Total Recall

Rank Ryan Reynolds' 10 Best Movies

We count down the best-reviewed work of the Deadpool 2 star.

by | May 16, 2018 | Comments

Ryan Reynolds returns to foul-mouthed, fourth-wall-breaking superhero action with Deadpool 2 this weekend — and if early critical returns are any indication, this could be one of the rare sequels that doesn’t offer a case study in diminishing returns. In honor of the occasion, we decided to take a fond look back at some of the best and brightest moments from Mr. Reynolds’ film career, offering you an opportunity to rank your own favorites in the bargain. It’s time for Total Recall!


1. Mississippi Grind (2015) 90%

(Photo by Patti Perret/A24)

A number of his more successful films have found him playing characters that might be described as blandly pretty, so the idea of Ryan Reynolds playing an emotionally stunted drifter with a gambling problem might seem like a bit of a stretch. With his work in Mississippi Grind, however, Reynolds offered an excellent reminder that when given the right script, he’s more than capable of delivering a finely layered performance — and going toe-to-toe with Ben Mendelsohn in a melancholy road movie about a pair of aging losers who can’t quite seem to grow up no matter how many chances they’re given. “Mendelsohn plays Gerry as a stringy, sweaty hunk of pure desperation,” wrote Mike D’Angelo for the A.V. Club, “while Reynolds, as the ostensibly more stable partner, demonstrates yet again that he’s much more than a ridiculously pretty face.”


2. Adventureland (2009) 88%

Miramax Films
(Photo by Miramax Films)

For his follow-up to Superbad, director Greg Mottola opted for another coming-of-age story — but Adventureland is far from a carbon copy of its predecessor, offering a darker, subtler, far more personal take on life at the cusp of adulthood. This time around, Mottola, who wrote the script, took filmgoers back to the late ’80s to tell the tale of James Brennan (Jesse Eisenberg), a recent college graduate whose dreams of a celebratory trip to Europe are shattered by his suddenly cash-poor parents. Finding the summer job market lacking, James is forced to take a job at the local theme park, where he meets Em (Kristen Stewart), an NYU student with a rocky home life and a thing for older men who look like Ryan Reynolds. The sweetly nostalgic end result didn’t make a ton of money during its theatrical run, but it was a big hit with critics, who appreciated Mottola’s obvious affection for his characters and the authentically ’80s touches dotting the screen. “I’ve seen Mottola’s movie twice,” wrote Scott Foundas for the Village Voice, “and both times, it has inspired feelings of joy, sadness, and a profound yearning for the unrecoverable past.”


3. Buried (2010) 86%

(Photo by Lionsgate)

It takes a special kind of creativity and filmmaking discipline — to say nothing of actorly chutzpah — to pull off a film centered around a single person in a single space, and when Reynolds read the script for 2010’s Buried, he had to know he was facing an immense challenge. Both he and director Rodrigo Cortés deserve a ton of credit, then, for making the most out of screenwriter Chris Sparling’s tightly focused story about a military contractor who wakes up imprisoned in a coffin, and turning its seemingly limited premise into a 95-minute white-knuckle race against time. As Rex Reed argued for the New York Observer, “Nothing this underrated actor has done previously measures up to the emotional diversity, focus and self-control required of him in a one-man exercise in underground suspense that Alfred Hitchcock would envy.”


4. Deadpool (2016) 84%

Joe Lederer/20th Century Fox Film Corp.
(Photo by Joe Lederer/20th Century Fox Film Corp.)

If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. It’s good advice for all kinds of situations — including, as it turns out, attempts to lead a superhero franchise. Reynolds made his first comics-derived movie with the disappointing Blade Trinity, then infamously portrayed Deadpool in 2009’s X-Men Origins: Wolverine, a roundly panned effort whose biggest crime might have been presenting the Merc with a Mouth as… a mutant without a mouth. Two years later, he flamed out even more spectacularly as the lead in Green Lantern — but after a decade of fan demands (intensified by the convenient leaking of some tantalizing test footage), he finally had the chance to set things straight in Deadpool. As unlikely as it might have seemed going in, the character’s first solo feature delivered, telling an origin story that captured his signature rude meta humor while delivering all the bone-bruising action genre fans demand and managing some genuinely poignant moments. A massive success, it opened the floodgates for R-rated movies based on comics properties — as Britton Peele argued for the Dallas Morning News, “Calling Deadpool ‘just another comic book movie’ would do injustice to a film that makes a strong effort to deliver something different.”


