Russell Crowe Birthday Tribute: Top 10 Favorite Roles of the Aussie Thespian


I almost missed Russell Crowe’s birthday today. On April 7, the Aussie thespian turns 49. In case you didn’t know, before Gerry Butler, I was quite obsessed with the New Zealand-born actor after seeing his performance in Gladiator back in 2000. The following year, I tried to watch as many of his older films as possible, including his obscure Aussie movies like Heaven’s Burning and Proof, and his early Hollywood role in the campy Rough Magic. Even in his slimmer days, Crowe is not exactly a matinee idol known simply for his chiseled good looks. I mean sure he’s a handsome fellow, but in a rugged, rough-around-the-edges kind of way… add to that the gruff voice and stern, piercing gaze, he’s as manly as they come.

I did a mini tribute of sort in 2010, spotlighting his superlative performance in The Insider. Samantha from Banana Oil Movies listed her top 5 Russell Crowe movies that same year, and in the comments I told her what my top five would be, but since I’ve seen nearly 20 of his films by now, I figure I’d rank my top 10 favorite roles from Crowe.

Ok, before I rank my list, I’d have to tell you that I haven’t seen his breakthrough role as a skinhead in Romper Stomper yet, somehow I just haven’t got around to it yet. I also haven’t seen Body of Lies and Les Miserables. Well, without further ado, here we go:

10. Cort – The Quick and the Dead

Crowe_TheQuickandtheDeadI’ve got to admit I saw this film for the first time for Leonardo DiCaprio, but it was Crowe’s hunky henchman-turned-reverend who made an impression. He had this sly smile the moment he entered the screen, that casual, nonchalant demeanor that Crowe pulls off so well. I think he’s never looked as sexy on screen as he was in his role as Cort, and he’s got such scorching chemistry with Sharon Stone. This movie was a flop though clearly it didn’t ruin the career of then-unknown actors as both DiCaprio and Crowe became superstars within five years after its release. This is not the greatest Westerns, but it’s still fun to see Crowe’s brooding performance and he’s easily one of the most interesting characters of the bunch.

9. John Brennan – The Next Three Days

Crowe_NextThreeDaysAnother underrated film from Crowe, as the film barely made up for even the low production budget of $30 mil. I actually got a free screening to this and I’m glad I got to see it. The crime drama centers on a married couple whose life is turned upside down when Crowe’s wife is accused of a murder. A lot of the time, Crowe’s the only one on screen in this thinking-man’s thriller. If you have seen the trailer, you’d probably think it’s a fast-paced thriller set in the vein of the Bourne movies, but as I said in my review, this film is more of a character-driven thriller anchored by Crowe’s excellent performance. He’s utterly believable alternating between a gentle, dotting dad and an unrelenting man-on-a-mission, it proves that Crowe can’t be pigeonholed into a certain type of actor. Elizabeth Banks also surprised me with her compelling turn in more serious role than what I’m used to seeing her in.

8. Cal McAffrey State of Play

Crowe_StateOfPlayBased on a six-part British TV series of the same name that aired in 2003, this is another *quiet* role for Crowe that really showed his dramatic intensity. As a road-smart reporter probing into the suspicious death of a Congressman’s mistress, Crowe’s sporting a long-ish locks and he looks disheveled throughout the film, and he’s also sporting a pretty convincing American accent. It was originally a role for Brad Pitt, but I’m glad Crowe replaced him. Crowe portrayed the gutsy, stubborn reporter with sometimes questionable ethics with such aplomb, and not without with and humor. I quite like his banter with Dame Helen Mirren, and out-acting Ben Affleck, though to be fair, Affleck is suitable as the unscrupulous Congressman.

7. Ben Wade — 3:10 To Yuma

Crowe_310YumaBen Wade stands as one of my favorite charming bad boys, perhaps the only actor who could actually outshine the likes of Christian Bale. Now, don’t get me wrong, Bale was excellent as the good guy Dan Evans who’s escorting Wade to the 3:10 train to Yuma. But Crowe played the Bible-thumping outlaw in such a charismatic way you can’t help but root for the guy. I’d love to see Crowe played more antihero roles as he bring so much layer and complexity that’s far from being one-dimensional. The battle of wills between Crowe and Bale is the highlights of the film, which stands as one of my favorite Westerns I’ve seen so far.

