Total Recall

Rank Woody Harrelson's 10 Best Movies

We count down the best-reviewed work of the War for the Planet of the Apes star.

by | July 12, 2017 | Comments

Woody Harrelson has come an awfully long way since he joined the cast of Cheers in 1985, originating the role of hayseed bartender Woody Boyd and kicking off a career that has grown to encompass one of the more eclectic, unusual, and just plain interesting filmographies in modern Hollywood. Comedies? Dramas? Thrillers? Harrelson’s done ‘em all — and with his turn as the Colonel in War for the Planet of the Apes making its way to theaters this weekend, we figured now was the perfect time to take a look back at some of the critical highlights in the Harrelson oeuvre, Total Recall style!

1. The Edge of Seventeen (2016) 94%

(Photo by Murray Close/STX Entertainment)

The Edge of Seventeen is unquestionably Hailee Steinfeld’s show, and for good reason — the Oscar-nominated star capably shoulders the dramatic burden of writer-director Kelly Fremon Craig’s coming-of-age story, ricocheting between prickly moodiness and relatable angst as believably as any anguished real-life teen. But many of this acclaimed dramedy’s best lines belong to Harrelson as Mr. Bruner, the history teacher whose grouchy personality makes for a handful of truly memorable quips — and masks a willingness to go above and beyond for his young charge when she needs it most. “Pick a god, any god,” wrote IndieWire’s David Ehrlich, “and thank them for this movie.”

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2. No Country for Old Men (2007) 93%

(Photo by Miramax)

For a guy who made his name playing a harmless bumpkin on a beloved sitcom, Woody Harrelson can come across as pretty menacing when he wants to. But you know who does that trick even better? Javier Bardem, whose character in No Country for Old Men, the terrifying bounty hunter Anton Chigurh, gets the drop on Harrelson’s character, a competing hitman and former acquaintance named Carson Wells — and after a few minutes of deeply disquieting banter, offs Wells with a bolt gun. It’s one of many shudder-worthy moments from the Coen brothers’ Oscar-winning adaptation of the Cormac McCarthy novel, which earned over $170 million at the box office and unqualified praise from critics like Tom Long of the Detroit News, who called it “A cold, rough look at the dissolution of just about everything” and added, “It will bother you afterward. It should.”

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3. Transsiberian (2008) 91%

(Photo by First Look International courtesy Everett Collection)

Four strangers on a train barreling across the Trans-Siberian Express. What could go wrong? That’s the slowly unraveling mystery at the wintry heart of writer/director Brad Anderson’s Transsiberian, starring Harrelson and Emily Mortimer as a pair of missionaries whose return trip from China takes a series of unexpected turns after they find themselves sharing a train cabin with another couple (played by Eduardo Noriega and Kate Mara). It’s the kind of movie that’s better the less you know going in, so we won’t spoil any further plot details here; suffice it to say that, in the words of Colin Covert of the Minneapolis Star Tribune, “Anderson gives us an artful, shifty-eyed take on human strengths and weakness; his film delivers the pleasure of a conventional tale well told, with clever twists and complex characters.”

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4. Zombieland (2009) 89%

(Photo by Glen Wilson/Columbia Pictures)

With the number of zombie movies that have been released, any new entry in the genre really has to do something different in order to stand out — and that’s just what Ruben Fleischer did with Zombieland, starring Harrelson as a cynical survivalist prowling post-outbreak America in search of a Twinkie, Jesse Eisenberg as a college student whose meek exterior masks a surprisingly effective zombie killer, and Emma Stone and Abigail Breslin as a pair of sisters who join them on their journey to a California amusement park that’s rumored to be zombie-free. Toss in one of the most excellent celebrity cameos in recent memory, and it all added up to a $100 million hit — and the movie Roger Moore of the Orlando Sentinel described as “the funniest zombie movie since Shawn of the Dead, funnier even than Fido” as well as “a 28 Days Later played for laughs — lots of them, endless jokes, one-liners and sight gags.”

