Movies Every Actor Should Seeby nicdasavi | created - 15 Jul 2015 | updated - 11 Feb 2016 | Public
Speaking of underappreciated, “The Standbys” highlights some of the hardest-working performers in the theater: the ones who seldom get to perform at all. The demanding world of Broadway understudies and standbys finally gets the spotlight as director Stephanie Riggs follows three actors on the verge of their big break, as talented as the stars they occasionally get to replace onstage.
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1. The Pink Panther (1963)
Not Rated | 115 min | Comedy, Crime, Romance
The bumbling Inspector Clouseau travels to Rome to catch a notorious jewel thief known as "The Phantom" before he conducts his most daring heist yet: a princess' priceless diamond with one slight imperfection, known as "The Pink Panther".
Votes: 45,546 | Gross: $10.88M
Instinct is a natural tendency to, in character, behave in a certain way. All actors have a bit of instinct – some more than others. For example, Peter Sellers’ success in the lead role of the 1963 film The Pink Panther is often attributed to his improvisation and strong instincts for the role of Inspector Clouseau – including the well-known (and hilarious) globe-spinning scene.
2. Beasts of the Southern Wild (2012)
PG-13 | 93 min | Adventure, Drama, Fantasy
Faced with both her hot-tempered father's fading health and melting ice-caps that flood her ramshackle bayou community and unleash ancient aurochs, six-year-old Hushpuppy must learn the ways of courage and love.
Votes: 78,280 | Gross: $12.80M
Too young for years of training to hone their skills, many child actors also have excellent instincts. An example is the youngest-ever Best Actress Oscar nominee (2013) Quvenzhané Wallis. In Beasts of the Southern Wild, six-year-old Wallis held audiences spellbound with her poise, charisma, and natural talent. Her instincts are inspiring for anyone hoping to improve their acting techniques.
3. Walk the Line (2005)
PG-13 | 136 min | Biography, Drama, Music
A chronicle of country music legend Johnny Cash's life, from his early days on an Arkansas cotton farm to his rise to fame with Sun Records in Memphis, where he recorded alongside Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Carl Perkins.
Votes: 220,144 | Gross: $119.52M
Beyond instinct, most actors spend a lot of time developing the character they’re playing. Some actors even go as far as dropping everything in their day-to-day life to “become” the character, using method acting techniques. In the making of the 2005 film Walk the Line, actor Joaquin Phoenix immersed himself in his character to successfully portray famed country singer Johnny Cash. For the role of June Carter Cash, Reese Witherspoon learned to sing and play the autoharp in order to perform live in the film. Witherspoon won numerous awards for the role, including an Oscar for Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role.
PG-13 | 143 min | Action, Adventure, Fantasy
Blacksmith Will Turner teams up with eccentric pirate "Captain" Jack Sparrow to save his love, the governor's daughter, from Jack's former pirate allies, who are now undead.
Votes: 978,859 | Gross: $305.41M
Acting involves paying attention to stage directions and blocking – your positioning, movement, and body language – some of which are outlined in the script, while others are not. These stage directions often convey a character’s emotional and physical state. For example, poor posture could mean insecurity, or a stumbling gait could mean the character is intoxicated, old, or injured.
In the 2003 film Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, actor Johnny Depp showed off this acting technique in various scenes, from his mischievous swagger to his quick-thinking rescue of the fainting Elizabeth.
5. The Devil Wears Prada (2006)
PG-13 | 109 min | Comedy, Drama
A smart but sensible new graduate lands a job as an assistant to Miranda Priestly, the demanding editor-in-chief of a high fashion magazine.
Votes: 347,972 | Gross: $124.74M
The 2006 comedy-drama The Devil Wears Prada is another great film to observe this technique. Meryl Streep’s role as an ego-centric and cold magazine editor is defined and then reinforced by her demeanor, walk, and gestures. Anne Hathaway’s initially insecure character evolves throughout the film to become a confident but stressed young professional; Hathaway’s role relies heavily on physicality to show this transformation.
6. Coal Miner's Daughter (1980)
PG | 124 min | Biography, Drama, Music
Biographical story of the legendary country singer's rise from humble, poverty-stricken beginnings in Kentucky to worldwide superstardom and how she changed the sound and style of country music forever.
