Philip Seymour Hoffman was the type of actor who could steal every scene that he was a part of. He had a gift of completely becoming each character that he took on through his emotion and physicality. No matter how minor the role was, Hoffman would give it everything he had. Case in point, Hoffman is only on-screen for less than 10 minutes in Punch-Drunk Love, and yet his intimidating, nasty, yet frumpy weasel of a character is one of the greatest parts of the Paul Thomas Anderson film with Adam Sandler.
We watched him tackle several genres of cinema throughout his career. Hoffman proved his comedic capabilities while playing the struggling actor Sandy Lile in Along Came Polly, as well as countless comic bit parts in films like State and Main, The Big Lebowski, and The Boat That Rocked. As a dramatic actor, Hoffman was untouchable. He would go on to be nominated for four Academy Awards, winning in 2006 for his performance of Truman Capote in Capote. He could even play a traditional ‘baddie’ in ways more villainous than most other performers, as attested to by Mission Impossible III.
Hoffman was born in Rochester, New York, and had a strong passion for acting from a very young age. In 1989, Hoffman received a degree in drama from New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts. From there, he worked in off-Broadway theater while supporting himself with customer service jobs. Hoffman made his television debut in 1991 on Law and Order and began to receive recognition after playing a spoiled prep school student in Scent Of A Woman. Hoffman’s career took off, and he delivered several iconic roles that will stand the test of time.
Unfortunately, Hoffman passed away on February 2, 2014. It is hard to believe it has been over ten years since we lost one of the greatest actors of his generation. His legacy will live on as one of the greatest actors of all time with an incredible body of work, and now his son Cooper Hoffman has begun acting in films like Licorice Pizza with Hoffman’s longtime friend and collaborator, Paul Thomas Anderson. In honor of the ten-year passing of the late great Philip Seymour Hoffman, let’s take a look at his best performances, ranked.
Update February 5, 2024: It has been over ten years since Philip Seymour Hoffman passed away, so this article has been updated with even more great performances by the legendary actor and where you can stream each title.
In George Clooney’s 2011 political drama The Ides of March, Hoffman is brilliant as Paul Zara, a veteran political campaigner who is hired to help Clooney’s character, Governor Mike Morris, run for president, competing for power and relevancy with the younger junior campaign manager, Stephen Meyers (Ryan Gosling). The seasoned professional clashes with Meyers throughout the film despite serving as his mentor, and Hoffman delivers a scene-stealing performance as the wise and earnest man, superbly demonstrating his on-screen presence, especially when he appears alongside Paul Giamatti, who portrays the opposing candidate’s campaign manager.
Hoffman’s role as the respected spin doctor in The Ides of March was lauded by critics, and he was nominated for the BAFTA Award for Best Actor in a Supporting Role. In an interview with The National, the performer expressed, “A job like this is the best of both worlds because it’s a very dramatic, character-driven thing, but with an underlying political element. On set we talked about a lot of things, but we didn’t talk about politics.” Stream on Max.
For the black dramedy The Savages, Hoffman stars opposite Laura Linney and portrays writer and college professor Jon Savage, who, along with his estranged younger sister Wendy, join forces to help care for their ailing father as he battles dementia. The dysfunctional duo must face their past emotional traumas and conflicting feelings for the difficult patriarch, whose emotional and physical abuse led to the siblings completely cutting the man out of their lives.
The multi-layered performances of Hoffman and Linney propel the film, and their chemistry and endearing banter help lighten the heart-heavy subject matter of the drama. Linney was nominated for an Oscar for her role while Hoffman nabbed a Golden Globe nod; Time Out called the actors “wonderful — underplaying so perfectly that crumpled, bittersweet truths continue to surface.” The Savages premiered at Sundance in 2007 and maintained critical acclaim during its theatrical release window. It is one of the actor’s more underrated performances. Rent on Prime Video or AppleTV+.
Doubt, based on the play of the same name, was an epic showcase of talent, a veritable duel between two titans. Hoffman plays Father Brendan Flynn, a charismatic priest who is accused of having an inappropriate relationship with a child. Despite the films rather grim subject matter, it was a critical hit and a commercial hit, grossing $50.9 million worldwide and while much of the attention of the film went to Viola Davis, Hoffman certainly made an impression.
