Ranking John Malkovich
Our favorite moments with a consummate iconoclast (and badass).
John Malkovich is a maestro of intensity. Malevolent, calculating, and yes, always a little sexy, the acclaimed actor wields calm and aggression like surgical tools, keeping us spellbound by his unique and alluring energy. Over the past forty years, he’s racked up dozens of unforgettable performances in every conceivable genre, so many that it was pretty difficult to pick just ten for this list of his superlative appearances on-screen. We probably could have made two or even three lists just like this and not have covered all of his deserving roles.
Starting Friday, August 17, Malkovich will be back in theaters, starring as crime lord James Bishop in the action thriller Mile 22 (also starring Mark Wahlberg and Ronda Rousey). To tide you over until then, here’s a casually-ranked list of our most memorable Malkovich moments.We can’t wait to see how “Mile 22 Malkovich” stacks up compared to the rest of this list!
“Maybe Not Such a Great Idea, Malkovich”: I Love You, Daddy dir. Louis C.K., 2017
Has anyone actually seen this movie? Even Chloë Grace Moretz thinks it should “just go away.” John Malkovich stars as the movie director and lover that is fifty years her senior (yes, you read that right), and while it’s possible that all we’ll see of this character is the ten seconds he has in the movie trailer, that’s probably for the best. “A minor what?,” indeed.
“Master of Fine Arts Malkovich”: Art School Confidential dir. Terry Zwigoff, 2006
Professor Sandiford was one of the first artists to “do triangles,” you know! Now he’s a professor at Strathmore Institute who has seen it all. And he’s doling out tough love, in the form of some seriously harsh critique. Hey, if you can’t take the heat, then you should probably drop out of art school.
Watch Now: Art School Confidential, steaming on Fandor through the end of October.
“Madagascar Malkovich”: Penguins of Madagascar dir. Eric Darnell and Simon J. Smith, 2014
Dave! Who can forget the malicious octopus disguised in human form as the cheese aficionado and public radio supporter Dr. Octavius Brine? This role was proof positive that Malkovich’s voice alone is enough to take a character to the next level — and that no matter how kid-friendly a package you put him in, he can still be pretty villainous.
“Mastermind Malkovich”: Con Air dir. Simon West, 1997
As Cyrus “The Virus” Grissom, a brilliant criminal genius with a JD degree and eleven prison kills under his belt, Malkovich is cold, calculating, and ruthless. He’s also responsible for one of the most heavy-handed, ridiculous, and unforgettable action movie puns of all time: “Cy-onara.”
“Murderous Malkovich”: In the Line of Fire dir. Wolfgang Peterson, 1993
Panache. That’s what “Booth”, AKA insane former assassin Mitch Leary, has in excess. Whether he’s playing cat-and-mouse with an extra-steely Clint Eastwood (playing a Secret Service agent whose failure to protect JFK still haunts him) or flexing his mastery of disguise in a bid to kill the current president, Malkovich keeps us on the edge of our seats — and let’s be honest, we can’t help but admire his...uh, panache. For heaven’s sake, he straight up wraps his mouth around Clint Eastwood’s gun!
“Mad Malkovich”: Burn After Reading dir. Joel and Ethan Coen, 2008
Former CIA operative Osbourne Cox has lost his job, his wife, and his savings, and now a hapless trainer (Brad Pitt) is trying to blackmail him because of his memoir. He’s angry! Wouldn’t you be? The more he yells, the more we laugh, and he yells a whole heck of a lot. This is perhaps Malkovich’s best attempt at weaponizing his “unique set of skills” for humor rather than drama, and it is, in a word, pitch-perfect.
“Murnau Malkovich”: Shadow of the Vampire dir. E. Elias Merhige, 2000
Did you know that Nicolas Cage produced this movie? Believe it, baby! In this re-imagining of the “making of” Nosferatu, Malkovich plays a German director who will sacrifice the sanity and safety of his crew in order to make the most realistic vampire movie imaginable — by hiring an ACTUAL vampire (played to the hilt by Willem Dafoe). You’ve got to love a man that committed to his art, and Malkovich indeed infuses his version of Murnau with a near-manic, Herzog-ian fervor for filmmaking.
“Mischievous Malkovich”: Dangerous Liaisons dir. Stephen Frears, 1988
In a role that would famously be reprised by Ryan Phillippe in 1999’s Cruel Intentions, Malkovich is the rich and unprincipled Vicomte Sébastian de Valmont, who plots sexual intrigue and gamesmanship with the Marquise Isabelle de Merteuil (Glenn Close) but blows it when he falls in love with Madame de Tourvel (Michelle Pfeiffer). What can we say? The guy can really wear the heck out of a powdered wig.
“Makin’ You Cry Malkovich”: Of Mice and Men dir. Gary Sinise, 1992
Ooph. Just thinking about this tragic tale of Great Depression-era friendship has us welling up a little. Malkovich is most known for playing self-aware, even brilliant antagonists, but as a gentle giant who doesn’t know his own strength and kills everything he “pets,” he’s a whole new level of affecting.
“Meta Malkovich”: Being John Malkovich dir. Spike Jonze, 1999
Malkovich. Malkovich? Malkovich Malkovich! Need we say more? It takes a unique actor to play “himself” (and himself as taken over by John Cusack, puppeteer) in a movie this bent, bizarre, and bonkers, but Malkovich (Malkovich!) proves more than up to the task. This may not be his most challenging or acclaimed role, but it will probably always be his most infamous.