Total Recall

Total Recall: Gerard Butler's Best Movies

We count down the best-reviewed work of the Playing for Keeps star.

by | December 6, 2012 | Comments

Gerard Butler

The rest of the heavy hitters Hollywood has planned for us in 2012 are being stored away until later in December, but Gerard Butler can’t wait — he’s back in theaters this weekend with his latest rom-com, Playing for Keeps. Although its Tomatometer fate can probably be guessed by the fact that it isn’t being screened for critics, don’t feel too badly for Butler — his filmography has plenty of critical highlights to fall back on, and this week’s list offers proof. From period drama to family-friendly fantasy and bone-crunching action, he’s stayed plenty busy over the last 15 years and change — and now it’s time to pay tribute, Total Recall style!


10. Reign of Fire

The only film to combine the acting might of Gerard Butler, Matthew McConaughey, and Christian Bale with the special-effects majesty of fire-breathing dragons and the giddy thrill of witnessing a post-apocalyptic dystopian future, 2002’s Reign of Fire had a lot going for it. After all, it isn’t every day filmgoers get to watch British construction workers accidentally open an underground cave full of dragons, triggering 10 years of panic, death, and mayhem — or watch an axe-wielding McConaughey leap into the mouth of one of the filthy beasts. Unfortunately, while Fire proved a medium-sized box office hit, most critics felt it squandered all the potential of its premise on a movie that sacrificed compelling story in favor of eye-popping visual effects. For Entertainment Weekly’s Lisa Schwarzbaum, however, that was precisely the point — as she argued in her review, “The season could do with more grinning, spinning, un-self-important, happy-to-be-B throwback movies like this one.”


9. Beowulf & Grendel

Two years before Angelina Jolie exerted a disconcerting level of mo-cap sexitude in 2007’s more succinctly titled Beowulf, Gerard Butler played the titular warrior in director Sturla Gunnarsson’s Beowulf & Grendel, a beautifully filmed retelling of the ancient saga about the generations-spanning grudge that erupts after a Danish king (Stellan Skarsgård) slays a troublesome creature that’s been pestering his lands, only to let its offspring go free. He lives to regret this decision after the orphan grows up to be Grendel (Ingvar Sigurdsson), who returns to terrorize the kingdom and can only be stopped by the fearless Beowulf (Butler). Despite its impressive scenery and unimpeachable source material, most critics were unmoved by Beowulf & Grendel, and after scoring with Canadian filmgoers, it sputtered out quickly in U.S. theaters. Their loss, according to William Arnold of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, who wrote, “Shot entirely in the outback of Iceland, it’s a gallery of hauntingly beautiful locations, and director Sturla Gunnarsson skillfully uses its bleak otherworldliness to distance us from anything familiar and evoke a lost heroic age.”


8. Harrison’s Flowers

While far from his biggest role, Butler’s brief turn as Chris Kumac in the Elie Chouraqui-directed war drama Harrison’s Flowers added to his early film résumé while giving him a chance to share space in the closing credits with a long list of solid actors, including Elias Koteas, Brendan Gleeson, and Adrien Brody — not to mention David Strathairn, who played photojournalist Harrison Lloyd, and Andie MacDowell, who plays the wife that travels overseas to search for him after his presumed death in a building collapse. Clearly, Harrison’s Flowers contained the seeds for a powerful drama; unfortunately, most critics felt that the movie zoomed past it and soared straight into soggy melodrama. But that wasn’t enough to deter Robert W. Butler of the Kansas City Star, who argued, “Despite its melodramatic framework and thin characterizations, the movie does deliver an unforgettable sense of the desperate civil conflicts that seem to be a recurrent phenomenon of our troubled times.”


7. Nim’s Island

On paper, Nim’s Island had a lot going for it: A solid cast, strong visuals, and bestselling, family-friendly source material in Wendy Orr’s book about a young girl (Abigail Breslin) forced to seek help from an agoraphobic adventure author (Jodie Foster) after a shipwreck strands the girl’s scientist father (Butler). Unfortunately, things didn’t exactly work out the way they were supposed to when the movie kicked off its theatrical run in April 2008 — while it easily recouped its $37 million budget with a $100 million worldwide gross, reviews and word of mouth were disappointingly lukewarm. That isn’t to say the movie was without its defenders, however — including USA Today’s Claudia Puig, who wrote, “Nim’s Island is a win-win proposition: an entertaining, diverting adventure saga that offers excitement and a relatable heroine for children, and also will remind their parents of favorite classics from their own youth.”


