Total Recall

Total Recall: Rutger Hauer's Best Movies

We count down the best-reviewed work of the Rite star.

by | January 28, 2011 | Comments

Rutger Hauer

During the 1980s, the action thriller genre soared to absurd new heights, only to retreat into direct-to-video cheese — and Rutger Hauer‘s career went right along with it, from early cult favorites (Nighthawks, Blade Runner) to, well, less memorable fare (pretty much anything Hauer filmed in the 1990s). But even if the scripts got worse, Hauer’s steely glare and commanding screen presence only improved with age — and he’s put them to use in a recent string of successful films, including Sin City and Batman Begins. With Rutger appearing alongside Anthony Hopkins in this weekend’s The Rite, we knew now was the perfect time to take a look back at his brightest critical highlights. It’s time for Total Recall!


10. Ladyhawke

A marked departure for its young star Matthew Broderick, who was mostly known for playing the wisecracking protagonist of WarGames, Richard Donner’s Ladyhawke blended lush medieval fantasy with 1980s synth pop to tell the tale of an exiled knight (Hauer) and his betrothed (Michelle Pfeiffer), separated by the curse of a jealous bishop (John Wood) — and the escaped thief (Broderick) who becomes a crucial ally in their quest to reunite. Audiences didn’t quite know what to make of Laydhawke during its theatrical run, and mostly stayed away, but most critics enjoyed it — including Jeffrey Overstreet of Looking Closer, who enthused, “We need more fantasy like this: high adventure, brilliant swordplay, convincing magic, three-dimensional characters, arresting cinematography, and best of all, a good story.”


9. Simon Magus

A period drama with a mystical bent, Simon Magus takes place in a 19th-century European village, where a poor young man (Stuart Townsend) and a wealthy, unscrupulous businessman (Sean McGinley) vie for the right to build a train station that will attract travelers on the nearby railroad, whose path has dried up tourism and brought economic hard times. As the eccentric landowner who cares more about poetry than material wealth, Hauer had a chance to prove he was capable of playing characters who aren’t warriors or villains — and to take part in a film that Kenneth Turan of the Los Angeles Times praised by writing, “Poetic and ambiguous, it manages to be magical in both the beautiful and terrifying senses of the word.”


8. Nighthawks

Hauer’s first major role in an American production came courtesy of Nighthawks, a Sylvester Stallone/Billy Dee Williams buddy cop thriller whose script had been refashioned from the abandoned French Connection III. Despite those rather uninspired beginnings — and its disappointing performance at the box office — Nighthawks is one of the more fondly remembered entries in the genre, largely thanks to Hauer’s performance as the publicity-hungry terrorist known as Wulfgar. “All of it is standard stuff,” admitted Janet Maslin of the New York Times, while hastening to add, “and yet Nighthawks has been assembled with enough pep to make it feel fresh.”


7. Spetters

One of Hauer’s many collaborations with director Paul Verhoeven, 1980’s Spetters was the Dutch hit that really launched their careers in America. Nominally about the world of professional motocross racing, Spetters courted controversy with sexually graphic scenes, heaps of violence, and a script heavy with offensive portrayals of… well, pretty much everybody, including Christians and gays. Plenty of filmgoers failed to find much of value here, but as Verhoeven proved so often in his early career, there’s a difference between shocking simply to shock and doing it to prove a point, and Spetters leans far more heavily on the latter tactic. As Ken Hanke of the Asheville Mountain Xpress sighed wistfully after a later viewing, “Remember when Paul Verhoeven made good movies?”


6. Sin City

Part of a busy 2005 for Hauer that included roles in major films (including Batman Begins), a direct-to-video sequel (Dracula III), and a made-for-TV disaster epic (The Poseidon Adventure), Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller’s Sin City used modern filmmaking techniques to bring the distinctive visual thrills of Miller’s graphic novel series directly to the screen. A member of an impressive ensemble cast that included Bruce Willis, Mickey Rourke, Elijah Wood, Jessica Alba, Clive Owen, and Benicio del Toro, Hauer appeared as the villainous Cardinal Patrick Henry Roark, whose murderous machinations set in motion a gory path of revenge for Marv (Rourke). Definitely not for the squeamish, Sin City earned the admiration of critics like Bruce Newman of the San Jose Mercury News, who called it “The most gorgeous digital movie ever made” and “a stunning leap forward in both the technology of digital cinema and the art of filmmaking.”


