Total Recall

Total Recall: Christopher Walken's Best Movies

We count down the best-reviewed work of the Seven Psychopaths star.

by | October 11, 2012 | Comments

Christopher Walken

From junior soap star to Oscar-winning film actor, Saturday Night Live mainstay, and music video legend, Christopher Walken has carved out one of the most cheerfully inimitable career paths in Hollywood since making his screen debut nearly 60 years ago. This weekend, the amazingly prolific actor — who’s acted in nearly 30 films over the last 10 years alone — pops up in Seven Psychopaths, so we decided to take the opportunity to take a fond look back at some of his most critically beloved performances. Break out your cowbells, it’s time for Total Recall!


10. Biloxi Blues

Ever wondered what the word “latrine” means? Look no further than Biloxi Blues. In one of the most colorfully memorable scenes from Mike Nichols’ adaptation of the Neil Simon play, Walken’s marvelously named Sergeant First Class Merwin J. Toomey provides a rather in-depth definition for his latest batch of U.S. Army recruits. This being a family site, we can’t reprint the whole thing; suffice it to say that it’s pronounced, as Toomey puts it, “La-trine, from the French.” The interplay between Walken and Biloxi‘s star, Matthew Broderick, was what set the movie apart for the New York Times’ Vincent Canby, who chortled, “With superb performances by Mr. Broderick and Christopher Walken, who plays Mr. Simon’s nearly unhinged, very funny variation on the drill sergeant of movie myth, Biloxi Blues has a fully satisfying life of its own.”


9. At Close Range

Adding a cop mustache, co-starring support from Sean Penn, and a Madonna hit on the soundtrack to Walken’s arsenal, 1986’s At Close Range dramatized the tragic real-life story of a Pennsylvania crime family whose patriarch (played by Walken) returns from exile to darken the lives of his grown sons (Sean and Chris Penn). In spite of its compelling story and excellent cast — which included Mary Stuart Masterson, Kiefer Sutherland, and Crispin Glover — the movie didn’t make much of an impact at the box office, but it resonated with critics like Roger Ebert, who wrote that “Penn and Walken [are] at the top of their forms in roles that give them a lot to work with.”


8. Pennies From Heaven

If you’re filming a musical and you need someone to play a singing, dancing pimp, there’s really only one person to call. Walken added a little bit of off-kilter genius to 1981’s Pennies from Heaven, screenwriter Dennis Potter’s adaptation of his hit BBC miniseries about an unhappy married couple during trying economic times; here, directed by Herbert Ross and starring Steve Martin as a Depression-era sheet music salesman, it went down as one of the decade’s more ignominious flops at the box office, although it’s gained something of a cult following over the years — and it’s always been a favorite among critics like Mark Athitakis of, who called it “Dark as night but perfectly lit, a little sad but with a song in its heart.”


7. The Dead Zone

Walken earned a Saturn Award nomination for his role in David Cronenberg’s The Dead Zone, an adaptation of the Stephen King novel about a psychic (played by Walken) who discovers that a Presidential candidate (Martin Sheen) will trigger nuclear war if elected — and sets about planning a one-man assassination attempt. Unlike a number of 1980s King adaptations, The Dead Zone proved successful with audiences as well as critics; Luke Y. Thompson of New Times called this “The classic Walken role, by which all subsequent ones are measured” and argued that it’s “Possibly the best Stephen King adaptation too.”


6. True Romance

We don’t normally include single-scene roles in Total Recall, but Christopher Walken’s appearance in True Romance is something special — in fact, the character he plays in the movie, Vincenzo Coccotti, boasts his own Wikipedia entry, thanks to the memorably racist monologue delivered by Dennis Hopper during their few moments of shared screentime. And as for the rest of the movie, which stars Christian Slater and Patricia Arquette as a couple on the run from bloodthirsty mobsters? It isn’t bad either. As TIME’s Richard Corliss observed at the time, “If shoot-’em-up, gobble-’em-down movies like The Fugitive and Jurassic Park are rated PG-13 these days, what does an R-rated action adventure look like? Like True Romance: violent to a fault, glam to the max.”