Votes: 15,622 | Gross: $67.18M
It isn’t just singers that need vocal training! Actors need to learn how to project and enunciate, and some roles require additional training in learning specific accents or vocal tics. For example, in the 1980 biographical film Coal Miner’s Daughter, Sissy Spacek plays a convincing Loretta Lynn based on her ability to incorporate the singer’s speaking style.
7. Brokeback Mountain (2005)
R | 134 min | Drama, Romance
The story of a forbidden and secretive relationship between two cowboys, and their lives over the years.
Votes: 306,368 | Gross: $83.04M
The 2005 film Brokeback Mountain demonstrates the skills of actors Heath Ledger, Jake Gyllenhaal, and Randy Quaid in assuming their characters’ physicality and speaking styles. Ledger’s character has a quiet nature and a distinct rural Wyoming accent, and his spot-on performance earned him several award nominations.
8. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969)
PG | 110 min | Biography, Crime, Drama
Wyoming, early 1900s. Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid are the leaders of a band of outlaws. After a train robbery goes wrong they find themselves on the run with a posse hard on their heels. Their solution - escape to Bolivia.
Votes: 191,839 | Gross: $102.31M
Acting is rarely a monologue. During your acting lessons or performance practice, you’ll learn to hone the skills of listening and reacting to acting partners. Think of the spark between acting duos like Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy, Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, and Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor. One particular performance that epitomizes good listening and reacting is Robert Redford and Paul Newman co-starring in the 1969 film Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. They skillfully play off each other like old friends, especially during the ambush scene when they’re working as guards at a mining company.
9. My Left Foot (1989)
R | 103 min | Biography, Drama
Christy Brown, born with cerebral palsy, learns to paint and write with his only controllable limb - his left foot.
Votes: 62,760 | Gross: $14.74M
Daniel Day-Lewis is well-known for his extreme and hyper-realistic performances, but the most famous example of his method acting techniques is the role that won him the first of three Academy Awards. For My Left Foot, in which he portrayed a paralyzed artist, Day-Lewis lived in a cerebral palsy ward for eight weeks. He also spent the entirety of the film in a wheelchair; crew members had to carry him to each scene and spoon-feed him. According to The Telegraph, the Oscar wasn’t his only takeaway; he also ended up with two broken ribs as a result of all the time he spent slumped over in a chair.
10. The Men (1950)
Passed | 85 min | Drama
A paralyzed war vet tries to adjust to the world without the use of his limbs.
Votes: 3,946 | Gross: $7.10M
Today, the name Marlon Brando is synonymous with great acting. However, when Brando was preparing for his very first film role, he was desperate to give a realistic performance. His task: getting into character as a veteran who lost the use of his legs. Brando himself had a bad knee, but he was also rejected from military service in real life. To better understand the life of a paraplegic war hero, he stayed in a military hospital, just as the film’s screenwriter did. There, Brando spent two weeks using a wheelchair as he attended classes and therapy sessions with patients.
11. The Pianist (2002)
R | 150 min | Biography, Drama, Music
A Polish Jewish musician struggles to survive the destruction of the Warsaw ghetto of World War II.
Votes: 668,064 | Gross: $32.57M
When Adrien Brody won an Oscar in 2003, it was a pleasant shock. Not only was he the youngest Best Actor in history at age 29, everyone expected fellow method actor Daniel Day-Lewis to win for Gangs of New York. However, if you knew what Brody did to prepare for the part, his win wouldn’t come as a surprise at all. As he later detailed to the BBC, he fully committed to his transformation into Holocaust survivor Władysław Szpilman. Brody sold his apartment and car, did away with telephones, and even stopped eating, which helped him finally understand the “desperation” of hunger. He also became an actual pianist, practicing Chopin for four hours every day.
12. Man on the Moon (1999)
R | 118 min | Biography, Comedy, Drama
The life and career of legendary comedian Andy Kaufman.
Votes: 118,687 | Gross: $34.58M
Jim Carrey built a career out of uncanny imitations on the sketch show In Living Color. However, when he was cast in the biopic Man on the Moon, he shed his comic exaggerations to focus on a realistic portrayal of a man with larger-than-life quirks. Carrey took on the dramatic role of comedian Andy Kaufman, adopting his tics and erratic movements both on- and off-set. According to Entertainment Weekly, producers collected more than 200 hours’ worth of footage of Carrey living as Kaufman. He even befriended Kaufman’s real-life romantic partner, who filmed his behind-the-scenes antics.
