This year Antonio Banderas could win his first Emmy for “Genius: Picasso.” He stars in the second season of NatGeo’s anthology series as famed Spanish surrealist painter Pablo Picasso. Banderas previously competed for Best Movie/Mini Actor for “And Starring Pancho Villa as Himself” in 2004. But of course, most of Banderas’ best known work has been in film, not television. In honor of his latest small-screen achievement, let’s take a look back at some of his best big-screen performances. Tour through our photo gallery above of Banderas’ 12 greatest films, ranked from worst to best.
Banderas made his film debut over three decades ago in 1982, in Pedro Almodovar‘s “Labyrinth of Passion.” The actor would become a frequent leading man for the Spanish auteur, later appearing in such films as “Matador” (1986), “Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown” (1988), “Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!” (1990), “The Skin I Live In” (2011), and “I’m So Excited!” (2013).
He made his English-language acting debut with “The Mambo Kings” (1992) a decade after his first film with Almodovar. Then his performances in “Evita” (1996) and “The Mask of Zorro” (1998) brought him Golden Globe nominations for Best Film Comedy/Musical Actor. He reaped a third Globe nom as Best TV Movie/Mini Actor for “Pancho Villa.” Surprisingly, though, he has never competed at the Oscars despite over three decades of film work.
Take a look through our gallery of Banderas’ greatest films. Which do you think he should’ve received Oscar nominations for?
12. ‘Desperado’ (1995)
Banderas first collaborated with Robert Rodriguez in this loose followup to the director’s indie breakout “El Mariachi” (1992). He plays a gunslinger embroiled in a war with Bucho (Joaquim de Almeida), a violent drug runner. Along the way he starts a romance with Carolina (Salma Hayek), the beautiful bookstore owner who’s more than she appears to be. Like most Rodriguez films, “Desperado” is highly entertaining while being substantially empty, like a big budget grindhouse movie. Rodriguez, Banderas, and Hayek would later reunite for the sequel “Once Upon a Time in Mexico” (2003).
11. ‘Femme Fatale’ (2002)
Banderas collaborated with Brian DePalma for this sly, sexy film noir tribute. Rebecca Romijn stars as Lauren Ashe, an icy Hitchcock blonde who steals $10 million worth of diamonds off the body of a supermodel at the Cannes Film Festival. As she tries to avoid capture, she keeps running into a paparazzo named Nicolas Bardo (Banderas) who continuously snaps her photo at the most inopportune times. “Femme Fatale” is high on style, with a convoluted plot that doubles and triples back on itself, while Romijn and Banderas have an erotic chemistry so steamy you can practically feel the sweat dripping off the screen.
10. ‘Spy Kids’ (2002)
If you’re a millennial, chances are you got your introduction to Banderas in this Robert Rodriguez family adventure film. He stars as Gregorio Cortez, a retired spy living with his wife – fellow former spy Ingrid (Carla Gugino) – and their kids (Alexa Vega and Daryl Sabara). When they’re called back into action, it’s up to the children to rescue their parents from the evil Felix Floop (Alan Cumming). The film’s success spawned three sequels, but none could match the fun and spontaneity of the first, which remains an entertaining yarn for viewers of all ages.
9. ‘Interview with the Vampire’ (1994)
Banderas sent chills down our spines as a debonaire bloodsucker in Neil Jordan’s adaptation of the Anne Rice bestseller. The film follows 200-year-old Louis de Pointe du Lac (Brad Pitt) as he recounts his life of vampirism to a San Francisco journalist (Christian Slater). His story begins in New Orleans in the late 1700s, where fellow night-stalker Lestat (Tom Cruise) first sinks his teeth into poor Louis’ neck. His centuries-long journey takes him to Paris, where he encounters Armand (Banderas) and Santiago (Stephen Rea), who run a secret underground society of vampires. “Interview with the Vampire” is mournful, operatic, and scary as hell. The film received Oscar nominations for its lavish production design and score.
8. ‘Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown’ (1988)
Banderas is a bit of an art house fixture through his frequent collaborations with Pedro Almodovar, the cult filmmaker who became an international name with “Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown.” The film stars Carmen Maura as a TV actress who takes a deadly combination of sleeping pills and gazpacho after her boyfriend, Ivan (Fernando Guillen), leaves her. Luckily, a series of events puts her suicide attempt on hold, including the arrival of her ex-lover’s son Carlos (Banderas). “Women” introduced American audiences to Almodovar’s unique blend of lurid melodrama and screwball comedy. The film received Oscar, Golden Globe, and BAFTA nominations as Best Foreign Language Film.
