Ethan Hawke’s 10 Best Movies

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  04 Sep 2015 

Much has been made of the unorthodox way Richard Linklater filmed Boyhood, working with the same cast over a twelve-year span — but it’s also worth pointing out that the cast in question boasts plenty of talent, including Linklater’s frequent male lead, Ethan Hawke. With Boyhood, we decided to take the opportunity to have a look at Hawke’s filmography — and although it’s as stuffed with Linklater collaborations as you might expect, there’s also a lot more going on here, including some of the most cherished movies of the 1980s, 1990s, and beyond.

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10 Explorers
imdb
rating

6.6

Explorers (1985)

Adventure, Fantasy, Science Fiction, Family

Between 1985’s Explorers and 1986’s Space Camp, the mid-’80s were a pretty great time for young astronauts at the movies — and although neither picture did all that well at the box office, the former film has gone on to enjoy cult status. This is partly thanks to Joe Dante’s ever-effusive direction of a sweet-tempered Eric Luke screenplay about neighborhood pals who use spare parts, computer knowhow, and a ton of youthful gumption to man their own space expedition — but it also didn’t hurt that Dante had a terrific young cast to work with, including Hawke (as Ben, the kid who dreams of traveling into space) and River Phoenix (as his computer-wiz pal Wolfgang). Explorers isn’t without its problems, among them a final act that many critics felt was a letdown after the refreshing fun of the buildup, but it still adds up to what Film4’s Daniel Etherington called “An enjoyable, quintessentially 1980s science-fiction adventure, full of wit and crafty pop culture references.”

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The visionary dreams of three curious and adventuresome young boys become an exciting reality in Explorers, the action-fantasy from director Joe Dante, who combines keen humour, warmth and fantasy with unexpected twists. In their makeshift laboratory, the boys use an amazing discovery and their ingenuity to build there own spaceship and launch themselves on a fantastic interplanetary journey.

actors:
Ethan Hawke as Ben Crandall   River Phoenix as Wolfgang Müller   Bobby Fite as Steve Jackson   James Cromwell as Mr. Müller   Amanda Peterson as Lori Swenson   Bradley Gregg as Steve Jackson's Gang   Georg Olden as Steve Jackson's Gang   Chance Schwass as Steve Jackson's Gang   Danny Nucci as Nasty Kid at School   Jason Presson as Darren Woods   Dana Ivey as Mrs. Müller   Taliesin Jaffe as Ludwig Müller   Brooke Bundy as Science Teacher   Tricia Bartholome as Girl in Classroom   Eric Luke as Darren's Teacher   Robert Picardo as Starkiller / Wak / Wak and Neek's Father   Leslie Rickert as Neek  

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9 Tape
imdb
rating

7.3

Tape (2001)

Drama

The camcorder auteur version of Old Home Week, 2001’s Tape reunited Ethan Hawke with a frequent collaborator (director Richard Linklater), a former co-star (Robert Sean Leonard, who’d worked with him in Dead Poets Society), and his then-current spouse (Uma Thurman) to deliver a tightly wound adaptation of the Stephen Belber play about an increasingly unpleasant encounter between a pair of old high school buddies, fraught with the tension caused by the fact that one (Leonard) has a budding filmmaking career while the other (Hawke) is a small-town drug dealer living in hotel squalor — not to mention their shared history with a former girlfriend who’s still in the area (Thurman). It isn’t the cheeriest viewing or the prettiest movie to look at, but as a can’t-look-away drama and an example of Linklater’s ability to successfully test cinematic limits, it’s pretty darn compelling. “Three actors yakking in a single drab interior, shot on HD video,” marveled Variety’s Dennis Harvey. “It’s unlikely this poverty-program recipe has, or ever will again, yield results quite as entertaining as Tape.”

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A three-character ensemble piece set within the confines of a tawdry motor lodge in Lansing, Michigan. After 10 years apart, three disparate people come together to play out the unresolved drama of their final days in high school. Intrigued, we watch as layers of denial are slowly peeled away. Suspense builds as each character is provoked into revealing his or her true nature and motivation. Mesmerized, we are drawn into their lives as they choose which cards to play and which cards to hold.

actors:
Uma Thurman as Amy Randall   Ethan Hawke as Vince   Robert Sean Leonard as Jon Salter  

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8 Waking Life
imdb
rating

7.8

Waking Life (2001)

