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Top 10 Edward Norton Performances

VO: Rebecca Brayton
What do a neo-Nazi, a magician and the Incredible Hulk have in common? Well, in this case, one great actor: Edward Norton has been in some excellent films with some excellent actors, and has always stood out as a mega-talent of his generation. Whether he’s in a blockbuster action film, a quiet period piece or an indie flick, Norton is giving it his all – especially when he’s playing more than one character. In this video, counts down our picks for Edward Norton’s top 10 performances. Special thanks to our user offbeat08 for submitting the idea on our Suggestions Page!

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Top 10 Edward Norton Performances

What do a neo-Nazi, a magician and the Incredible Hulk have in common? Welcome to, and today we’re counting down our picks for Edward Norton’s top 10 performances.

#10 – Bill/Brady Kincaid: “Leaves of Grass” (2010)

Whenever an actor pulls off two distinct roles in one film, attention must be paid. Norton returns to his dual-personality roots as a pair of estranged brothers brought together under bizarre circumstances. Each is a genius in his own way: Bill’s an elite professor who’s erased his southern upbringing; Brady’s a hick who grows the greatest weed in the South, but both showcase the best of Ed Norton.

#9 – Alan Isaacman: “The People vs. Larry Flynt” (1996)

His role as this real-life lawyer-to-the-stars was only Norton’s second-ever feature film appearance, but it’s another acting master class. As the Hustler founder’s attorney and companion, Norton’s young lawyer does his level best to rise above his client’s outbursts, and provides first-rate support for his fellow cast mates. Although he’s reluctantly justifying Flynt’s questionable choices, his courtroom monologue extolling the virtues of free speech is particularly compelling.

#8 – Walter Fane: “The Painted Veil” (2006)

Proving he’s as effective in big-budget blockbusters as he is in low-key period dramas, Norton dives into the role of a bacteriologist who’s sent to manage the Chinese cholera epidemic, with his unloving wife in tow. Known for his hands-on approach to filmmaking, Norton played producer and screenwriter on the film, helping to build a complex character that was both cruel and selfless, kind and callous.

#7 – Eisenheim: “The Illusionist” (2006)

As awe-inspiring as ever, Norton magically takes on the title role in this mystical period piece. Aided by a noble supporting cast, he helps tell the pained story of a magician whose love is destined for someone else. His work in both the lavish on-stage performances and the quieter off-stage scenes is mesmerizing, and you can’t help but wonder if there’s some supernatural power guiding his way.

#6 – Jack Teller: “The Score” (2001)

How do you compete with Brando AND De Niro? Acting beside his idols, Norton accepts the passing of the torch and gives this average heist movie some much-needed pizazz as a single-minded thief. Though it’s similar to the role he later played in “The Italian Job,” Norton’s part in “The Score” allows him to demonstrate his incredible range and believability, even in the most fleeting of scenes.

#5 – Lester “Worm” Murphy: “Rounders” (1998)

With inspiration from Bugs Bunny, Norton becomes a shifty, cursing, fast-talker in this romanticized vision of the poker world. Obnoxious but somehow charming, Norton’s Worm is the film’s voice of un-reason. However, the movie’s most effective use of its big star talent is in the shared scenes featuring Damon and Norton: the contrast between the clean-cut guy and his cheat-to-win buddy showcases the cream of the acting crop.

#4 – Monty Brogan: “The 25th Hour” (2002)

It’s the last day of freedom for this drug dealer before his seven-year jail sentence, and Norton plays it with characteristic intelligence, thoughtfulness and regret. Everything has extra meaning and energy, as Brogan realizes he’ll be a different man the next time he sees his loved ones. Under Spike Lee’s direction, Norton takes Brogan on a contemplative journey, keeping external turmoil to a minimum – save for one, standout scene.

#3 – The Narrator: “Fight Club” (1999)

Showing his knack for portraying chaotic characters, Norton shines as the unreliable narrator beside a brilliant Brad Pitt in this macho, violent and darkly comic adaptation of Chuck Palahniuk’s novel. After beginning the film as the dejected yuppie outsider who’s unhappy with life and desperate for catharsis, Norton gets to do all the bad-boy stuff they could jam into one movie – earning himself a spot on the A-list.

#2 – Aaron Stampler/“Roy”: “Primal Fear” (1996)

By turning on a dime from a shy, stuttering southern boy to his ruthless alter ego Roy, Norton earned a Supporting Actor Oscar nod – and just think: this was his feature film debut. This courtroom thriller about an abused altar boy who’s charged with murdering a much-loved Archbishop could easily have been a forgettable legal drama; but thanks to Norton’s range it stands as an un-missable twist-ending flick.

#1 – Derek Vinyard: “American History X” (1998)

For his role as the unifying force in this powerful tale of violence, racism and redemption, Norton earned his first Best Actor Oscar nomination. With 30-pounds of extra muscle, he navigates the rough territory and hate speech with never-before-seen emotion and ferocity, and prevents the film from becoming a preach-fest. His journey from white supremacist to something more human is a career-defining role on an already-stellar resume.

Do you agree with our list? Which Edward Norton performance do you think is his best? For more top 10s about your favorite actors, be sure to subscribe to

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