Guatemalan-born Floridian Oscar Isaac is a major film star best known for his numerous roles in major science fiction films. Isaac is also an accomplished dramatic actor. Our list of the top five best Oscar Isaac films covers a surprising breadth of genres that the actor has taken on throughout his career.
Oscar Isaac has delivered outstanding performances in plenty of cinematic works, earning him a reputation as one of the most versatile actors of his generation. In “Inside Llewyn Davis,” directed by the Coen brothers, he portrayed the complex and melancholic character of Llewyn Davis, a struggling folk musician in 1960s New York City, showcasing his incredible acting and musical talents. Additionally, his role as the charismatic pilot Poe Dameron in the Star Wars sequel trilogy brought a new dimension to the iconic franchise, captivating audiences with his charm and heroism.
Another standout Oscar Isaac film is “Ex Machina,” in which he played the enigmatic tech CEO Nathan Bateman. His performance in this thought-provoking sci-fi thriller earned critical acclaim for its intensity and complexity. Moreover, his role as the title character in “A Most Violent Year” showcased his ability to portray morally ambiguous characters, adding depth to the crime drama genre. Oscar Isaac’s impressive filmography is a testament to his acting prowess and his ability to excel in a variety of roles and genres.
Oscar Isaac’s considerable skill as an actor makes it tough to rank his movie roles. We turned to our trusted sources to help us discover the best Oscar Isaac movies most recommended by experts. Let us know your favorites in the comments below!
The List: Best Oscar Isaac Movies, According to Experts
“Inside Llewyn Davis” is cited by many of our sources as Oscar Isaac’s finest work. Not only a great actor, Isaac is also a strong musician and singer. Metacritic raves, “Written and directed by Ethan Coen and Joel Coen, ‘Inside Llewyn Davis’ follows the career of folk singer Llewyn Davis as he tries to make it big in 1960s New York. Isaac stars as the title character, putting his acting, singing, and guitar-playing skills on full display — embodying the role of Davis in a way that the Coen brothers almost didn’t believe was possible. After the film was released in 2013, Isaac’s performance garnered immense critical praise, earning him a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actor in a Motion Picture Musical or Comedy.”
MovieWeb gushes, “Oscar Isaac is at his best in the Coen brothers classic, ‘Inside Llewyn Davis,’ a darkly funny portrait of a down-on-his-luck folk singer trudging through the music scene of 1960s New York in the dead of winter. Isaac plays Llewyn Davis with bitter cynicism and artistic soul, drawing on his musical roots and doing his own singing and playing. The world is so cruel to the prickly Davis, though he just might deserve what he gets half of the time.”
/Film adds, “The cinematography is appropriately shadowy, evoking the melancholy state of Llewyn’s mind. Through his defeated expressions and body language, Oscar Isaac readily communicates the Sisyphean weariness that weighs down his character. Even though he’s an arrogant loser who constantly gets in his own way and does the wrong thing, we still manage to empathize with him. The classic folk songs are achingly poignant and make Isaac’s smooth voice shine. He gives an entrancing performance that will go down in cinema history as one of his defining roles.”
“Ex Machina” is a speculative science fiction film that explores the meaning of self-awareness and sentience. At its most reductive, “Ex Machina” is a movie about a man and a robot. ScreenRant explains, “Isaac in ‘Ex Machina’ is the actor at the top of his game. The cruel, brilliant, and imposing Nathan Bateman (Isaac), the CEO of a super-successful and enigmatic tech company, is a classic narcissist… ‘Ex Machina’ required Oscar Isaac to pull off a character with several faces, masks he peeled away effortlessly.”
A scene from Ex Machina (2015), featuring Jackson Pollock's "No. 5, 1948" pic.twitter.com/MAgtVUQfQ3
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Insider adds, “The sci-fi drama follows Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson), a programmer who is invited to stay in Bateman’s secluded home for a week. When Caleb arrives, he is met with Bateman’s latest project, a humanoid robot created with artificial intelligence (AI). The result is a cerebral, spooky film that’ll have you meditating on the pros and cons of AI for days.
The Guardian chimes in with a cheeky review, “Are mad scientists supposed to be this sexy? Yes, in the case of Alex Garland’s artificial-intelligence chamber piece, which hinges on the highly seductive way Isaac’s reclusive internet CEO sells his Frankenstein-esque experiments in robotics. His turn is a frightening, brilliantly funny satire of tech-bro alpha posturing – capped off with a disco-dancing scene that launched a million gifs.”
