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With the release of the critically acclaimed The Black Phone, coming out just months after Disney Plus’ Moon Knight, Ethan Hawke has had quite the year in 2022. These villain outings are among Hawke’s many recent projects that have shown his true depth as a performer. . Although he’s starred in top films since his teenage years, Hawke continues to surprise and excite audiences with acclaimed performances that underscore what a multifaceted actor he is.
For this reason, Hawke’s most underrated performances include films where he was unfairly eclipsed or condemned because of the film’s failure at the box office.
UPDATED: 01/16/2023 11:00 AM EST BY SHAWN S. LEALOS
Ethan Hawke has released two major films in theaters in 2022, starred in an Apple TV release, had a guest appearance in one of the most anticipated mystery films of the year, and starred as a villain in a release. from the Marvel Cinematic Universe. What was most impressive was that each role was different, showing Hawke’s range and talent as an actor. In 2022 alone, he was a serial killer in a horror movie, a warrior king in a historical epic, a cult villain in a superhero movie, and a man reaching out to his estranged brother in drama. , Raymond & Ray. That’s nothing compared to the variety of personas Hawke has taken on in the past, boasting one of the most varied careers in Hollywood today.
Predestination (2014) – Agent Doe
Ethan Hawke isn’t known for being an action hero, but he shows his badass qualities in Predestination. The film is a time-travel thriller that goes bankrupt, but is also grounded in Hawke’s determined performance as Agent Doe, a law enforcement agent searching for a fugitive across the time.
Hawke brings nothing less than his A-game to this cerebral cat-and-mouse tale. Every time travel movie, at some point, threatens to go off the rails with its inevitably convoluted logic, but Hawke’s commitment to the material always keeps audiences engaged. It led to one of the most surreal action movies of recent years with one of the weirdest movie endings of all time.
Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead (2007) – Hank
This entry is perfect because the film in question is itself criminally underrated. Alongside Philip Seymour Hoffman in Sidney Lumet’s prolific latest feature, Ethan Hawke gives at first sight one of his most understated performances as a desperate, sleazy thug who commits a robbery with his drug-addicted brother, while having an affair with his wife.
While it’s not the first role anyone has associated with Hawke, he brought the perfect energy to match his character. Some critics might have thought he was upstaged by Hoffman at the time, but his refusal to upstage his costar elevates the tragedy of this gritty, sordid family drama.
Great Expectations (1997) – Finn Bell
The only genre that profited more in the 90s than science fiction was the modernization of literary classics such as 10 Things I Hate About You. But while it was a pop culture hit that embraced the MTV generation and was aimed at teenagers, Great Expectations is a totally serious adaptation of Charles Dickens’ novel that features Ethan Hawke as Finn, a humble entertainer who falls in love with a rich girl.
Hawke was convinced to make the film by director Alfonso Cuarón, who thought it would be perfect based on his performance in Before Sunrise. Hawke brings the same bohemian sensibility to Dickens’ iconic protagonist. While Hawke was ultimately disappointed with the film, critics still appreciated his portrayal of Finn (renamed from Pip in the original story). Had the film performed better at the box office, Great Expectations might be considered one of Hawke’s best performances.
Gattaca (1997) – Vincent Freeman
The late 90s was a good time for science fiction. Unfortunately, that didn’t do much to boost ticket sales for Gattaca, the directorial debut of Truman Show writer Andrew Niccol. Thankfully, the film received wider recognition, particularly for Hawke’s performance as a “genetically inferior” man trying to overcome his futuristic society’s caste system.
It’s hard at first to buy Ethan Hawke as “genetically inferior” given he had the smoldering good looks of a GQ cover model. But his humble and heartfelt portrayal completely sells the character. Like the film itself, Hawke’s character ponders grand and philosophical ideas while remaining human and resonant.
