Collage by Douglas Greenwood

Every Oscar Isaac movie, ranked

Now a Marvel leading man in 'Moon Knight', the unabashed showman has had the internet in a chokehold for the better part of a decade.

by Hannah Strong
01 April 2022, 7:00am

Collage by Douglas Greenwood

Musical marvel, unabashed showman, Cheetos-eater. Oscar Isaac is a true renaissance man, who — since he broke out with his performance in the Coen Brothers’ melancholy drama Inside Llewyn Davis — has had the internet in a chokehold for the best part of a decade. A Juilliard-trained thespian who had a past life in a ska band who once opened for Green Day, he’s been starring in films since 1996 – proof that stardom isn’t always a straight line.

While arguably most recognisable for his role as the cocky rebel flyboy Poe Dameron in the updated Star Wars franchise, the actor has been cultivating a body of work ranging widely in genre, setting and tone for nearly three decades. It means there’s a lot to see, without even getting started on his television appearances in Show Me a Hero or Scenes From a Marriage.

Granted, not every Oscar outing is a masterpiece, but he’s certainly good at making his presence felt, utilising minimal screen time to leave a lasting impression and frequently demonstrating that he knows his way around a guitar. To celebrate his entry into the Marvel universe as Marvel’s titular Moon Knight, we put in considerable viewing hours (also blood, sweat, etc.) into ranking every notable Oscar Isaac performance.

39. Illtown, 1998

Oscar has remained good-humoured about his first film role, which included no lines and saw him lounging around in swimwear as ‘Pool Boy’ in Nick Gomez’s film about Miami drug dealers. It’s clear why he was cast, but oof all the same.

38. Body of Lies, 2008

Ridley Scott’s spy thriller about terrorists in Iraq is quintessential Bush-era cinema, right down to Oscar being cast as a Middle Eastern CIA field operative called Bassam. Yeesh. Mercifully for him, his character dies quite swiftly, at which point so will your interest in watching the rest of this film.

37. Lenny the Wonder Dog, 2005

You know Oscar’s a professional. That’s how he could truly bring to life a character as complex as ‘Detective Fartman’ in this low-budget family movie about a dog who can talk. At least he had lines this time!

36. The Nativity Story, 2006

Before she went on to direct Twilight, Catherine Hardwicke was responsible for The Nativity Story, a film about the birth of Jesus, in which Oscar plays Saint Joseph. Granted I would have paid a lot more attention in Sunday School had this film been around then, but Oscar’s lustrous beard aside, this one’s a solid dud.

35. X-Men: Apocalypse, 2016

Oh Oscar, honey. Why did they cast you in this film? Beyond the perplexing decision to have a Cuban-Guatemalan American play an Egyptian character, there’s the heinous crime of covering a face that beautiful in that much blue face paint. Why, baby, why?

34. Outlaws/For Greater Glory, 2012

The Cristeros War of 1926-29 was sparked by a Catholic rebellion against the Mexican government’s attempts to make the country secular; if you fancy an extended insight into this interpretation, which ultimately feels like thinly-veiled Catholic propaganda (including its hagiographic treatment of Oscar’s character, El Catorce) Outlaws the film for you, my friend.

33. The Promise, 2016

Another film inexplicably featuring Oscar Isaac as a Middle Eastern character – is Hollywood really that hard-up? This time he’s Mikael Boghosian, an Armenian medical student, who ends up in a love triangle with an Armenian artist and an American journalist. The film attempts to grapple with the often under-discussed Armenian genocide, but mooring it in a soap opera-worthy love story feels undermining.

32. W.E., 2011

Madonna’s directorial effort is notoriously terrible, but it did gift us footage of Oscar playing piano as Evgeni, a Sotheby's security guard who falls in love with listless housewife Wally Winthrop. Oscar’s doing his best, but he can’t save this ultimately misguided historical drama.

