Joaquin Phoenix Movies Ranked From Worst to Best
Whether you know him as Joaquin Phoenix or Leaf Phoenix, which is a name that Joaquin Phoenix used to go by at the beginning of his career, chances are that you have probably watched — and enjoyed — a TV series, such as Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, or movie, such as Space Camp, that he has performed in.
Here we will rank 15 Joaquin Phoenix movies from worst to best. However, I recommend watching all of the movies on this list — just maybe start at #1 and make your way backwards, if you are crunched for time.
15. I’m Still Here
If you enjoy mockumentaries, then you will get a kick out of I’m Still Here. Joaquin Phoenix and Casey Affleck co-wrote I’m Still Here, while Affleck is the director and Phoenix is the lead actor in the mockumentary.
In this mockumentary, Joaquin Phoenix announces that he is retiring from acting — and transitioning into a career as a hip hop artist. While filming, Joaquin Phoenix — who played himself — always stayed in character, even during public appearances. This convinced many people that he was actually making this career change.
Fortunately for us, Phoenix did not make this career change, and we were graced by many great performances by Phoenix in the past few years.
While Joaquin Phoenix has been in many great films, I’m Still Here is not necessarily one of them. It can be pretty crude at certain moments, with the excessive male frontal nudity and even a scene where Phoenix is defecated on while asleep. However, it is still entertaining, so give it a try.
14. You Were Never Really Here
If you enjoy psychological thrillers, then you are sure to enjoy You Were Never Really Here. Not only is the plot exciting, but Joaquin Phoenix does a great job in his role.
In You Were Never Really Here, Joaquin Phoenix plays a traumatized mercenary named Joe. Joe is hired by a politician, whose daughter has been kidnapped by a human trafficking network. (No, this is nothing like Taken.) Joe is tasked with finding the politician’s daughter and rescuing her. The human trafficking network? Joe is tasked with destroying them by whatever means necessary, no matter how violent.
The movie certainly benefits from Phoenix’s acting, but he also has a great cast in this film, including Judith Roberts, John Doman, and the young actor Dante Pereira-Olson.
13. Brother Bear
Disney often makes children’s movies that are also entertaining for adults. In fact, sometimes they are more interesting for adults than for children, since we can get more depth out of certain storylines. Brother Bear is one such movie.
Brother Bear is an animated film about an Inuit boy named Kenai, who is voiced by Joaquin Phoenix. Kenai tries taking revenge on a bear who killed his brother in an altercation that Kenai himself provoked. However, when Kenai tracks and ultimately kills this bear, the Spirits are disturbed by this senseless, unnecessary death. In order to punish Kenai, the Spirits turn Kenai into a bear.
Like most movies where someone is turned into an animal, the person must travel to a certain location in order to be turned back into a human. In this case, Kenai is supposed to journey to the Northern Lights.
The twist: a bear cub who joins Kenai during this journey and teaches Kenai how to see from someone else’s perspective. Kenai discovers the true meaning of brotherhood in this heartwarming movie.
Parenthood is a family comedy film — one of those family comedy films that has a cast of popular actors that we all love. This one has a great cast, including Joaquin Phoenix, Steve Martin, Tom Hulce, Rick Moranis, Mary Steenburgen, Jason Robards, Martha Plimpton, and the beloved Keanu Reeves.
Parenthood is based off of the personal experiences of the director, two screenwriters, and producer: Ron Howard, Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel, and Brian Grazer. Between the four of them, they have at least at least 17 children.
As the name suggests, Parenthood is about parenthood, aka being thrust into the life of being a parent. And of course one of the challenges of this is always balancing family and career.
Unfortunately, it is easy to blame yourself, the parent, when your child is having issues. This movie shows the lows, as well as the highs, with a comedic element mixed in. This is a great option for your next family movie night.
11. The Master
Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson, who is known for his epic psychological drama films, The Master is a critically acclaimed psychological drama film from 2012.
In The Master, Joaquin Phoenix plays the lead role, a traumatized World War II veteran named Freddie Quell. Freddie’s trauma causes problems in his life, since he has problems readjusting to post-war society and is prone to both violent and erratic behavior. Freddie makes really good moonshine, which has both caused him problems and brought him opportunities, ranging from Freddie being accused of poisoning an elderly colleague with his homemade moonshine to Freddie being invited to stay on a yacht that he had tried to stow away on.
