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Top 10 Dramatic Performances by Comedic Actors

VO: Rebecca Brayton
Script written by Nolan Moore. They usually love to make us laugh, but sometimes they like to get a little more serious. Join WatchMojo.com as we count down our picks for the top 10 dramatic performances by comedic actors. For this list, we’re looking at those funny guys and gals who traded in the chuckles for something a little more somber. Special thanks to our users lucacraig@gmail.com, cliffhanger, JosephT, Rachel Bloom, Nana Amuah, James Gibson, Dylan Cotton, Akilah Gordon, pcooney14@gmail.com, Andrew A. Dennison, slackerman, cheezenchips101, Neel Harrison, Sam Hudson, EdWebb63, sarahjessicaparkerth, andrewh, Landon Mitchell, Deathmatch1959, ReaderGamerSinger and Patricia Mejia for submitting the idea on our Suggestions Page at WatchMojo.comsuggest
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Script written by Nolan Moore.

Top 10 Dramatic Performances by Comedic Actors


They usually love to make us laugh, but sometimes they like to get a little more serious. Welcome to WatchMojo.com, and today we’re counting down our picks for the top 10 dramatic performances by comedic actors.

For this list, we’re looking at those funny guys and gals who traded in the chuckles for something a little more somber. However, we’re focusing on actors primarily considered comedians. So that means we’re not counting actors like Tom Hanks, who’ve dabbled in comedy but are mainly known for their dramatic work.

#10: Steve Carell as John Eleuthère du Pont
“Foxcatcher” (2014)

Whether he’s Andy Stitzer or Michael Scott, Steve Carell knows how to make an audience laugh. But despite his love of lamp, Carell knows how to get serious too. He showed off his dramatic acting chops in “Little Miss Sunshine,” but dove deep into the dark side as John E. du Pont, an eccentric millionaire who tries to control and manipulate two Olympic wrestlers. Carell transforms everything from his walk to his nose and creates a truly creepy character that couldn’t be any more different than the lovable Brick Tamland.

#9: Adam Sandler as Barry Egan
“Punch-Drunk Love” (2002)

There are two kinds of people in the world: those who love Adam Sandler and those who don’t. But whether you’re a “Happy Gilmore” fan or a “Jack and Jill” hater, we can all agree Sandler was phenomenal in “Punch-Drunk Love.” In this dark dramedy, Sandler plays Barry Egan, a frustrated man with some major anger problems. Hounded by his seven sisters and some menacing crooks, Egan is a volcano waiting to explode…until he falls in love and finally decides to take control of his life. The more serious role even earned him recognition in the form of a Golden Globe nomination.

#8: Steve Martin as Julian ‘Jimmy’ Dell
“The Spanish Prisoner” (1997)


Once the stand-up king of absurd humor, Steve Martin has played screwball weirdoes and uptight straight men in his career, but he isn’t afraid to dabble in drama either. In 2005, he played Ray Porter in “Shopgirl,” but his best dramatic role was in the Hitchcockian suspense flick, “The Spanish Prisoner.” Martin plays Julian ‘Jimmy’ Dell, a wealthy sophisticate who actually seems like a pretty cool guy. Only as the film unfolds, we learn Jimmy Dell isn’t at all what he seems, and for that matter, neither is Steve Martin.

#7: Jonah Hill as Peter Brand
“Moneyball” (2011)

The youngest comedian on our list, Jonah Hill rose to fame in films like “Knocked Up” and “Superbad,” and he’s still cracking up audiences with the “21 Jump Street” series. However, he dialed things back a bit for his role as Peter Brand in “Moneyball.” A combination of several real-life people, Brand is a recent Yale graduate who wants to revolutionize baseball. While he comes off as quiet and shy, Hill fills his character with determination and optimism, and the performance earned the actor his first Oscar nod.