5. The Voices (2015) 75%

(Photo by Reiner Bajo/Lionsgate)

For most films, making your main protagonist an employee at a bathtub factory would more than fulfill the weirdness quotient. But for 2015’s The Voices, that’s just the beginning of a surreal odyssey into bloody violence and black comedy — oh, and talking pets. Directed by acclaimed graphic novelist Marjane Satrapi by a script from Paranormal Activity 2 co-writer Michael R. Perry, The Voices gives Reynolds free rein to indulge in all manner of strange behavior, but for the most part, critics agreed that the movie stays on the right side of the line between refreshingly different and quirky for quirky’s sake, and while its main character’s warped descent into a bleak, chaotic psychological abyss definitely isn’t for all viewers, those with a taste for the strange might find the end results intoxicating. As Sara Stewart wrote for the New York Post, “Ryan Reynolds is chillingly perfect as a nice-guy factory worker struggling with schizophrenia and murderous impulses in this tonally wild indie, which is nearly too horrifying to be funny — but not quite.”


6. Definitely, Maybe (2008) 71%

(Photo by Universal courtesy Everett Collection)

A romantic comedy with a twist, Definitely, Maybe finds its protagonist looking back on the love affair that led to marriage and a child — by telling the story to his young daughter, with some names changed and facts adjusted, while in the midst of a divorce. Thanks in part to those narrative curveballs, most critics applauded Maybe — and even if it still ultimately traced a rather familiar arc, it was difficult to find too much fault with a resolutely charming production that made smart use of a likable ensemble cast that included Reynolds, Abigail Breslin, Elizabeth Banks, Isla Fisher, and Rachel Weisz. “As the movie is about a character’s growing into his own truth rather than discovering some preordained truth, Definitely, Maybe is hard to outguess,” wrote Mick LaSalle for the San Francisco Chronicle. “For once in a romantic comedy, you won’t be able to tell after five minutes who will end up together.”


7. Life (2017) 67%

Alex Bailey/Columbia Pictures
(Photo by Alex Bailey/Columbia Pictures)

There’s something uniquely compelling about a horror movie set on a spaceship. As Ridley Scott demonstrated with Alien, setting up life-or-death stakes in tight quarters that are surrounded by a fundamentally hostile environment can deliver a viscerally effective payoff with a truly lingering impact. Even somewhat middling entries in the deep space horror genre can get by on the strength of that brilliant premise: witness 2017’s Life, starring Reynolds and Jake Gyllenhaal as International Space Station astronauts who encounter an organism brought back by a space probe. Things go awry, of course, and although the movie never really takes its genre into uncharted territory, it still packs enough tension — and a few genuine surprises — to earn the approval of a healthy percentage of critics. “Life has cool effects, real suspense and a sweet twist,” wrote Michael O’Sullivan for the Washington Post. “It ain’t rocket science, but it does what it does well — even, one might say, with a kind of genius.”


8. The Nines (2007) 65%

Newmarket Releasing courtesy Everett Collection
(Photo by Newmarket Releasing courtesy Everett Collection)

Whatever problems The Nines might have, a lack of ambition isn’t one of them. This heady sci-fi fantasy, which marked the feature directorial debut of screenwriter John August, stars Reynolds in a triple role as three men struggling to understand the truth behind unusual occurrences in their lives — lives that occasionally intersect — while in the midst of fraught encounters with mysterious women (all played by Hope Davis, in another triple role). It’s the type of trippy metaphysical drama that demands a viewer’s complete concentration, and even then, the answers to the questions it poses are open to interpretation; still, if you’re in the mood for a less-than-straightforward film, you could do far worse. “Confusing? Yes, and intentionally so,” wrote Christy Lemire for the Associated Press. “But it’s never boring.”


9. Woman in Gold (2015) 57%

(Photo by Robert Viglasky/Weinstein Company)
Woman in Gold has an awful lot going for it, including a fascinating real-life story and a talented cast topped off by the mighty Helen Mirren. Unfortunately, while there’s plenty of drama to be wrought from the tale of a Jewish refugee battling the Austrian government for ownership of a Gustav Klimt painting of her aunt, much of it went missing on its journey to the big screen. Although critics were quick to praise Mirren’s work, and had kind words for Reynolds’ portrayal of a rookie lawyer enlisted to help win back the painting, many critics felt Woman in Gold lacked the depth and dramatic pull its story deserved — which is not to say the movie didn’t have its fans. “Sometimes you know a movie is going to work in about the first three scenes,” wrote Wesley Morris for Grantland. “This one really works.”

10. Safe House (2012) 53%

(Photo by Jasin Boland/Universal Pictures)

Reynolds got the chance to go toe-to-toe with Denzel Washington in 2012’s Safe House, an action thriller from director Daniel Espinosa about a rogue CIA operative (Washington) whose interrogation is interrupted by a team of mercenaries that attacks and sends him back into the wind with a low-level field agent (Reynolds). It’s a premise rich with possibilities for cool set pieces and odd-couple bickering, but Safe House never really takes full advantage of those possibilities, settling instead for frenetic editing that can’t quite move fast enough to mask the clichéd plot developments along the way. Still, when the movie gets going, it does have its pleasures; as Colin Covert wrote for the Minneapolis Star Tribune, “I won’t deny that the movie hooked me with sheer brute energy and dragged me along with it most of the way.”

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