A few years ago, after a few rough battles with the press and paparazzi and the cancellation of his MSNBC talk show, Alec Baldwin penned a much-publicized article announcing he’d be leaving “public life.” Baldwin seems to have reconsidered that departure and has been all over the media this last year, most recently appearing in the popular 2018 films “BlacKkKlansman,” “Mission Impossible: Fallout” and “A Star Is Born,” as well as the 2019 release “Motherless Brooklyn.” On the small screen, he appeared in the limited series “The Looming Tower,” recreated his recurring role on the reboot of “Will and Grace” and hosted “Match Game.”
Most notably Baldwin continued his appearances on “Saturday Night Live” lampooning Donald Trump. He made so many appearances in 2017 that he won an Emmy as Best Comedy Supporting Actor, his third career prize after his two leading wins for “30 Rock.”
On the film side, Baldwin earned Oscar, Golden Globe, SAG and Critics Choice nominations for his supporting turn in “The Cooler” (2003). He reaped subsequent SAG Ensemble bids for his roles in two Martin Scorsese films: “The Aviator” (2004) and “The Departed” (2006).
Prior to making it big, Baldwin dropped out of college to take a role on a soap opera, which led to other appearances on TV most notably as a regular on the TV series “Knots Landing.” After a few more appearances on television and Broadway, he suddenly seemed to be everywhere in 1988 appearing in five major films. Controversy always seemed to follow him though. Baldwin and his future wife Kim Basinger made headlines on the set of a Neil Simon comedy called “The Marrying Man,” where the two clashed with the film’s personnel and infamously told pioneering comedic playwright Simon that he didn’t understand comedy.
Tour our photo gallery of his 15 greatest movie performances, ranked from worst to best. Our list includes “Glengarry Glen Ross,” “The Cooler,” “Beetlejuice,” “The Hunt for Red October,” “Blue Jasmine” and more.
15. IT’S COMPLICATED (2009)
Director and writer: Nancy Meyers. Starring Meryl Streep, Steve Martin, John Krasinski.
Writer director Nancy Meyers had a huge success and helped earn Diane Keaton an Oscar nomination for her middle age love story “Something’s Gotta Give.” This film was made in the same vein with Meryl Streep and Baldwin playing a divorced couple who get involved again much to the dismay of their adult children. The affair jeopardizes Streep’s real chance at a meaningful relationship with the character played by Steve Martin.
14. WORKING GIRL (1988)
Director: Mike Nichols. Writer: Kevin Wade. Starring Harrison Ford, Sigourney Weaver, Joan Cusack.
After success on television Baldwin was suddenly all over the big screen in 1988 with no less than five supporting roles in major films. One of those movies was the highly successful “Working Girl” which was a Best Picture Oscar nominee. Baldwin played the boyfriend of the lead character who resents her ambition to better herself through her career.
13. THE AVIATOR (2004)
Director: Martin Scorsese. Writer: John Logan. Starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Cate Blanchett, Alan Alda.
As Baldwin’s stints on Turner Classic Movies show, he is a true fan of classic films so getting the opportunity to appear in a film that displays a lot of early Hollywood as well as work with Martin Scorsese was a great joy for him. He plays Juan Trippe in the film documents Howard Hughes’ movie making days plus his aviation endeavors. Trippe was a pioneer in the world of aviation and founded Pan Am Airways.
12. STILL ALICE (2014)
Directors and writers: Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland. Starring Julianne Moore, Kristen Stewart, Kate Bosworth.
After four losing nominations Julianne Moore finally won an Oscar as Best Actress for this story of a college professor who finds out that she is suffering from early onset Alzheimer’s disease. Baldwin plays her doctor husband who is more focused on his own career advancement than he is on his wife’s degenerating health.
11. THE DEPARTED (2006)
Director: Martin Scorsese. Writer: William Monahan. Starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon, Jack Nicholson.
Baldwin reteamed with Scorsese on this crime drama that would finally win Scorsese an Oscar as Best Director and would also take the award for Best Picture. Baldwin plays one of the cops involved in the complex drama which featured and all-star cast including Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon, Jack Nicholson, Martin Sheen and Vera Farmiga. Surprisingly Supporting Actor Mark Wahlberg was the only actor to receive an Oscar nomination.
10. GHOSTS OF MISSISSIPPI (1996)
Director: Rob Reiner. Writer: Lewis Colick. Starring Whoopi Goldberg, James Woods, Virginia Madsen.
This film told the story of the long path it took for law enforcement to prosecute the killer of black civil rights advocate Medgar Evers. Baldwin portrays the crusading district attorney who brought charges against the suspected killer (James Woods in a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nominated role) nearly thirty years after the murder was committed.
9. BEETLEJUICE (1988)
Director: Tim Burton. Writers: Michael McDowell, Warren Skaaren. Starring Michael Keaton, Geena Davis, Winona Ryder.
Baldwin’s first major role in a commercial film was in this highly inventive film from director Tim Burton. A young married couple played by Baldwin and Geena Davis dies in a car accident, but due to inept bureaucracy in the afterlife, they are forced to haunt their old home. In their quest to scare away the new inhabitants of their home they draw on the help of the title character played by Michael Keaton.
