Since leaving the role of boy-wizard extraordinaire Harry Potter, a character that made him a household name, Daniel Radcliffe has played it anything but safe. Rather than going for a quick payday by attaching himself to another lucrative franchise, Radcliffe instead has sought out independent filmmakers, many making their feature debut, for the opportunity to play a wide variety of characters that would expand his range as an actor. And expand it they did, with Radcliffe in his post-“Potter” period portraying characters who range from a video game nerd to a literary giant, an evil billionaire, a South African hero and even a corpse. Try that, Meryl.
Radcliffe didn’t limit himself to films either, as he brought his fearlessness to Manhattan, triumphing in Broadway productions of Peter Shaffer’s “Equus,” Martin McDonagh’s “The Cripple of Inishmaan,” and the legendary musical “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying,” in which he vowed television audiences with his singing and dancing chops at the 2011 Tony Awards. More recently, he won a Critics Choice Award for playing the titular entertainer in Roku’s TV movie “Weird: The Al Yankovic Story.”
With two more indie films in the pipeline and a return to Broadway in a Stephen Sondheim musical ahead, Radcliffe’s fearlessness and remarkable growth as an actor will continue for some time to come. So let’s raise a glass and celebrate the Top 10 Daniel Radcliffe movies, ranked worst to best.
10. GUNS AKIMBO (2019)
Writer/Director: Jason Lei Howden.
Starring Daniel Radcliffe, Samara Weaving, Ned Dennehy, Natasha Liu Bordizzo, Edwin Wright, Rhys Darby.
Radcliffe threw himself completely into the action genre in Jason Lei Howden’s unique take on videogaming. Radcliffe portrays Miles, a geeky coder who, drawn into watching a real-life version of a shoot-and-kill video game, find himself admid the action itself in real life and becomes a target after having two guns screwed into his hands. In a film that is so reliant on frenetic action scenes, it’s extremely challenging for any actor to carve a fully-developed character amid all the frenzy, but Radcliffe manages to do just that, getting the audience on the side of his tech dweeb from the start and never letting go.
9. JUNGLE (2017)
Director: Greg McLean.
Writer: Justin Monjo.
Starring Daniel Radcliffe, Alex Russell, Thomas Kretschmann, Yasmin Kassim, Joel Jackson.
In “Jungle,” Radcliffe fully committed himself, both emotionally and physically, to the grueling role of Yossi Ghinsberg, a real-life Israeli adventurer who set off to Bolivia to explore the Amazon rainforest in 1981. Yossi decides to go deeper into the jungle with several new acquaintances, who either die or abandon him along the way, leaving Yossi alone to fight for his life. At that point, “Jungle” becomes a one-man show, and it’s fascinating to watch Radcliffe dig deep to bring everything out of his character. Though the reviews for “Jungle” were somewhat mixed, Radcliffe earned critical praise for his dedicated performance.
8. ESCAPE FROM PRETORIA (2020)
Director: Francis Annan.
Writers: Francis Annan, L.H. Adams. Starring Daniel Radcliffe, Daniel Webber, Ian Hart, Michael Leonard Winter.
Radcliffe took on the role of another real-life hero in Francis Annan’s prison drama focusing on South African activist Tim Jenkin, one of three political prisoners who devised and pulled off a daring and improbable plan to escape from Pretoria Central Prison in 1979. Not only does Radcliffe nail the challenging South African accent, he captures both Jenkin’s dedication to his anti-apartheid cause and his determination to get out of jail any way he can so that he can continue to spread his message. But Annan never forgets he’s making a genre film, and Radcliffe rises to the challenge of the prison break scenes with aplomb.
7. WHAT IF (2013)
Director: Michael Dowse.
Writer: Elan Mastai.
Starring Daniel Radcliffe, Zoe Kazan, Adam Driver, Megan Park, Mackenzie Davis, Rafe Spall.
Radcliffe took a turn as a romantic comedy lead in Michael Dowse’s rom-com “What If” as Wallace, a med school dropout living in Toronto who has only his best friend Allan (Adam Driver) to whom to turn for advice. After being introduced to his cousin Chantry (Zoe Kazan) at a party, Wallace falls for another woman, Nicole (Mackenzie Davis), who unfortunately is already spoken for. The Wallace/Chandry/Allan/Nicole roundelay leads to unexpected romantic consequences. Radcliffe displays a deft hand at romantic comedy, never sacrificing the comedy for the romance.
6. IMPERIUM (2016)
Writer/Director: Daniel Ragussis.
Starring Daniel Radcliffe, Toni Collette, Tracy Letts, Sam Trammell, Nestor Carbonell, Chris Sullivan.