5. The Deer Hunter

Walken earned a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his work in this Michael Cimino classic, which takes a grueling look at three Pennsylvania steelworkers (played by Walken, Robert De Niro, and John Savage) whose lives are irrevocably altered by their experiences serving in the Vietnam War. As Nick, the soldier whose introspective nature finds him ill-equipped for the horrors of combat, Walken provided the film with some of its most haunting moments; as Vincent Canby argued in his review for the New York Times, “Its feelings for time, place and blue-collar people are genuine, and its vision is that of an original, major new film maker.”


4. Hairspray

For fans of Walken’s nuttier script choices, 2007 proved a banner year — not only did he appear as an evil ping-pong crimelord named Feng in Balls of Fury, he played loving husband to a cross-dressing, prosthetic-laden John Travolta in Adam Shankman’s hit Hairspray. A screen adaptation of a Broadway musical that was itself an adaptation of John Waters’ 1988 comedy, Hairspray certainly had tangled roots — but even if its origins made it look like a cash grab, the end result proved to be a sweetly effervescent musical comedy with a better-than-average cast. “Enjoyable movies are released every week,” conceded the San Francisco Chronicle’s Mick LaSalle. “But movies that have the capacity to delight — movies like Hairspray — are few and far between.”


3. Antz

The 1990s found Walken evolving into something of an indie/direct-to-video mainstay, appearing in cult flicks like Suicide Kings far more often than he managed to make it to the big screen — and that wasn’t necessarily a bad thing, given that his higher-profile projects at the time included stuff like MouseHunt. But with 1998’s Antz, Walken made his first foray into animated voicework, appearing alongside the disembodied vocals of an eclectic cast that included Woody Allen, Sharon Stone, Sylvester Stallone, Gene Hackman, and Jennifer Lopez. While it’s arguably best-remembered today for being overshadowed at the box office by A Bug’s Life, it was well-received by critics like Entertainment Weekly’s Lisa Schwarzbaum, who enjoyed “the relief felt by star actors freed from the constraints of their physical selves and the egos that go with them.”


2. Pulp Fiction

Walken took a one-scene appearance in True Romance and pretty much walked away with the movie — so when Romance screenwriter Quentin Tarantino came calling with another small-but-memorable role in Pulp Fiction, he wasn’t about to say no. Again, Walken only appears in one scene, but it’s a doozy: As Captain Koons, a returning soldier who brings young Butch Coolidge a watch owned by the boy’s killed-in-action father, he delivers a monologue that provides one of the most memorable moments in a film with more than enough to go around. “Tarantino’s dialogue, with its densely propulsive, almost lawyerly fervor, its peppery comic blend of literacy and funk, has more snap and fight than most directors’ action scenes,” pointed out Entertainment Weekly’s Owen Gleiberman.


1. Catch Me If You Can

By the early aughts, we’d been conditioned to look for Walken in strange places (e.g. Joe Dirt and The Prophecy 3), where he could generally be found doing strange things — things that, it bears mentioning, tended to liven up otherwise dull movies (Last Man Standing). With 2002’s Catch Me If You Can, however, Steven Spielberg brought Walken back down to Earth — and helped him nab his second Oscar nomination — with the small-but-important role of Frank Abagnale, Sr., the man whose financial ruin and shattered marriage inspires his son Frank, Jr. (Leonardo DiCaprio) to embark on a legendary life of crime. Robert Denerstein called the result “Precisely what a mainstream movie should be: fleet, savvy and, like a good con, executed as if it were the easiest thing in the world.”

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

1. Pulp Fiction — 95%
2. The Deer Hunter — 91%
3. True Romance — 90%
4. Man on Fire — 89%
5. Hairspray — 84%
6. Catch Me If You Can — 81%
7. King of New York — 76%
8. Scotland, PA. — 73%
9. Click — 72%
10. The Rundown — 72%

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


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