13. I'm Still Here (I) (2010)
R | 108 min | Comedy, Drama, Music
Documents Joaquin Phoenix's transition from the acting world to a career as an aspiring rapper.
Votes: 19,492 | Gross: $0.41M
Like Jim Carrey, Joaquin Phoenix is known for diving into roles. When he was filming Walk the Line, he insisted on being treated like Johnny Cash himself. However, his most iconic foray into method acting wasn’t related to a real-life character. For his friend Casey Affleck’s “mockumentary” I’m Still Here, Joaquin turned himself into an intriguing character. The actor bewildered his fans, critics, and the occasional talk show host by pretending to give up acting while cameras followed his “reinvention” as a less-than-talented rapper.
14. My Man Godfrey (1936)
Not Rated | 94 min | Comedy, Drama, Romance
A scatterbrained socialite hires a vagrant as a family butler - but there's more to Godfrey than meets the eye.
Carole Lombard is beautiful and elegant, and I loved the way it was directed,” says Catherine Keener. ”Not one extra beat in a movie full of tricks — not fakery.
15. The Philadelphia Story (1940)
Not Rated | 112 min | Comedy, Romance
When a rich woman's ex-husband and a tabloid-type reporter turn up just before her planned remarriage, she begins to learn the truth about herself.
A classic, amazing, beautiful Katharine Hepburn performance,” says Mark Ruffalo of director George Cukor’s rom-com. ”Sweet and funny, it’s the perfect capsule of that time period.
16. Sullivan's Travels (1941)
Not Rated | 90 min | Adventure, Comedy, Drama
A director of escapist films goes on the road as a hobo to learn about life, which gives him a rude awakening.
It was such a sophisticated movie for that period, with all these twists and turns and double meanings,” says Keener. ”It was just such a surprise to me when I saw it as a kid with my dad.
17. Dial M for Murder (1954)
PG | 105 min | Crime, Thriller
A tennis player frames his unfaithful wife for first-degree murder after she inadvertently hinders his plan to kill her.
Votes: 144,790 | Gross: $0.01M
This was my first film with Grace Kelly, and she’s so stunningly effortless,” says Hailee Steinfeld. ”The simplicity of her and the movie is really something else.
18. Anatomy of a Murder (1959)
Not Rated | 161 min | Crime, Drama, Mystery
In a murder trial, the defendant says he suffered temporary insanity after the victim raped his wife. What is the truth, and will he win his case?
Votes: 55,421 | Gross: $11.90M
A quintessential noir film” from genre master Otto Preminger, says Ruffalo, with Lee Remick playing the enigmatic woman whose husband is charged with the murder of her alleged rapist.
19. The 400 Blows (1959)
Not Rated | 99 min | Crime, Drama
A young boy, left without attention, delves into a life of petty crime.
A beautiful performance [by young Jean-Pierre Léaud], and a powerful perspective of the world from a child’s point of view,” says Ruffalo.
20. Breathless (1960)
Not Rated | 90 min | Crime, Drama
A small-time thief steals a car and impulsively murders a motorcycle policeman. Wanted by the authorities, he reunites with a hip American journalism student and attempts to persuade her to run away with him to Italy.
Votes: 66,723 | Gross: $0.34M
It’s so funny when you think of the New Wave, because each filmmaker was his own wave,” says Keener. ”I wish I knew French because Breathless is so beautiful.
21. Persona (1966)
Not Rated | 83 min | Drama, Thriller
A nurse is put in charge of a mute actress and finds that their personae are melding together.
Persona blew my mind. That was another shift in how I viewed movies,” Keener says. ”Liv Ullmann was perfect, and what actress doesn’t have the desire to stop talking for good?
22. Easy Rider (1969)
R | 95 min | Adventure, Drama
Through the open country and desert lands, two bikers head from L.A to New Orleans, and along the way, meet a man who bridges a counter-culture gap they are unaware of.
Votes: 92,955 | Gross: $41.73M
It’s punk rock. It’s daring. It’s modern,” Ruffalo says. ”It’s the first of a kind of American modernism.
23. The Last Picture Show (1971)
R | 118 min | Drama, Romance
In 1951, a group of high schoolers come of age in a bleak, isolated, atrophied West Texas town that is slowly dying, both culturally and economically.
