10 best Joaquin Phoenix performances

Joaquin, who is a child of the Hollywood industry and brother of the late great river Phoenix, had a troubled shadow to start under. But since his debut in the 1980s, he crashed onto the scene in his breakout, Ron Howards Parenting, Joaquin has carved a space for himself in Hollywood that resembles Christian Bale.

His versatility knows no bounds and often transforms his body and face to match the role he assumes. The depth of humanity he infuses into his roles results in shocking depictions of desperation, loneliness, and a quest for redemption. He takes his turn to villain quite often, but also leans into his sexy, charismatic side when necessary. Phoenix has become a reliable leader, while always keeping the audience on their toes.


Here are his top 10 achievements.

10U turn

U turn

While not the lead of U turn and only in a few scenes does Joaquin make a memorable entrance into this crazy hallucination of a crime story by the apostate author Oliver Stone. Phoenix’s appearance as the feeble-minded southern Jew “TNT” is the perfect premise for what would become of his warm-blooded portrayal of the Man in Black, Johnny Cash. A perfect combination of cool and warm charisma.



Starring with Mel Gibson in Sign and part of another ingenious concept from M. Night Shyamalan, it could have been easy for Joaquin’s brother character “Merrill” to get lost in the shuffle. As he lives on the farm with his preacher brother and his children, Phoenix shines as a reluctant hero, but also adds little things of humor and frivolity when needed. He must either choose to believe in the miracles of God or to act against the forces of aliens closing in on them. Phoenix puts out yet another memorable support trip as the faded athlete in a small town.

8Don’t worry, he doesn’t get very far on foot

Don't worry, he doesn't get very far on foot

Phoenix’s first collaboration with Gus Van Sant since the 1995s To die for, Don’t worry, he doesn’t get very far on foot sees Joaquin as the famous cartoonist “John Callahan” and his long struggle against alcoholism. Joaquin puts on an orange wig and is confined to a wheelchair due to a horrible alcohol accident. Breathing life and humanity into desperate characters can be one of Joaquis’ greatest gifts, as he saves a film that could have been too dark from folding into itself, as his portrayal of Callahan shows that no one is too far from being saved.

7Inherent load

Inherent load

Paul Thomas Anderson’s psychedelic and hazy mystery adapted from the almost unattainable Thomas Pynchon, Inherent load acts as a movie because its main role is up to the task. Phoenix as the drug-addicted private eye “Doc Sportello” in all its lamb chop madness matches the story’s strange and off-beat temperament from scene to scene. Phoenix, navigating the narcotic smog of the 1970s SoCal, delivers one of the funniest performances of his long career.

6You were never really here

You were never really here

Lynn Ramsay does not make films for the delicate. Her sparse, minimal, but shocking tale of pulp starring Joaquin Phoenix as the brutal hitman “Joe” was an unshakable look at violence and its effect on the viewer. Phoenix fills the frame You were never really here by barely saying a word, but instead imposing his will in a dark transformation – and possibly his greatest portrayal of brutality to date, while still escaping the film as a hero.

5The master

The master

In his second collaboration with the PTA, Joaquin transforms himself into the runaway sailor “Freddie Quell”, who crosses paths with the megalomaniac “Lancaster Dodd”, played by the late great Phillip Seymour Hoffman. The master himself is less preoccupied with narrative conventions and instead rests his laurels on Phoenix shoulders as he takes us through the psyche of a troubled and haunted man. Joaquin makes a character in many different colors, from fiercely psychotic, desperate, lonely and romantic with a sense of discovery right on the horizon. His performance earned him his third Oscar nominee.


The Gladiators

On the abyss of star status, the young Joaquin decided to take his turn as antagonist “Commodus” in Ridley Scott’s Roman epic Gladiator. Phoenix confronts Russell Crowe’s iconic turn as the tragic hero “Maximus”, and adds slimy villainy to the film, sniffing and hissing his way to the throne. Phoenix received his first Oscar nominee in the Support category, proving that he could be fully visible even when playing scum.



In Joaquin’s sweetest role to date and one of the best films he’s had the chance to star in, comes Spike Jonze’s strangely heartfelt tale of love in the digital age Her. Crushed as a lone writer “Theodore Twombly”, Phoenix falls for an artificial intelligence device voiced by Scarlett Johansson. Partly comedy, partly heartbreaking tragedy, Phoenix sells what should not work and permeates the performance with enough humanity that one can not help but have empathy in his fateful romance.

2Walk The Line

Walk The Line

With Joaquin his second Oscar nomination and his first as lead actor, Phoenix Johnny Cash manifests before our eyes in Walk the Line, which transforms into country music’s legendary bad boy. Not only did he get the smooth charismatic energy from the unique Cash, but Phoenix also sang his entire song and learned to play the guitar just like Cash did. Joaquin proved he could be the star of a mainstream biopic, but did not lose his artistry, placing him at the top of Hollywood’s food chain.



In the wake of Heath Ledger’s last performance as a Joker, it was hard to believe that anyone could follow him with any integrity. But Joaquin Phoenix did just that with “Arthur Fleck” and created yet another landmark portrait of the famous Batman villain standing alone next to Ledger and Jack Nicholson’s achievements. Phoenix created a character in Joker which became recognizable immediately. From the penetrating cone to the distorted body shape and his transformation from a failed comedian to the savior of the villain in the dirty streets of Gotham, Phoenix took home the Oscar gold that night. He became the second actor to do so after Heath Ledger tragically passed away.

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