Brendan Fraser is accustomed to being underestimated Until recently, he was never looked at as that kind of actor – the kind that’s considered a major contender during awards season. That all changed thanks to his seminal Oscar-winning performance in “The Whale” (from director Darren Aronofsky). But the truth is that he’s been a quality actor for a long time, and if his Big Moment wasn’t necessarily inevitable, it was perhaps overdue.
The actor who was born on December 3, 1968 in Indianapolis, Indiana has been best known until now for starring in the “The Mummy” franchise. But Fraser has been a consistent presence on screens big and small for three decades, going back to his days headlining agreeably lowbrow comedies like “Encino Man” from 1992 and “Airheads” in [94. He also had a role in a Best Picture Oscar winner (2004’s “Crash”) and a pair of dramas that drew universal critical praise (“Gods and Monsters” from 1998 and “The Quiet American” from 2002). If Fraser ran into a bit of a slump over the past 15 years or so, that only helps make his story in 2022-23 all the more consequential. He’s certainly earned the moniker The Comeback Kid.
Tour our ranked photo gallery of Fraser’s 15 best films and see if you agree.
15. ENCINO MAN (1992)
Director: Les Mayfield.
Writers: Schepps, George Zaloom.
Starring Brendan Fraser, Sean Astin, Pauly Shore.
Fraser plays a caveman trapped in the ice for eons who is thawed out by a couple of dolts (Astin, Shore) after finding him in their backyard and decide to give him the grand tour of their neighborhood in this dumbbell comedy that’s not without its charm. It demonstrates the young Brendan’s ability to showcase his physical comedy side, since in fact his dialogue is pretty minimal. A great flick to see if you’re in high school and a little stoned. Or even a lot stoned.
14. AIRHEADS (1994)
Director: Michael Lehmann.
Writer: Rich Wilkes.
Starring Brendan Fraser, Steve Buscemi, Adam Sandler, Chris Farley.Michael McKean, Judd Nelson, Ernie Hudson.
You might think of “Airheads” as “The King of Comedy” for the young stoner crowd. It follows a somewhat similar plotline to that Martin Scorsese film, featuring Fraser, Buscemi and Sandler as three young rockers who can’t get anyone to listen to their demo recording. So they arm themselves with squirt guns and hold a rock radio station hostage. It sounds ridiculous – and it is – but the movie is not without its charm. And Fraser, as Chazz, is the most charming of all.
13. GIMME SHELTER (2013)
Writer/Director: Ronald Krauss.
Starring Vanessa Hudgens, Rosario Dawson, Brendan Fraser, James Earl Jones.
Based on a true story, this surprisingly moving, if sometimes heavy-handed, drama stars Hudgens as a tough, troubled teenager who runs away to escape her abusive, drug-addicted mother (Dawson) in search of her Wall Street broker father (Fraser). As the dad, Fraser is a center of stability in as world of chaos, both in his character and his performance. It demonstrates that he’s come a long way from playing monosyllabic cavemen.
12. NO SUDDEN MOVE (2021)
Director: Steven Soderbergh.
Writer: Ed Solomon.
Starring Don Cheadle, Benicio del Toro, David Harbour, Jim Hamm, Brendan Fraser.
Yes, Brendan Fraser was part of the cast of a Steven Soderbergh movie. Surprise! This one came out in 2021 as his lead-up to “The Whale.” It’s a crime drama that tells the tale of three career criminals (Cheadle, del Toro, Harbour) who need to figure out what to do next when things go south. Fraser portrays a recruiter who is at the center of the crime and shows himself to be majorly sinister, showing another side to his performing talents that many didn’t know he had.
11. WITH HONORS (1994)
Director: Alek Keshishian.
Writer: William Mastrosimone.
Starring Joe Pesci, Brendan Fraser, Moira Kelly, Patrick Dempsey, Josh Hamilton, Gore Vidal.
An early opportunity for Fraser to show his heart-off-gold side, in “With Honors” he portrays Monty, a Harvard student who drops his printed thesis down a grate after his computer crashes. It’s found by a homeless man (Pesci) who will give him one page per day that Monty feeds and houses him. If it sounds a little forced, it actually isn’t, and Fraser;s performance is winning sensitive and complex. He elevates a movie that could have been a bomb in lesser hands.
10. CRASH (2004)
Writers: Haggis, Bobby Moresco.
Starring Don Cheadle, Sandra Bullock, Thandiwe Newton, Matt Dillon, Brendan Fraser, Jennifer Esposito, Terrence Howard.
If you saw “Crash” – and who didn’t? – you remember who Fraser played because he stood out even among the Best Picture-winning film’s giant ensemble. He played Rick, the Los Angeles District Attorney married to Bullock’s character Jean, who had just suffered a carjacking after leavin g dinner. Their moment together is brief but powerful. He more than holds his own among an extraordinary cast and a film packed with intertwining storylines and pulsating intensity.
9. BEDAZZLED (2000)
Director: Harold Ramis.
Writers: Larry Gelbart, Peter Tolan, Ramis, Peter Cook, Dudley Moore.
Starring Brendan Fraser, Elizabeth Hurley, Frances O’Connor.
Talk about a production pedigree. Gelbart *(“M*A*S*H”) and Tolan “(The Larry Sanders Show,” “Rescue Me”) were writers and Ramis (“Groundhog Day,” “Caddyshack”) directed this romantic comedy that cast Fraser as a nerdy IT worker who is granted seven wishes by a fetchingly sexy version of Satan (Hurley) – all to gain the attention of a co-worker (O’Connor). Fraser is appropriately charming, and the concept is played out with cleverness and panache.