6. Jim Braddock Cinderella Man

Crowe_CinderellaManI think Crowe was robbed of an Oscar nomination here as Jim Braddock, a down-on-his-luck boxer who came back to become a champion during the Great Depression. It seems like a tailor-made role for Crowe that showcase his both physical and emotional strength as an actor. Portraying a real-life persona is tricky but I think Crowe was more than up for the task. The boxing stuff are incredibly-made, but the emotional scenes packed even more punch. The level of despair and extreme poverty presented in this film is visceral and gut-wrenching, and Crowe brought his A-level game to play this incredible unlikely hero. His performance made this film work so well, along with supporting performances from Renee Zellweger and Paul Giamatti.

5. John Nash — A Beautiful Mind

Crowe_ABeautifulMindYet another biopic that earned Crowe his third Best Actor Oscar nominations. This film got much flak for winning Best Picture in 2002. Now, I don’t know if this film deserved its win over other nominees that include LOTR: Fellowship of the Ring and Gosford Park, but I do believe Crowe’s performance as a brilliant mathematician John Nash is Oscar-worthy. Portraying someone suffering through schizophrenia certainly takes an equally brilliant actor, and it’s a testament to Crowe’s talent that though the character descend into madness, he didn’t make the performance descend into some sort of caricature.

When I saw this on the big screen, I was amazed by how authentic Crowe’s performance was, as he didn’t so much rely on the makeup to make himself look like Nash, but his gestures, manner of speaking, his walk, etc. made the character so compelling to watch. His effortless chemistry with Jennifer Connelly is the emotional center of the film as well as provide some of the most hilarious scenes in the film.

4. Jack Aubrey — Master & Commander

Crowe_MasterCommanderWhen I made my tribute three years ago, I haven’t seen this film. Well I finally did a couple of years ago and was blown away! I never thought I’d enjoy a film that takes place in a boat from start to finish, with zero romance or even a female interaction. But Peter Weir crafted such a fantastic historical drama during the Napoleonic Wars. Crowe played a strong and charismatic British captain who pushed himself and his crew to the limits. As the courageous and sympathetic Capt. Jack Aubrey, Crowe owned his role and is really the best thing to watch in this film and made the 138 running-time a worthwhile journey with nary a boring moment!

It proves that Crowe truly is one of the best leading men of the last two decades, as he commands your attention and respect every minute he appeared on screen, just like Capt. Aubrey commands loyalty and admiration from his men. I wish the two Aussies would work together again. A Weir-Crowe collaboration is one of my wish-list of director/actor reunions I’d love to see again.

3. Bud White – L.A. Confidential

Crowe_LAConfidentialOne of my favorite crime film noirs, Crowe played one of the three L.A. cops who were all investigating a series of murder in their own style. Bud White is the brute one of the three, and it’s interesting that the finest acting in this film came from the two Australian actors, Crowe and Guy Pearce. The interaction between the two is exciting to watch, as well as his romantic scenes with Kim Basinger (how’s she the only one nominated for acting, I’ll never know!). He’s a tender lover, but you don’t want to cross him… Bud’s reaction as he’s betrayed is downright terrifying.

The film works as an ensemble piece and proves that Crowe is just a fine character actor as he is a leading man. But one thing’s certain, his unflinching intensity dominates the screen and his performance is the one I remember most even amongst such a terrific ensemble delivering one of their best performances.

2. Maximus – Gladiator

Crowe_GladiatorThe role that put Crowe in the Hollywood map and beyond, this would perhaps remain as Crowe’s most memorable performance. I was mesmerized by his staggering screen presence the second he showed up on screen in the bloody battle in Germania, right up until the end at the Colosseum. I simply couldn’t take my eyes off him. He’s the ultimate tough guy with a heart, as his scene mourning the slain wife and son is as riveting as his gladiatorial fights. The film is chock full of memorable scenes, but none as unforgettable as the moment where he first uttered his full name that made his enemy shudder. Maximus Decimus Meridius is one of the greatest screen names ever, and Crowe made that character into an icon.

Apparently Crowe was so unhappy with the script for the film that he often rewrote the lines to suit his style. Per IMDb trivia, he initially refused to say the lines “In this life or the next, I will have my vengeance,” telling one of the screenwriters William Nicholson: “Your lines are garbage but I’m the greatest actor in the world and I can make even garbage sound good”. Cocky perhaps, but you know what, he made every line worked even if they sounded corny on paper, as he brought so much gravitas to the role. So many of the quotable lines from the movie became so iconic largely because of the way he delivered them and his timing was always spot on.