Votes: 38,905 | Gross: $29.13M
It’s raw and unvarnished, by one of the great American filmmakers,” Ruffalo says of Peter Bogdanovich’s black-and-white nostalgia piece.
24. Harold and Maude (1971)
PG | 91 min | Comedy, Drama, Romance
Young, rich, and obsessed with death, Harold finds himself changed forever when he meets lively septuagenarian Maude at a funeral.
Auntie Mame meets Holden Caulfield,” says Ruffalo. ”It’s just an incredibly profound love story that cracks open mortality and the ideas and definition of romantic love and pathos and teen angst.
25. Paper Moon (1973)
PG | 102 min | Comedy, Drama
During the Great Depression, a con man finds himself saddled with a young girl who may or may not be his daughter, and the two forge an unlikely partnership.
Votes: 39,040 | Gross: $30.93M
I remember seeing it when I was 8 or 9 and being extremely inspired by Tatum O’Neal’s performance,” Steinfeld says. ”She was [my age], and I just remember thinking, ‘If she can do it, I can do it.
26. Day for Night (1973)
PG | 116 min | Comedy, Drama, Romance
A committed film director struggles to complete his movie while coping with a myriad of crises, personal and professional, among the cast and crew.
Votes: 18,416 | Gross: $0.02M
Life and art crash together in François Truffaut’s series of relationship vignettes about a star-crossed movie production. ”It’s filmmaking at its finest,” Keener says.
27. Chinatown (1974)
R | 130 min | Drama, Mystery, Thriller
A private detective hired to expose an adulterer finds himself caught up in a web of deceit, corruption, and murder.
Votes: 273,589 | Gross: $29.20M
Great career-making performances from Jack Nicholson and Faye Dunaway, with a Polish director [Roman Polanski] delivering the best of American filmmaking with a French flair,” Ruffalo says.
28. A Woman Under the Influence (1974)
R | 155 min | Drama, Romance
Mabel, a wife and mother, is loved by her husband Nick but her mental illness proves to be a problem in the marriage.
Votes: 18,913 | Gross: $13.34M
A look at the trials of a housewife that director John Cassavetes wrote for his offscreen spouse, Gena Rowlands. Keener calls the film ”a beautiful husband-wife collaboration of sheer power.
29. Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore (1974)
PG | 112 min | Drama, Romance
A recently widowed woman is on the road with her precocious young son, determined to make a new life for herself as a singer.
Votes: 19,669 | Gross: $18.60M
To Ruffalo, Martin Scorsese’s film about a widow and her son was ”a total breakaway [after Mean Streets] with just amazing kids’ performances,” including Jodie Foster’s supporting role.
30. Grey Gardens (1975)
PG | 95 min | Documentary, Comedy, Drama
An old mother and her middle-aged daughter, the aunt and cousin of Jacqueline Kennedy, live their eccentric lives in a filthy, decaying mansion in East Hampton.
Votes: 11,093 | Gross: $0.03M
31. Annie Hall (1977)
PG | 93 min | Comedy, Romance
Neurotic New York comedian Alvy Singer falls in love with the ditzy Annie Hall.
Votes: 240,647 | Gross: $39.20M
I pulled out a notebook after I saw it and started writing about how I loved Diane Keaton’s character,” Steinfeld says. ”My thoughts were running wild. I still have a hard time wrapping my head around it.
32. The Last Waltz (1978)
PG | 117 min | Documentary, Biography, Music
A film account and presentation of the final concert of The Band.
Votes: 15,032 | Gross: $0.32M
For me, that movie was Joni Mitchell blowing everybody away,” Keener says. ”I wanted Hailee to see that kind of raw power and talent.
33. Being There (1979)
PG | 130 min | Comedy, Drama
A simpleminded, sheltered gardener becomes an unlikely trusted advisor to a powerful businessman and an insider in Washington politics.
Votes: 61,805 | Gross: $30.18M
Amazing stylistic performance from Peter Sellers and great character work, and that’s Shirley MacLaine just smashing it,” says Ruffalo.
34. Being John Malkovich (1999)
R | 113 min | Comedy, Drama, Fantasy
A puppeteer discovers a portal that leads literally into the head of movie star John Malkovich.
