Michael Shannon is a charismatic and always exceptional actor who has crafted an illustrious resume on both the big and small screen throughout his career. Respected for his profound work in gripping films like Nocturnal Animals, The Shape of Water and Knives Out, as well as his riveting television portrayals of Nelson Van Alden in the HBO period drama Boardwalk Empire and Napoleon Marconi in Hulu’s Nine Perfect Strangers, the performer has proven himself to be quite the chameleon when it comes to his craft. Having made his movie debut in the ‘90s masterpiece Groundhog Day, Shannon has dazzled audiences with his unique talent for over three decades.
Shannon has been nominated for prestigious accolades such as Academy Awards and Golden Globes for his acting work, and has collaborated with impressive directors such as Sam Mendes and Guillermo del Toro, along with fellow stars like Leonardo DiCaprio, Chris Evans, Matthew McConaughey, and Kate Winslet. The actor is lauded for his on-screen versatility, keeping viewers on their toes with his riveting characters and bold pictures, but he consistently plays against the bug-eyed intensity he is known for by appearing in silly comedy shows like Delocated and At Home With Amy Sedaris. Shannon will be appearing alongside Brad Pitt (before he retires) in the highly-anticipated upcoming action comedy Bullet Train, portraying crime leader White Death. These are some of Michael Shannon’s best movies.
9 Midnight Special
Touting an impressive cast led by Michael Shannon, Joel Edgerton, and Kirsten Dunst, the 2016 science fiction film Midnight Special follows tenacious father Roy Tomlin as he goes on the run with his son Alton. They embark upon what’s essentially an epic road movie as the group evades both the government and a nefarious religious cult that are desperately trying to track the pair down when it is revealed the boy has special powers.
Shannon offers a compelling performance as Roy, a desperate man who teams up with his close friend Lucas (Edgerton) and his wife Sarah (Dunst) to flee the powerful forces hunting them down; the sci-fi flick marks the fourth collaboration between Shann and director Jeff Nichols. Midnight Special was chosen to compete for the prestigious Golden Bear at the Berlin International Film Festival, debuting to widespread critical acclaim.
8 Take Shelter
Chronicling a man’s struggle with daunting apocalyptic visions, the 2011 psychological thriller Take Shelter centers on small town Ohio resident Curtis LaForche, a devoted father and husband who becomes increasingly distressed by troubling visions of the world’s demise, causing him to wonder if he should protect his family from catastrophe or from himself. Michael Shannon won the Saturn Award for Best Actor for his brilliant portrayal of Curtis, who begins to wonder if he has paranoid schizophrenia or if he is in fact foreseeing the future, causing discord within his family’s dynamic. Take Shelter features an ambiguous ending that leaves viewers questioning the fate of the LaForches, and powerfully explores devastating themes such as mental illness, along with masculinity and rural America, in a refreshing and honest manner.
7 The Iceman
Featuring Hollywood heavy hitters like Michael Shannon, a great Winona Ryder, and Chris Evans, the 2012 biographical crime drama The Iceman tells the gripping real-life story of legendary New Jersey hitman Richard Kuklinski, who curated a terrifying reputation as a ruthless killer while managing to keep his chilling profession from his wife and children. Earning the moniker Iceman due to his attempt to freeze the body of one of his victim’s in order to mask his time of death, Kuklinski was viewed as a loving family man with a short, violent temper, having eventually been convicted of five murders in 1988 and sentenced to life in prison. Shannon is chillingly superb as the mob hitman, with The New York Times declaring the actor’s “mesmerizing portrayal of Richard Kuklinski, a notorious contract killer, has the paradoxical quality, peculiar to many great screen performances, of being unreadable and transparent.”
6 99 Homes
Michael Shannon earned a Golden Globe nomination when he headlined the 2014 drama 99 Homes alongside Andrew Garfield and Laura Dern, appearing as cutthroat real estate operator Rick Carver, who agrees to take desperate, newly-homeless single father Dennis Nash under his wing, forcing the hesitant young man to evict people from their homes in exchange for his own. Carver teaches Nash the legal and illegal tips and tricks of the foreclosure game, yet as the latter’s fortune grows exponentially, he begins to battle a crisis of conscience over his actions. On working with the exceptional Shannon, director Ramin Bahrani told The Wrap, “What I can tell you about Michael, he is like a bulldog. He grabs onto the scene and doesn’t let go. It’s 100 percent energy on every single take. For me, it was a very rare experience with an actor.”
