Total Recall

Bryan Cranston's Best Roles

We look back at the best-known work of the star of The Infiltrator.

by | July 13, 2016 | Comments

Bryan Cranston brings a true story to the screen with this weekend’s The Infiltrator, and in appreciation for his efforts, we decided to dig into his extensive filmography and select some of our favorite roles. Sure, you’ll find a nod to Walter White in here, but Mr. Cranston’s career is a heck of a lot more than Breaking Bad; from comedy to award-winning drama, there’s truly something for everyone in here. Make room in your queues, ’cause it’s time for Total Recall!


Titanium Rex (SuperMansion)

As Cranston’s profile has grown in recent years, he’s plowed some of that newfound clout back into his own production efforts — such as Sneaky Pete, recently ordered to series at Amazon, and the animated SuperMansion, which will debut its second season on Crackle in 2017. Working alongside a roster of voice talent that includes Keegan-Michael Key and Seth Green, Cranston stars as Titanium Rex, the aging leader of a past-its-prime group of heroes; although the results have thus far been neither universally acclaimed nor particularly widely seen, it’s worth checking out for Cranston fans and stop-motion enthusiasts with an off-kilter sense of humor. After all, how many cartoons give a guy the chance to play a character with a titanium hand and a prostate problem?


Lance (Last Chance)

In a 2009 interview, Cranston pointed to this little-seen 1999 drama — which he produced, directed, wrote, and starred in — as the one project from his filmography that he didn’t think had gotten the attention it deserved. “I think Last Chance was an interesting tale,” he mused. “It’s the story of someone who doesn’t believe that they have any hope left in their life, and when an opportunity presents itself, will you even recognize it? Do you take advantage of it? Do you ignore it? So it was all about that, and about hope, and taking your last chance if it’s offered.”


Tim Whatley (Seinfeld)

Seinfeld‘s comedy largely derived from the sturdy dynamics between the show’s central foursome, which meant there wasn’t much need for a lot of recurring characters — and as a result, the ones who did manage to return more than a time or two were generally pretty memorable. Case in point: Jerry’s dentist Tim Whatley, played by Cranston over a handful of episodes throughout the show’s run — some of which were among its most memorable. Aside from giving him a chance to show off his comedic chops, Cranston’s Seinfeld spots put him down in sitcom history as one of the people who helped bring the world “re-gifter” and “anti-dentite.”

Shannon (Drive)

After a few seasons of Breaking Bad, Cranston’s Hollywood stock had risen to the point where he was being actively sought out for movie roles — for example, Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive. Cranston was Refn’s first choice for Shannon, the body shop owner whose lucrative side business involves hiring out his star employee (Ryan Gosling) as a no-questions-asked getaway driver, and even though Cranston’s plate was already pretty full — and the part was far from the movie’s showiest — he was sufficiently intrigued to sign on. The result? Screen time in one of the year’s most critically adored movies. “This,” wrote Deadspin’s Will Leitch, “is pop art of the highest degree.”


Jack O’Donnell (Argo)

Like a lot of characters in Argo, Cranston’s character was an amalgam of actual individuals involved in the movie’s real-life story — and like many of the incredible actors assembled for the Oscar-winning drama, he didn’t have an overwhelming amount of screentime. But as Jack O’Donnell, the boss of CIA exfiltrator Tony Mendez (Ben Affleck) during the Iranian hostage crisis in 1979, Cranston plays a crucial role — both for Mendez, who relies on O’Donnell as his lifeline back to the States during his mission in Iran, and for the audience, who feel the tension and urgency of the situation back home through his increasingly strained efforts to pull the whole thing off. “Is it me,” wondered the San Diego Reader’s Scott Marks, “or should Bryan Cranston be in every film released?”