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5. The Messenger (2009) 90%

(Photo by Oscilloscope Pictures courtesy Everett Collection)

Harrelson earned his second Oscar nomination for his work in this thoughtful war drama, which centers around a pair of Army officers (played by Harrelson and Ben Foster) saddled with the impossible task of telling the family members of fallen soldiers that their loved ones have died in combat. The directorial debut of screenwriter and former journalist Oren Moverman, The Messenger was ignored at the box office, where its minuscule $1.5 million gross offered further proof that audiences weren’t interested in seeing anything that would remind them of the wars in the Middle East — but it earned almost universal praise from critics like the Chicago Tribune’s Michael Phillips, who observed, “Some jobs are dirtier than others, and after seeing director and co-writer Oren Moverman’s beautifully acted new film, you’ll be better acquainted with some of the most grueling work a human being can be called upon to perform.”

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6. The People vs. Larry Flynt (1996) 88%

The idea of making a biopic about one of America’s most infamous pornographers might have seemed like some kind of joke in 1996, but The People vs. Larry Flynt — starring Harrelson as Hustler publisher Flynt and helmed by One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest director Miloš Forman — actually ended up being one of the more serious, thoughtful dramas of the decade. Though it wasn’t a huge box office success, Flynt earned Harrelson his first Academy Award nomination (and scored Courtney Love a Golden Globe nomination in the bargain), as well as heaps of praise from critics like Mick LaSalle of the San Francisco Chronicle, who quipped that it was “a modern-day Capra film, about an unorthodox businessman who’s persecuted for his originality but eventually is recognized for the lovable, rugged American individualist he truly is.”

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7. Wag the Dog (1997) 86%

(Photo by New Line Cinema)

Harrelson took a small but pivotal role in this black political comedy — playing a deranged former soldier whose untimely demise complicates a Presidential adviser’s complicated, daffy, and eerily prescient plans — and although it didn’t amount to much in the way of screen time, it provides a vivid demonstration of Harrelson’s ability to deliver a memorable performance in just a few moments. Calling it “A wicked smart satire on the interlocking worlds of politics and show business,” Kenneth Turan of the Los Angeles Times said “Wag the Dog confirms every awful thought you’ve ever had about media manipulation and the gullibility of the American public.”

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8. Seven Psychopaths (2012) 83%

(Photo by Chuck Zlotnick/CBS Films courtesy Everett Collection)

Harrelson’s knack for portraying unpredictably violent characters made him a perfect pick for 2012’s Seven Psychopaths, a black comedy from writer-director Martin McDonagh in which some desperate people do some bad things for the wrong reasons — and ultimately run afoul of a gangster (Harrelson) who comes out guns a-blazing after his dog is kidnapped. Bloody, funny, and as narratively dense as the best Tarantino-inspired efforts, it made the most of a talented ensemble that was rounded out by Colin Farrell, Sam Rockwell, and Christopher Walken — and earned effusive praise from critics like USA Today’s Claudia Puig, who wrote, “Seven Psychopaths is about seven times more clever than most Hollywood comedies. And way more demented.”

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9. A Prairie Home Companion (2006) 81%

(Photo by Picturehouse courtesy Everett Collection)

One of America’s longest-running radio programs celebrated its 31st birthday in style with this Robert Altman-directed ensemble dramedy, an artful blend of fact and fiction that dramatizes one very important night behind the scenes. Completed mere months before Altman’s death, it provided a worthy closing statement for one of Hollywood’s most dignified careers — and gave Harrelson an opportunity to rub shoulders with a cast that included Meryl Streep, Lily Tomlin, Tommy Lee Jones, John C. Reilly, and Kevin Kline. “It sparkles with a magic all its own as an engagingly performed piece of Midwestern whimsy and stoicism,” wrote Andrew Sarris for the New York Observer, adding, “Mr. Altman’s flair for ensemble spectacle and seamless improvisation in the midst of utter chaos is as apparent as ever.”

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10. Welcome to Sarajevo (1997) 80%

Filmed on location in war-torn Sarajevo and Croatia, Michael Winterbottom’s gritty, enraged Welcome to Sarajevo aimed a lens at the conflict in Bosnia and Herzegovina — in some cases using footage of actual war atrocities — and finds plenty of condemnation to go around. Harrelson co-stars here as Jimmy Flynn, a hotshot journalist whose quest for a story puts him in the midst of a hellish war zone — and a friendly rivalry with fellow reporter Michael Henderson (Stephen Dillane), who embroils Flynn in his efforts to smuggle orphans out of the country. Calling it “Messy and visceral, with an articulate, pointed anger that’s recognizably British,” Salon’s Charles Taylor praised Sarajevo for “[hitting] with an impact that’s not diminished by the fact that Sarajevo’s uneasy peace has held.”

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