The scenes where Flynn is up against his accuser, Sister Aloysius Beauvier (the great Meryl Streep), are extremely emotional and intense. Hoffman’s performance is filled with righteous indignation and supposed wisdom, and at the same time, there is a lot behind his eyes that makes you question his actual soul. Hoffman was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor, his third nomination in his career. Stream on Hoopla.
In Charlie Wilson’s War, Hoffman portrays Gust Avrakotos, a passionate CIA operative who isn’t afraid to fight for what’s right. Hoffman’s portrayal of Avrakotos showed us a brilliant operative from a blue-collar background. Avrakotos isn’t afraid to scream at his boss in one of Hoffman’s best scenes of the film and shatter his office window due to his team being completely understaffed. The film had a great deal of hype, as it was the latest (and eventually final film) of legendary director Mike Nicolas and a screenplay by Aaron Sorkin and featuring cast members like Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep, the movie was seen as somewhat of a critical and awards disappointment, but one thing that certainly didn’t disappoint critics or audiences with Hoffman.
Hoffman is almost completely unrecognizable due to the physicality that he shows on screen. His performance is authentic and passionate as he portrays someone who is not afraid to call out injustice. Hoffman’s portrayal of Avrakotos was one of his greatest performances and earned him an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor which was his second nomination after winning for Capote. Released the same year as The Savages, these two performances in the same year helped solidify that Hoffman was, without a doubt, one of the best actors working at the time. Stream on Max.
Hoffman joined the cast of the Hunger Games franchise with Catching Fire, the second entry in the popular franchise. Hoffman plays Plutarch Heavensbee, the new Head Gamemaker following the death of Seneca Crane. The filmmakers lean into Hoffman’s stature by playing villainous roles or morally questionable characters to position him as a primary threat until the final moment, it is revealed it has all been a ruse. The end of the film reveals him to be a leader of the rebel movement in the Districts and is the mastermind behind the plan to break the tributes out of the arena, a role Hoffman will reprise in the final two films, which would also mark his last films.
The YA genre became known for getting high-profile A-list actors and respected thespians to join their cast, as this was often seen as an easy paycheck role for the actors or a way for them to take part for their kids. Whatever Hoffman’s reason for taking on The Hunger Games series is regardless, what matters is the work, and he is one of the franchise MVPs. While fans of the books might have known his true nature, the reveal that he was actually working with the heroes is a great twist that recontextualizes all of Catching Fire. He becomes a major player in the two sequels, and while he never got to finish his work, the role of Plutarch Heavensbee gave Hoffman a new generation of fans who might have never seen his prior work. Rent on Prime Video or AppleTV+.
Released the same year as The Ides of March, Moneyball was another great example of Phillip Seymour Hoffman just being another great actor in a film filled with great supporting roles. The movie focuses on the Oakland Athletics baseball team’s 2002 season, and their general manager, Billy Beane (Brad Pitt), and his new general manager, Peter Brand (Jonah Hill), attempt to assemble a competitive team using mathematics and statistics to recruit a winning team on their limited budget. Hoffman plays Art Howe, the Oakland Athletics’ manager who wants to use more traditional methods to scout players.
While Hoffman previously got to shine by saying Aaron Sorkin’s dialogue in Charlie Wilson’s War, he gets a second chance with Moneyball. Here, his character is more low energy, tired, and facing retirement despite wanting an extension. Based on a real-life former Baseball player and manager, Hoffman gives Art Howe a strong presence that stands out in a film that features great performances from Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill. Just because Hoffman isn’t the first name one thinks of when one hears the title Moneyball, that does not mean the actor is any less good in it. In fact, he is excellent. Stream on Netflix.
Boogie Nights was the second of many collaborations between Paul Thomas Anderson and Philip Seymour Hoffman. While not the star of the movie, it is clear that Anderson and Hoffman bonded, and the two would collaborate on three more projects together before the actor’s untimely death. The film focuses on the life and career of male porn star Dirk Diggler (Mark Wahlberg) and chronicles his discovery and his rise to stardom and eventual fall before he can recover. The movie also examines the changing nature of the adult film industry from the 1970s to the 1980s and is regarded by many to be one of the best films of the 1990s.
