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

rt labs critics edition obituary OWN worst rotten movies we love rotten know your critic spy thriller MCU Ovation psycho Mary poppins First Look Election 90s Hulu debate strong female leads DC Comics latino medical drama South by Southwest Film Festival Watching Series Tokyo Olympics Action Paramount Network MGM Summer nfl Amazon Prime Video First Reviews target Image Comics zombies Countdown Elton John political drama Awards Tour kaiju breaking bad golden globe awards cancelled TV shows Rocky Rocketman police drama scorecard high school Hallmark justice league VICE Quiz Disney+ Disney Plus theme song royal family OneApp Exclusive Video ViacomCBS cancelled television Pacific Islander stoner BBC One biopic batman name the review Binge Guide President Women's History Month spider-man Fox Searchlight screenings hispanic olympics posters slasher finale dexter Trailer harry potter cartoon ID RT History comic book movie Marvel concert unscripted Drama Broadway GoT SundanceTV Oscar PaleyFest Marvel Studios Mindy Kaling scary Alien Set visit game of thrones Vudu boxing Endgame cancelled comic TCA 2017 1990s comics king kong GIFs Disney Channel Certified Fresh Star Wars Spike boxoffice joker Cosplay Neflix documentaries Pride Month Dark Horse Comics Podcast news Chernobyl Funimation cars foreign CNN sag awards blaxploitation Interview golden globes dreamworks 24 frames BET Cartoon Network fast and furious Fall TV American Society of Cinematographers Walt Disney Pictures Spring TV Chilling Adventures of Sabrina Reality Box Office Crunchyroll VH1 christmas movies art house genre IFC A&E psychological thriller space Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt Nat Geo Lucasfilm vs. 20th Century Fox dogs new york Martial Arts cults blockbusters HBO Max prank remakes DGA Valentine's Day Pixar spanish what to watch Best and Worst 99% The Witch indie IFC Films Christmas Freeform FX on Hulu trailers Cannes Rom-Com Hallmark Christmas movies GLAAD Tomatazos MSNBC crime drama Sony Pictures The CW sports diversity cats Best Director YA Sundance Now Thanksgiving zombie international Instagram Live TruTV mutant Kids & Family DC streaming service films italian singing competition south america social media spider-verse sitcom Extras best Tags: Comedy Musicals Anna Paquin Turner suspense live event CBS All Access casting BAFTA Netflix Musical Syfy 21st Century Fox New York Comic Con dramedy zero dark thirty reviews Trivia 2016 ITV saw Premiere Dates rt labs CBS binge jamie lee curtis hidden camera Mystery Ellie Kemper WarnerMedia NBC black comedy WGN video emmy awards marvel comics Black History Month Avengers vampires Travel Channel series X-Men 4/20 book adaptation directors ESPN 2020 mcc Heroines Classic Film gangster 71st Emmy Awards dark See It Skip It mob TCA cops transformers Music Bravo Academy Awards monster movies supernatural Marathons Spectrum Originals james bond Biopics doctor who nbcuniversal Polls and Games Nominations canceled TV shows popular Song of Ice and Fire Food Network legend serial killer dc Rock Comics on TV The Walt Disney Company women Creative Arts Emmys TLC Tubi australia SXSW docudrama Winners Columbia Pictures Winter TV robots war The Walking Dead USA San Diego Comic-Con Captain marvel Western slashers canceled lord of the rings ABC all-time Netflix Christmas movies Starz crime thriller rom-coms A24 Pop cooking E! book football Character Guide hist adventure aapi NYCC Opinion Lifetime stand-up comedy politics CMT cancelled TV series APB revenge critic resources kids Comedy Central historical drama ghosts Family kong 2021 YouTube Premium new star wars movies disaster Sneak Peek ABC Family universal monsters razzies El Rey leaderboard Superheroe Comic-Con@Home 2021 Epix talk show Lifetime Christmas movies superhero Schedule a nightmare on elm street Year in Review FX Paramount festivals Emmys sequel TV movies Peacock Acorn TV 45 Discovery Channel Comedy live action ratings 93rd Oscars Toys anthology Amazon Holiday versus asian-american Shudder Best Picture Pop TV Awards AMC teaser TBS dceu based on movie young adult comedies composers new zealand obi wan USA Network marvel cinematic universe Stephen King Reality Competition rt archives anime Pirates Video Games Country toronto true crime cinemax Masterpiece mission: impossible streamig FXX mockumentary telelvision renewed TV shows Fargo sequels movie children's TV elevated horror franchise BBC America scary movies 79th Golden Globes Awards BBC heist movie LGBTQ Prime Video Universal Pictures Lionsgate animated Sci-Fi IMDb TV trophy discovery award winner FOX pirates of the caribbean BET Awards spanish language spinoff History Apple LGBT archives Marvel Television travel Britbox Disney streaming service The Arrangement chucky nature comic book movies TCM Emmy Nominations romance toy story critics thriller miniseries Photos Adult Swim facebook Disney Star Trek 2017 stop motion Best Actor twilight feel good parents Nickelodeon streaming Logo worst movies TIFF The Academy Film SDCC TCA Winter 2020 witnail Wes Anderson YouTube Red Showtime hollywood godzilla Amazon Studios MTV documentary Sundance SXSW 2022 Fantasy festival Television Critics Association Writers Guild of America VOD werewolf Oscars CW Seed wonder woman TCA Awards HFPA dragons RT21 73rd Emmy Awards 2019 deadpool comiccon Super Bowl sopranos tv talk child's play screen actors guild adaptation HBO Amazon Prime black technology game show DC Universe TV Land TV One scene in color Animation superman blockbuster crime Brie Larson romantic comedy 007 Mudbound Sundance TV Paramount Plus biography die hard AMC Plus venice satire Black Mirror HBO Go television natural history halloween richard e. Grant Apple TV+ action-comedy 2018 classics indiana jones streaming movies Esquire Shondaland comic books green book Superheroes Mary Tyler Moore Mary Poppins Returns Crackle 72 Emmy Awards french PlayStation Calendar criterion The Purge jurassic park Disney Plus Holidays Film Festival TV renewals hispanic heritage month Trophy Talk Pet Sematary period drama video on demand 78th Annual Golden Globe Awards Red Carpet independent 94th Oscars japanese japan docuseries Grammys National Geographic science fiction TV Teen Turner Classic Movies Warner Bros. Apple TV Plus TNT ABC Signature adenture king arthur Horror 2015 halloween tv Legendary Fox News fresh quibi Comic Book spain YouTube Ghostbusters crossover Baby Yoda Infographic PBS basketball DirecTV NBA Hollywood Foreign Press Association Television Academy Best Actress Tarantino laika Universal Hear Us Out movies reboot Arrowverse free movies aliens Tumblr E3