From his early work to his star-making turn in “The Notebook” and his career-defining performance in “La La Land,” we break down every Ryan Gosling performance before “First Man.”
Ryan Gosling is a critical darling and now he’s looking to be a box office one as he takes on the story of Neil Armstrong in "First Man." But how does this performance rank with others throughout his career?
The two-time Oscar nominee has proven throughout his career to have wide and varied talent, ranging from romance ("The Notebook") to comedy ("Crazy, Stupid, Love.") to action ("Drive") to musical ("La La Land") to drama ("The Big Short") to sci-fi ("Blade Runner 2049") to whatever the hell "Lars and the Real Girl" is supposed to be.
Oh sure, it may look like he can do it all, but don’t let his his natural leading man looks, cool charm and dry wit fool you. Mr. Gosling has laid a few eggs in his long and storied career.
We’ve combed the archives and taken upon ourselves the monumental sacrifice of having to stare deep into those soulful eyes throughout his entire career and ranked every single one of his starring performances.
That’s 23 films we devoured in order to come up with the definitive, and totally subjective (but obviously, completely accurate because our opinion rules!) ranking of all of Ryan Gosling’s films. We even took in the film he wrote and directed, but did not star in (but don’t worry, we taped a picture of him to our TV so we would never forget). Sometimes we don’t hate what we do.
You can dive into the full list of Gosling glory (and some shame) below, ranked from worst to first for your convenience:
23. "The United States of Leland" (2004)
Blame a lot of the problems with Gosling’s work on a terrible script that didn’t offer him a character so much as a caricature. As a teen imprisoned for murder, Gosling proved totally unable to overcome cliche lines. It turned into one of Gosling’s first overly-bland performances.
22. "Gangster Squad" (2013)
Gosling reunited with Emma Stone for this mob thriller, but lightning did not strike twice. Perhaps he was tired after churning out five movies in the past three years, but there were no layers nor was there depth to his police officer character. Instead, it looked like one of the few cash grabs of his career, and might be better left forgotten.
21. "Only God Forgives" (2013)
It’s as if Gosling forgot to show up for this film at all. He was there physically, but his performance was so bland and empty it didn’t work at all. In a film where he had virtually no lines, it needed him to sell the story with body language and physical performance, and he just didn’t bring anything to the table. After this film, Gosling stepped away from acting for two years.
20. "Murder by Numbers" (2002)
A performance with gusto, Gosling seemed determined to try and make his hackneyed stereotype of a rich high school brat have more depth in this by-the-numbers (pun intended) thriller. The film flopped, but the performances of its cast, including Sandra Bullock, Michael Pitt and Ben Chaplin, proved way better than the material.
19. "The Place Beyond the Pines" (2012)
Gosling stepped back into his "Drive" character, even if it wasn’t intentionally, as a stunt cyclist bank robber. While he’s a master of calm and cool characters, there’s a whispery thing he does with his voice sometimes that seems like he’s trying to add Fonz-level cool, but mostly comes off as an actor affecting too much and trying way too hard.
18. "Lost River" (2015) [as writer/director]
During his brief hiatus from acting, Gosling wrote and directed this film starring Christina Hendricks, Ben Mendelsohn and Matt Smith and it is … not good. Like, not at all. It has all the earmarks of a first-time director and all the trappings of a vanity project where no one was willing to stand up and tell the neophyte no. In simpler terms, while there were some interesting things here, Gosling was clearly trying way too hard.
17. "The Notebook" (2004)
The movie that made him a bona fide movie star, Gosling and co-star Rachel McAdams sparred on set, but those sparks were totally believable as love on screen. Once again, Gosling offered up a pretty laid back performance, which would come to be his dominant persona, but he was so romantic and charming, people lapped up every bit of it.
16. "The Ides of March" (2011)
Sparring with the likes of George Clooney, Paul Giamatti and Philip Seymour Hoffman, Gosling actually gets slightly overshadowed in this ambitious, but ultimately empty, political drama. His character arc from idealism to cynical disillusionment is believably handled and understated, but there’s only so much he can do with a hollow script.
15. "Song to Song" (2017)
An experimental ensemble film, it feels like a bunch of disparate stories that never quite hang together as a singular vision. Even worse, while the plot feels disjointed for the viewers, it’s as if the actors were feeling that same disconnect with their characters. It’s as if there was a kernel of a good film here, but it was pulled out of the oven half-baked and ultimately doesn’t work.
14. "Fracture" (2007)
This movie was all about scene-chewing, and Gosling was paired off with Anthony Hopkins, so you know it was good. Gosling portrayed a district attorney who squares off against Hopkins as a man who shot his cheating wife. And that sparring is the heart of the movie, and both men acquit themselves beautifully, creating some of the most entertaining and compelling courtroom scenes in cinema, even if neither character feels quite real.