5. Confessions of a Dangerous Mind

A film adaptation of the “unauthorized autobiography” of famed television producer (and winsomely smarmy game show host) Chuck Barris had been in and out of development since the 1980s, but it took George Clooney to finally make it happen. Clooney marked his directorial debut with Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, starring Sam Rockwell as Barris and following his quite possibly fictional account of his years as a TV personality/CIA assassin. Hauer pops up here as a spy who aids Barris during a German mission, part of an eyebrow-raising supporting cast that also included Julia Roberts, Drew Barrymore, and Clooney himself. Offering praise for Clooney, screenwriter Charlie Kaufman, and the cast, the New York Observer’s Andrew Sarris wrote, “Mr. Clooney, Mr. Kaufman and all their collaborators are entitled to take a deep bow for fashioning an engrossing entertainment out of an almost sure-fire prescription for a critical and commercial disaster.”


4. Flesh & Blood

Hauer got his start on the late 1960s Dutch TV series Floris, along with the show’s creator, Paul Verhoeven — and once they’d both made a name for themselves in Hollywood, they reunited for this big-screen extension of the show’s 16th-century European mythology. Hauer stars as Martin, a spurned mercenary who embarks on a muddy quest for revenge against the commander who betrayed him. Also starring a young Jennifer Jason Leigh, Flesh & Blood wasn’t a huge box office hit, but it offered an unusually realistic take on the era (TV Guide wrote that “a more appalling view of the turmoil and misery of the late Middle Ages may never be seen”) and helped set up Verhoeven’s RoboCop success with an adventure that eFilmCritic’s Scott Weinberg deemed “Brutally ugly and irresistibly entertaining.”


3. Batman Begins

Nobody exudes an air of chilly, impeccably groomed menace quite like Rutger Hauer — a talent that served him well in his small but pivotal role as Wayne Enterprises CEO William Earle in Batman Begins. After Thomas Wayne’s murder, and the departure of Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) for years of soul-searching, Earle remade the company in his own image — which included turning it into a publicly traded weapons manufacturer. Though he was a foe far more easily vanquished than, say, the Scarecrow (Cillian Murphy) or Ra’s al Ghul (Liam Neeson), Earle was plenty nefarious in his own way, and his presence helped add subtext to a film that reinvigorated the superhero genre and moved Colin Covert of the Minneapolis Star Tribune to write, “If comic books must be a staple of our movie diet, please let them be as thought-provoking and thrilling as this.”


2. Blade Runner

Rutger Hauer has been part of a few cult classics in his day, but none have been cultier — or classic-er — than Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner. An adaptation of Philip K. Dick’s short story Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, Blade Runner starred Harrison Ford as the replicant-hunting Rick Deckard, and Hauer as his chief target, the replicant known as Roy Batty. It was a flop during its theatrical run in 1982, but we all know what happened next: Runner is almost universally regarded as a sci-fi classic, as well as a longtime favorite of critics like Roger Ebert, who called it “a seminal film, building on older classics like Metropolis or Things to Come, but establishing a pervasive view of the future that has influenced science fiction films ever since.”


1. Soldier of Orange

We tend not to hear much about the Dutch film industry, but it’s produced its share of great films and major talents — and with 1978’s Soldier of Orange, it gave us a combination of the two, by introducing Hollywood to director/co-writer Paul Verhoeven. Hauer had already worked with Verhoeven on multiple occasions, but none made the kind of international splash enjoyed by this drama about Dutch college students during World War II — it earned a Golden Globe nomination for Best Foreign Language Film, not to mention the praise of critics like the New York Times’ Vincent Canby, who wrote, “Soldier of Orange may not be great art but it’s a good yarn. And the combined effects of Mr. Verhoeven’s comfortingly old-fashioned storytelling and Mr. Hauer’s unexpectedly brittle performance keep it moving at a fast clip.”

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

1. Batman Begins — 90%
2. Blade Runner — 89%
3. Soldier of Orange — 87%
4. Turkish Delight — 78%
5. Sin City — 75%
6. The Hitcher — 73%
7. Ladyhawke — 72%
8. The Blood of Heroes — 72%
9. Confessions of a Dangerous Mind — 71%
10. Simon Magus — 65%

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

Finally, here’s Hauer enjoying a cool, refreshing pint of Guinness — and poking fun at himself in the process:

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