From slam dunk comedies to eat-the-rich satires, if there are faces in Hollywood which are one in number but fit them all, the face of Woody Harrelson has to be one of them. A mainstream figure who is also admittedly an indie one, Harrelson is a man of curious upbringing- a Texan with a secretary mother and a convicted hitman father, he joined the American film industry through the medium of TV as a replacement to the late Nicholas Colasanto in the sitcom Cheers (1982-1993). For that, though, he gained recognition of five Emmy Awards, and since then, nothing has stopped him from grabbing supporting characters and leading turns of great value in TV shows and films alike.

Although his activism has often been put to question, his versatility on screen can hardly be questioned, pulling off gritty drama and hardcore comedy with equal aplomb. In a way, a lot of his fine characters do a more important job than making people feel seen on-screen, they reflect the kind of people individuals would want in their lives, although you’d never want even the sight of Mickey beyond his presence in Natural Born Killers- such is the range.

Today, the luminous veteran turns 62, and as a celebration of his rich body of work that is sure to have a legacy in the near future, here are his eight top films, according to the critical consensus database of Rotten Tomatoes.

8. The Messenger (2009) | RT Score: 90%

The Messenger was the feature directorial debut of Israeli ex-journalist and writer Oren Moverman (he later made Rampart with Harrelson in 2011) and is a worthy and focused war drama with a strong sentimental core. The film tells the story of a US Army Staff Sergeant named Will Montgomery, who has returned home from Iraq to convey the news of the fallen soldiers to their respective families. In the film, Harrelson plays Captain Tony Stone, who serves as the war veteran mentor to Ben Foster’s Will.

Harrelson was praised for living up to the difficulty of playing a recovering alcoholic frustrated by the strain and indignity of his job, meanwhile trying to be an effective partner in schooling the young Will on ways of maintaining a certain emotional distance from the family members of the dead army men. For his performance, he earned both Academy Award and Golden Globe nominations for Best Supporting Actor. The film was also nominated for the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay. The critical consensus for the film reads, “A dark but timely subject is handled deftly by writer/director Owen Moverman and superbly acted by Woody Harrelson and Ben Foster.”

7. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (2013) | RT Score: 90%

Woody Harrelson -The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (2013)

The Hunger Games trilogy of fantastical dystopia is three of the most prominent works of young-adult literature, written in the late 2000s by American novelist Suzanne Collins. Much like the original novels, the three films, each of them divisive in ways small and big, need little introduction, in part due to their popularity and also because of the unmistakable visual appeal they hold. The adaptation of the second part, Catching Fire, is the most well-received of these films, in which Francis Lawrence takes over the directorial duties from Gary Ross, who directed the first film to a mixed reception.

The result was the highest-grossing film of the film series. In this one, Woody Harrelson plays Haymitch Abernathy. Here too, like Tony Scott in The Messenger, his role is of a mentor to the protagonist Katniss Everdeen (played by Jennifer Lawrence) and Peeta Mellark (played by Josh Hutcherson) since Haymitch is a veteran player and a former Hunger Games winner from the District 12. His performance went under the radar, but he plays a small role with utmost sincerity. The critical consensus for the film says, “Smart, smoothly directed, and enriched with a deeper exploration of the franchise’s thought-provoking themes, Catching Fire proves a thoroughly compelling second installment in the Hunger Games series.”

6. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (2017) | RT Score: 90%

Martin McDonagh’s Three Billboards was one of the first films, along with Bong Joon-Ho’s Parasite, that encouraged me to take up film watching seriously, which makes these films personal to me, their flaws notwithstanding. This compelling crime drama registered well critically and won an admirable number of accolades, including a Best Picture Oscar nomination and a Best Supporting Actor nomination for Woody Harrelson, who plays one of his best characters in the film. As Sheriff Bill Willoughby, who is the local chief of police in this fictional town wildly accused by the protagonist Mildred Hayes (played excellently by Frances McDormand) for not doing enough to catch the rapist and killer of her daughter, he exercises completely admirable restraint and pulls off an honest performance.

The film itself deserves to be watched for the nuance with which it treats the core issue at hand instead of subjecting it to victimization. McDormand even won the Best Actress Oscar for the film, and although Rockwell was the one who actually got away with the Best Supporting Actor award, it is Harrelson who truly stayed with me from the film. The critical consensus to it says, “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri deftly balances black comedy against searing drama — and draws unforgettable performances from its veteran cast along the way.”

5. TransSiberian (2008) | RT Score: 91%

Woody Harrelson - TransSiberian (2008)

Directed by Brad Anderson (who also directed Christian Bale in The Machinist), Transsiberian is a taut psychological thriller that puts you right into the shoes of our protagonist, and the protagonist here has the leading turn and commanding energy of Woody Harrelson! Harrelson plays Roy, a good-to-go and typical naïve American tourist traveling on a train from China to Moscow with his wife, Jessie. A train enthusiast, Roy is quick to befriend their cabin mates, a Spanish man named Carlos and his Seattle-born girlfriend, Abby.