Joe Brody (Godzilla)

Okay, so Bryan Cranston isn’t in Godzilla for anywhere near the length of time he deserved — but that doesn’t take anything away from the fact that his character is the emotional centerpiece of the first act. As Joe Brody, the nuclear plant supervisor who’s among the first to suspect that the human race might be staring down the barrel of an enormous catastrophe, Cranston carried the burden of setting up a hugely over-the-top story in an easily relatable way, and he pulled it off with aplomb. The movie would have been a lot better if Joe stuck around a little longer, but the results are still pretty entertaining, and they offered Cranston a too-rare opportunity to display dramatic range in a blockbuster action thriller. “This is exactly what big summer movies ought to aspire to,” wrote NPR’s Ian Buckwalter. “Never short on dazzle, but unafraid to let us catch our breath once it’s been taken away.”


Dalton Trumbo (Trumbo)

Cranston’s piled up a lot of screen credits over the years, but relatively few have been leading roles. One notable exception is 2015’s Trumbo, in which he portrays the legendary screenwriter during and after his politically motivated fall from professional grace. Delivering a full-bodied performance that neither lionized nor demonized Trumbo, Cranston proved he was more than capable of carrying a movie — even one that, as critics reluctantly pointed out, wasn’t necessarily up to its subject’s impeccable standards. “Cranston’s performance is the motor that runs Trumbo,” wrote Ty Burr for the Boston Globe. “And that motor never idles, never flags in momentum or magnetism or idealistic scorn.”


Lyndon B. Johnson (All the Way)

It takes a special kind of actor to disappear so far inside a character that the audience forgets it’s watching someone go to work, and that goes at least double when the character in question was a real-life individual. All of which is to say that Cranston deserves every bit of the voluminous praise he picked up for his work in All the Way, which dramatizes Lyndon B. Johnson’s actions during the period leading up to the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. After winning a Tony for his portrayal of Johnson on the stage, Cranston reprised the role for HBO’s film adaptation, and earned another round of critical applause. “All the Way should be admired for going the distance,” wrote Ben Travers for IndieWIRE, “and Cranston rewarded for holding it all together.”


Hal Wilkerson (Malcolm in the Middle)

Long before he stripped down to his briefs for Breaking Bad, Cranston made a habit of it on Malcolm in the Middle, the long-running Fox sitcom about a quirky suburban family rounded out by a brood of boys and led by a no-nonsense mom. As the father, Cranston was often just as much of a kid as his onscreen sons — and twice as afraid of their mother (Jane Kaczmarek) — adding yet another sweetly clueless sitcom dad to an already lengthy list. Yet while Malcolm didn’t exactly reinvent the TV comedy wheel, it did what it set out to do consistently well, and earned Cranston a passel of Emmy nominations along the way.


Walter White (Breaking Bad)

Cranston’s done a lot of fine work throughout his career, but he’ll probably always be most closely identified with Breaking Bad. It makes sense, really — how often does an actor get the chance to star in a hit series about a high school chemistry teacher who turns to manufacturing and selling his own meth in order to shore up funds for his family after learning he’s dying of cancer? Critically acclaimed and consistently successful in the ratings, Breaking Bad was also an awards magnet — not least for Cranston, whose depiction of Walter White’s descent into the criminal underworld netted him four Lead Actor Emmys during the show’s run. “One way or another, you’ve got to figure Walt is going down,” wrote the Cleveland Plain Dealer’s Mark Dawidziak during the final season. “And, thanks to Cranston, he’s going down in TV history as one of the medium’s most fascinating, memorable and grandly tragic characters.”