Animation, Drama

Richard Linklater sure was busy during the months leading up to the 2001 Sundance Festival. Not only did he complete Tape, the ensemble camcorder drama that reunited him with frequent muse Ethan Hawke, but he also turned in Waking Life, an ambitious blend of heady intellectual themes and eye-catching visual effects. Framed by the journey of a young man (played by Dazed and Confused star Wiley Wiggins) through a city filled with a motley assortment of blue-collar philosophers and intriguing weirdos — portrayed by “interpolated rotoscoping”-ized versions of Hawke, Julie Delpy, Adam Goldberg, Nicky Katt, and others — Waking offers food for thought and a distinctive treat for the eyes. Calling it “Exhilarating, transporting, funny and haunting — and at times maddeningly heady or narcotically logy,” Salon’s Stephanie Zacharek decreed, “Waking Life doesn’t compare to any other movie experience I’ve ever had.”

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Waking Life is about a young man in a persistent lucid dream-like state. The film follows its protagonist as he initially observes and later participates in philosophical discussions that weave together issues like reality, free will, our relationships with others, and the meaning of life.

actors:
Wiley Wiggins as Main Character   Ethan Hawke as Jesse   Julie Delpy as Celine   Ken Webster as Bartender   Adam Goldberg as One of Four Men   Steven Soderbergh as Interviewed on television   Bill Wise as Boat Car Guy   Charles Gunning as Angry Man in Jail   Caveh Zahedi as Caveh Zahedi  

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7 Gattaca
imdb
rating

7.8

Gattaca (1997)

Mystery, Science Fiction, Thriller, Romance

In 1996, Dolly the sheep made headlines as the first cloned mammal, sending previously sci-fi-worthy topics like genetic engineering and eugenics to the forefront of public debate. You’d think that would make an instant smash out of a futuristic thriller about a man hiding behind someone else’s genetic identity — Columbia Pictures certainly thought so — but Andrew Niccol’s Gattaca still went down as one of 1997’s more notorious flops. Hawke starred as Vincent Freeman, a genetic “in-valid” who flouts the rules preventing him from joining the space program by buying off Jerome Morrow (Jude Law), a paraplegic ex-swimmer with perfect DNA, setting in motion a chain of events that puts Freeman on a collision course with a squad of detectives led by his own brother (Loren Dean). It’s undeniably juicy stuff, and it was greeted with critical applause, but audiences weren’t interested for some reason — a disappointment for scribes like James Sanford, who called it “a smart, beautifully crafted piece of not-so-science-fiction that manages to successfully mix social commentary and suspense into a generally enthralling story.”

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Science fiction drama about a future society in the era of indefinite eugenics where humans are set on a life course depending on their DNA. The young Vincent Freeman is born with a condition that would prevent him from space travel, yet he is determined to infiltrate the GATTACA space program.

actors:
Ethan Hawke as Vincent Freeman   Jude Law as Jerome Eugene Morrow   Gore Vidal as Director Josef   Uma Thurman as Irene Cassini   Alan Arkin as Detective Hugo   Xander Berkeley as Dr. Lamar   Jayne Brook as Marie Freeman   William Lee Scott as Young Anton Freeman   Loren Dean as Adult Anton Freeman   Ernest Borgnine as Caesar   Tony Shalhoub as "German"   Una Damon as Head Nurse  

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6 Dead Poets Society
imdb
rating

8.0

Dead Poets Society (1989)

Drama

A four-time Oscar nominee and one of the defining dramas of the late ’80s, Dead Poets Society found Robin Williams toning down his eminently bankable manic persona in order to anchor this late ’50s-set tale of non-conformity and self-belief with a performance of surprisingly subtle strength. As prep school teacher John Keating, Williams led a young standout cast that included Hawke, Josh Charles, Robert Sean Leonard, and Gale Hansen, as well as dependable grown-up supporting players such as Kurtwood Smith, Norman Lloyd, and Lara Flynn Boyle. A resounding $200 million-plus hit that entered the phrase “O Captain! My Captain!” into the popular lexicon, Poets also found purchase with critics like Moviehole’s Clint Morris, who assured readers, “If you’ve done some living, every cockle of your heart will be touched.”

