1. No Country for Old Men (2007)

IMDB Rating: 8.1/10
Rotten Tomatoes: 93%

Storyline: Javier Bardem plays Anton Chigurh, a menacing, psychopath hitman, in this grim, gripping movie that illustrates a stark viewpoint of human nature and our propensity for violence. The movie is set in Texas, where a man stumbles upon a bloody crime scene, a pick-up truck laden with heroin, and two million dollars in irresistible cash, posing the question – Can you outrun fate?

Why it’s a Major Performance: Bardem’s chilling portrayal of Anton Chigurh was undeniably unforgettable. He masterfully embodied the character’s ruthless, primal nature and his random chaos, creating an unfathomable mystery around his motives and making him one of cinema’s most menacing villains. This role earned Bardem an Academy Award, making him the first Spanish actor to win the coveted honor.

Why it’s a Major Performance: Bardem’s performance was crucial for the film’s overall environment of relentless tension. He managed to provide Chigurh with a bizarre humanity, without shying away from the character’s inherent cruelty, which is no easy task. Bardem’s unique approach of unadorned brutality, combined with the Coen Brothers’ sharp and taut direction, produced a classic thriller that is as riveting as it’s terrifying.

2. Skyfall (2012)

IMDB Rating: 7.7/10
Rotten Tomatoes: 92%

Storyline: In this 23rd James Bond film, Bardem stars as Raoul Silva, an ex-MI6 agent turned cyber terrorist, who seeks to wreak havoc on M (Judi Dench), the head of MI6 operations, who he feels betrayed him. Bardem’s performance added a new dimension to the Bond Villain, making Skyfall an unforgettable entry in the 007 franchise.

Why it’s a Major Performance: Bardem’s portrayal of Raoul Silva was not only menacing and wicked but also flamboyant and somewhat playful, making him one of the most colorful and memorable Bond villains to date. Captivating the audience with his charisma and menace, Bardem brought a unique menacing charm to Silva, a villain with a persona as memorable as his terrible deeds.

Why it’s a Major Performance: Bardem’s performance as Silva brought a refreshing change to Bond villains, portraying him not just as a cartoonish super-villain but a deeply scathed, articulate person who chooses revenge over justice. His obsessive quest for vengeance and the abyss of his madness is beautifully portrayed by Bardem. Skyfall proved once again that Bardem’s villainous characters are not only frightening but deep and multifaceted.

3. Biutiful (2010)

IMDB Rating: 7.4/10
Rotten Tomatoes: 65%

Storyline: In this deeply evocative film directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu, Bardem plays Uxbal, a single father who juggles between being a hustler, a psychic, and a loving father as he navigates through Barcelona’s grimy underbelly, while dealing with terminal cancer.

Why it’s a Major Performance: Bardem gave a deeply touching performance as Uxbal, a man caught in the crossfire of life’s cruel ironies and his impending death. His portrayal of Uxbal’s struggle against his chaotic life and the grim prospect of leaving his children behind is deeply emotional and gripping.

Why it’s a Major Performance: Bardem brilliantly combined the fragility and brutality of his character, showing Uxbal’s desperate attempts to reconcile with his tortured past and ensure a better future for his children. Bardem’s commitment to his role and incredible capability to convey a myriad of emotions earned him an Oscar nomination for Best Actor. It was a telltale proof that Bardem’s acting prowess extends far beyond playing the villain.

4. Mar Adentro (2004)

IMDB Rating: 8.0/10
Rotten Tomatoes: 84%

Storyline: In “Mar Adentro” (The Sea Inside), Bardem portrays the real-life character Ramón Sampedro, a quadriplegic who fought for almost 30 years for his right to an assisted suicide.

Why it’s a Major Performance: Bardem delivered a magnificent performance as Sampedro, elegantly bringing to life the character’s longing for freedom and the paradox of his situation – being imprisoned in his body while yearning for the liberty of death. He brilliantly presents Sampedro’s intelligence, humor, and tragedy, offering the audience space to contemplate about life, love, and death.

Why it’s a Major Performance: The contrast between the physical immobility of Bardem’s character and the range of emotion he portrays is a testament to his extraordinary talent as an actor. Bardem’s work in this movie won him the Best Actor award at Venice Film Festival, proving once again his skills to bring any character to life with profound depth and sensitivity.

5. Before Night Falls (2000)

IMDB Rating: 7.2/10
Rotten Tomatoes: 73%

Storyline: Bardem plays Cuban poet and novelist Reinaldo Arenas, who was persecuted and imprisoned for his homosexuality by Fidel Castro’s government. The film chronicles Arenas’ life, from his early childhood to leaving Cuba in the Mariel Harbor exodus and his subsequent life and death in New York.

