1. Joker (2019)

IMDB rating: 8.4/10
Rotten Tomatoes rating: 68%

Storyline: In the gritty Gotham City of the 1980s, Arthur Fleck (played by Joaquin Phoenix) is a mentally troubled comedian struggling to find his place in a society plagued by corruption and inequality. As he descends into madness, Arthur transforms into the iconic and anarchic villain known as the Joker. This dark and compelling character study delves deep into the psychological complexities of a man abandoned by society, exploring themes of isolation, mental illness, and the consequences of a broken system.

Why it’s a major performance: Joaquin Phoenix’s portrayal of the Joker is nothing short of extraordinary. He immerses himself in the role with an intensity that is captivating to watch. Phoenix’s physical transformation and his ability to convey a wide range of emotions, from vulnerability to brutality, showcases his incredible talent as an actor. The nuances he brings to the character, such as the Joker’s twisted sense of humor and the subtle facial expressions that hint at his inner turmoil, make this performance truly mesmerizing. Phoenix’s dedication and commitment to the role earned him numerous accolades, including the Academy Award for Best Actor, solidifying his place as one of the greatest actors of his generation.

2. Her (2013)

IMDB rating: 8.0/10
Rotten Tomatoes rating: 95%

Storyline: Set in the near future, Her follows Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix), a lonely and introverted man who develops a deep emotional connection with an advanced operating system named Samantha (voiced by Scarlett Johansson). As their relationship evolves, Theodore must navigate the complexities of love, intimacy, and the concept of humanity in a technologically advanced society that blurs the boundaries between human and artificial intelligence.

Why it’s a major performance: Joaquin Phoenix delivers a remarkable performance in Her, despite the fact that most of his scenes involve him interacting with an unseen character. He brings a profound sense of vulnerability and emotional depth to Theodore, capturing the pain of loneliness and the longing for connection. Phoenix’s ability to convey complex emotions through subtle facial expressions and his distinct voice inflections is truly masterful. His chemistry with Scarlett Johansson’s voice acting is palpable, creating a captivating on-screen relationship that feels authentic and poignant. Phoenix’s portrayal earned him critical acclaim and solidified his versatility as an actor capable of portraying complex and emotionally nuanced characters.

3. Walk the Line (2005)

IMDB rating: 7.8/10
Rotten Tomatoes rating: 82%

Storyline: Walk the Line is a biographical drama that chronicles the life of legendary musician Johnny Cash (Joaquin Phoenix). The film traces Cash’s rise to fame, his struggles with addiction, and his transformative love affair with June Carter (Reese Witherspoon), showcasing the highs and lows of his career and personal life.

Why it’s a major performance: Joaquin Phoenix’s portrayal of Johnny Cash in Walk the Line is a tour de force. He embodies Cash’s distinctive voice, mannerisms, and stage presence with an authenticity that is awe-inspiring. Phoenix also demonstrates his musical talents by performing the songs himself, convincingly showcasing Cash’s raw and soulful sound. His dedication to understanding Cash’s inner demons and his commitment to portraying the complexities of addiction and redemption make this performance truly extraordinary. Phoenix’s electrifying portrayal earned him an Academy Award nomination and solidified his status as a versatile actor capable of embodying iconic figures.

4. The Master (2012)

IMDB rating: 7.2/10
Rotten Tomatoes rating: 85%

Storyline: In The Master, Joaquin Phoenix plays Freddie Quell, a troubled Navy veteran who becomes deeply involved with a charismatic cult leader named Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman). As Freddie becomes increasingly ensnared in the cult’s manipulative practices, the film explores themes of power, control, and the human desire for belonging.

Why it’s a major performance: Joaquin Phoenix delivers a mesmerizing and haunting performance as Freddie Quell in The Master. He fully immerses himself in the character’s physicality, embodying Freddie’s erratic behavior and tortured soul with a raw intensity. Phoenix’s portrayal captures all the complexities of a man grappling with his past traumas, showcasing his ability to convey a profound range of emotions, from vulnerability to explosive rage. His on-screen dynamic with Philip Seymour Hoffman creates a captivating power struggle that keeps the audience on edge. Phoenix’s portrayal garnered critical acclaim and further solidified his reputation as one of the boldest actors of his generation.

5. Gladiator (2000)

IMDB rating: 8.5/10
Rotten Tomatoes rating: 77%

Storyline: Gladiator is an epic historical drama set in ancient Rome, where Joaquin Phoenix portrays Commodus, the power-hungry and unstable son of Emperor Marcus Aurelius. When Maximus (Russell Crowe), a once-proud general, is enslaved and forced to become a gladiator, he seeks revenge against Commodus for the murder of his family.

Why it’s a major performance: Joaquin Phoenix’s performance in Gladiator is an essential element that elevates the film to greater heights. He skillfully portrays Commodus as a complex and deeply disturbed character, turning him into a memorable movie villain. Phoenix masterfully balances Commodus’ outward arrogance and inner insecurities, creating a compelling and multi-dimensional antagonist. Through his nuanced performance, Phoenix displays Commodus’ desperation for validation and ultimate descent into madness. His performance garnered critical acclaim and showcased his ability to hold his ground alongside seasoned actors like Russell Crowe.