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At an elite, old-fashioned boarding school in New England, a passionate English teacher inspires his students to rebel against convention and seize the potential of every day, courting the disdain of the stern headmaster.

actors:
Robin Williams as John Keating   Ethan Hawke as Todd Anderson   Robert Sean Leonard as Neil Perry   Gale Hansen as Charlie Dalton   Josh Charles as Knox Overstreet   Dylan Kussman as Richard Cameron   Allelon Ruggiero as Steven Meeks   James Waterston as Gerard Pitts   Norman Lloyd as Mr. Nolan   Kurtwood Smith as Mr. Perry   Carla Belver as Mrs. Perry   Leon Pownall as McAllister   Alexandra Powers as Chris Noel   Lara Flynn Boyle as Ginny Danburry  

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5 A Midnight Clear
imdb
rating

7.2

A Midnight Clear (1992)

Drama, History

A Christmas-set WWII drama about the mounting tensions at an American GI camp, A Midnight Clear didn’t have much of a prayer at the box office in April of 1992, no matter how intriguing its cast may have been — and it was plenty intriguing, featuring standout work from Hawke and Gary Sinise, as well as solid performances from Peter Berg, Arye Gross, Frank Whaley, and Kevin Dillon. But if it missed its shot with audiences, it still resonated strongly with critics, who turned in largely positive reviews; in fact, as far as Jon Niccum of the Lawrence Journal-World was concerned, A Midnight Clear is “one of the most underrated films of the ’90s.”

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Set in 1944 France, an American Intelligence Squad locates a German Platoon wishing to surrender rather than die in Germany's final war offensive. The two groups of men, isolated from the war at present, put aside their differences and spend Christmas together before the surrender plan turns bad and both sides are forced to fight the other.

actors:
Peter Berg as Bud Miller   Kevin Dillon as Mel Avakian   Arye Gross as Stan Shutzer   Ethan Hawke as Will Knott   Gary Sinise as Vance 'Mother' Wilkins   Frank Whaley as Paul 'Father' Mundy   John C. McGinley as Major Griffin   Larry Joshua as Lieutenant Ware   David Jensen as Sergeant Hunt   Curt Lowens as Older German Soldier   Rachel Griffin as Janice   Timothy S. Shoemaker as Eddie   Kelly Gately as Young German Soldier   Bill Osborn as American Sentry   Andre Lamal as German Soldier  

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4 Before the Devil Knows You're Dead
imdb
rating

7.3

Before the Devil Knows You're Dead (2007)

Drama

A powerful late-period triumph for director Sidney Lumet, Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead offered Hawke an opportunity to deliver some of his best work surrounded by masters — not only behind the scenes, but in front of the cameras, where he shared screen time with a powerful ensemble cast that included Philip Seymour Hoffman, Albert Finney, Marisa Tomei, and Michael Shannon. Although the results were far from an easy watch, that clammy feeling you have while viewing Devil serves a purpose, adding a memorably pungent component to the film that Variety’s Lisa Nesselson called a “wrenching tale [that] has something for anyone who likes their melodrama spiked with palpable tension and genuine suspense.”

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When two brothers organize the robbery of their parents' jewelry store, the job goes horribly wrong, triggering a series of events that send them and their family hurtling towards a shattering climax.

actors:
Philip Seymour Hoffman as Andy   Ethan Hawke as Hank   Albert Finney as Charles   Marisa Tomei as Gina   Aleksa Palladino as Chris   Michael Shannon as Dex   Amy Ryan as Martha   Sarah Livingston as Danielle   Brían F. O'Byrne as Bobby   Rosemary Harris as Nanette   Blaine Horton as Justin   Arija Bareikis as Kathrine   Leonardo Cimino as William   Lee Wilkof as Jake   Damon Gupton as Doctor  

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3 Before Sunset
imdb
rating

8.0

Before Sunset (2004)

Drama, Romance

Before Sunrise wasn’t a huge hit, but it acquired cult classic status, and Hawke formed a bond with Julie Delpy and writer-director Richard Linklater — so much so that the trio never really let go of their Sunrise roles, with Hawke and Delpy playing their characters in Linklater’s rotoscoped 2001 drama Waking Life while the three of them periodically returned to the idea of a sequel. That follow-up finally arrived in 2004 with Before Sunset, which finds Jesse and Celine meeting up again nine years after the events depicted in the first film and spending a memorable afternoon together in Paris. Perhaps somewhat surprisingly, the passage of time had dimmed neither the duo’s chemistry nor diminished their characters’ story potential; as Christy Lemire appreciatively observed for the Associated Press, “It’s a lovely, beguiling little film — a rare treat during this overheated season of blockbusters. It’s also an unusual example of a follow-up that doesn’t seem forced, but expands effortlessly on the original.”