Why it’s a Major Performance: Bardem’s breathtaking performance as Arenas encapsulates the joy, pain, and struggle of a man battling the societal norms and his own identity in a stifling and hostile society. His vivid portrayal of physical and emotional torment, coupled with his remarkably sensitive depiction of Arenas’ sexual and artistic awakening, makes this performance one of his most touching performances to date.

Why it’s a Major Performance: Bardem’s portrayal of Reinaldo Arenas earned him his first Academy Award nomination, making him the first Spanish actor ever to receive this honor. The warmth and depth that Bardem brought to the complicated character, balancing his overflowing lust for life with the bitterness of his unfulfilled ambitions and tormented love life, makes this performance immensely powerful and unforgettable.

6. The Sea Inside (2004)

IMDB Rating: 8.0/10
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 84%

Storyline: Bardem portrays Ramón Sampedro, a ship mechanic left quadriplegic after a diving accident who fought a 30-year campaign in favor of euthanasia and his own right to die.

Why it’s a Major Performance: Despite being limited to a bed, Bardem delivered an exceptionally powerful performance, capturing the heart and courage of a man confined to his bed but free in spirit. He effectively explores the themes of life, death, and the meaning of freedom in the moving and thought-provoking film.

Why it’s a Major Performance: The physical constraints of his character only serve to enhance Bardem’s superb ability to embody Sampedro’s indomitable soul through his facial expressions and eyes. Bardem received numerous awards for his portrayal, including Best Actor at the Venice Film Festival, and earned another Oscar nomination, marking this role as a milestone in his career.

7. Vicky Cristina Barcelona (2008)

IMDB Rating: 7.1/10
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 81%

Storyline: Directed by Woody Allen, the film sees Bardem play the role of Juan Antonio – a passionate, and handsome artist, who while still married to his explosive ex (Penélope Cruz), tries to seduce two American tourists (Scarlett Johansson and Rebecca Hall).

Why it’s a Major Performance: Bardem proved his versatility by shifting gears entirely to play Juan Antonio. From his ruthless killers to the charming, and deeply sensual struggling artist, Bardem ensnares audiences with his nuanced performance, unafraid of displaying vulnerability or desire.

Why it’s a Major Performance: Juan Antonio, with all his complexity and charm, has a certain magnetism about him, a testament to Bardem’s mesmerising performance. In this light and romantically charged film, Bardem’s character stands as a testimony to his range as an actor, showcasing a much softer yet complicated side to him.

8. Loving Pablo (2017)

IMDB Rating: 6.3/10
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 32%

Storyline: Bardem unfolds the life of one of the most infamous criminals, Pablo Escobar, and his tumultuous love affair with Colombia’s most celebrated journalist, Virginia Vallejo, during his reign of terror that tore a country apart.

Why it’s a Major Performance: Bardem’s portrayal of Escobar is brutal, charismatic, intimidating, and oddly, human. He intelligently portrayed the notorious drug lord’s dual personality, oscillating between a philanthropist and a merciless killer, thereby adding depth and complexity to the character.

Why it’s a Major Performance: Bardem’s performance gave us a chilling glimpse of a man corrupted by power, greed, and violence. Despite its mixed reviews, Bardem’s superior performance as the rise-and-fall drug lord is undeniable. His authentic and sonorous portrayal of Pablo Escobar reinforced his status as one of the most versatile actors.

9. The Dancer Upstairs (2002)

IMDB Rating: 7.0/10
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 64%

Storyline: Bardem plays Agustin Rejas, a policeman attempting to cease a guerilla uprising in South America while dealing with his growing affections for his daughter’s ballet teacher.

Why it’s a Major Performance: Bardem’s portrayal of an honest lawman amidst corruption and violence is subtle yet impactful. His underlying intensity coupled with his quiet strength bolsters the narrative, showing the dichotomy between love and duty.

Why it’s a Major Performance: By locking down the violence in his demeanor and softening his gaze, Bardem brings forth the humanity of an officer attempting to maintain peace amidst chaos. His character’s internal struggle of choosing between a heart and a badge is masterfully depicted, forming a strong emotional backbone of the movie.

10. Goya’s Ghosts (2006)

IMDB Rating: 6.9/10
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 30%

Storyline: Set in Spain during the Inquisition, Bardem plays a manipulative monk, Brother Lorenzo, who accuses a young model (Natalie Portman) of heresy, leading the famed painter Goya (Stellan Skarsgard) into a conflict.

Why it’s a Major Performance: Bardem exhibits Brother Lorenzo as a man ruthlessly and doggedly clinging to his twisted faith and ideology. Though the film itself received mixed reviews, Bardem’s performance was lauded for its depth and dark intensity.

Why it’s a Major Performance: Despite playing a character that can easily veer into caricature territory, Bardem manages to bring complexity to Brother Lorenzo, making him terrifyingly human. His portrayal gives us insight into the mind of a zealot, a glimpse of a twisted conscience that believes it’s nobly upholding morality but is in fact inflicting suffering.