Total Recall

Total Recall: Hugh Jackman’s Best Movies

We count down the best-reviewed work of the Real Steel star.

by | October 6, 2011 | Comments

Hugh Jackman

Throughout Hollywood history, countless actors have played boxers: young ones, old ones, prize-winning champs, washed-up palookas, and everything in between. But never have audiences been treated to the sight of a down-on-his-luck pugilist who rebuilds his shattered dreams by coaching a boxing robot — until now, that is. Yes, that’s right, Real Steel is here, and in honor of his turn as the rockin’-est, sockin’-est corner man in celluloid history, we’re dedicating this week’s Total Recall to Hugh Jackman‘s greatest hits!


10. Someone Like You

An adaptation of the Laura Zigman novel about a single woman (Ashley Judd) who finds herself drawn into a love triangle with a pair of men in her office (Hugh Jackman and Greg Kinnear), Someone Like You was burdened with a premise most critics were ready to dismiss before they even sat down in the theater — and despite its likable cast, many of those scribes came away unmoved. Audiences weren’t exactly crazy about Someone Like You either — it limped away from its run with a paltry $27 million gross — but Margarate A. McGurk of the Cincinnati Enquirer offered a dissenting opinion, calling it “A movie that seems the essence of a trivial romantic comedy for its first half, then grows up and gets serious about life.”


9. Kate & Leopold

It’s a time-traveling romance starring Wolverine and Meg “America’s Sweetheart” Ryan — with Sting on the soundtrack! What could go wrong? That was the thinking in 2001, anyway. Alas, the result was Kate & Leopold, the critically misbegotten Christmas Day dud about a 19th century British duke (Jackman) who stumbles into a time portal and ends up in the present day, where he falls in love with a New York ad executive (Ryan) even as he struggles to square her modern pragmatism with his stubborn idealism. Even with the added time-travel angle, most critics felt Kate & Leopold was too formulaic to recommend, but the Philadelphia Inquirer’s Carrie Rickey disagreed, insisting that “The irresistible force that is Hugh Jackman — or was it his swoony Leopold? — swept me off my seat and into the movie.”


8. The Fountain

In this era of sequels, reboots, remakes, and reimaginings, real imagination comes at a premium in Hollywood — so when a director as talented as Darren Aronofsky decides to stake his career on a sprawling love story that asks Hugh Jackman and Rachel Weisz to play three couples across ten centuries, it’s hard to be too critical of the results, even when their reach exceeds their grasp. We’re talking, of course, about 2006’s The Fountain, in which Jackman and Weisz probe the meaning of love and mortality as star-crossed couples in the 16th century, the present day, and the distant future. It’s an awful lot for one 96-minute film to bear, and quite a few critics felt the results were overly ambitious. But for others, the scope of The Fountain‘s vision outweighed its drawbacks — including Entertainment Weekly’s Lisa Schwarzbaum, who proudly admitted, “I’m perfectly content to float with [Aronofsky] even if he doesn’t solve the riddles of the universe.”


7. Australia

After hitting a home run with Moulin Rouge! in 2001, Baz Luhrmann decided to aim for epic territory for his next picture. His original plan, to film an Alexander the Great biopic, was foiled when Oliver Stone beat Luhrmann to theaters with Alexander, so he turned his eye to his native land for the descriptively titled Australia. Like the country, Luhrmann’s film is vast, beautiful, and populated with colorful characters; unfortunately, a lot of critics also thought it was cornily melodramatic and awkwardly uneven, and despite an Oscar nomination and a healthy worldwide gross, it was ultimately regarded as something of a disappointment. Still, it gave Jackman the chance to act in a bona fide epic, playing a tough-as-nails cattle drover who falls for a widowed noblewoman (Nicole Kidman) in the outback during World War II. Calling it “A wildly ambitious, luridly indulgent spectacle of romance, action, melodrama and historic revisionism,” the Washington Post’s Ann Hornaday applauded Australia as “windy, overblown, utterly preposterous and insanely entertaining.”


6. X-Men: The Last Stand

After two top-grossing, well-reviewed installments, the X-Men film franchise was due for a fall — and with 2006’s X-Men: The Last Stand, it arrived in the form of a second sequel whose $400 million-plus grosses were overshadowed by poor word of mouth and a rash of negative reviews that prevented a Fresh certification for the first time in the series. Though 57 percent isn’t a terrible Tomatometer rating — and some critics enjoyed the movie, such as the New York Observer’s Andrew Sarris, who wrote that he was “strangely moved” by it — the lukewarm response was a significant comedown for the franchise, particularly after Bryan Singer, who directed the first two installments, left the project to take on Superman Returns, taking the previous installment’s screenwriters with him. New director Brett Ratner took his fair share of critical lumps (the Washington Post’s Ann Hornaday accused him of “[making] hash of the story and characters”), but there was plenty of blame to go around; in the words of the Chicago Reader’s J.R. Jones, “despite all the grand gestures of climax and resolution, there’s a pronounced sense of autopilot.”


