To say that Ethan Hawke is one of the best actors working today would be an understatement; through his work as a director, writer, author, stage performer, and storyteller, Hawke has left behind an incredible body of work that spans far beyond the roles that he’s best known for. Looking at Hawke’s filmography is a little bit overwhelming, as he makes so many films every year that it’s hard to keep track of all the work that he has done.
It’s clear that films he had a specific role in crafting such as his work with Richard Linklater on Before Sunrise, Before Sunset, Before Midnight, and Boyhood, mean more to him than something like Moon Knight. While some actors are criticized for taking on this sort of “paycheck” role, it’s all worth it if Hawke can make another passion project like the HBO Max documentary series The Last Movie Stars or the Showtime historical drama The Good Lord Bird. Whether Hawke will ever win an Academy Award is unclear, but he certainly doesn’t need one when he’s at such an exciting period within his career.
Between raising his daughter, Maya, to be a great actress in her own right, and working alongside Pedro Pascal and Pedro Almodovar on the new western short Strange Way of Life, Hawke certainly doesn’t need anyone to tell him what to do. He defines indie cinema in a way that few actors do, yet also is able to appear in a good deal on mainstream hits.
In recent years, Hawke has experimented within the horror genre alongside Scott Derrickson and Jason Blum with Sinister and The Black Phone, two films that proved that original horror can be successful at the box office. In addition to being a brilliant actor, Hawke often shares great insights on the nature of the film industry. Hawke told Indiewirethat “you have to be willing to be humble enough to keep getting up to the plate,” and warned The Film Stagethat industry wants audiences to think that a superhero project like Logan “is a great film because they wanna make money off of it.” Here are the most underrated Ethan Hawke movies.
Hawke’s long-standing working relationship with Linklater has been one of the best actor-director pairings in recent film history; Linklater helped Hawke transition out of his “child actor” phase in the wake of Explorers and Dead Poets Society, and allowed him to become a more mature adult performer. As a favor to his longtime friend, Hawke had a cameo role as his Before Sunrise character Jesse in Linklater’s bizarre 2001 animated film Waking Life. It served as a nice teaser before he returned to the role in Before Sunset.
Another fascinating collaboration with Linklater, Tape feels like a stage play come to life, as it takes place entirely within the confines of a single apartment room as the old friends Vince (Hawke) and Jon (Robert Sean Leonard) reunite to reflect on an incident within their past. Vince is convinced that Jon assaulted a mutual friend (Uma Thurman), and attempts to collect evidence on his supposed crimes by recording the entire night’s conversation.
Nicolas Cage gave one of his last great performances in Andrew Niccol’s 2005 crime thriller Lord of War, in which he starred as the greedy, ruthless drug runner Yuri Orlov, a character based on the arms dealer Viktor Bout. Hawke gives one of his darkest performances as the ruthless investigator Jack Valentine, who is trying to hold Yuri responsible for his crimes.
Predestination is a film that absolutely requires subsequent viewings in order to understand; the time-travel action film is so packed with plot details that it can be challenging to take everything in after only one viewing. Nonetheless, Hawke holds the story together with his enigmatic performance as the reclusive stranger Agent Doe, who narrates the complex web of timelines that the film takes place within.
Despite his roles in both historical fiction and theater, Hawke has always proven to be a great action star as well. 24 Hours to Live isn’t a masterpiece of action cinema by any stretch of the imagination, but Hawke’s charismatic performance and the kinetic direction from Brian Smrz make it completely worth watching. There’s always room for a great actor like Hawke to pursue a pulpier side to his career.
Hawke actually doesn’t appear in a major role within Blaze, the film he directed about the life of the underrated Austin musical artist Blaze Foley. Nonetheless, the passion he shows for his hometown of Austin couldn’t be more evident from the tender way that he crafts the tragedy of one of the world’s most forgotten performers.
Tesla is not a standard biopic by any stretch of the imagination; what other film would feature Hawke (in character as Nikola Tesla) singing “Everybody Wants to Rule the World?” It doesn’t necessarily justify all of its creative swings, but Tesla is a fascinating experiment nonetheless. It’s certainly a more interesting take on Tesla than Nicholas Hoult’s largely forgotten role in the 2019 historical film The Current War.
One of Hawke’s most defining qualities is his respect for an older generation of filmmakers and actors; anyone that saw The Last Movie Stars knows that the influence of the “New Hollywood” generation was foundational within his career. As a result, Hawke often finds himself teaming up with legends of the industry; Zeros and Ones saw him working alongside Bad Lieutenant and King of New York director Abel Ferrara.
He stars in two roles as an American mercenary who is trying to stop his insane terrorist brother from detonating a bomb within the Vatican. While it’s a messy, often blatant examination of urban terrorism, political disenfranchisement, and radicalization, it’s interesting nonetheless; the themes that Ferrara addresses are similar to the ones that Hawke touched upon with Paul Schrader in their 2018 masterpiece First Reformed.