One of the main points of praise for The Master was the realistic portrayal of post-World War II Americans, such as traumatized veteran Freddie.
The great cast of The Master includes, besides the great Joaquin Phoenix, Seymour Hoffman and Amy Adams. Besides the great cast, the shooting of The Master also sets it apart from other films. The first film to be released in 70 mm since Kenneth Branagh’s 1996 Hamlet, The Master was mostly shot on 65mm film stock.
10. The Immigrant
Another period piece, The Immigrant follows the life of two Polish Catholic sisters, Ewa and Magda, who arrive at Ellis Island, New York City, in 1921. While immigrants arriving at Ellis Island in the 1920s usually brings up images of the American Dream, The Immigrant shows what can happen to those who are coming to the USA in hopes of a new life.
Escaping their home, post-Great War Poland, Ewa and Magda find nothing but trouble when they arrive at Ellis Island. Magda has a lung disease, which puts her in forced quarantine. Ewa is saved from deportation by a Jewish man named Bruno, who is played by Joaquin Phoenix. Bruno noticed Ewa’s fluency in English, as well as her beautiful looks, and took advantage of the situation at hand. In order to allow Ewa to earn the money she needs to get her sister out of quarantine, Bruno allows her to dance at his theater, the Bandits’ Roost, and even prostitutes her out.
Ewa is played by the beautiful Marion Cotillard. Jeremy Renner also shows up in The Immigrant, as Emil, aka Orlando the Magician.
9. To Die For
To Die For is a black comedy/crime drama, starring the stunning Nicole Kidman. Nicole Kidman plays Suzanne Stone, a woman who knows what she wants and is willing to do anything to get it.
What Suzanne wants is to become a world-famous broadcast journalist. In order to realize this goal, Suzanne finds a man to support her, in this case a restaurant-owner named Larry, who is played by Matt Dillon, and she takes up a part-time job as the weather girl of a local cable station.
As I mentioned, Suzanne knows what she wants. What she does not like or want is the family that Larry is pushing her to have. In order to get out of having a family with Larry, Suzanne uses her connections with some teens who she has met via the Teens Speak Out TV documentary that she is working on. She seduces one of the teens, Jimmy, who is played by Joaquin Phoenix, and convinces him to kill Larry, with the help of two other teens.
Nicole Kidman’s role was spot-on, even resulting in one psychiatric journal publisher, BMC Psychiatry, to describe her character as suffering from NPD, narcissistic personality disorder.
8. Hotel Rwanda
While Hotel Rwanda does not star Joaquin Phoenix, it is definitely still worth watching. Starring Don Cheadle, Hotel Rwanda is a drama that is also a period piece, this one focusing on the Rwandan genocide, which occurred during the spring of 1994.
Don Cheadle plays Paul Rusesabagina, the manager of a hotel named Hôtel des Mille Colline. Paul is a Hutu, while his wife is a Tutsi. This is of course not looked upon well, especially by the Hutu extremists. The political situation in Rwanda gets worse and worse, ultimately leading to the assassination of the Rwandan president, whose plane was shot down.
After that, Paul and his family see their neighbors being killed, the beginning of what will turn into a genocide. Paul does everything he can to save the Tutsi refugees by hiding them in the hotel.
This is a very powerful movie, which should not be watched when you are already having a down day. It is important to watch though, and it has a great cast, including Joaquin Phoenix, Sophie Okonedo, and Nick Nolte.
7. Buffalo Soldiers
Another war film, Buffalo Soldiers is also a satirical black comedy film. Buffalo Soldiers is set in 1989, when the fall of the Berlin Wall was imminent. The film follows a group of US soldiers stationed in Stuttgart, which is located in what was considered West Germany, as well as all of their rogue activities.
Joaquin Phoenix plays a disillusioned US Army Supply Specialist named Ray Elwood. Ray has a friendly commanding officer, named Colonel Berman and played by Ed Harris. Colonel Berman thinks that Ray is a close friend, not knowing that Ray is actually committing black marketeering, cooking heroin for the Military Police (MP), and even having an affair with his wife. Things go South for Ray when a new and strict First Sergeant played by Scott Glenn joins their supply company.
The film derives its name from the 1983 song “Buffalo Soldier” by Bob Marley. While Joaquin Phoenix and Ed Harris perform well in this movie, the amazing cast is rounded out by Anna Paquin, Michael Peña, and Idris Elba, among others.