13. "Stay" (2005)
While the film itself is more than a bit of a mess as far as structure, demanding patience and intense focus, Gosling offered up a twisted and mesmerizing performance, luring you into the strange world of his life … or is that afterlife? The whole thing is very trippy, but a lot of it rides on Gosling’s compelling charisma.
12. "The Slaughter Rule" (2002)
While audience didn’t seem to care about this film, most critics agreed that young Gosling was cutting his teeth here and finding himself as an actor worth watching. As a high school football player, Gosling is still raw and unpolished, but his earnestness in the more complex role only elevated him as an actor.
11. "All Good Things" (2010)
As a film, most would agree this was a fail, but as a character study and acting classes by both Gosling as real-estate heir David Marks (a fictional character based on Robert Durst, whose story mesmerized viewers in HBO documentary series "The Jinx") and Kirsten Dunst as his wife who disappeared, it’s a masterpiece. Gosling was absolutely sublime in stripping off everything recognizable about himself and embodying such a dark character that it was easy to root for him as you feared him.
10. "The Nice Guys" (2016)
A darkly sardonic Shane Black action comedy, Gosling was clearly having an absolute blast performing opposite Russell Crowe as they investigate a missing teen. The script is absolutely bonkers, but it’s held together by the conviction of its two leads, as they absolutely commit to every moment of it, elevating the silliness to something totally entertaining and watchable.
9. "La La Land" (2016)
Once again Gosling reunited with Emma Stone, and this time their on-screen chemistry helped to spark new magic and earn Gosling his second Academy Award nomination and Golden Globe win. The transcendent and joyous film became an awards-season phenomenon and deservedly affirmed his position back among true Hollywood leading men.
8. "Drive" (2011)
Gosling brought his laid back command of the stage and immersive style of acting to his first action film and embodied this Hollywood stunt driver/getaway driver with aplomb and ease. Because he’s not a typical action star, his performance had nuance and subtlety, giving it an unexpected gravitas in a very slickly produced and taut adrenaline rush.
7. "Lars and the Real Girl" (2007)
While the film itself may have been a rare misfire for Gosling’s career, his performance in it is nothing short of breathtaking. Yes, he plays a man who falls in love with a sex doll, but it is how he portrays something so patently absurd with a pathos and sincerity that you actually buy into that is truly remarkable. This is a love story we care about, and because it’s so stupid, we can only credit Gosling’s performance.
6. "Crazy, Stupid, Love." (2011)
Who knew Gosling was a comedic actor underneath all that pathos and drama. This film opened up a whole new genre for the actor as he blew audiences and critics away by eliciting genuine laughs and proving he’s a multi-faceted threat on the screen. His ladies man was the epitome of hilarious cool and the perfect foil for Steve Carell’s hapless lead, and his chemistry with Emma Stone was palpable.
5. "Blade Runner 2049" (2017)
Who knew that Gosling’s default mode of very chill, very dry, very monotone (see every interview ever) would make him perfectly suited as a "blade runner" or replicant or whatever he turned out to be. He was fantastic as an enigma and foil for Harrison Ford to chew some scenery with. It’s Ford’s film, but Gosling definitely stole a little of his thunder with his performance here.
4. "The Big Short" (2015)
Gosling’s comeback vehicle, his time away from acting seemed to reinvigorate his passion for the art completely. Suddenly, he was more like that raw kid that blew people away in his earliest efforts, earning comparisons to Brando. Serving as narrator and banker, Gosling manages to make the worst excesses of the financial collapse of 2007 both understandable and entertaining.
3. "The Believer" (2001)
It’s remarkable that one of Gosling’s most powerful performances was also one of his first. As a Jew who becomes a neo-Nazi, Gosling pours more of himself into this role than almost any other in his career. He’s so committed to all of the dark edges, there’s almost nothing recognizable of the aw-shucks former Mouseketeer that we can usually see in all of his roles.
2. "Blue Valentine" (2010)
This largely improvised film proved that Gosling was able to embody the characters he portrayed on-screen so fully he made them believable as fully-rounded people, many times even when there’s not much on the page to work with. In this experimental film he was able to explore his husband character both at the beginning and the end of his relationship with Michelle Williams, creating dynamic juxtapositions and contrasts. It’s a dark, but beautiful and realistic romantic drama, exploring the honeymoon phase of a relationship that ultimately disintegrates to everything you fear about marriage.
1. "Half Nelson" (2006)
Gosling was absolutely transformative as a junior high teacher in a performance that earned him his first Academy Award nomination. His take on a drug-addicted young man who strikes up an unlikely bond with a young student is at times torturous, painful, terrifying and uplifting. But never is it not utterly riveting.
Ryan Gosling reunites with "La La Land" director Damien Chazelle for the Neil Armstrong biopic "First Man," in theaters now.
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The Evolution of Ryan Gosling — 'Mickey Mouse Club' to 'La La Land' and Beyond
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