1. Jeffrey Wigand – The Insider

Crowe_TheInsiderThis is the role that Crowe should’ve won his first Oscar for. As great as his performance as Maximus—which was decidedly more sensational—his quiet but incredibly astute portrayal of a tobacco whistle blower still stands as his greatest role to date for me. Not only was this a transformative role for the actor, having to gain 35+ pounds to play Jeffrey Wigan, he also embodied the role with his meticulous performance. It’s a prime example where the actor disappears as what you see on screen is this character, at times I felt as if I was watching a documentary. The humanity of the role is incredibly moving, as Wigand is really just a regular guy—a dotting father and loving husband—driven to the boiling point, trying his best to cope with the incredible pressure of his situation. The Insider is also one of Michael Mann’s finest directing moment, and perhaps one of Al Pacino’s best roles as well as CBS’ 60 Minutes producer Lowell Bergman.

This role is a must for any Russell Crowe fan, or anyone who ever doubts his acting prowess. The first of many thinking-man’s thrillers where Crowe’s immense talent is put to good use.

Honorable Mentions:

  • Proof
  • A Good Year
  • Mystery Alaska
  • Robin Hood
  • American Gangster

I look forward to more great roles from Crowe, be that as a leading man or supporting roles, such as the one as Superman’s father Jor-El in Man of Steel.

Well, those are my picks of top 10 Russell Crowe’s roles. What about you? Please list your own favorite roles in the comments.

73 thoughts on “Russell Crowe Birthday Tribute: Top 10 Favorite Roles of the Aussie Thespian

  1. LOL! Another subject that I have a Phenomenal 5 halfway written for. 🙂 Great stuff Ruth! Crowe may be my favorite working actor. I think he’s tremendous. I like your list. I have to say Robin Hood by but up there in my list. Many didnt like the film but I loved it and thought he was fantastic.

    1. Oh really? Cool! I hope you’d get that post up Keith, I’d love to see it. I quite like Robin Hood too, but I couldn’t swap it out with anyone else on my top 10. He’s a fantastic actor indeed!

  2. Ted S.

    Wow he’s almost 50 years old! He’s definitely one of the best actors in his generation, it’s too bad that he’s longer in the top A list anymore since most of his films within the last few years weren’t huge hits at the box office. I hope his career won’t be like Nic Cage’s in the next few years.

    I totally forgot he’s in The Quick and the Dead, I’ll have to watch it again soon, although I find Sharone Stone quite annoying. I do remember around that same time, he played the computer virus that came to life in Virtuosity and trying to kill Denzel, god that was an awful movie.

    My favorite role of his is Jack Aubrey in Master & Commander, it’s one of my favorite films of 2000s. Too bad the film didn’t make enough money to convince the studio executives to greenlight the sequels, would love to see more adventures of Aubrey and his men.

    1. Yeah, I think he looks pretty good for being almost 50 though he seems to have trouble losing the weight though. But to me, he’s the kind of actor who’s still watchable even if he lost his good looks, he’s still got an intense screen presence.

      Oh yeah, I don’t care for Sharon in that movie. I really only watch it for Crowe, ahah. Hackman is quite good too as the villain. Ahah, I remember him in Virtuosity but yeah, it was awful.

      He’s incredible in Master and Commander. That’s one of those films I certainly don’t mind seeing a sequel on.

  3. You’re the only person I’ve read who enjoyed The Next Three Days…. urgh, such a dire, chore of a film to get through. I’d have included American Gangster instead, and probably had Jack Aubrey up the top if it was up to me……… nice work, Ruth!!

    1. I’m sure I’m not the only one. I saw it on the big screen and he’s able to keep me engaged in the story and the character. I actually don’t remember him as much in American Gangster, I think Denzel was more memorable in that one. Well, Aubrey is in my top 5 🙂

    1. Thanks Rumsey! Glad you agree. Yes he’s phenomenal in A Beautiful Mind, he’s quite funny too. He has that twinkle in his eye sometimes when he’s acting, love that.

    1. Hey, glad to hear! I think I’ll always be a fan of Crowe, even if I haven’t seen some of his new stuff in the past couple of years. I’ll be checking out your list soon!

  4. FABULOUS list. I love the overall quiet intensity of it. All enjoyable performances. I would say that you definitely need to see Romper Stomper, and also Proof, if you haven’t. So happy to see some Crowe love…he’s still my favorite.