If you have still not seen Gladiator, then you need to change your life. Gladiator is, or at least should be by now, a classic. It can’t get much better than an epic historical drama starring Russel Crowe.
Set in AD 180, Hispano-Roman General Maximus Decimus Meridius, played by Russel Crowe, leads the Roman army to victory against the Germanic tribes. His plan is to then return home; however, Emperor Marcus Aurelius wants Maximus, rather than his own son, Commodus (played by Joaquin Phoenix), who he deems “unfit”, to take over and lead Rome, in order to try to save Rome from corruption, as well as to restore the Roman Republic. The Emperor’s son does not like this and decides to kill his father and take over.
After doing so, Commodus wants Maximus to pledge his allegiance to him, which he refuses to do.
If you like good fight scenes, ancient Rome, and duels that take place in the Roman Colosseum, then Gladiator is your next must-see movie. Plus, the great cast really brings everything together. Some members of this wonderful cast include Connie Nielsen, Djimon Hounsou, and Richard Harris.
5. Inherent Vice
Located under the neo-noir crime genre, Inherent Vice is based on a novel of the same name written by Thomas Pynchon. While film adaptations of books sometimes miss the mark, Inherent Vice received critical acclaim, even being named one of the ten best films of the entire year by the National Board of Review.
Joaquin Phoenix plays Larry “Doc” Sportello, a private investigator, as well as a stoner and hippie. Doc’s ex-lover reached out to him, in the hopes that Doc could help protect her new lover from being unwillfully institutionalized by his current wife.
Doc is more than happy to help. Unfortunately for him, many problems come up once he gets involved.
If you like sci-fi, horror, and Joaquin Phoenix, then you must have watched the 2002 film Signs, which is directed by the one and only M. Night Shyamalan. If you have not yet watched Signs, then that should go to #1 on your COVID-19 lockdown movie list.
Signs is about a family living on a farm. Joaquin Phoenix plays Merrill, the younger brother of the main character, Graham, who is played by Mel Gibson. We get to watch as strange things start happening on the farm and around the world, beginning with huge crop circles found in the main family’s cornfield.
This film is a lot of fun, and it is worth watching just for the cast, which also includes Abigail Breslin and Rory Culkin, who play Graham’s children in the film.
3. Walk the Line
The only thing I love more than listening to Johnny Cash songs is watching Joaquin Phoenix play Johnny Cash in Walk the Line, which is named after one of Johnny Cash’s songs.
Joaquin Phoenix and his co-star Reese Witherspoon, who plays June Carter Cash in the film, really bring the story alive. If you enjoy movies that show the lives of musicians and actors and show how they make it big, then you will also love Walk the Line.
If you have heard any of Johnny Cash’s music, then you will know that it is filled with sorrow, dark humor, and themes of prison life, moral tribulation, and redemption. This movie, which shows the life of Johnny Cash, really puts his music into perspective.
One of the amazing things that has come out of today’s digital world is the abundance of interesting sci-fi movies, especially those that play with the idea of artificial intelligence getting emotions, even sometimes falling in love.
In Her, Joaquin Phoenix plays Theodore Twombly, a lonely, introverted, and depressed man. Theodore is going through a divorce, though he is reluctant to actually sign the divorce papers, since he does not want to let go of Catherine, who is his childhood sweetheart.
Theodore ends up getting an operating system upgrade that comes with an AI virtual assistant. He gives this AI a girl’s voice and names her Samantha.
It is really interesting to see how, on one hand, Theodore grows and learns more about himself and his emotions, and on the other hand, Samantha, just artificial intelligence, also grows and learns psychologically.
Joker was just an extraordinary film. Joaquin Phoenix had such a deep and amazing portrayal of the Joker, that debates have sprung up over who the best Joker really is: Heath Ledger or Joaquin Phoenix.
Regardless of your take on the debate, the 2019 Joker film was intense. This alternate origin story of how Arthur Fleck becomes the Joker. This film is more than just a regular action, superhero film though. Joker is actually a psychological thriller, which shows a sad story of what can become of someone who is psychologically ill and mistreated by society.
It is hard not to feel for the Joker, when you see what his origin was.
Featured image credit: Andrea Raffin / Shutterstock.com