Tag Cloud

Rocky Holidays Box Office PaleyFest RT History halloween Black Mirror Hallmark Trivia Musicals medical drama comics toy story Mudbound travel witnail Mary Tyler Moore zero dark thirty thriller Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt SXSW game show Crackle VH1 book RT21 2015 Superheroes Sneak Peek Paramount Adult Swim Film comiccon SundanceTV Pride Month Shondaland Reality Superheroe Epix The Witch adventure richard e. Grant justice league Martial Arts Watching Series 2017 joker The Purge dragons Ellie Kemper 007 disaster Classic Film children's TV Ovation Showtime MSNBC cancelled television adaptation NBC Schedule Holiday Red Carpet ghosts Year in Review DirecTV what to watch Walt Disney Pictures 20th Century Fox MTV TruTV HBO IFC game of thrones Star Trek Cartoon Network sequel FOX crime crime thriller comic transformers Election blaxploitation USA Network spain Film Festival Turner Classic Movies SDCC psycho 24 frames Nickelodeon Spike Spectrum Originals Netflix Christmas movies Grammys period drama Hallmark Christmas movies Peacock Esquire President elevated horror diversity Cannes Paramount Network Food Network USA Lionsgate VICE 21st Century Fox dramedy Disney Plus ratings zombies political drama BET Sci-Fi Emmys unscripted 2018 E3 jamie lee curtis hispanic cars sitcom historical drama Pop Syfy BBC DC streaming service composers anthology Nat Geo cancelled TV shows movies TNT stand-up comedy sports Columbia Pictures Rom-Com romance 2016 Rock Mary poppins Video Games Dark Horse Comics cooking TCM OWN mockumentary Anna Paquin nature tv talk crime drama Heroines Comic Book Tumblr cancelled TV series biography natural history FXX Binge Guide WGN The CW christmas movies TCA Sundance Now space Marathons DGA Extras TV Warner Bros. WarnerMedia foreign mutant streaming zombie Trailer Music Fantasy Amazon Prime Super Bowl YouTube hist true crime theme song Comedy Central Podcast Mystery Shudder Lifetime The Walking Dead spinoff dceu YA Horror harry potter Country cats Cosplay AMC television series CMT HBO Max indie video DC Universe spy thriller supernatural ITV singing competition ESPN Lifetime Christmas movies Animation discovery Song of Ice and Fire screenings Crunchyroll TLC TV renewals war Photos Drama Pirates DC Comics cults Certified Fresh Ghostbusters Oscars vampires Tarantino GoT green book New York Comic Con El Rey aliens science fiction Pet Sematary ABC Mindy Kaling MCU cops spanish language Creative Arts Emmys LGBT docudrama dc 2019 X-Men GIFs Marvel Television Amazon Fox News Chilling Adventures of Sabrina Opinion rotten movies we love GLAAD cancelled latino quibi Western TV Land CBS Nominations cartoon festivals strong female leads YouTube Red First Reviews Sundance The Arrangement Summer Sony Pictures Interview facebook Starz Marvel National Geographic NYCC TBS doctor who spider-man finale miniseries See It Skip It canceled TV shows Amazon Prime Video Tomatazos Disney streaming service independent politics kids Netflix American Society of Cinematographers Stephen King FX ABC Family Hulu Family psychological thriller San Diego Comic-Con Infographic serial killer slashers History Brie Larson Valentine's Day award winner Trophy Talk Freeform Britbox Comedy Disney+ Disney Plus CBS All Access Apple TV+ Chernobyl free movies Character Guide Reality Competition 71st Emmy Awards CW Seed Emmy Nominations Musical crossover Awards YouTube Premium Pixar Winter TV Calendar breaking bad batman renewed TV shows Lucasfilm Marvel Studios Masterpiece Christmas casting BBC America Writers Guild of America Acorn TV Toys Vudu romantic comedy blockbuster revenge werewolf boxoffice Awards Tour Television Academy A24 Rocketman 45 Turner technology TCA 2017 Captain marvel canceled Disney Channel Biopics police drama binge Quiz Kids & Family Action Apple Premiere Dates talk show south america IFC Films Elton John Best and Worst Bravo Apple TV Plus versus Teen Thanksgiving Fall TV A&E Winners APB LGBTQ animated Spring TV PBS social media Set visit based on movie robots Disney Women's History Month Comics on TV E! golden globes cinemax Universal teaser anime First Look Arrowverse Countdown Mary Poppins Returns TIFF Star Wars CNN Logo Polls and Games