    1. Thanks! Glad I saw your tweet about your previous top 5 as it reminded me I still haven’t done a list of Crowe’s films. Yeah I still need to see Romper Stomper though I don’t really care for the subject matter. I have seen Proof, it’s in my Honorable Mentions 😀

  5. Awesome post, Ruth! I’ve wanted to do a top 10 list for a while, but I need to see a few more of his early films. Though I’ve seen 20 of his films, there are some stragglers left behind, like The Quick and the Dead.

    I agree he was robbed of an Oscar nod for Cinderella Man and L.A. Confidential. Wigand definitely should’ve been his winning role, but it’s great to see Maximus so high! 🙂

    In order, my favorite performances are: L.A. Confidential, Romper Stomper, The Insider, Gladiator, Cinderella Man

    1. Thanks Josh! I haven’t seen a few of his either, but I figure if you’ve seen about 20, it’s ok to make your top 10 list 😀

      Oh I LOVE Maximus, I knew he’d be in my top 3, though I always rate his performance in The Insider much higher. I really need to see Romper Stomper!

    1. Thanks Chris. Not a Crowe fan? Bummer 😦 Ah well, at least you appreciate some of his performances. If you like a taut, intelligent thriller, The Insider is a must, Al Pacino & Christopher Plummer were great in that as well.

  6. Great tribute, Ruth. I didn’t realize you hadnt seen Les Miserables yet! Happy Birthday to General Maximus Decimus Meridius! You picked some good ones, but I haven’t seen The Insider and you list that as #1, huh? I will have to watch it!

    1. Thanks T! Oh you must give The Insider a rent one of these days, it’s a great thriller, perhaps one of my fave from Michael Mann. I will see Les Miz soon, just haven’t got around to it for some reason.

  7. It’s funny how he looks so different as Jeffrey Wigand in ‘The Insider’ compared to Maximus in ‘Gladiator’. An exceptional actor and I would have to pick 3:10 to Yuma as my fav.

    Nice post Ruth!!

    1. I know, that’s a testament to his versatility! Can’t go wrong w/ Ben Wade from 3:10 to Yuma, he and Christian Bale are such an excellent duo in that one.

  8. Hi, Ruth:

    You pretty much nailed Mr. Crowe’s career and exceptional pieces of work!

    Perhaps an interchange of a place or two, but your top four are spot on. I especially like his Captain Jack Aubrey in ‘Master & Commander’. And would not at all mind a sequel. If you have a taste for sea faring. You Tube has the BBC series ‘Horatio Hornblower’ in multi part and complete episodes. Very well done stuff!

    Though it’s Crowe’s Jeffrey Wigand that keeps and holds the top slot. Due to the vastness of his role.

    1. Hello Jack! Why I’m certainly glad you like my list. I think my picks from #6-10 are interchangeable, but my top 5 are pretty much set. I think someone mentioned the BBC series of Horatio Hornblower, though I think I’d be partial to the Gregory Peck version as the Captain, well naturally 😉

      I can’t possibly put his role as Wigand below any one of these, it’s perhaps his best role of his career but I do hope he’d still pick great roles in the future.

    1. Thanks Mark! I’m always partial to Maximus, though I have to give credit where it’s due and I think his performance as Wigand is still on top!

  9. Great tribute! Russell Crowe is a fine actor. Honestly, the more I listen to the Les Miserables soundtrack, the more I like his voice. It was perfect for Javert. He did not deserve all the criticism he got.

      1. Hi Josh, for me, so long as the actor captures the essence of the character, I’d cut him some slack about the singing. I know people unfairly maligned Gerry Butler on the Phantom of the Opera too because he wasn’t a classically-trained singer, but to me, he was such an effective and ravishing Phantom.

    1. Thanks Brittani. I haven’t seen Les Miz but as I own Crowe’s album with his band TOFOG, I know the guy COULD sing. I think people unfairly criticize him as that’s not the voice they were expecting.

  10. Can’t argue against your two top choices, though I will advocate for pushing his role in Cinderella Man to third place. I think it’s an awesomely harrowing film that didn’t receive the recognition it deserved, and that certainly extends to Russell’s performance. In fact, I’ve included the scene where he begs for money in the gentleman’s club of boxing as one that I will sooner or later cover as part of my favorite moments in film.

    I will say that his career doesn’t seem to be in an upward trend as of late, but I feel he may have a come back reserved for all of us. I wish he would get/pick better roles as he certainly has the talent.

    1. I’d be willing to swap his role as Braddock with Nash but my top four are pretty much set 😀 I thought the film was well-received critically? But yeah, that scene of him begging for money is definitely one of my faves too, it’s sooo heart-wrenching!