Hoffman plays Scotty J., a boom mic operator who is a friend of Dirk’s and also someone who is in love with him. Hoffman has a great time playing a character who is weak and timid, even lowering his voice a bit from his normal booming tone to make a comedic yet sad character. He sticks by Dirk through some of his worst, and the audience can’t help but feel bad for him. This was a role that showed Hoffman could really do it all in terms of any role and that Paul Thomas Anderson could help bring out the best in him. Rent or Buy on Prime Video and AppleTV+
Hoffman was seemingly the only actor who could have played Caden Cotard, a theater director who spent his entire life creating a play that is truly honest, in the great Charlie Kaufman masterpiece Synecdoche, New York. Hoffman’s physicality is top-notch as we watch Caden age into an old man before our eyes. The character is heart-breaking at many times as we watch him struggle with loneliness as his relationships fail.
Hoffman mixes comedic moments throughout the film, but it is high-energy, dramatic scenes that truly shine. At the same time, Hoffman portrays a deteriorating character due to his bad health. He completely embodies Caden from start to finish, giving us a tragic and thought-provoking character. The film received mixed reactions from critics at the time, with some hating it while others called it a masterpiece. One thing was clear, though: Hoffman is great in it. Rent or Purchase on AppleTV+ or Prime Video.
In The Talented Mr. Ripley, Hoffman showed us how a supporting character can steal every scene that they are in. Hoffman plays Freddie Miles, a privileged, womanizing menace who stands as a main threat against Tom Ripley’s (Matt Damon) plan. Hoffman completely embodies a character who is wealthy and sophisticated as well as crass and immature.
You’re not sure if you are supposed to love or hate Freddy Miles, but either way, he is a joy to watch due to Hoffman’s perfectly scummy performance. In every scene that he is in, Hoffman shines and boosts the sheer entertainment value of a sometimes placid film. His physicality and emotion are top-notch from beginning to end. Stream on Showtime.
Punch Drunk Love was the third collaboration between Hoffman and Anderson, and in it Hoffman gets to play one of his best roles. The movie primarily focuses on the romance between Barry Egan (Adam Sandler), a lonely entrepreneur with social anxiety, and Lena Leonard (Emily Watson), Barry’s love interest. Before Barry met Lena, he had previously called a phone sex hotline just to have someone to talk to, and the phone sex worker sent people after Barry to get money from him. Hoffman plays Dean Trumbell, the owner of a mattress store and also the supervisor of the phone sex hotline, who serves as the film’s primary antagonist.
Hoffman was always great at playing villains, and there will be a few more of his that pop up on this list, but there is something special about his role in Punch-Drunk Love. Unlike his role in Mission: Impossible III, where he is calm and collected, here he is loud and abrasive. He screams and shouts and is terrifying. He makes for a great foil to Sandler’s quiet Barry, and when the two finally come face to face it is clear that Barry is hiding a true anger under him, Hoffman’s attitude is all bluster as he backs down when finally confronted. Hoffman and Sandler might not be two actors one would associate with working together, but they are a great cinematic pairing and one that everyone is lucky to have seen happen. Stream on Hoopla.
Hot off his Oscar win (but cast long before he won), Hoffman stepped into one of his biggest roles yet, playing the lead villain in Mission: Impossible III. Hoffman plays Owen Davian, an arms dealer looking for a mysterious weapon called the Rabbit’s Foot. While Mission: Impossible III might not be Hoffman’s best movie, it is hard to argue that the role isn’t one of his best performances. He shines as the film’s villain and is the best in the entire franchise.