In a film that is even more scarily relevant today than at its release, Daniel Ragussis’ real-life thriller stars Radcliffe as Nate Foster, an FBI agent who is ordered to go undercover to infiltrate a white nationalist operation. Its leader (Chris Sullivan), who is always looking out for a snitch, nevertheless entrusts Nate with the blueprint for his group’s planned terrorist attack against the Washington D.C. water supply. Radcliffe, with his shaved head and a scary glower transforms himself in a genuinely intimidating figure while never losing the intelligence behind his eyes that Nate is never allowed to show on pain of death.
5. KILL YOUR DARLINGS (2013)
Director: John Krokidas.
Writers: John Krokidas, Austin Bunn.
Starring Daniel Radcliffe, Dale DeHaan, Ben Foster, Michael C. Hall, Jack Huston, David Cross, Jennifer Jason Leigh.
This well-reviewed biographical drama focuses on the college days of four literary giants — poet Allen Ginsberg (Radcliffe), writers Jack Kerouac (Jack Huston & William S. Burroughs (Ben Foster), and UPI editor-to-be Lucien Carr (Dale DeHaan), who is accused in the murder of a longtime friend. The young cast (particularly Radcliffe) captures the attitude and physicality of the Beat Generation, and in portraying Ginberg — a man we think we all know as a poet from his later years — Radcliffe adds unexpected layers that draw us even closer to Ginsberg the man.
4. SWISS ARMY MAN (2016)
Writers/Directors: The Daniels (Daniel Scheinert & Daniel Kwan).
Starring Paul Dano, Daniel Radcliffe, Mary Elizabeth Winstead.
The first feature film by the Daniels (Daniel Scheinert & Daniel Kwan) is, hands down, the best film ever made about farts. This absurdist comedy stars Paul Dano as Hank, a man marooned on an island who is contemplating suicide when a corpse (Radcliffe) washes up on shore. Hank discovers that the corpse, whom he nicknames Manny, has flatulence so powerful that it can power them both across the ocean to civilization. Amid all the craziness, Dano and Radcliffe quickly establish a potent comic rhythm together, and Radcliffe, though hampered by the fact that Manny is dead, nonetheless manages to make the corpse a fully rounded character.
3. THE WOMAN IN BLACK (2012)
Director: James Watkins Writers: Jane Goldman.
Starring Daniel Radcliffe, Ciarán Hinds, Janet McTeer, Liz White, Roger Allam.
Following the last of the “Potter” films, Radcliffe scored a big hit in this 2012 horror film which went on to become the highest grossing British horror film in 20 years. In the 1950s-style film which counts on chills rather than gore, Radcliffe plays a recently-widowed lawyer who comes to a small village where a ghost is terrorizing its citizens in its quest for revenge. With his convincing character work here, Radcliffe laid down a marker to Hollywood that he was done with playing teen roles — he was now an adult actor looking for adult characters to explore, a promise he has made good on for the last decade.
2. THE LOST CITY (2022)
Directors: Adam Nee, Aaron Nee.
Writers: Oren Uziel, Dana Fox, Adam Nee, Aaron Nee.
Starring Sandra Bullock, Channing Tatum, Daniel Radcliffe, Da’Vine Joy Randolph, Thomas Forbes-Johnson, Oscar Nunez, Brad Pitt.
Radcliffe tried his hand at comic villainy in this romantic action film, and the result was his biggest non-“Potter” hit. As eccentric billionaire Abigail Fairfax, Radcliffe earned his bad guy status by ordering his thugs to kidnap a romance novelist (Sandra Bullock) whom he thinks knows the location of a hidden treasure on a remote island, little knowing that the lunkhead cover model from her books (Channing Tatum) is on the way to rescue her. The film’s tone is light, and Radcliffe plays his villain just that way. For his performance as Fairfax, Radcliffe won an MTV Movie Award as the year’s “Best Villain.”
1. The HARRY POTTER series (2001-2011)
Starring Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint, Tom Felton, Richard Harris, Michael Gambon, Alan Rickman, Maggie Smith, Robbie Coltrane, Julie Walters, Ralph Fiennes.
Sadly, many young actors have found themselves saddled with an embarrassing role with which they will be identified for their entire life. Not so Radcliffe — his decade-long performance as Harry Potter should only serve him as a source of pride, as he grew the young wizard from being just a boy discovering his powers to a mature young man who has become painfully aware of the effect those powers can have on others. In so doing, the child actor became an adult artist, and what he learned in these eight films work has helped to shape Radcliffe as an actor, giving him the tools for the more challenging work in his career to come.