      I do hope he’d get a GREAT role again, I’m not sure about Noah’s Ark but mostly because of Aronofsky making it more of an *environmental* movie. Heh, I wish he’d stick to the original source if they were to make a film about Biblical characters, but I’ll reserve judgment until I see at least a trailer.

  11. Great post, Ruth! Russell is one of my favorite actors and you feature his best work!

    Haven’t seen The Next Three Days but saw the original French film and it’s pretty good.

    1. Yay, glad to hear Fernando! I’m curious about the French film The Next Three Days is based on, but Crowe was excellent in the US remake.

  12. Happy Birthday Mr. Crowe …I might not be a fan but I know you’re a good actor 😉

    This is a wonderful piece Ruth…I have only seen 3 of them 😉

  13. Your top 3 and mine are exactly the same. He had a way of disappearing into characters. If you look at some of his earlier Australian work, and compare with Jeffrey Wigand or John Nash…he was a real shape-shifter. It seems to me that he hasn’t done that so much since he got super-famous, but to be fair he lost me with his off-screen behavior, and I haven’t seen anything of his since STATE OF PLAY. He was excellent in that as you say. (For some reason, Jason Bateman’s performance in that film has always stuck with me. So unexpected.)

    1. Glad to hear, Paula! It’s an amazing gift to be able to vanish into roles. Even in awful movies like Heaven’s Burning, Crowe’s talent still shines.

      I haven’t seen his latest films either, not Broken City nor Les Miz yet, but I still consider him one of the best working actor of today.

        1. You’ve actually seen that one? WOW, you must be quite a die hard fan. It took me a while to find it as it’s so obscure, it was released in Australia even before he did Romper Stomper I think. He had a Japanese girlfriend in that one. It’s quite violent too, but there’s a love scene in there that made me sooo jealous of that girl, ahah! Crowe’s still very slim & actually boyish looking.

          1. Well, not such a diehard anymore lol but yeah…THE CROSSING, HAMMERS OVER THE ANVIL, ROMPER STOMPER, BRIDES OF CHRIST, THE SUM OF US….guilty as charged LOL Crowe was always the best thing in those. He scared the bleep out of me in ROMPER STOMPER. Very disturbing. A friend of mine used to get them for me, a lot of it was in indie video stores, this was way before Netflix and all the other sources online. Hmm….maybe I should do a post on this

    1. Glad you’ve seen The Insider! Yes, what a trio indeed. Crowe’s performance still tops them all though, you barely recognize him in it.

      1. Oh, yeah, I’ve seen it a bunch of times actually, it would probably be in my top 150 favorite films it’s such an elegantly made yet very thrilling film and I love movies based on real events.

    1. Ah, that made me happy!! I actually watched some clips of him in The Quick & The Dead… soooo hunky! He’s one of those actors who look good in any hairstyle. Well, I take that back, I’m not fond of his um, beard as Noah, ahah.

      1. I actually like him best with the Q&D length hair, although let’s be honest. I thought he was hot in Body of Lies when he gained 60 lbs and was pasty and white-haired. Also The Insider. What can I say? I still have a problem…

        1. Ahah, well it’s not just the look though, he’s just darn charismatic on screen. Some better looking actors might not have that. I can’t explain it either 😀

          1. Very true. I’m currently obsessed with Richard Burton (they are SUPER similar, IMO) and he is not as good-looking, but has the same charisma. You cannot stop watching him.

              1. I REALLY should start watching Burton’s movies then. I know Gerry Butler’s been compared to Burton as they kind of have similar features and piercing blue/green eyes, and I like GB because he reminded me of Crowe the first time I saw him. So yeah, methinks I’ll like Burton very much! 😉

    1. The Insider should be right up your alley Eric, esp if you like Michael Mann’s work. It’s just a tremendous film, plus there’s a great acting trifecta of Crowe, Pacino and Christopher Plummer.

  14. Pingback: Russell Crowe – The Early Years | Paula's Cinema Club

  15. Pingback: Evil Dead, 500,000 hits and Jurassic Park 3D | filmhipster

  16. I’ve still never got round to seeing The Insider, even though I’ve owned it for years. Must do that. Must be very impressive to beat numbers 2 and 3. They would be my favourites!

  17. Pingback: Checking Out the “Happy-Haps!” (4/21) | The Focused Filmographer

  18. Pingback: » Movie Review – 3:10 To Yuma (2007) Fernby Films

  19. Pingback: » Movie Review – Next Three Days, The Fernby Films

Join the conversation by leaving a comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s