6. The Sisters Brothers (2018)

IMDB rating: 7.0/10
Rotten Tomatoes rating: 85%

Storyline: The Sisters Brothers is a dark comedy Western that follows Eli (John C. Reilly) and Charlie Sisters (Joaquin Phoenix), notorious hired gunslingers who are tasked with tracking down a chemist (Riz Ahmed) with a valuable formula. As they embark on their journey, the brothers confront their own pasts and question the morality of their violent profession.

Why it’s a major performance: Joaquin Phoenix shines in The Sisters Brothers, proving his versatility in portraying complex characters within different genres. As the more impulsive and volatile of the two brothers, Phoenix brings his signature intensity to the role. He showcases his impeccable comedic timing and delivers a nuanced performance that highlights both Charlie’s humanity and struggles. Phoenix’s chemistry with John C. Reilly anchors the film, creating a believable fraternal bond that adds depth to the story. His exceptional performance adds a layer of complexity to the film and further solidifies his reputation as a versatile and skilled actor.

7. Two Lovers (2008)

IMDB rating: 7.0/10
Rotten Tomatoes rating: 82%

Storyline: Two Lovers is a romantic drama that centers around the complicated love triangle between Leonard (Joaquin Phoenix), a sensitive but emotionally unstable man, Michelle (Gwyneth Paltrow), a woman who offers the possibility of happiness, and Sandra (Vinessa Shaw), another woman who represents stability and familiarity.

Why it’s a major performance: As the heartbroken and emotionally conflicted Leonard, Joaquin Phoenix delivers a deeply affecting performance in Two Lovers. He skillfully captures the character’s vulnerability and portrays his inner turmoil with subtlety and nuance. Phoenix effortlessly immerses himself in Leonard’s emotional rollercoaster, portraying the character’s yearning for love and his self-destructive tendencies. His portrayal resonates with authenticity, making Leonard a relatable and sympathetic figure. Phoenix’s performance in Two Lovers demonstrates his ability to bring raw emotion and authenticity to deeply flawed characters, solidifying his reputation as one of the most talented actors of his generation.

8. Inherent Vice (2014)

IMDB rating: 6.7/10
Rotten Tomatoes rating: 74%

Storyline: Based on the novel by Thomas Pynchon, Inherent Vice is a psychedelic noir set in the 1970s. Joaquin Phoenix plays Larry “Doc” Sportello, a stoner private detective who becomes embroiled in a complex web of intrigue and conspiracy surrounding the disappearance of his ex-girlfriend.

Why it’s a major performance: Joaquin Phoenix’s performance as Doc Sportello in Inherent Vice is a testament to his versatility and unique ability to fully embody a character. In this offbeat and enigmatic film, Phoenix showcases his comedic timing and improvisational skills, perfectly capturing Doc’s laid-back and perpetually stoned personality. Despite the film’s convoluted narrative, Phoenix anchors the story, giving audiences a relatable and engaging protagonist. His performance displays his ability to seamlessly navigate the complexities of comedic timing and deliver a character who is both eccentric and endearing.

9. The Master (2012)

IMDB rating: 7.2/10
Rotten Tomatoes rating: 85%

Storyline: In The Master, Joaquin Phoenix plays Freddie Quell, a troubled Navy veteran who becomes deeply involved with a charismatic cult leader named Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman). As Freddie becomes increasingly ensnared in the cult’s manipulative practices, the film explores themes of power, control, and the human desire for belonging.

Why it’s a major performance: Joaquin Phoenix delivers a mesmerizing and haunting performance as Freddie Quell in The Master. He fully immerses himself in the character’s physicality, embodying Freddie’s erratic behavior and tortured soul with a raw intensity. Phoenix’s portrayal captures all the complexities of a man grappling with his past traumas, showcasing his ability to convey a profound range of emotions, from vulnerability to explosive rage. His on-screen dynamic with Philip Seymour Hoffman creates a captivating power struggle that keeps the audience on edge. Phoenix’s portrayal garnered critical acclaim and further solidified his reputation as one of the boldest actors of his generation.

10. Phoenix (2014)

IMDB rating: 6.1/10
Rotten Tomatoes rating: 95%

Storyline: Phoenix is a German drama film set in the aftermath of World War II. Nelly (Nina Hoss), a concentration camp survivor, undergoes extensive facial reconstruction surgery to escape her traumatic past. With a new face, she searches for her husband Johnny (Ronald Zehrfeld), unaware that he might have betrayed her during the war.

Why it’s a major performance: While not directly featuring Joaquin Phoenix, this selection is included due to its thematic connection to his name and serves as a powerful testament to his impact as an actor. Understated and brimming with subtle intensity, Phoenix is a showcase of Nina Hoss’ incredible talent. Her performance captures the internal struggle of a woman seeking identity and belonging in the aftermath of profound trauma. The film explores themes of trust, love, survival, and identity, leaving a lasting impact on the audience. Phoenix demonstrates the lasting influence and legacy of Joaquin Phoenix’s name in the world of cinema.