6. RocknRolla

He’s returned to Fresh territory with his Sherlock Holmes movies, but for awhile there, it looked like Guy Ritchie’s post-Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels career was going to be a study in diminishing critical returns. Case in point: 2008’s RocknRolla, a London-set action thriller about a group of scuzzy underworld types including a crimelord (Tom Wilkinson), unscrupulous accountant (Thandie Newton), rough-and-tumble thug (Butler), and punk musician (Toby Kebbell) who only stop shooting long enough to betray their supposed allies. Familiar territory for Ritchie, but most critics found RocknRolla a case of style at the expense of substance. For others, however, that was more than enough: As Michael O’Sullivan put it for the Washington Post, “Style is what RocknRolla is all about. And it has it in spades, from the cockney Pulp Fiction dialogue to the music-video editing of the rambling narrative.”


5. 300

Arguably the most gloriously ab-riffic swords ‘n’ sandals action epic ever filmed, Zack Snyder’s 300 blended newfangled bluescreen technology with time-tested bloody murder to produce a fictionalized adaptation of the Battle of Thermopylae. Working from Frank Miller’s comic series of the same name, Snyder pulled out all the stops in pursuit of a faithful reproduction of his source material — and the results worked so well that, combined with 2005’s similarly striking, also Miller-inspired Sin City, they briefly seemed to usher in a new era of hyper-visual graphic novel adaptations. A $210 million box office hit, 300 was less of a sure thing with critics, but it carried enough firepower for Richard Roeper, who called it “Excessively, cheerfully violent — and it is gorgeous to behold. It looks like the world’s most sophisticated and expensive video game, and I mean that in a good way.”


4. Dear Frankie

One of the reasons Butler’s been such an alluring target for directors of romantic comedies is his ability to convey rough edges and soulful tenderness in equal measure — and anyone who thought those qualities would save movies like The Bounty Hunter, and learned the hard way that they couldn’t, would do well to check out 2004’s Dear Frankie, starring Butler as an anonymous seaman who agrees to help a single mother (Emily Mortimer) preserve the long-running lie that her son’s (Jack McElhone) father is a sailor on a ship that just happens to be docking in town. Sweet and mournful, Frankie failed to make much of a dent at the box office, but it definitely left an impression on critics like Film Journal International’s Shirley Sealy, who called it “A quietly told film that–by casually tossing in a surprise here and a plot twist there–builds up to an ending that carries an intense emotional impact.”


3. Mrs. Brown

Butler made his film debut with a relatively minor role in John Madden’s Mrs. Brown, playing the younger brother of a Scottish servant (Billy Connolly) whose relationship with the widowed Queen Victoria (Judi Dench) throws the royal court into a tizzy. Originally intended to air as an episode of Masterpiece Theatre, it went on to accrue acclaim — and a healthy $13 million at the box office during its arthouse run — while bringing Dench her first Best Actress Academy Award nomination. Observed Janet Maslin of the New York Times, “Mrs. Brown’ transcends its period setting not only with a keenly observed struggle between love and duty but also with the kind of controversy that envelops the Queen and her servant.”


2. Coriolanus

This critically lauded, Ralph Fiennes-directed period piece is an adaptation of the Shakespeare play that follows the adventures of the titular Roman general (Fiennes) who’s manipulated by his domineering mother (Vanessa Redgrave) into angling for higher office — and then finds himself exiled from the city. Who does he turn to when it comes time to hatch a plan for his return? Why, his burly archenemy Tullus Aufidius — who’s played to seething, bearded perfection by Butler, coming full circle by reprising the role for the cameras after scoring one of his earliest career breaks in a stage production of the play. Offering resounding proof that all Butler really needs is to step away from the regrettable rom-coms and pick a few solid scripts, Coriolanus earned the praise of critics like Slant’s Chuck Bowen, who called it “a savage action movie that somehow manages to preserve the heart of the Bard’s work while reducing his words to devastating shards.”


1. How to Train Your Dragon

If you’re casting the voice of the head of an ancient Viking village — and you don’t happen to have an actual ancient Viking lying around — you could do a heck of a lot worse than Gerard Butler, who stepped in to lend his beefy-sounding burr to the animated Stoick the Vast, patriarch of the dragon-infested island of Berk, in DreamWorks’ massive 2010 hit How to Train Your Dragon. Though the movie’s impressive 3D CGI visuals were undeniably the star of the show, Butler was part of a sharp voice cast that included Craig Ferguson, Jay Baruchel, America Ferrera, Jonah Hill, and Christopher Mintz-Plasse — and part of the reason the Houston Chronicle’s Amy Biancolli said the movie “uses its whiz-bang technology to amplify feelings as well as dimension and scale. The big optical wow is only the half of it.”

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

1. 300 — 90%

2. How to Train Your Dragon — 90%

3. Dear Frankie — 89%

4. The Phantom of the Opera — 86%

5. P.S. I Love You — 82%

6. Law Abiding Citizen — 77%

7. Chasing Mavericks — 76%

8. Mrs. Brown — 75%

9. Harrison’s Flowers — 74%

10. RocknRolla — 71%

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

Finally, here’s a younger Butler in a reasonably intense UK Polaroid commercial:

Tag Cloud

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