Although Emily Mortimer and Ben Kingsley were praised more for their individual standout performances, Woody Harrelson also received a lot of acclaim for rising up to the challenge of cleverly playing out what is basically the stereotype of a train-enthusiast and amiable American husband unexpectedly caught in a web of things that can go as wrong as deception and murder, staying true to the overall tone and texture of the film. The critical consensus for the film says, “Traditional in form yet effective in execution, this taut thriller updates the “danger on a train” scenario with atmospheric sense.”

Read More: 8 Best Movies of Willem Dafoe According to Rotten Tomatoes

4. No Country for Old Men (2007) | RT Score: 93%

The Coen brothers are often called the best or the most talented directorial duo of all time in American cinema especially, and No Country for Old Men is, more often than not, considered to be their masterpiece. The film is the prime example of a literary adaptation done exceedingly well, based on the 2005 novel of the same name written by the late Cormac McCarthy. Although following the beats of the original story, it explores and exploits the themes of circumstances, destiny, and self like only the classic work by Coens, such as Raising Arizona and Blood Simple, have done. It is also considered one of the first neo-westerns to have stepped out of the classic Western cinema periphery.

The Best Picture-winning film had three other Oscar wins out of the eight it was nominated for, and Javier Bardem took the Best Supporting Actor trophy home as well. But Woody Harrelson is also prominently unforgettable as the gritty Carson Wells, a hitman who has previously worked with Anton Chigurh and so has the distinction of being one of the select few people (read: the only character) who truly understands Chigurh and is, in fact, a sally version of him. He perfectly brings the unique persona of Carson to life, and it has often been felt that he was not appreciated enough for his performance because the film itself is such a towering work of art. The critical consensus for the film says, “Bolstered by powerful lead performances from Javier Bardem, Josh Brolin, and Tommy Lee Jones, No Country for Old Men finds the Coen brothers spinning cinematic gold out of Cormac McCarthy’s grim, darkly funny novel.”

3. The Edge of Seventeen (2016) | RT Score: 94%

The Edge of Seventeen (2016) Woody Harrelson

Kelly Fermon Craig’s feature directorial debut, The Edge of Seventeen, is so literary, compassionate, sensitive, and outright spunky in its exploration of a teenager’s journey of realizations that cloud her coming-of-age journey that it would be no exaggeration to say that it was one of the sweetest and the most personal films of the last decade, watching which was akin to living the journey of its protagonist Nadine Franklin, a teenager as exhaustive as those from this breed can get, yet identifiable for the exact same reason.

In the film, Woody Harrelson plays Mr. Bruce, a funny, wise, and mature schoolteacher to whom Nadine keeps returning in the hope of some insight or some nasty comment or two. In what is my favorite performance by him, he plays Bruce with such outstanding reserve and honesty that you are bound to either laugh heartily or have this slight, knowing smile on your face- the kind of character-driven performance that totally knows the feeling it wants to extract from you. The film was especially praised for its effortlessly light touch to its themes and the superb leading performance by Hailee Stanfield. The critical consensus says, “The Edge of Seventeen’s sharp script — and Hailee Steinfeld’s outstanding lead performance — make this more than just another coming-of-age dramedy.”

2. War for the Planet of the Apes (2017) | RT Score: 94%

Before the world got to know him up close as the director of the latest Batman movie starring Robert Pattinson, Matt Reeves was known to have directed the second as well as this third film of the Planet of the Apes franchise, often considered the best of the three films. The film was praised for being an immediately gripping and focused action film with a stunning sense of atmosphere and fantastically written stretches of pure adrenaline and intelligent action.

In the film, Woody Harrelson plays The Colonel, who is the leading human character of the film and also the film’s main antagonist. As the name indicates, he is a military colonel who has waged a war against Caesar (played by Andy Serkis) and his army of the apes. The film received an Academy Award nomination for Best Visual Effects and is an effective popcorn entertainer for the ages. The critical consensus for the film says, “War for the Planet of the Apes combines breathtaking special effects and a powerful, poignant narrative to conclude this rebooted trilogy on a powerful — and truly blockbuster — note.”

1. Nanking (2007) | RT Score: 96%

nanking (2007)

An American documentary about an Asian issue might feel overarching and even problematic on the surface, but Bill Guttentag and Dan Sturman’s piercing and dramatically powerful observation of the 1937 Nanjing Massacre in the form of a story is utterly convincing. The film also takes fictional recreation cues to build on the stories as they have been told by the archive footage and voiceovers. Woody Harrelson delivers a committed and excellent little voice acting as Robert O. Wilson, the last surgeon left to care for victims.

Although severely underseen and even underheard of as a documentary, it is considered one of the pinnacles of American cinema in what it brings to its screenplay and how writing is important to this medium as much as it is to fiction, in an exemplary sense. The critical consensus to the film says, “This powerful and horrific documentary brings the atrocities committed at Nanking to light without sugarcoating any of the brutality.”

Read More: Champions (2023) Movie Ending Explained: Does Marcus leave The Friends to go coach his NBA team?

Similar Posts