Known for playing primarily complex and dark characters, Joaquin Phoenix has secured himself as one of the most versatile and intense working actors today. The modern actor has a reputation for completely immersing himself into the roles he takes on—often with powerfully haunting results.
In honor of his 45th birthday today as well as the release of his latest role in Todd Phillips‘ Joker, we wanted to pay homage to one of the greatest actors of our time by taking a look back on some of his finest moments in cinema.
Every great action movie needs a common enemy to hate, and Commodus sure did rise to the occasion in this epic historical drama. Insufferable, petulant, and quite frankly, bratty, Commodus could have come off as a seemingly textbook bad guy, but the unpacking of this character never fails to make him feel like a wholly original creation. Wavering between bored, barbaric, and scared, Phoenix’s typical villain eventually becomes a monster the likes of which we’ve never seen—he continuously gets under your skin and never lets go.
4. Johnny Cash
Walk The Line (2005)
Playing one of music’s greatest icons like Johnny Cash is a huge role to take on for any actor, which is why it was all the more impressive when Phoenix took home a Golden Globe® for his performance, including nominations for best actor at BAFTA and the Academy Awards®. Phoenix’s delightfully on-point singing voice may have been the biopic’s biggest achievement, topped off by believably inhabiting the body and soul of an addict. Up until this point in his career, his take on Cash in Walk the Line may have been his best performance yet.
3. Theodore Twombly
We all feel a little lonely sometimes. It just so happens that, sadly, Phoenix’s Theodore from Her lives in a perpetual state of isolation—that is, until a new presence in his life comes along and finally gives him a sense of completion. In this story about a man who falls in love with a computer operating system, we find a somber yet powerful performance by Phoenix that touches on the fragility of the human condition. Primarily due to the casting of Phoenix, this romantic drama plays out beautifully, and secured him yet another Golden Globe® and several other nominations.
2. Freddie Quell
The Master (2012)
Accumulating a slew of nominations for a Golden Globe®, BAFTA, Academy Award®, and countless others, Freddie was flawlessly brought to life in the hands of this talented actor. As a troubled, alcoholic drifter struggling with the trauma of World War II, Freddie falls under the control of the charismatic leader of a religious movement called “The Cause.” It is not only what is said by Phoenix in the movie, but his willingness to remain silent that makes this character all the more real. Bringing Phoenix into this role may have single-handedly secured the believability of this movie, and resulted in just another unforgettable performance.
1. Arthur Fleck
Garnering universal acclaim, Phoenix’s haunting performance captures the soul of tortured, wannabe comedian Arthur Fleck, who’s abusive upbringing and life of humiliation leads him down the dark path to becoming Gotham’s greatest villain. Never have we seen such a uniquely disturbing representation of the iconic character, nor have we seen an achievement like this from Joaquin Phoenix. Mesmerizing. Groundbreaking. Powerful. Unnerving. You name it, it’s been said about Phoenix and his role in Joker.
You can catch Joaquin Phoenix in his latest performance as Arthur Fleck/Joker in Joker, now playing at Regal.