7. ‘The Mambo Kings’ (1992)
Arne Glimcher’s “The Mambo Kings” tells the story of two brothers – Cesar (Armand Assante) and Nestor (Banderas) – who flee Cuba in the 1950s for America to strike it big as musicians. Luckily, the two are really good singers. As Nestor, Banderas creates a brooding songwriter who can’t get over the woman who broke his heart in Havana, a stark contrast to his skirt-chasing older brother. The film is best known for its Oscar, Golden Globe, and Grammy nominated song “Beautiful Maria of My Soul,” and is of special note for being Banderas’ first English-language film role.
6. ‘The Skin I Live In’ (2011)
The working relationship between Banderas and Pedro Almodovar remains a gift that keeps on giving. In “The Skin I Live In,” Banderas gives one of his best performances as Dr. Robert Ledgard, a brilliant plastic surgeon with a haunted past who has created a synthetic skin that can withstand any kind of damage. His guinea pig is a mysterious and volatile woman (Elena Anaya) who has played a key role in his inner pain. As the story takes one shocking twist after another, “The Skin I Live In” becomes a cinematic experience you won’t likely forget. Despite receiving a Golden Globe nomination and winning the BAFTA as Best Foreign Language Film, the film was snubbed at the Oscars.
5. ‘Once Upon a Time in Mexico’ (2003)
Robert Rodriguez wrapped up his Mexico Trilogy (which began with “El Mariachi” and “Desperado”) with this highly entertaining spaghetti western tribute. Banderas reprises his role as El Mariachi, a hitman who become entangled in international espionage when a psychotic CIA agent (Johnny Depp) recruits him to kill a Mexican drug lord (Willem Dafoe) planning to assassinate the President of Mexico. At the same time, he’s seeking revenge against a corrupt general who killed his wife (Salma Hayek) and daughter. The film hits the ground running and never pauses for a breath, making for a rollicking and brainless good time.
4. ‘Evita’ (1996)
Banderas got to show off his musical theater chops in Alan Parker’s big screen adaptation of the Broadway classic. The film recounts the true story of Eva Peron (Madonna), a B-movie actress who married Argentinian president Juan Peron (Jonathan Pryce). Banderas plays Che, an everyman who acts as narrator, allowing the actor to assume different roles throughout the story. Despite receiving a Golden Globe nomination as Best Comedy/Musical Actor, Banderas was snubbed at the Oscars. He shouldn’t feel too bad, though: Madonna won the Globe as Best Comedy/Musical Actress over eventual Oscar-victor Frances McDormand (“Fargo”), but was noticeably absent from the Academy lineup.
3. ‘Philadelphia’ (1993)
Jonathan Demme’s “Philadelphia” came out at the height of the AIDS crisis, at a time when many Americans kept themselves blissfully ignorant about the deadly disease. Tom Hanks won a Best Actor Oscar for playing Andrew Beckett, a gay lawyer dying from AIDS who hires an ambulance-chasing attorney (Denzel Washington) to defend him in a wrongful dismissal suit against his former law firm. Banderas costars as Miguel, Andrew’s faithful lover. The film went a long way in opening audience’s eyes to the effects of AIDS, generating empathy for its victims and survivors.
2. ‘Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!’ (1990)
Of all the collaborators Banderas has had throughout his career, no one has utilized the actor’s unique talent quite like Spanish auteur Pedro Almodovar. In “Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!,” the two create one of their most bizarre, delectable melodramas. Banderas plays Ricky, an unbalanced former mental patient who takes a beautiful porn star (Victoria Abril) prisoner in the hopes that she’ll marry him. Thirty years onward, “Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!” remains a provocative, sexy, and hilarious examination of Stockholm syndrome. The film received multiple Goya nominations – including Best Film, Best Director, Best Actor, and Best Actress – but was overlooked by the Academy.
1. ‘The Mask of Zorro’ (1998)
With all due respect to Douglas Fairbanks, Tyrone Power, Guy Williams, and George Hamilton, the best actor to ever wield the blade of Zorro is Antonio Banderas. In Martin Campbell’s adventure flick, Banderas dons the iconic black mask and cape of the 19th vigilante in an origin story that finds him being trained by an aging Zorro (Anthony Hopkins) to take over for him. Together, they plan to bring down an evil land baron (Stuart Wilson), but not before the young hero can romance the bad guy’s beautiful daughter (Catherine Zeta-Jones). Banderas brings just the right sly wit and charm to the role, a throwback to old Hollywood swashbucklers of yore. He received a Golden Globe nomination as Best Comedy/Musical Actor for the film, yet was overlooked at the Oscars.
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