Before Sunrise, Before Sunset, Before Midnight (1995 – 2013) – Jesse
In the role that made him a critical darling, Ethan Hawke was able to fulfill an actor’s dream in Richard Linklater’s Before the Trilogy, where he plays Jesse, a writer who falls in love with a woman he meets in a train to Vienna. They embark on an emotional odyssey that encompasses romance, heartbreak, separation, and longing.
The trilogy wouldn’t have the magic it has if it weren’t for the undeniable chemistry between Hawke and Julie Delpy, and Hawke himself somehow manages to portray both an ordinary man and a hopeless romantic. Some of the most iconic scenes in this trilogy are just the silent exchanges between Hawke and Delpy, who contributed so much to their characters that they earned writing credits on Before Sunset and Before Midnight.
Taking Lives (2004) – James Costa
Fifteen years before his sadistic turn in The Black Phone, Ethan Hawke played a serial killer in Taking Lives, playing a psychopath who takes on the identity of his latest victims. Although the film itself received poor reviews, and even Hawke would call it “terrible”, Hawke himself would still be recognized for what is still one of his most twisted and nefarious characters.
He basically plays two roles, and the whole premise of the film hinges on his ability to pull both sides of the character. Whatever bad things people had to say about Taking Lives, Ethan Hawke isn’t one of them, and people should give his performance another watch before going to see The Black Phone. While not one of his absolute best films, it is absolutely one of his most underrated.
Society of Dead Poets (1989) – Todd Anderson
Portraying one of his earliest roles, Hawke’s performance might be easy to overlook given that his stage partner is none other than Robin Williams. But on reflection, Hawke’s portrayal as shy but curious college student Todd Anderson might be the true heart of Dead Poets Society, and he’s a key reason the movie has resonated for so long.
While audiences will always remember Williams, her driving performance couldn’t resonate so strongly if audiences didn’t see its effect on her students, and Hawke’s character is most directly affected by Mr. Keatings. It’s through his character transformation that Dead Poets Society shows how the right teacher can make such a difference in anyone’s life.
Daybreaker (2009) – Edward Dalton
At a time when vampire media was dominated by Stephenie Meyer, Daybreakers was one of the most refreshing creatures horror movie fans could have hoped for. In his first collaboration with the Spierig brothers, who will also direct Predestination, Hawke plays a vampiric scientist seeking to cure himself of his monstrous affliction in a post-apocalyptic universe where vampires totally dominated society.
He’s the audience surrogate and portrays an idealist trying to fight his own bloodlust, which gives Hawke the opportunity to bring several layers to the character. Hawke constantly gives the audience a reason to care, which isn’t easy in a movie populated by vampires.
Training Day (2001) – Jake Hoyt
It’s odd to consider Ethan Hawke’s performance as well-meaning but naïve cop Jake Hoyt “underrated” considering it earned him his first Oscar nomination. But it seems he was eclipsed in popular consciousness by his scene-stealing co-star, Denzel Washington, who gave one of the most explosive performances of his career.
But just like every comedy routine needs a straight man, Training Day needs Ethan Hawke. Washington’s performance puts the audience on edge as Hawke’s sense of idealism is constantly questioned. Yet through all of this brazen depravity and abuse of power, Hawke’s character still gives audiences reason to hope that there may be better in all of us, even on the mean streets of Los Angeles.
Reality Bites (1994) – Troy Dyer
One might be tempted to scoff at Reality Bites. And the film’s constant sense of ironic disillusion doesn’t help. But what he does do is give Ethan Hawke the perfect vehicle to showcase all of his skills. He plays a little grunge-era rocker who goes up against a yuppie, played by Ben Stiller (who also directed the film), in a love triangle to win the affection of a documentary filmmaker played by Winona Ryder.
Reality Bites is about the identity crisis Gen Xers faced during the Clinton years, trying to decide between the virtues of selling out or slacking off. Hawke’s character embodies the latter choice, and you’d think Troy would end up being his most punchy character. But Hawke brings humanity to what could have been an insincere schmuck, and he captures the character’s anguish and confusion. The film itself may be dated, but that’s no reason to overlook one of Hawke’s most charismatic and relevant performances.