Best Ryan Gosling Movies: His Top 7 Performances, According To Critics

Ryan Gosling’s acting career is like a box of chocolates – you never know what you’re gonna get! Oh wait, that’s someone else’s line. Gosling started young, appearing on shows like “The Mickey Mouse Club” and even facing his childhood fears on “Are You Afraid of the Dark?” In the mid-2000s, Gosling stole hearts with his romantic leading roles. Remember swooning over Noah in “The Notebook” or laughing along with him in “Crazy, Stupid, Love”? He even showed his dramatic side and proved his acting prowess with an Oscar nomination for his role in “Half Nelson.” The actor quickly blew up onto the scene young, and with so many amazing movies under his belt, we at StudyFinds wanted to take a closer look. We dove deep into his filmography to pick out the absolute best Ryan Gosling movies and see what makes him shine so bright in each one.

However, the journey of a 30-year career can’t be easy. In fact, a study on success in Hollywood shows the struggle is real for actors. While others might experience periods where things are a bit quieter, it seems like some actors can’t be stopped, landing role after role. Fast forward to recent years, and Gosling, who isn’t afraid to take on any challenge, has shown his irreplaceable longevity. “The Gray Man,” has him kicking butt as a CIA agent. And who will soon forget his latest film and amazing performance as Ken in “Barbie?” We researched seven different expert sources to come away with the best Ryan Gosling movies of all time. Don’t agree with our list? We would love to hear from you in the comments down below. 

Ryan Gosling at the 2017 Palm Springs Film Festival Awards Gala
Ryan Gosling at the 2017 Palm Springs Film Festival Awards Gala (Photo by Featureflash Photo Agency on Shutterstock)

The List: Best Ryan Gosling Movies That Have Us Starstruck

1. “Half Nelson” (2006)

"Half Nelson" (2006)
“Half Nelson” (2006)

Forget “Hey Girl,” it was all about “Hey, Oscar!” with this movie. It was the turning point for Ryan Gosling, the one that first whispered “Academy Award nominee” in everyone’s ear, GQ Australia claims. Gosling takes on a gritty role here, playing a troubled inner-city history teacher battling a drug addiction.

The actor earned his first Screen Actors Guild nomination playing Dan, according to Gold Derby. As Dan becomes more reckless in his drug use, he is caught with cocaine by a student in the locker room. Yikes, can you smell the conflict?

Gosling’s character in this film will hit you right in the feels. He’s this history teacher, kind of a loner type, and the movie explores how he grapples with that. It’s a real eye-opener, making you think about your own life and the unexpected connections you can make in the most surprising places, writes Collider.

2. “Blue Valentine” (2010)

"Blue Valentine" (2010)
“Blue Valentine” (2010)

Buckle up for an emotional rollercoaster! This movie uses flashbacks to take you on a journey through the love story of Ryan Gosling and Michelle William’s characters, from their sparkling meet-cute to wherever they are now. According to GQ Australia, it’s a powerful look at both the beauty and heartbreak of love, leaving you with a whole lot to think about.

This one is definitely a tearjerker! Gosling and Williams star as a married couple on the brink of divorce. According to Gold Derby, the movie’s unique structure really challenged the actors. Gosling had to switch gears constantly, perfectly portraying his character at different stages of their love story, all the emotional baggage included. This complex performance landed him another well-deserved Oscar nomination!

Collider describes it as a gut-punching story told in a straightforward way, with the couple’s young daughter caught in the middle of their struggles. It’s a tough watch, but a powerful one.

3. “Drive” (2011)

"Drive" (2011)
“Drive” (2011)

While a debatable opinion, some believe this is Ryan Gosling at his most swoon-worthy! This film is Gosling’s sexiest role ever, according to Rolling Stone. He plays a nameless Hollywood stunt driver who moonlights as a getaway driver, basically the ultimate bad boy with a good car. The movie’s a stylish neo-noir with lots of action, but Gosling steals the show with his stoicism, that smirk that could melt glaciers, and a wardrobe to die for.