8. MALICE (1993)
Director: Harold Becker. Writers: Aaron Sorkin, Scott Frank. Starring Nicole Kidman, Anne Bancroft, George C. Scott.
“Malice” is a strange film. On one hand it features a superb all-star cast with Baldwin and Nicole Kidman excellent in their roles. On the other hand, the film was criticized for being an almost outright rip-off of a television movie called “The Operation” that aired a few years prior. Baldwin does have one of his best leading roles here and plays every patient and lawyer’s nightmare of an arrogant surgeon. His deposition speech where he not only compares a surgeon’s job to God but proclaims he is God is one of the most memorable moments of Baldwin’s career.
7. PRELUDE TO A KISS (1992)
Director: Norman Rene. Writer: Craig Lucas. Starring Meg Ryan, Kathy Bates, Patty Duke.
Baldwin was one of only a few actors who at the height of their film careers continually made time to go back to their roots in the New York theater. Baldwin starred in the original off-Broadway production of this play but would have to relinquish the lead to Timothy Hutton when the play moved to Broadway in order to star in “The Hunt for Red October.” The film tells the story of a young bride who switches bodies with an elderly man at her wedding.
6. MARRIED TO THE MOB (1988)
Director: Jonathan Demme. Writer: Barry Strugatz, Mark R. Burns. Starring Michelle Pfeiffer, Matthew Modine, Dean Stockwell.
Another one of Baldwin’s films in his breakout year of 1988 was this mob comedy from director Jonathan Demme. Baldwin plays Frank “The Cucumber” de Marco a rising star in the mafia until he has an affair with mob don Dean Stockwell’s wife. Baldwin only has a small role in the film but he brings great comic gusto to his lug of a thug and excels in his arguments with his unhappy innocent wife played by Michelle Pfeiffer.
5. MIAMI BLUES (1990)
Director and writer: George Armitage. Starring Fred Ward, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Nora Dunn.
One of Baldwin’s most overlooked films is this excellent story of an ex-con who upon his release from prison immediately kills a person at the airport. He then forms a relationship with a young prostitute played with incredible sweetness and naivety by Jennifer Jason Leigh. Leigh won the New York and Boston Film Critics Circle Awards as Best Supporting Actress for the film but Baldwin is equally compelling.
4. BLUE JASMINE (2013)
Director and writer: Woody Allen. Starring Cate Blanchett, Peter Sarsgaard, Sally Hawkins.
Cate Blanchett won just about every award they give for her role in this quasi remake of “A Streetcar Named Desire” from writer/director Woody Allen. Blanchett plays a pampered New York woman whose husband is arrested for financial crimes forcing her to move in with her lower-class sister and look for a job. Baldwin plays her husband.
3. THE HUNT FOR RED OCTOBER (1990)
Director: John McTiernan. Writers: Larry Ferguson, Donald E. Stewart. Starring Sean Connery, Scott Glenn, James Earl Jones.
Baldwin seemingly had latched on to what could have been a big franchise role when he got the lead role of CIA Analyst Jack Ryan in this film based on a popular Tom Clancy novel. He was later replaced for the sequels by Harrison Ford. At the time Baldwin said he left the role in order to do “A Streetcar Named Desire” on Broadway with Jessica Lange (a performance that would get him a Tony nomination and an Emmy nomination for the subsequent TV movie.) More recently Baldwin wrote an article for the Huffington Post saying he was actually forced out of the role by sleazy Hollywood maneuvering to get a bigger star (Ford) into the role.
2. THE COOLER (2003)
Director: Wayne Kramer. Writers: Frank Hannah, Wayne Kramer. Starring William H. Macy, Maria Bello, Ron Livingston.
Of all his films “The Cooler” is the film that brought Baldwin the most attention during award season. He won the National Board of Review Award for Best Supporting Actor and received an Oscar nomination in that category at the Golden Globes, SAG, and the Oscars. Baldwin plays a violent casino owner to whom the lead character (William H. Macy) is indebted. He now employs him as a “cooler” meaning a person with such bad luck they are paid to sit at a casino table in hopes their bad luck will rub off on potential winners.
1. GLENGARRY GLEN ROSS (1992)
Director: James Foley. Writer: David Mamet. Starring Al Pacino, Ed Harris, Alan Arkin.
Baldwin played the epitome of the awful boss in this adaptation of David Mamet’s Pulitzer Prize winning play. Interestingly Baldwin’s character is one of the most well remembered from the film but the character wasn’t even in the play. The film is the story of a shady real estate firm where the salesmen are forced to sell risky land investments to unqualified buyers and if they don’t meet their quotas they will be fired. Mamet added Baldwin’s role for the film and gave him a menacing abusive harangue he delivers to the hopeless salesmen. The speech includes the now famous quote of “always be closing” which Baldwin demands the salesman adopt as their mantra. Baldwin’s menace combined with him being at the peak of his youthful handsomeness makes him a formidable adversary for the depressed and hopeless salesmen who work under him.