31. The Life Before Her Eyes, 2007

In this quite awful Uma Thurman melodrama, a woman’s present-day life is derailed by survivor’s guilt from a school shooting she was involved in as a teenager. Oscar plays a quintessential teen bad boy. You can tell, because he has an eyebrow slit.

30. All About the Benjamins, 2002

Oscar’s teeny, tiny role in this Ice Cube/Mike Epps movie lasts approximately five seconds. He says, “My name is Frank,” and then he dies. That’s it.

29. The Bourne Legacy, 2012

Rumour has it that Oscar nearly got the lead role in the fourth Bourne film (it went to Jeremy Renner, which was certainly a choice) but in the end he was cast as another CIA operative who dies in a drone strike. Sigh.

28. Agora, 2009

This Ancient Greek drama from ​​Alejandro Amenábar (director of The Others) benefits from Rachel Weisz in the title role as a Greek girlboss mathematician – Oscar plays her student who falls in love with her – but honestly, unless you have a keen interest in Ancient Greek politics, it’s forgettable at best.

27. In Secret, 2013

A repressed woman married to her sick cousin has an affair with Oscar Isaac in Charlie Stratton’s “erotic thriller”. No jury would convict! Unfortunately they then murder said-cousin-husband and commit suicide to avoid prison. Uplifting stuff.

26. Balibo, 2009

A prime example of Oscar’s fascination with accents of questionable origin, Balibo sees him play José Ramos-Horta, a bodyguard who would eventually become president of East Timor, a small island nation between Indonesia and Australia. There is perhaps a reason that it didn’t make waves outside of Australia.

25. The Addams Family & The Addams Family 2, 1991 & 2021

Look how they massacred my boy. All we wanted was a live-action Addams Family starring Oscar Isaac as hot goth king Gomez Addams. All we got was some outstandingly off-putting CGI.

24. Big Gold Brick, 2022

This film is two hours and ten minutes long. It took one hour and thirty-five minutes for Oscar Isaac to appear. Granted he was wearing gold sunglasses and doing a sweet, vaguely European accent, which is notably delightful, but otherwise this film is very bad.

23. Pu-239, 2006

Did you know that Oscar Isaac starred opposite Paddy Considine in a thriller about plutonium directed and written by frequent Steven Soderbergh-collaborator Scott Z. Burns? Well, now you do. He played a small-time crook and did a bad accent (this time it was Russian).

22. Won't Back Down, 2012

This drama about parents trying to reform the inner-city school their children attend relies on Maggie Gyllenhaal and Viola Davis to elevate fairly poor material; Oscar Isaac is the ukulele-playing teacher who loves his job. He’s cute! The film, less so.

21. Che, 2008

Oscar’s role as an interpreter in Steven Soderbergh’s biopic of Argentine revolutionary Che Guevara is small, but God bless whichever costume designer put him in clear acrylic glasses.

20. Suburbicon, 2017

The trailer for Suburbicon seems to suggest we were getting a fun little noir-comedy in which Oscar would be playing a charmingly skeptical insurance investigator with an adorable little moustache. Unfortunately he’s offed by Matt Damon after approximately sixty seconds of screen time. Think about your crimes, George Clooney!

19. Star Wars: The Last Jedi & Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, 2017 & 2019

It feels important to rank these two Star Wars films separately from the first one, because Poe Dameron’s arc really takes a hard nosedive after The Force Awakens. In The Last Jedi, he spends most of his time undermining Laura Dern’s character (though 10/10 for the sexual tension) and by The Rise of Skywalker, the light seems to have completely left his eyes. “Somehow Palpatine returned,” Dameron says, but it’s clear from Oscar’s expression his own joie de vivre has not.

18. Revenge for Jolly!, 2012

When Harry’s beloved chihuahua Jolly is murdered, he enlists the help of his unstable cousin Cecil (our boy Oscar) to play detective and avenge their pooch pal. This 2013 comedy actually boasts a pretty strong cast (Elijah Wood! Kristen Wiig! Adam Brody! Gillian Jacobs! Amy Seimetz!) but it never made much of an impression in the crowded market of quirky crime comedies.

