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Top 10 Joaquin Phoenix Performances

VO: Dan Paradis
Script written by Matthew Thomas. He may have a funky name, but his acting is no joke. In this video, counts down our picks for the top 10 Joaquin Phoenix performances. For this list, we’re taking a look at those performances that show off this actor at his finest and/or most memorable. Whether he's playing a villain in a historical epic, a man who falls in love with an operating system or the Man in Black himself, Phoenix has proven time and again that he's the real deal. Special thanks to our users Nolan Scripture, jkellis, JosephT, Alex Johnson, victor eduardo rico and Marvelfan for submitting the idea on our Suggestion Tool at WatchMojo.comsuggest

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Script written by Matthew Thomas.

Top 10 Joaquin Phoenix Performances

He may have a funky name, but his acting is no joke. Welcome to, and today we’re counting down our picks for the top 10 Joaquin Phoenix performances.

For this list, we’re taking a look at those performances that show off this actor at his finest and/or most memorable.

#10: Merrill Hess
“Signs” (2002)

Playing a man who must hide from an alien invasion alongside his brother, niece and nephew, the fear felt by brother and former baseball star Merrill is palpable throughout this M. Night Shyamalan sci-fi thriller. Joaquin Phoenix’s performance not only adds to the overall tension of the film, but in the end, it is his character that is chosen to be the one to let off some steam and save the day. An underrated movie with strong performances, “Signs” was a good addition to Phoenix’s canon.

#9: Himself
“I’m Still Here” (2010)

First introduced to many people with an unusual and fascinating interview on the “Late Show with David Letterman,” this version of Joaquin Phoenix took over his persona for the entire filming period of this mockumentary. With the actor pretending he’d retired from Hollywood to become a hip hop star, this unusual project was buoyed by the commitment of its star and the illusion he created with the help of a few friends. Despite mixed reviews, it was certainly a risky experiment for the actor and a memorable one at that!

#8: Bruno Weiss
“The Immigrant” (2013)

Bruno is one of the more complicated characters in a career that has been defined by nuance, as we never quite know how to feel about the man. The benefactor and pimp of a woman who needs to raise money to get her sister out of quarantine, he begins to become romantically interested in her as time goes on in this 2013 drama. Lending the role the sizable gravitas that made him a star to begin with, this film as a whole leaned heavily on Joaquin’s broad shoulders, and earned him a Newport Beach Film Festival Award along with his co-stars Marion Cotillard and Jeremy Renner.

#7: Leonard Kraditor
“Two Lovers” (2008)

A suicidal man in the enviable position of having the hearts of two beautiful women, Leonard is an absolute weirdo. And while his behavior can be downright creepy, once again Phoenix makes him relatable in this romantic drama. Every moment you see of him on screen, you can see the wheels turning in his brain, even if you have no idea what those thoughts consist of - which is one of the film’s and role’s ultimate strengths.

#6: Larry ‘Doc’ Sportello
“Inherent Vice” (2014)

This collaboration between Phoenix and director Paul Thomas Anderson again garnered the actor attention and award nominations. This time, while playing a perpetually high private investigator attempting to fix his ex-girlfriend’s latest problem, he grasps at the remnants of the lifestyle he has lived just as the hippie dream seems to be ending. Dense but fun, this crime comedy-drama is mostly held together by Phoenix’s performance, along with the vision of its director.

#5: Jimmy Emmett
“To Die For” (1995)

His first major role after leaving teenage hood, it is this one out of every character in “To Die For” whose internal monologue remains the most inscrutable. In the beginning, Jimmy Emmett’s motivation to keep the woman who’s entranced him happy is very clear but as the comedy-drama continues and he is overwhelmed by his cohorts, his driving force appears to falter. Torn between his desires and a lack of understanding of his victim’s reaction, Jimmy is by far the most interesting character upon repeat viewings of this Gus Van Sant flick.

#4: Commodus
“Gladiator” (2000)

Every great action film requires someone to hate, and boy, did Commodus rise to the occasion in this epic historical drama. Insufferable and whiny, the character could have come off as a seemingly by-the-numbers bad guy, but there is never a moment where he doesn’t feel like a wholly original creation. Alternating between bored, vicious and scared, Phoenix’s typical villain eventually becomes a monster who infuriates filmgoers on a visceral level – getting under our skin and never letting go.

#3: Johnny Cash
“Walk the Line” (2005)

Playing a truly beloved figure like Johnny Cash is a tough task for anyone, which is why it had to be a sweet victory for Phoenix that this was the film that finally netted him a Golden Globe. Also bringing him nominations for best actor at the BAFTA and Academy Awards, Phoenix’s surprisingly haunting singing voice may have been the biopic’s biggest surprise. Topped off by believably inhabiting the body and soul of an addict, Phoenix arguably gave the best performance of his career up to that point.

#2: Theodore Twombly
“Her” (2013)

We all get a little lonely sometimes, it just so happens that Theodore perpetually lives in that state - that is, until a new presence in his life changes all of that and makes him full and much more complete. As a story about a man who falls in love with the operating system on his computer, by description alone, it probably should never have worked as a movie. Greatly due to the casting of Phoenix however, this dramatic rom-com works in every way and his Golden Globe and many other nominations were certainly richly deserved.

Before we reveal our top pick, here are a few honorable mentions.
- Garry Buckman

“Parenthood” (1989)

- Abbé du Coulmier

“Quills” (2000)

- Lucius Hunt

“The Village” (2004)

- Ethan Learner

“Reservation Road” (2007)

- SPC Ray Elwood

“Buffalo Soldiers” (2001)

#1: Freddie Quell
“The Master” (2012)

Garnering nominations for a Golden Globe, BAFTA and Academy Award among many, many others, Freddie was perfectly brought to life in the hands of this talented actor. A sex addicted, alcoholic World War 2 vet who falls under the control of a charismatic leader, it is Phoenix’s willingness to remain quiet and understated that makes this character feel so real. If it weren’t for the calm before the storm, he could have felt obscured and un-relatable, but luckily for the film and audiences, this actor’s ego is never an issue and the result is this unforgettable performance.

Do you agree with our list? What’s your favorite Joaquin Phoenix performance? For more entertaining Top 10s published daily, be sure to subscribe to

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