Frank Herbert’s 1965 science fiction epic was once considered unfilmable due to its grand scope and complexity. Critically acclaimed director Denis Villeneuve was up to the task and executed it with aplomb in his 2021 adaptation. Filmmaking Lifestyle writes, ‘“Dune’ has been praised for its stunning visuals, intricate world-building, and strong performances from its cast. The film also explores complex themes such as politics, ecology, and the nature of power. With its epic scope and ambitious storytelling, ‘Dune’ has been hailed as a modern classic of the science fiction genre, and has been nominated for several awards, including Best Picture at the Academy Awards.”
Russh adds: “Are the boyish ways of Timothée Chalamet beginning to come off as more annoying than charming? It’s time to graduate to Oscar Isaac, who plays his stoic and rugged father in ‘Dune.’ Although Isaac’s role as Leto Atreides [has] less screen time than desired, what short part he did play before his inevitable death was enough to ensure Isaac’s bare chest is seared into our fantasies forever.”
Looper lauds, “Villeneuve gathered one of the most tremendous casts ever assembled for a science fiction movie — including Timothee Chalamet, Zendaya, Oscar Isaac, Josh Brolin, Jason Momoa, Rebecca Ferguson, Stellan Skarsgård, Dave Bautista, and Javier Bardem — uniting them for a grand sci-fi saga-starter that impressed critics with its resplendent visuals and sweeping storyline. But even if the headlines have been focused on its appeal as a spellbinding treat for the eyes, the performances from the cast drew equal acclaim.”
“The Card Counter” doesn’t have galactic armies or cunning robots, and instead places Isaac’s acting talents front and center. His character in this film, William Tell, is tonally quite different from his other major roles. i-D summarizes, “Oscar is William Tell — a disgraced ex-soldier fresh out of military prison for his involvement in Abu Ghraib war crimes — who takes to gambling as a means of low-profile income. It’s a performance of immense precision from Isaac, who is menacing and lonely in equal measure, and commands the screen in a way that doesn’t rely on the quick-witted charisma which is often a mainstay of his performances.”
Of Isaac’s portrayal /Film praises, “In a monologue where Bill recalls the torture that went on during his military service, Oscar Isaac floors you with his urgency. His accomplished performance stands shoulder to shoulder with Ethan Hawke and Robert De Niro in yet another gripping morality tale from Schrader that asks hard questions about America’s insidious patriotism.”
Insider summates, “In Isaac’s ‘The Card Counter,’ he plays William Tell, an ex-military investigator turned gambler, who taught himself how to count cards while imprisoned. When he is approached by a young man (Tye Sheridan) for help exacting a revenge plan on a military colonel (Willem Dafoe), Tell is dragged back into the violent life he tried to leave behind.”
Oscar Isaac seems to be drawn to criminal and gangster roles more often than other genres. Though not typecast, his gangster performances have certainly been iconic. MovieWeb details, “Oscar Isaac stepped into the role of Abel Morales after Javier Bardem left due to a script disagreement. The result is cinematic fireworks. Isaac breathes life into J.C. Chandor’s chilly vision of New York at its most depraved: the early 1980s. Rather than slipping into the usual tough-talking clichés of crime movies, Isaac brings a delicacy and sophistication to Morales, as his character strains to keep his integrity and his business intact while the city around him slips into violence.”
The Guardian also states, “Perhaps one day Isaac will excel at playing an ordinary upstanding citizen, but not yet: he just wears seamy volatility like a bespoke sharkskin suit. Still, there’s a misdirected undertow of decency to his performance as the immigrant New York businessman Abel Morales, drawn into gangsterism to protect his company and family. Isaac rivetingly balances small-time Scarface grandstanding with moral finesse.”
“All aboard the Oscar Isaac criminal phase! ‘A Most Violent Year’ renders Isaac into an oil businessman who’s inherited a crooked model from his dodgy father-in-law and is trying to balance out the scales… Set in New York in the 1980s, the two [Isaac and Chastain] once again play a married couple which must hold true as the business is forced under a microscope. Watch for a subtle but nonetheless potent commentary on capitalism,” offers Russh.
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