Five of Our Favorite Willem Dafoe Roles

Close up of Willem Dafoe wearing a suit and tie
Get Tickets to Inside


Willem Dafoe, 67, is one of Hollywood’s most acclaimed actors, known for his versatility in playing different roles. Whether he is acting as a superhero villain or a troubled father, he is able to capture the nuance of each role and demonstrate the various complexities that come with the character. Over his career, the Wisconsin-born actor has won numerous awards and received international recognition for his work. The type of roles he takes demonstrates the commitment that Dafoe brings to each performance, making him one of the most talented actors in the industry. 


Green Goblin in Spider-Man Franchise

One of Dafoe's most iconic roles is that of the Green Goblin in Sam Raimi's 2002 superhero film Spider-Man. Dafoe brought a sense of menace and insanity to the character, making him one of the most memorable villains in the entire Spider-Man franchise. With his sinister cackle and terrifying demeanor, Dafoe's Green Goblin was a worthy adversary for the beloved Spider-Man figure. 

Fans loved the way in which he captured the essence of Green Goblin, and Dafoe reprised this role in later movies, including Spider-Man 2 (2004), Spider-Man 3 (2007), and the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) film Spider-Man: No Way Home (2021). In 2022, he even won the Best Villian in a Movie at the Critics’ Choice Super Awards for his role in Spider-Man: No Way Home. For Dafoe, this role was one of the most iconic in his career, and he shared in an interview how he revised and improved his role each time he visited the set.


Vulko in Aquaman (2018)

In 2018's Aquaman, Dafoe took on the role of Vulko by serving as the chief counselor to the throne of Atlantis, and secretly the mentor to Aquaman. Despite being a supporting character, Dafoe brought a quiet strength to the role, portraying Vulko as wise and unflappable in the face of danger. His chemistry with Jason Momoa's Aquaman was palpable, and his performance helped to elevate the film beyond its comic book roots.

Most notably, Dafoe really pulled off the Atlantean get up that his character wore throughout the film. In the comic book, the character portrayed a balding, scruffy individual, but instead onscreen Vulko was transformed into a gilded visionary wearing intricate silver armor and costumes.


Donald Kimball in American Psycho (2000)

In American Psycho, Dafoe played Donald Kimball, a detective investigating the murders committed by Christian Bale's Patrick Bateman. Dafoe's performance was understated yet powerful, as he slowly unraveled the truth about Bateman's crimes. Thanks in part to the editing, viewers are left wondering whether Bateman was in fact responsible for the murders or wrongfully accused. Dafoe’s scenes with co-actor Bale crackled with tension, making for some of the most memorable moments in the film.

Dafoe’s performance was powerful because he left the audience wondering whether he was accusing Bateman or instead pretending to be a close confidante. Further, the ways in which Dafoe’s body language and facial expressions muddle the line between reality and fantasy in this film are yet another reason why his acting is prolific.

American Psycho went on to be a major hit, grossing over $34 million on a $7 million budget and still has a place in contemporary meme culture.


Bobby Hicks in Florida Project (2017)

In the 2017 coming-of-age drama, The Florida Project, Dafoe played a kind-hearted motel manager named Bobby. The story revolves around the adventures of a young girl who lives with her unemployed single mother in a budget motel in Kissimmee, Florida, and the duo grapple with the struggles of poverty and homelessness. Unlike his more villainous roles, Dafoe brought a warmth and humanity to the character. Here, his role served as a beacon of hope in an otherwise bleak world. His scenes with the young actress Brooklynn Prince were particularly touching because he acted like a surrogate father figure to her.

The actor has been nominated for a number of acclaimed awards for his work on this film, including the Best Supporting Actor at the BAFTA Film Award. He won Best Supporting Actor at the Atlanta Film Critics Circle, Austin Film Critics Association, among others.


He in Antichrist (2009)

Finally, we come to Lars von Trier's controversial 2009 film Antichrist, in which Dafoe played a therapist (who is only known as “He” throughout the film) who tries to help his grief-stricken wife (played by Charlotte Gainsbourg) after the couple lose their infant son who falls out a window to his death. The film is notorious for its graphic violence and provocative imagery, but Dafoe's performance was praised for its emotional depth and intensity. Despite the challenging subject matter of the film, Dafoe gave a committed and nuanced performance that showcased his range as an actor. In an interview at the Cannes Film Festival in 2009, Dafoe justified taking on this role to be part of an interesting story, noting that certain movies are not meant for everyone.

He won the Best Actor award for his work at the Bodil Awards in 2010 and was also nominated for the Best Actor award at the Danish Film Awards.

Willem Dafoe’s next movie, Inside, releases March 17, 2023. 

See Inside at Regal

Related film