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Nine years ago two strangers met by chance and spent a night in Vienna that ended before sunrise. They are about to meet for the first time since. Now they have one afternoon to find out if they belong together.

actors:
Ethan Hawke as Jesse   Julie Delpy as Céline   Vernon Dobtcheff as Bookstore Manager   Louise Lemoine Torres as Journalist #1   Rodolphe Pauly as Journalist #2   Mariane Plasteig as Waitress   Diabolo as Philippe   Denis Evrard as Boat Attendant   Albert Delpy as Man at Grill   Marie Pillet as Woman in Courtyard  

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2 Before Midnight
imdb
rating

7.9

Before Midnight (2013)

Drama, Romance

Nearly a decade after Before Sunset and almost 20 years after Before Sunrise, Hawke and Julie Delpy concluded writer-director Richard Linklater’s trilogy the same way they started it — namely, by offering a frank, naturalistic look at love in its various stages. As with the previous two installments, Before Midnight leans heavily on its stars’ chemistry — and once again, they prove more than up to the task, lending rich dramatic hues to a movie that, in lesser hands, would seem like little more than a lot of self-indulgent navel-gazing. For critics hoping for a clear-eyed take on midlife domesticity and filmgoers who just wanted to see the next chapter in Jesse and Celine’s story, Midnight proved every bit as lovely (and sometimes just as dark) as its title; as Moira MacDonald wrote for the Seattle Times, “Though Before Midnight is often uncomfortable to watch, it’s never less than mesmerizing — and ultimately, a joy to walk with this prickly but fascinating couple again.”

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We meet Jesse and Celine nine years on in Greece. Almost two decades have passed since their first meeting on that train bound for Vienna.

actors:
Ethan Hawke as Jesse   Julie Delpy as Celine   Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick as Hank   Jennifer Prior as Ella   Charlotte Prior as Nina   Xenia Kalogeropoulou as Natalia   Walter Lassally as Patrick   Yannis Papadopoulos as Achilleas   Ariane Labed as Anna   Yiannis Papadopoulos as Achilleas   Athina Rachel Tsangari as Ariadni   Panos Koronis as Stefanos   Enrico Focardi as Child   Manolis Goussias as Child   Anouk Servera as Child   Yota Argyropoulou as Hotel Clerk   Serafeim Radis as Hotel Clerk  

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1 Before Sunrise
imdb
rating

8.1

Before Sunrise (1995)

Drama, Romance

Looking at this list, it’s hard not to wonder if maybe Ethan Hawke should only make movies with “before” in the title — or barring that, always co-star with Julie Delpy. The duo’s richly rewarding on-screen courtship kicks off with Before Sunrise, in which Jesse (Hawke) and Celine (Delpy) meet on a train and spend a night walking and talking through the streets of Vienna, developing a bond even as the hour draws nigh for Jesse to begin his scheduled journey back home to the U.S. It isn’t the flashiest premise for a film, but it obviously didn’t need to be — Before Sunrise enraptured critics, made romantic filmgoers swoon, and spawned a trilogy that slowly unspooled over the ensuing two decades. “Hawke and Delpy keep the tone not only afloat but mesmerizing,” enthused Phil Villarreal for the Arizona Daily Star. “So natural are their performances that it seems impossible not to believe they truly are soulmates who are locked in a doomed, all-too-short affair.”

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A dialogue marathon of a film, this fairytale love story of an American boy and French girl. During a day and a night together in Vienna their two hearts collide.

actors:
Ethan Hawke as Jesse   Julie Delpy as Céline   Andrea Eckert as Wife on Train   Hanno Pöschl as Husband on Train   Karl Bruckschwaiger as Guy on Bridge   Tex Rubinowitz as Guy on Bridge   Erni Mangold as Palm Reader   Ernie Mangold as Palm Reader   Dominik Castell as Street Poet   Haymon Maria Buttinger as Bartender   Harold Waiglein as Guitar Player in Club   Bilge Jeschim as Belly Dancer   Kurti as Percussionist   Hans Weingartner as Cafe Patron   Liese Lyon as Cafe Patron   Peter Ily Huemer as Cafe Patron   Otto Reiter as Cafe Patron   Hubert Fabian Kulterer as Cafe Patron   Branko Andric as Cafe Patron   Constanze Schweiger as Cafe Patron   John Sloss as Cafe Patron   Alexandra Seibel as Cafe Patron   Georg Schöllhammer as Cafe Patron   Christian Ankowitsch as Cafe Patron   Wilbirg Reiter as Cafe Patron   Barbara Klebel as Musician on Boat   Wolfgang Staribacher as Musician on Boat   Wolfgang Glüxam as Harpsichord Player  

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