17. Operation Finale, 2018

After the end of World War II, when many Nazis either took their own lives or went into hiding Holocaust prepretator Adolf Eichmann did the former. Chris Weitz’s harrowing drama depicts the true story of the hunt for Eichman in 1960. Oscar takes the central role of Peter Malkin, a Polish Jew whose family fled the country in 1936, who was vital to securing Eichmann’s capture in Buenos Aires. It’s a tough watch, but Oscar is well-cast, and the film reflects on the necessity of bringing war criminals to justice.

16. Robin Hood, 2010

For those thinking Moon Knight is Oscar’s first foray into the wonderful world of British accent work, not so! In Ridley Scott’s dour look at Robin Hood before The Hood, he plays Prince John, complete with blue contact lenses. He spends most of his time shagging his girlfriend and wearing nice little outfits. Impeccable drip, poor handling of the feudal political system.

15. At Eternity's Gate, 2018

If you like to be very sad, I highly recommend Julian Schnabel’s mirthless biopic of Vincent Van Gogh, detailing the later years of his life leading up to his death. Willem Dafoe plays the painter, with Oscar as his long-suffering pal and sometimes-roommate, fellow artist Paul Gaugin. He wears a funny little hat, so there’s that too, I guess.

14. 10 Years, 2011

This high school reunion flick sees a group of friends return to their alma mater — you guessed it — 10 years after graduation. Oscar stars as Reeves, who’s become a famous musician in the interim, but still carries a torch for a girl he had a crush on in high school. It’s a mostly forgettable film with some questionable jokes about women and fat people, but at least we get a nice scene of Oscar singing and playing guitar.

13. Drive, 2011

A cultural reset for teen boys and emotionally-stunted men the world over, Nicolas Winding-Refn brought Kavinsky to the mainstream and did wonders for the satin bomber jacket industry with his bloodthirsty neo-noir. Oscar had a small part (ill-fated) as Standard Gabriel, a petty criminal and husband of The Driver’s neighbour. You know what? It’s still a great movie. I think about it a lot. I think about this a lot too.

12. Mojave, 2015

From the man who won an Oscar for The Departed comes another twisted tale of cat and mouse, only this one is… not The Departed, unfortunately. Here Oscar is a murderous drifter in a very bad wig, who has a run-in with a despondent Hollywood filmmaker (Garrett Hedlund) and decides to make his life difficult. It’s a middling picture, but Oscar does hold a small dog in a few scenes, which makes for pleasant viewing.

11. Sucker Punch, 2011

An expensive, icky mess on multiple levels, Zach Snyder’s “passion project” focuses on a group of abused young women in a psychiatric hospital who imagine themselves as sex workers attempting to escape a vaudeville-style brothel. Oscar plays Blue, the sleazy overseer; and while this is a bad movie, it did at least give us this video of Oscar Isaac singing “Love is the Drug” with Carla Gugino, which lives rent-free in my head, 365 days a year.

10. Life Itself, 2018

I remember going to see this film solely for Oscar Isaac, and sitting through it with an increasing sense of bewilderment. From the creator of hugely popular drama series This is Us, Life Itself is a story of interconnected lives in New York City. Oscar plays Will, who spends most of his time weeping in his therapist’s office (of course he’s a handsome crier too) or mansplaining Bob Dylan to his wife. Is it a good film? Heavens no, it’s emotionally manipulative nonsense. But this set photo of Oscar and Annette Bening? Unparalleled.

9. The Two Faces of January, 2014

An entry that asks: “Why must a film be ‘good’? Is it not enough to see a beautiful face, on a big screen?’” This drama sees Oscar as a tour guide/petty con-man becoming involved with another con-man (Viggo Mortensen) and his wife (Kirsten Dunst) in 1960s Athens. It’s based on a Patricia Highsmith novel, so twists, turns and good sexual tension are to be expected, but the real MVP is this one lock of Oscar’s hair that refuses to stay in place.

