwarming. It takes the well-worn tropes of an underdog story and turns them well on their head, roping in a genuinely memorable canine performance as an additional plus.

More importantly, this adventure story is as much a historical one that needs to be told. It is humanistic and life-affirming in the best sense and a film in total awareness of its own atmosphere. The critical consensus says, “An endearing and exciting underdog story that benefits greatly from its stars (canine and human alike), Togo is a timeless tale, well-told.”

2. Spider-Man: No Way Home (2021) | RT Score: 93%

No Way Home

The cameo of Willem Dafoe as Green Goblin remains his best reprisal of the role since the first installment of the Sam Raimi trilogy of Spider-Man films. Digitally de-aged and keeping his involvement in the movie a secret, this film finds him as a more pronounced split personality of himself in a proper stab at the tribute. Jon Watt’s film shines well thanks to the unabashed nostalgia at play with the well-constructed coming-of-age story at the forefront, and this surprise appearance is only a feather in the cap.

An unexpected shot of entertainment lately in 2021 and an exciting tribute to everything that makes Spider-Man one of the most beloved superheroes existent, No Way Home also emerged as one of the year’s best mainstream films. The critical consensus for it says, “A bigger, bolder Spider-Man sequel, No Way Home expands the franchise’s scope and stakes without losing sight of its humor and heart.”

1. The Florida Project (2017) | RT Score: 96%

One of the most talented American filmmakers working today is Sean Baker, a genuine humanist whose resistance to a rose-tinted worldview has recently resulted in some of the most moving and empathetic pictures of the English-language cinema. In his finest film to date, The Florida Project, his spotlight is on the ‘shadow of the most magical place on the earth, Disneyland.’ It finds Dafoe playing the role of a beleaguered kindhearted motel manager with a genuine brush of charm and pragmatism in one of his most distinctive roles.

The film earned a lot of praise for its more than partial attention to astute realism, which is almost documentary-like in approach, as well as an honestly compelling observation of the life of these underprivileged children. The performance of Dafoe earned him a nomination for Best Supporting Actor, and the film itself won several accolades. Its critical consensus says, “The Florida Project offers a colorfully empathetic look at an underrepresented part of the population that proves absorbing even as it raises sobering questions about modern America.”

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