Matthew McConaughey made his comeback as the titular fugitive in the 2012 coming-of-age drama Mud, which follows the on-the-run character as he hides out on a small island in the Mississippi River where he is assisted by a teenage boys Ellis and Neckbone, who set out to reunite him with his longtime love. In the captivating Southern drama, Michael Shannon portrays Galen, Neck’s laid-back, diver uncle whom he lives with and is looked over by, proving once again to audience’s his innate ability to take even a supporting role and truly make it his own.
Upon its premiere at the Cannes Film Festival (where it competed for the Palme d’Or), Mud garnered widespread critical acclaim and was a box office hit, with praise going towards the stellar performances of its cast, the intimate screenplay and exceptional storytelling by director Jeff Nichols. The director and actor collaborate once again, elevating each other’s talent ever since the early masterpiece Shotgun Stories.
4 Nocturnal Animals
Tom Ford directed the 2016 neo-noir psychological thriller Nocturnal Animals, featuring a dazzling ensemble cast including Jake Gyllenhaal, Amy Adams, and Michael Shannon that centers on successful art gallery owner Susan Morrow as she is forced to confront her dark past and marriage after receiving her first husband’s ominous manuscript.
Based on Austin Wright’s novel Tony and Susan, Ford was attracted to take on the edgy project due to the central themes, with the creator having expressed, “…what appealed to me as a writer and a filmmaker was the idea of this device of communicating to someone through a work of fiction. Through a written work of fiction. And thereby communicating something that they had not been able to really communicate clearly. I loved that concept.” Michael Shannon portrays dedicated detective Bobby Andes, who is investigating the violent incident that occurs within the novel written by Susan’s ex-husband, with the thriller depicting coinciding tales.
3 The Shape of Water
The Academy Award-winning 2017 romantic fantasy drama The Shape of Water tells the captivating story of mute cleaner Elisa Esposito, a woman in 1960s Baltimore who works for a mysterious, maximum-security government lab and discovers a mythical humanoid creature that she finds herself developing an unlikely bond with. In the Guillermo del Toro masterpiece, Michael Shannon appears as Colonel Richard Strickland, the ruthless man in charge of the secretive study who captured the human-like amphibian from a South American river.
The Shape of Water was heralded by critics and audiences alike for its breathtaking visuals, production design and performances; The Los Angeles Times wrote, “Magical, thrilling and romantic to the core, a sensual and fantastical fairy tale with moral overtones, it’s a film that plays by all the rules and none of them, going its own way with fierce abandon.”
2 Revolutionary Road
Titanic co-stars and Hollywood royalty Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet reunited for the 2008 romantic drama Revolutionary Road, a big-screen adaptation of the Justin Haythe novel of the same name about the illusion of the American Dream. The film follows struggling 1950s married couple Frank and April Wheeler as they confront the breakdown of their marriage as they attempt to raise a family in a Connecticut suburb. Featuring the additional talent of Michael Shannon, David Harbour and Kathryn Hahn, the emotionally-driven picture delves into the couple’s complicated relationship with one another as well as their close friends and family.
Shannon earned universal acclaim for his role as the ‘clinically insane’ (by 1950s standards, but also extremely perceptive) John Givings Jr., whom April attempts to help and forms an endearing connection with. The actor nabbed the Satellite Award for Best Supporting Actor for Revolutionary Road and was nominated for an Academy Award for his scene-stealing portrayal.
1 Knives Out
Rian Johnson’s star-studded, 2019 mystery extravaganza Knives Out focuses on the brilliant private detective Benoit Blanc as he is called to investigate the mysterious death of renowned novelist Harlan Thrombey, with the eccentric P.I. suspecting every member of the dysfunctional and secretive clan. Johnson wanted to create an Agatha Christie-inspired murder mystery, enlisting the talent of dynamic performers like Daniel Craig, Chris Evans, Ana de Armas, and Michael Shannon for the fascinating flick. It might not feature Shannon’s greatest performance, but he’s excellent in a small role in a big masterpiece.
Knives Out went on to become a smash hit with both moviegoers and critics, earning over $300 million at the box office and numerous accolades including Saturn Awards and both Oscar and Golden Globe nominations. Slate raved about the picture, writing: “Knives Out knows exactly what kind of movie it is: a sendup of twisty murder mysteries with all-star ensemble casts that also loves and respects that silly tradition.”