8. THE MUMMY RETURNS (2001)
Writer/Director: Stephen Sommers.
Starring Brendan Fraser, Rachel Weisz, John Hannah, Dwayne Johnson.
Yep, the Mummy’s back. You didn’t expect him to be gone forever, did you> Not when there’s sequel riches to be mined. Truth is, you can’t keep a good mummy down. In this second of the “Mummy” trilogy, Fraser again shows himself to be a dynamic action star, blending his comedic charisma with nimble physical gifts to elevate a fairly straight-ahead fantasy-adventure saga. And as a bonus, we get some early work by a fellow named Dwayne Johnson.
7. STILL BREATHING (1997)
Writer/Director: James F. Robinson.
Starring Brendan Fraser, Joanna Going, Lou Rawls.
A romantic drama that carries a bit of an “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” vibe, casting Fraser as a Texas puppeteer who has the same dream as a Los Angeles con artist (Going) whom he meets and befriends. He travels to L.A. to bond with her, only to have her screw with his head. All is not as it appears on the surface in “Still Breathing,” which shows Fraser’s impressive range and willingness to embrace feature ideas that are decidedly atypical. He throws himself in here with believable gusto.
6. SCHOOL TIES (1992)
Director: Robert Mandel.
Writers: Dick Wolf, Darryl Ponicsan.
Starring Brendan Fraser, Matt Damon, Chris O’Donnell, Randall Batinkoff, Cole Hauser, Ben Affleck, Anthony Rapp, Amy Locane.
Perhaps even more timely in 2022 that it was 30 years ago, “School Ties” deals with antisemitism. It casts Fraser as a student at an elite New England prep school who is obligated to keep his Jewishness a secret from his classmates. It features terrific performances not only from Fraser but from the extremely youthful Damon, Affleck and O’Donnell. While the plot and its execution isn’t necessarily unique, the purposefulness and passion with which the star acquits himself is. intense.
5. BLAST FROM THE PAST (1999)
Director: Hugh Wilson.
Writers: Bill Kelly, Wilson.
Starring Brendan Fraser, Alicia Silverstone, Christopher Walken, Sissy Spacek, Dave Foley.
Another high-concept film, this comedy with dramatic elements benefits from clever writing and brilliant casting. Fraser stars as a man who has spent the first 35 years of his life living in an underground fallout shelter with his family, headed by an eccentric doomsday farther (Walken). Now, he must integrate into a complex world he can’t even begin to understand. What makes it all work is Fraser’s utterly earnest delivery, which turns every line.
4. THE QUIET AMERICAN (2002)
Director: Phillip Noyce.
Writers: Christopher Hampton, Robert Schenkkan from the novel by Graham Greene.
Starring Michael Caine, Brendan Fraser, Thi Hai Yen Do.
This may be Fraser’s most impressive acting work leading up to “The Whale.” In the film adapted from the Greene novel, set in Saigon during the Vietnam War, expats Thomas Fowler (Caine) and Aiden Pyle (Fraser) both fall for the same beautiful Vietnamese woman (Thi Hai Yen Do). One is pretty old, one pretty young. Fraser and Caine pack a surprising chemistry, and equally impressive, Fraser totally holds his own working opposite a two-time Oscar winner. “The Quiet American” is also a roundly entertaining and thought-provoking film.
3. THE MUMMY (1999)
Director: Stephen Sommers.
Writers: Lloyd Fonvielle, Kevin Jarre, Sommers.
Starring Brendan Fraser, Rachel Weisz, John Hannah.
“The Mummy” is a great thrill-ride of a motion picture, a fun and frolicking, rousing and suspenseful flick that Fraser drives charmingly with his acting smarts and charisma. If you watch it today, the film itself hasn’t necessarily aged all that well, but the actor’s performance has. It’s underrated. You can tell Fraser is having the time of his life, and the audience is powerless not to adore him. He’s funny and rollicking and totally badass macho and about as different from his character in “The Whale” as an actor can be.
2. GODS AND MONSTERS (1998)
Director: Bill Condon.
Writer: Condon from the novel by Christopher Bram.
Starring Ian McKellan, Brendan Fraser, Lynn Redgrave, Lolita Davidovich, David Dukes, Kevin J. O’Connor.
Much as he was able to keep his presence felt working opposite Michael Caine, Fraser does the same with the masterful McKellen in “Gods and Monsters,” which tells the story of the sad last days of James Whale, the director of 1931’s “Frankenstein.” Fraser turns in a stellar performance as Clayton Boone, a somewhat homophobic landscaper as well as former Marine and Korean War vet. McKellan is his usual magnetic self and Redgrave lends potent support in a movie that, in ’98, showed Fraser to be much more than just another pretty comedic face.
1. THE WHALE (2022)
Director: Darren Aronofsky.
Writer: Samuel D. Hunter.
Starring Brendan Fraser, Hong Chau, Sadie Sink, Samantha Morton, Ty Simpkins.
Fraser has been rightfully touted as an Oscar favorite for his performance in director Aronofsky’s “The Whale” as Charlie, a 600-pound gay man struggling to reconnect with his estranged teenage daughter and find a measure of peace and redemption before it’s too late. In advance of the film’s release on December 9, the actor has received prolonged standing ovations wherever the movie has screened, boding well for s big payoff during awards season.