Ethan Hawke movies: 14 greatest films, ranked worst to best, include ‘Boyhood,’ ‘Training Day,’ ‘First Reformed’

It’s hard to believe, but four-time Academy Award nominee Ethan Hawke has celebrated over three decades in the film business. Hawke made his film debut in Joe Dante‘s 1985 film, “Explorers” and 33 years later has received some of the best reviews of his career for 2018’s “First Reformed,” which is currently playing in theaters across the country.

Although an accomplished Tony-nominated stage actor, Hawke is primarily celebrated for his work in movies. He is one of the few performers who has been a double Oscar nominee in both the acting category (“Training Day” and “Boyhood”) and writing (“Before Sunrise” and “Before Midnight”). Hawke has also been nominated for two Screen Actors Guild Awards (“Training Day” and “Boyhood”), as well as a Golden Globe nod for “Boyhood.”

Unquestionably, Hawke’s most notable film collaborations have been with writer/director Richard Linklater, who had the ability to bring out something extra in him. In three “Before” films — “Before Sunrise” (1995), “Before Sunset” (2004) and “Before Midnight” (2013) — Hawke broke hearts all over the world as Jesse with his relationship with Julie Delpy‘s Céline. And in “Boyhood,” he managed to sustain and grow a character over 12 years. And both Hawke and Delpy even lent their voices to Linklater’s rotoscope animated film, “Waking Life.”

With Hawke’s performance in “First Reformed” garnering critical accolades, let’s book back and rank from worst to best his greatest 14 films in the photo gallery above.

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14. GATTACA (1997)
In Andrew Niccol‘s futuristic sci-fi film, Hawke portrays Vincent, a man who was conceived outside of the commonly-used genetics system that is used to distinguish between “valids” (citizens whose genes qualify them for professional jobs) and in-valids (who are relegated to menial work). Vincent is an in-valid, but anxious to move up in the world, takes hair, blood and urine samples from a paralyzed valid in order to pass as one himself.

13. WAKING LIFE (2001)
After his collaboration with Linklater in 1995’s “Before Sunrise,” Hawke came back to work with the director for his pioneering leap into the world of rotoscope animation. Hawke was one of several actors who was captured on camera and then drawn over by a team of artists.

12. EXPLORERS (1985)
Hawke made his film debut in this sci-fi fantasy about a trio of kids, played by Hawke (who was 15 when the film was released), River Phoenix (also in his film debut) and Jason Presson, who dream about flying into space, and together they build a spacecraft to do just that. Both Hawke and Phoenix used their fine characterizations here as a springboard to successful film careers.

11. MAUDIE (2016)
Although he often plays witty characters, Hawke took on the role of gruff Canadian fish peddler Everett Lewis, who hires arthritic Maud Dowley (Sally Hawkins) as housekeeper and provides her with room and board in his home. Their professional relationship turns into a romantic one, and Everett and Maud marry. But as Maud begins to become a renowned painter, Everett grows more distant from her.

SEE Ethan Hawke Interview: ‘Maudie’

10. HAMLET (2000)
One of Hawke’s most unusual film challenges was in the title role of Michael Almereyda‘s “Hamlet” from William Shakespeare. “What’s so unusual about playing Hamlet?” you might ask.  For one thing, the story takes place in contemporary New York City, this Hamlet is a film student, and Denmark is the giant business company, Denmark Corporation.

Denzel Washington joined Hawke in being reunited with their “Training Day” director Antoine Fuqua in this remake of the 1957 western classic. Washington and his co-star Chris Pratt got the lion’s share of the focus among the cast, but look out for Hawke as former Confederate marksman Goodnight “Goody” Robicheaux. Not only does Hawke bring great character work to the role, but he displays some mad gun-handling skills as well.

In Ben Stiller‘s popular romantic comedy, Hawke portrays Troy Dyer, who is a bit of a washout employment-rise, and now works as a guitarist in a coffeehouse. Troy crosses paths with aspiring filmmaker Lelaina Pierce (Winona Ryder) who is filming a documentary titled “Reality Bites” about his disenchanted friends. Though they are attracted to one another, Lelaina’s work becomes a priority, and they part, only to come back into each other’s lives.

In this final film directed by the legendary Sidney Lumet, Hawke is paired with Philip Seymour Hoffman as brothers both in desperate need of money who join forces to rob their parents’ jewelry store. In this team Hank (Hawke) is the dim bulb in the plan, leaving things to his stronger older brother (Hoffman).

6. BORN TO BE BLUE (2015)
Probably the least known of Hawke’s best films, Robert Budreau‘s biography of jazz trumpeter Chet Baker is an impressionistic look at Baker’s life, warts and all. Budreau focuses on Baker’s (Hawke) attempt at a comeback, even though he’s still a heroin addict. Hawke bravely portrays Baker as a scared yet arrogant musician, living only to play the trumpet and shoot up.

Although most moviegoers look back on “Dead Poets Society” as “The Robin Williams Show” (and it is), Peter Weir‘s film also gave its supporting actors, such as Hawke and Robert Sean Leonard. And in many ways, the storyline arc is not about Williams’ teacher as it is about the young men in his class. Hawke’s Todd Anderson, gives the audience fresh eyes where we get a first glimpse of Welton Academy. Hawke deftly carries his character arc from being a wide-eyed new student to the leader of the “O Captain! My Captain!” salute to his teacher.

Writer/director Paul Schrader made a notable return to form in his latest release about Rev. Ernst Toller (Hawke). He is a pastor of a dying tourist-trap church who undergoes a crisis of faith and despair when he tries to offer religious counsel to a tormented parishioner, who turns out to be far more troubled that the padre realizes. This is one of Hawke’s very best performances, slow-walking Rev. Toller’s descent from pastoral comforting to the edge of madness. (This is Paul Schrader, after all.)

3. THE BEFORE…series (1995, 2004, 2013)
Linklater had not intended his first “Before” film, “Before Sunrise” (1995) to be the first of a trilogy, but audiences so warmed to young American Jesse (Hawke) and French student Céline (Delpy) in their overnight walking tour of Vienna that Linklater knew that there had to be more. In 2004’s “Before Sunset,” Jesse has become a successful writer and Céline an environmental activist. And in 2013’s “Before Midnight,” Jesse and Céline have finally become a couple, but their marriage is soon threatened.  For co-writing “Before Sunset,” Hawke earned his second Academy Award nomination, and for co-writing “Before Midnight,” he earned his third.

2. TRAINING DAY (2001)
Hawke received his first Oscar nomination for his performance for his portrayal of Jake Hoyt, an LAPD narcotics officer who is being paired up corrupt cop Alonzo Harris (Denzel Washington in his Oscar-winning performance). Jake wants to learn the ropes from Alonzo for their patrols in South Central, but he soon comes to realize just how corrupt his partner and has to decide whether he turns Alonzo in before he brings down Jake with him.

1. BOYHOOD (2014)
One of Hawke’s most lasting achievements would have to be his performance as Mason Sr., a performance that took over 12 years to film. Hawke’s role had to be one of the most challenging imaginable — returning to the same role year after year and gauging where his character had been last year and where he is at today without showing the seams.

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