Mission: Impossible III is filled with moments that just highlight how great of an actor Hoffman was. From early on, when he has to play a version of Tom Cruise pretending to be him, to later in the film, when he is being interrogated by Cruise’s Ethan Hunt while keeping his calm, collected computer and still being able to threaten the hero even when he is tied up. Yet the standout moment is in his interrogation scene at the beginning and end of the movie, where he emotionally tortures Ethan Hunt by threatening the love of his life. Hoffman strikes fear into Ethan Hunt and, by extension, the audience and has cast a shadow so great over the franchise in terms of villains they have yet to top it. Stream on Paramount+
Cameron Crowe’s 2000 masterpiece, Almost Famous, is filled with iconic actors. It was a star-making role for Kate Hudson and featured the likes of Billy Crudup, Jason Lee, Patrick Fugit, Francis McDormand, Anna Paquin, and even Zooey Deschanel in one of her first roles. Phillip Seymour-Hoffman also appears in the film as Lester Bangs, the real-life music journalist who wrote for Cream and Rolling Stone Magazine and is a major influence on rock criticism. Hoffman might only have a few scenes, but he steals every one of them and is one of the best parts of the movie.
The character of Lester Bangs needs to serve as a mentor and voice of wisdom for the film’s protagonist, William (Patrick Fugit). He is supposed to be a voice of authority and guidance but also a cynical, jaded individual who William both aspires to be but wants to be different from. Hoffman truly makes Lester Bangs the most interesting person, where both the audience and William are hung up on his every word. He was a larger than life figure, one that Hoffman is able to convey so well with being a passionate, opinionated, but also free spirit for what he loves. Like Hoffman, Bangs himself would die young due to an overdose. He changed how people wrote about music, and Hoffman captured that perfectly in his performance. Stream on Paramount+.
Hoffman was a frequent collaborator of director Paul Thomas Anderson, and in 1999, Hoffman played Phil Parma, a sympathetic nurse caring for a television executive (Jason Robards) in Magnolia. Although it was a supporting role among a vast ensemble cast, Hoffman shines throughout the film and delivers an emotional, endearing character. Parma was a caretaker who genuinely loved to help people and was put to the task of helping his patient reconnect with his estranged son (Tom Cruise).
In one scene towards the end of the film, we watch Parma break down in tears after witnessing one of the most profound moments of life. Hoffman is untouchable and completely honest during this scene, as well as the rest of the film. Anderson always got the best out of Hoffman, making them one of the greatest collaborations ever in Hollywood. Stream on Paramount+.
In Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master, Hoffman plays Lancaster Dodd, the leader of a cult-like organization, who befriends a drifter named Freddy Quells (an amazing, feral Joaquin Phoenix). Hoffman gives a charismatic performance filled with passion and emotion. His relationship and love for Freddy, who is not a particularly likable character, is a joy to watch on screen. Hoffman completely transforms into Dodd and shows us a persuasive character teaching questionable methods as he gives off the impression of a well-versed man of intellect who is also petty, cowardly, and weak to simple human desires as much as Freddy Quells is.
Paul Thomas Anderson was the filmmaker that Hoffman collaborated with most throughout his career, and The Master sadly marked the final time the two would collaborate together. Yet if there was to be one final film, one couldn’t have asked for a better one than this as it is the best performance Anderson got out of Hoffman, which is saying a lot considering his body of work. This would be the last time Hoffman would be nominated for an Oscar, as he was nominated for Best Supporting Actor. While he did not win, The Master certainly stands as one of the best performances in his entire career. Rent or Purchase on Prime Video, Vudu, and AppleTV+.
It should be no surprise that Hoffman’s portrayal of Truman Capote in Bennett Miller’s film gets the #1 spot on this list; in fact, it’s often near the top of many lists chronicling the best acting performances of all time. Capote was a person with several distinctive personality and physical traits, making him a challenge for any actor to portray on screen. With that said, Hoffman completely nails his performance and, throughout Capote, you may think that you are watching the real Truman Capote.
Every line delivered by Hoffman is a joy to watch, and we feel his pain and passion as he investigates a murder and the killers involved. In one scene in particular, we watch as Capote has a final conversation with the murderers before they are executed. Hoffman gives a perfect performance in this scene as he portrays a man who is heartbroken and conflicted. Hoffman won the Academy Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role, deservingly so. In a career filled with great performances, Capote is likely the one most people will remember him for. After all these years, the actor is still greatly missed, but thankfully, he left behind an incredible body of work that generations will continue to discover. Stream on RokuTV and Hoopla.