After years of flying under the radar of most moviegoers with various minor roles and voice acting gigs, Michael Keaton returned in a big way in 2014 with a starring role in the critically acclaimed film Birdman or The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance, directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu. Keaton’s performance in that film garnered him a Best Actor Oscar nomination.
While the success of Birdman and the buzz surrounding 2015’s Spotlight is bringing renewed attention to his career, Keaton doesn’t have to worry about being forgotten anytime soon. Keaton’s eclectic film career features multiple unforgettable roles that have demonstrated his talents as both a comedic and a dramatic actor. Here are 10 of this multitalented actor’s greatest movie performances, listed in order of their critical rankings from Rotten Tomatoes, from lowest to highest.
10. The Merry Gentleman (2009)
Keaton showcased his dramatic acting abilities and made his directorial debut with this somber film about a depressed hit man who forms a friendship with a lonely victim of domestic abuse (Kelly Macdonald). While The Merry Gentleman only brought in a modest box office take of $347,977, according to Box Office Mojo, Keaton’s understated performance was well received by the critics. The film currently has a respectable 64% approval rating from the critics at Rotten Tomatoes.
9. Batman (1989)
While the casting of Keaton as this film’s title superhero character was widely considered a controversial decision at the time, Batman/Bruce Wayne is probably the role that Keaton is now best known for, a situation that is echoed by the character he plays in the similarly titled Birdman. This Tim Burton-directed film was a blockbuster hit, with more than $251 million in total domestic gross, making it the most commercially successful film to feature Batman until 2008’s The Dark Knight, according to Box Office Mojo.
Besides Keaton, the film also features Jack Nicholson as the Joker and Kim Basinger as Vicki Vale. Batman was awarded a Best Art Direction-Set Decoration Oscar, and the film currently has a 72% approval rating from the critics at Rotten Tomatoes.
8. The Other Guys (2010)
While Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg are the stars of this silly buddy-cop movie spoof directed by Adam McKay, Keaton stole some scenes with his portrayal of Gene Mauch, a police captain with a penchant for unwittingly quoting TLC song lyrics. The Other Guys currently has a 79% approval rating from the critics at Rotten Tomatoes.
7. Batman Returns (1992)
Keaton reprised his role as the title character in this Tim Burton-directed followup to 1989’s Batman. In the film, Batman battles the Penguin (Danny DeVito) and corrupt businessman Max Shreck (Christopher Walken), while Catwoman (Michelle Pfeiffer) becomes his love interest and occasional adversary. Although not as commercially successful as Batman, Batman Returns garnered even better reviews from the critics than the original movie, with an 81% Certified Fresh critical rating at Rotten Tomatoes.
6. Beetlejuice (1988)
Before gaining fame for his starring role in Batman, Keaton was perhaps best known for his portrayal of the bizarre title character in this horror-comedy film that was also directed by Tim Burton. In the film, a recently deceased newlywed couple (Alec Baldwin and Geena Davis) seek help from an obnoxious wisecracking ghost named Beetlejuice (Keaton) in order to scare away a yuppie couple (Catherine O’Hara and Jeffrey Jones) that have moved into their house.
However, Beetlejuice only causes more problems, especially after he falls in love with the yuppie couple’s daughter (Winona Ryder). Beetlejuice was a commercial and critical success, cementing Keaton’s reputation as a superb comedic actor. The film currently has an 81% Certified Fresh rating from the critics at Rotten Tomatoes.
5. Mr. Mom (1983)
Keaton plays a husband who must take on childcare duties after losing his job while his wife goes to work in this comedy written by John Hughes and directed by Stan Dragoti. Although the film received mixed reviews from the critics, it was commercially successful and helped establish Keaton as a bankable leading man. While the film’s premise that a stay-at-home dad would be a fish out of water may seem a bit dated today, Mr. Mom has maintained its appeal over the years and currently has an 85% approval rating from the critics at Rotten Tomatoes.
4. Jackie Brown (1997)
While Keaton only had a supporting role in this Quentin Tarantino-directed adaptation of an Elmore Leonard novel, he turned in a memorable dramatic performance as Ray Nicolette, an ATF agent who is secretly being manipulated by Jackie Brown (Pam Grier). Keaton later reprised the role of Nicolette with a cameo in another screen adaptation of a Leonard novel, the Steven Soderbergh-directed film Out of Sight. Jackie Brown was positively received by critics and audiences alike, and the film currently has an 86% Certified Fresh approval rating from the critics at Rotten Tomatoes.
3. The Paper (1994)
Keaton teamed up with director Ron Howard for this comedy-drama that depicts a 24-hour period at a tabloid newspaper. In the film, Henry Hackett (Keaton) tries to find a balance between his hectic job as a newspaper editor and his family life while pursuing a story about a double homicide. The all-star cast includes Glenn Close, Marisa Tomei, Randy Quaid, and Robert Duvall. “Make Up Your Mind,” a song written and performed by renowned composer Randy Newman for the film, won an Academy Award nomination for Best Music, Original Song. The Paper currently has an 88% approval rating from the critics at Rotten Tomatoes.
2. Much Ado About Nothing (1993)
Keaton tackled another comedic role in this Kenneth Branagh-directed screen adaptation of William Shakespeare’s classic play of the same name. In the film, Keaton plays the role of Dogberry, an incompetent constable with a tendency to use malapropisms. Much Ado About Nothing features an impressive cast that includes Kenneth Branagh, Robert Sean Leonard, Keanu Reeves, Emma Thompson, Denzel Washington, and Kate Beckinsale. The film currently has a 91% Certified Fresh approval rating from the critics at Rotten Tomatoes.
1. Night Shift (1982)
Keaton’s breakout performance in this Ron Howard-directed comedy introduced viewers to the manic mannerisms that showed up in many of the actor’s later roles. In the film, Keaton plays a happy-go-lucky morgue attendant who convinces his mild-mannered coworker (Henry Winkler) to turn the morgue into a nocturnal brothel. The film received mostly positive reviews and currently has a 95% approval rating from the critics at Rotten Tomatoes.
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