Votes: 293,763 | Gross: $22.86M
This started for me with reading the script and going, ‘Who is [screenwriter] Charlie Kaufman, and what the f— is wrong with him?’ in the most amazing way,” Keener says. ”It kept going weirder and weirder.
35. Best in Show (2000)
PG-13 | 90 min | Comedy
A colorful array of characters compete at a national dog show.
Votes: 52,058 | Gross: $18.62M
Catherine O’Hara leads a cast of ”comediennes that were beautiful and sexy and funny and loose and absolutely delicious,” marvels Ruffalo.
36. Lovely & Amazing (2001)
R | 91 min | Comedy, Drama, Romance
Self-esteem and insecurity are at the heart of this comedy about the relationship between a mother and her three confused daughters.
Votes: 6,612 | Gross: $4.19M
Keener is just so cool,” Steinfeld says. ”She’s the smartest one in the room and she just knows it. And she’s so great in that film.
37. Every Little Step (2008)
PG-13 | 96 min | Documentary, Music
Follows the plight of real-life dancers as they struggle through auditions for the Broadway revival of "A Chorus Line". Also investigates the history of the show and the creative minds behind the original and current incarnations.
Votes: 1,321 | Gross: $1.72M
How’s this for meta-theatrical? “Every Little Step” chronicles the most difficult challenge an aspiring Broadway actor could undertake: booking a role in the classic show about aspiring Broadway actors. Following the ups and downs of real-life dancers auditioning for the 2006 revival of “A Chorus Line,” this documentary tugs at the heartstrings of starry-eyed triple threats everywhere. The film features interviews with both struggling auditioners and the musical’s creators, providing an astonishing look at what drives Broadway hopefuls.
38. Casting By (2012)
TV-14 | 89 min | Documentary
The surprising, never-before-told tale of the indispensable yet unsung Casting Director - Iconoclasts whose keen eye, exquisite taste and gut instincts redefined Hollywood.
Votes: 1,385 | Gross: $0.01M
Tom Donahue’s in-depth look at the underappreciated casting profession has been called a masterpiece by critics and industry professionals alike. Focusing specifically on Marion Dougherty, the pioneer whose casting choices shaped Hollywood throughout the second half of the 20th century, this doc asks some of the world’s most iconic actors—Woody Allen, Clint Eastwood, Dustin Hoffman, and countless others—about the people who helped turn them into icons.
39. The Standbys (2012)
76 min | Documentary, Drama
A documentary revealing the under-appreciated, highly demanding world of Broadway Understudies and Standbys. Three undiscovered performers at various points in their careers get the chance ... See full summary »
40. Lost in La Mancha (2002)
R | 89 min | Documentary
Votes: 10,821 | Gross: $0.73M
Think making a movie is easy? You won’t after seeing the behind-the-scenes story of the legendary Terry Gilliam’s failed attempts to film “The Man Who Killed Don Quixote.” The endless roadblocks the writer-director faced include jet fighters, back injuries, and a storm washing away equipment. But his loss is our gain; co-starring Johnny Depp and narrated by Jeff Bridges, the wildly entertaining “Lost in La Mancha” is an accidental masterpiece about the filmmaking process.
41. Searching for Debra Winger (2002)
R | 100 min | Documentary
Rosanna Arquette talks to various actresses about the pressures they face as women working in the entertainment industry.
Rosanna Arquette’s frank examination of women’s roles in Hollywood is worth watching if only to hear from its avalanche of amazing stars: Robin Wright! Whoopi Goldberg! Frances McDormand! Inspired by Debra Winger’s self-imposed retirement and “The Red Shoes,” a film about a woman forced to choose between her art and love, this series of interviews lays bare the frustration still facing many female actors who dare to grow older.
42. ShowBusiness: The Road to Broadway (2007)
PG | 102 min | Documentary
Going behind the curtain to capture the most controversial, passionate, risky and high-profile Broadway season in decades.
Votes: 313 | Gross: $0.15M
For a look at the hurdles, complications, and joys of bringing a show to the Great White Way, this documentary is a must-see. Dori Berinstein follows the four biggest musicals of the 2003–4 Broadway season (“Wicked,” “Taboo,” “Caroline, or Change,” and the eventual Tony winner for best new musical, “Avenue Q”) from auditions to rehearsals to opening night. We wish she would make another one every year!