5. Flushed Away

With a voice cast led by Jackman, Kate Winslet, and Ian McKellen, the marketing muscle of DreamWorks Animation, and animation courtesy of the geniuses at Aardman, Flushed Away should have been a Shrek-sized hit. Alas, audiences just weren’t terribly interested in the story of a mouse (Jackman) who is flushed down the toilet by a vengeful rat and ends up tangling with an amphibious sewer overlord (McKellen) — and falling in love with a scrappy she-rodent (Winslet). It didn’t live up to expectations, but for a ‘toon with such strong British themes (including a subplot involving the World Cup), it did fairly well with American audiences — and though Aardman’s experiences with DreamWorks on the movie led to a split between the studios, the end result was still charming enough to earn a 72 percent Tomatometer rating, thanks to positive reviews from critics like the New York Times’ A.O. Scott, who enjoyed its “exuberant and infectious silliness.”


4. Happy Feet

Once you’ve played a mutant superhero with claws and a metal-laced skeleton, you can take on pretty much any role. Witness Jackman’s work in George Miller’s animated adventure Happy Feet, which finds him playing the voice of a rather clumsy penguin whose misadventures with his mate’s egg lead to an oddball, tap-dancing progeny named Mumble (voiced by Elijah Wood) who runs afoul of the tribe’s elders and ends up in exile. After a few mildly perilous diversions, including a few months spent locked up in a Sea World clone, Mumble eventually manages to work his way back into his flock’s good graces — and, with a climactic dance number, help bring about the end of Antarctic overfishing. Over the top? Perhaps. But it was also a huge hit, and a winner with critics like the Wall Street Journal’s Joe Morgenstern, who pronounced it “the kind of musical comedy that might have swept the world if MGM had been based in Antarctica instead of Culver City.”


3. The Prestige

After Batman Begins hit big, Christopher Nolan and Christian Bale had their pick of projects to choose from — and they opted to reunite for The Prestige, a film Nolan had been eyeing since his post-Memento days. In this adaptation of the Christopher Priest novel, Bale stars opposite Jackman in the tale of two early 20th century magicians driven to dangerous lengths in their personal and professional feud. With a plot hinging on a series of progressively more unpredictable twists and turns, The Prestige was bound to provoke a number of divergent responses — and it did, splitting RT’s top critics almost down the middle — but with gross receipts over $100 million and a Certified Fresh Tomatometer score, it packed enough of a suspenseful flourish to earn praise from scribes such as Peter Travers of Rolling Stone, who observed, “there are nifty tricks galore up the sumptuous sleeve of this offbeat and wildly entertaining thriller.”


2. X-Men

Today, Hugh Jackman is pretty much synonymous with the role of Wolverine, but he wasn’t Bryan Singer’s first — or second — choice for the part; in fact, it only fell to him after Russell Crowe’s salary demands and Dougray Scott’s scheduling conflicts kept both of them from bringing the clawed, cigar-chomping antihero to the screen. Jackman, an unknown at the time, represented a bit of a gamble for the long-in-development X-Men adaptation, but with an ensemble cast that included Patrick Stewart as Professor X, Sir Ian McKellen as Magneto, and Halle Berry as Storm, the summer of 2000 brought Marvel’s favorite mutants to the big screen in style, racking up almost $300 million in worldwide grosses and a healthy stack of positive reviews from critics like New York Magazine’s Peter Rainer, who deemed it “A rarity: a comic-book movie with a satisfying cinematic design and protagonists you want to watch.”


1. X2: X-Men United

Given the long odds it faced just getting to the screen, let alone pulling off the transition so successfully, it seemed altogether unlikely that X-Men‘s inevitable sequel would be able to achieve the same standard, let alone exceed it — but that’s exactly what 2003’s X2: X-Men United did, both at the box office, where it grossed over $400 million, and among critics, who praised it even more highly than its predecessor. This was, appropriately, accomplished two ways: One, the screenplay satisfied critics and longtime fans by tackling the comic’s long-running sociological themes, most explicitly the fear of “outside” elements (in this case, sexy super-powered mutants) and how that fear is channeled by xenophobic authority figures; two, the sequel ramped up the original’s gee-whiz factor by introducing characters like the teleporting, prehensile-tailed Nightcrawler — and daring to tease at the Marvel title’s Phoenix storyline, one of the most beloved, brain-bending plots in the publisher’s history. The result was a film that remains both a fan favorite and a critical benchmark for writers like Variety’s Todd McCarthy, who lauded X2 as “bigger and more ambitious in every respect, from its action and visceral qualities to its themes.”

In case you were wondering, here are Jackman’s top 10 movies according RT users’ scores:

1. The Prestige — 90%
2. X2: X-Men United — 84%
3. X-Men — 83%
4. Happy Feet — 75%
5. X-Men: The Last Stand — 73%
6. The Fountain — 73%
7. X-Men Origins – Wolverine — 72%
8. Australia — 69%
9. Flushed Away — 68%
10. Van Helsing — 66%

Take a look through Jackman’s complete filmography, as well as the rest of our Total Recall archives. And don’t forget to check out the reviews for Real Steel.

Finally, here’s Jackman punching Dolph Ziggler on WWE Raw last month:

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