#6: Eddie Murphy as Jimmy ‘Thunder’ Early
“Dreamgirls” (2006)


While it’s had more ups and downs than a roller coaster, one thing’s been consistent about Eddie Murphy’s career: he almost always does comedy—which is why his role as Jimmy ‘Thunder’ Early is so impressive. A mash-up of James Brown and Marvin Gaye, Early is a heroin-addicted soul singer with an eye for the ladies. Murphy won a Golden Globe for playing the fading R&B star in the musical drama and also proved he has some impressive pipes. It’s a show-stealing performance, especially because it’s Murphy’s first primarily dramatic role.

#5: Mo’Nique as Mary Lee Johnston
“Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire” (2009)

Watch an episode of “The Parkers” and then try “Precious.” It’s hard to believe Nikki Parker and Mary Lee Johnston are played by the same woman. Encouraged by director Lee Daniels to “be a monster,” Mo’Nique morphs into one of the worst mothers in movie history. A lazy slob with a violent streak, Mary turns a blind eye when her daughter Precious is raped by her father, and even blames Precious for “stealing her man.” It’s a sickening performance that nabbed Mo’Nique a well-deserved Oscar for Best Supporting Actress.

#4: Jamie Foxx as Ray Charles
“Ray” (2004)


After watching movies like “Django Unchained” and “The Soloist,” it’s easy to forget Jamie Foxx was once primarily considered a comedian. The guy even had his own TV show. But Foxx wowed the world when he played the iconic Ray Charles. In this warts-and-all biopic, Foxx plays a music man struggling with drugs, death, and his own blindness. While he doesn’t do his own singing, Foxx perfectly imitates Ray’s unique movements and speech patterns. It’s an amazingly complex performance that nabbed Foxx an Oscar and supercharged his career.

#3: Bill Murray as Bob Harris
“Lost in Translation” (2003)


When you want an understated actor in an introspective role, who you gonna call? Bill Murray, of course. Ever since “The Razor’s Edge,” Murray has done several dramatic roles, and perhaps his best performance is as Bob Harris, a weary actor who’s stuck in life until he meets Charlotte, an equally unhappy woman played by Scarlett Johansson. Murray’s performance is restrained and insightful, and he brilliantly captures a tired, lonely man who slowly shakes off his mid-life blues, winning him an Oscar nomination for his effort.

#2: Jim Carrey as Truman Burbank
“The Truman Show” (1998)


Back in the 1990s, Jim Carrey released a string of hysterical hit films like “The Mask” and “Dumb and Dumber.” But in 1998, Carrey decided to shake things up with “The Truman Show.” Playing a likable insurance salesman who’s starting to question reality, Carrey replaces his “Ace Ventura” antics with a poignant performance as a man searching for meaning. Six years later, he gave another incredible performance in “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,” but it was Truman Burbank that put Jim Carrey on the dramatic map.

Before we unveil our top pick, here are a few honorable mentions.
- Will Forte as David Grant
“Nebraska” (2013)
- Will Ferrell as Harold Crick
“Stranger than Fiction” (2006)
- Mary Tyler Moore as Beth Jarrett
“Ordinary People” (1980)
- Jerry Lewis as Jerry Langford
“The King of Comedy” (1983)
- Albert Brooks as Bernie Rose
“Drive” (2011)

#1: Robin Williams as John Keating
“Dead Poets Society” (1989)


Robin Williams was one of the funniest human beings period, but the man was equally skilled at drama. He won an Oscar as the sympathetic therapist Sean Maguire in “Good Will Hunting,” but our top spot goes to his uplifting performance in “Dead Poets Society.” As John Keating, Williams inspires his students to seize the day and live their lives to the fullest. With his love of poetry and penchant for standing on tables, Keating is the teacher we all wish we had and one of Williams’ most memorable roles.

Do you agree with our list? Which comedian do you think gave the greatest dramatic performance? For more awesome top 10s published daily, be sure to subscribe to WatchMojo.com.
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