Best Joaquin Phoenix Performances

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With three Academy Awards nominations, it is only a matter of time before Joaquin Phoenix becomes the owner of this highly regarded little golden statuette. 

Commodus in Gladiator, Johnny Cash in Walk the Line, Theodore in Her – those are just some of Phoenix’s most memorable roles.


With the recent Joker release, we believe it is a good time to remind ourselves of Joaquin’s best performances. 

Check out below the list of his best films according to Metacritic scores.

Can you spot your favorites?

  • Her (2013)

Spike Jonze’s film Her is exploring the idea of a human falling in love with artificial intelligence. Phoenix is portraying Theodore, a man going through a divorce. He is lonely and decides to buy a new OS, which is advertised as “consciousness”. In the months to come, Theodore realizes that he has fallen in love with Samantha, his new OS.

His co-stars include Amy Adams, Rooney Mara and Scarlett Johansson who gave voice to Samantha.

  • The Master (2012)

Phoenix’s first collaboration with Amy Adams was during the shooting of Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master. Phoenix plays a Navy veteran who gets introduced to a religious cult led by Lancaster Dodd, played by the late Philip Seymour Hoffman.

Phoenix wanted his character to have a trait of talking through a half-closed mouth. His dentist inserted metal plates, but the rubber bands which held them broke. However, screws of the plates cut into Phoenix’s cheek which reminded him to keep his mouth semi-closed. Looks like this paid off, since Phoenix was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actor.

  • You Were Never Really Here (2018)

Lynne Ramsay, of the We Need to Talk About Kevin fame, decided to cast Phoenix in her recent project. Phoenix once again portrays an emotionally damaged veteran. 

What is interesting about this movie is that Ramsay decided to send it unfinished to the Cannes Film Festival. Despite that, You Were Never Really Here received standing ovations and even got Ramsay an award for Best Screenplay, while Phoenix won for Best Actor.

  • Inherent Vice (2014)

This movie was Phoenix’s second collaboration with director Paul Thomas Anderson. Inherent Vice is based upon Thomas Pynchon’s novel of the same name. Phoenix acts as a detective Doc Sportello who gets involved in a planned kidnapping. 

One fun fact about this movie is that Robert Downey Jr. was first considered to play the detective, but the role in the end went to Phoenix.

  • The Sisters Brothers (2018)

The Sisters Brothers brings us a story of two brothers, Eli (John C. Reilly) and Charles Sisters (Joaquin Phoenix) who are assassins by their profession. They are chasing a gold prospector all over Oregon. But one of the brothers wishes to retire and lead a quiet life. Set in the 1950s, this comedy-drama-western had its premiere at the Venice Film Festival, where the director, Jacques Audiard, received the Silver Lion for Best Director.  

  • Two Lovers (2008)

The fourth collaboration between director James Gray and Phoenix is the movie Two Lovers (previous ones were Yards, We Own The Night and The Immigrant). Here Phoenix acts as a man who is torn between two women. His family wishes that he marries a longtime family friend, while he falls for his mysterious new neighbor.

This film is loosely based on the short story White Nights, written by famous Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoevsky. 

  • Walk the Line (2005)

Another role that brought Phoenix’s Oscar nomination for Best Actor was his portrayal of the famous country musician. 

Walk the Line tells the tale of Johnny Cash’s life and his career. Reese Witherspoon, who stars as Cash’s wife June Carter, sang all the songs with Phoenix in the movie. Besides singing, they both learned to play instruments that Johnny Cash and June Carter played (guitar and auto-harp) without ever playing them before. 

  • Gladiator (2000)

The role that brought Phoenix first major recognition from critics and audience was Commodus, a ruthless Roman emperor. 

Gladiator is starring Russell Crowe as Maximus who wishes to avenge his wife and child murdered by Commodus. Maximus is thrown into an arena to fight for his life while his enemy enjoys the spectacle.

By the way, Phoenix ad-libbed his famous “Am I not merciful?” scream. Connie Neilsen, who plays Commodus sister Lucilla, didn’t expect this and her frightened reaction was real.

  • Joker (2019)

His most recent role is Arthur Fleck, a comedian who will go on to become the most recognizable superhero villain – Joker.

Funnily enough, Phoenix told the interviewers that the toughest part of his performance was nailing the Joker’s laugh. His goal was also to create such an unlikeable character that the audience couldn’t possibly relate to him.

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  • I’m Still Here (2010)

Part comedy, part social experiment, I’m Still Here is a mockumentary that follows Phoenix who “retires” from acting and pursues a rap career. The director of the film is Casey Affleck, Ben Affleck’s brother and also Phoenix’s brother-in-law and best friend.

Until Affleck’s explanation that the whole movie was a joke, the audience was wondering whether it was genuine or not since Phoenix announced his “retirement” after Two Lovers premiere.

Do you wish to find some earlier Phoenix’s work? Check out and download our Movvio app to help you spot any Phoenix movie that you may have missed. 

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