8. Ex Machina, 2015

Sometimes, when I’m feeling down, I go to Youtube and look up interviews of Domhnall Gleeson and Oscar Isaac from the Ex Machina press tour. I highly recommend this activity, particularly given that the film is mainly about the pair quietly antagonizing each other. And the results are entrancing! Oscar’s unsavory tech bro Nathan is a walking red flag that Caleb (Gleeson) is equally entranced and repulsed by. Plus, y’know. The dance scene.

7. A Most Violent Year, 2014

Oscar and his Julliard bestie Jessica Chastain play a couple who become embroiled in a criminal oil plot in this gritty J.C. Chandor joint set in 1980s New York. There are some impeccable outfits, and the chemistry between the incredibly attractive leads is great; a wonderful film for fans of hot people doing crimes.

6. Dune, 2021

Desert! Power! Oscar ascended to Peak Hot Dad with his role as the doomed Duke Leto Atreides in Denis Villenueve’s Dune. Anyone who knows how Frank Herbert’s sci-fi epic goes down will tell you that Leto’s an early casualty of the spice wars, but at least Villeneuve didn’t let him go down without a fight. It’s honestly a little hard to look at him in this film, kind of like staring directly into the sun. While it would have been nice to get more Duke Leto, especially since we hardly get any interaction between him and his consort Lady Jessica, you have to give it to Villeneuve for creating the horniest death scene of all time.

5. Triple Frontier, 2019

J.C. Chandor previously directed Oscar in A Most Violent Year, and in 2019 said “I’m going to give the girls exactly what they want” by assembling a himbo task force composed of Oscar Isaac, Ben Affleck, Garrett Hedlund, Charlie Hunnam and Pedro Pascal for a Colombia-set heist movie. While the film forever has a place in history as the origin of Sad Affleck, it’s also just a great time for people who like watching hot men run around looking serious.

4. Star Wars: The Force Awakens, 2015

The highlight of JJ Abrams’ Star Wars trilogy was inarguably Poe Dameron, a cocky fighter pilot who is captured during a mission to retrieve a map to assist the rebellion. Not only does he still look good while being tortured by Kylo Ren, Oscar caused repeated PR headaches for Disney by stating he thought Poe should have a romantic arc with John Boyega’s character, Finn. He knows what we could have had!

3. Annihilation, 2018

Alex Garland brings the actor back into his fold after Ex Machina to play Natalie Portman’s husband in Annihilation, a character who returns from a mysterious mission into ‘Area X’ with some worrying symptoms. He’s actually not in much of the film, but it ranks high because it’s an inventive, incredible movie. And because Oscar still looks great brooding in a hospital.

2. The Card Counter, 2021

Riding high on the success of First Reformed (2017), Paul Schrader returned in 2021 with another meditation on the guilt of man, and boy, did he deliver. Oscar is William Tell — a disgraced ex-soldier fresh out of military prison for his involvement in Abu Ghraib war crimes — who takes to gambling as a means of low-profile income. It’s a performance of immense precision from Isaac, who is menacing and lonely in equal measure, and commands the screen in a way that doesn’t rely on the quick-witted charisma which is often a mainstay of his performances. He’s completely compelling, and it’s impossible to imagine anyone else in the role – not to mention the gorgeous, devastating ending.

1. Inside Llewyn Davis, 2013

The film that emboldened a thousand New York hipsters with questionable facial hair and working knowledge of guitar chords, this Coen Brothers classic also launched Oscar Isaac into the stratosphere. As chronically tired, chronically depressed folk musician Llewyn Davis, he’s charming, heartbreaking, and dashingly handsome, all while possessing the voice of a songbird. The Coen Brothers saw Isaac’s star potential and ran with it; in a more just world, they would have won every award going. But who needs awards when you’ve got Oscar Isaac carrying a ginger cat around New York City? Masterpiece.

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Oscar Isaac