Danish filmmaker Nicolas Winding Refn brought this 2005 novel to life in a very entertaining way. Gosling’s character gets into a mix up with his love interest’s ex that causes a whirlwind of issues. The mystery surrounding his character is a big part of what makes the movie so gripping, notes Gold Derby. That whole layer of uncertainty adds a ton of suspense to the story!

“Drive” may be all about Ryan Gosling’s brooding getaway driver, but don’t sleep on the rest of the cast! The film’s supporting actors are all A-listers in their own right, writes People magazine. We’re talking Christina Hendricks, Carey Mulligan, Oscar Isaac, Bryan Cranston, and Ron Perlman. That’s a seriously impressive lineup!

4. “La La Land” (2016)

"La La Land" (2016)
“La La Land” (2016)

In “La La Land,” he not only delivers another stellar performance, but also shows off some serious musical chops! GQ Australia calls it pure brilliance. This movie landed him his second Oscar nomination, proving his talent goes way beyond just acting.

Did we mention this movie also earned Gosling a Golden Globes win? He and Emma Stone prove once again that they are a dynamic duo on screen. He plays a jazz musician who eventually falls in love with Stone’s character who is an aspiring actress. The romance between Gosling and Stone’s characters unfolds against the stunning skyline of LA, all while they’re both chasing their dreams through music, Gold Derby says. It’s a match made in Hollywood heaven, or at least on a Hollywood soundstage.

“La La Land” premiered at the 73rd Venice International Film Festival in August 2016, and was released theatrically on December 9th. The movie emerged as a major commercial success, grossing $447 million worldwide on a budget of $30 million. Collider refers to it as the most spell-binding musical of all time.

5. “Lars and the Real Girl” (2007)

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Although this one is unusual, it is still worth your time. Gosling plays the socially awkward Lars, who to the surprise of his family, lands a girlfriend. The thing is, she’s a doll. Don’t let the seemingly simple plot of the film fool you! This movie takes a basic idea and turns it into something heartwarming and unforgettable, writes GQ Australia.

If you were wondering, yes, Lars’ family treats the doll like a real girl. Maybe it really was good practice for when a human girl of interest enters his life. Let’s hope so for this dweeby young man in a Wisconsin town, as Gold Derby describes him.

We applaud Collider for noticing that “Lars and the Real Girl” isn’t Gosling’s only movie with a plastic girlfriend (Barbie). The premise of the movie sounds ridiculous but proves to be deep and thought provoking.

6. “Crazy, Stupid, Love” (2011)

“Crazy, Stupid Love” (2010)
“Crazy, Stupid Love” (2011)

Dan Fogelman wrote this romantic comedy following playboy Jacob (Gosling’s character) who is thrown off by his rejected advances and increasing feelings for Emma Stone’s character. These factors strongly affect his large ego, according to Gold Derby. Gosling’s scenes, both alone and with Stone, truly make this a great film.

Let’s not forget Steve Carell’s performance as Cal, which Collider refers to as a “downright himbo.” It’s an unforgettable love-hate bromance as Jacob assists Cal on his post separation dating adventures. For his performance as Jacob, Gosling was nominated for his fourth Golden Globe Award.

Although he plays the role of a ladies’ man, Gosling brings the funny. One of the most side-splitting moments? When Jacob ends up at the house of the very guy he’s helping get back in the dating game – Cal’s daughter is there, too! Talk about an unexpected plot twist. Rolling Stone describes this scene as pure comedic gold.

7. “Barbie” (2023)

"Barbie" (2023)
“Barbie” (2023)

Underestimate Ryan Gosling as Ken in “Barbie” at your own peril! Audiences were initially skeptical, but Gosling ends up stealing the show, writes MovieWeb. His portrayal is hilarious, maybe even one of the funniest performances ever. He totally embraces the whole “himbo” thing, but also gives Ken surprising layers. You might even find yourself feeling a little bad for the guy!

He sings, he dances, he rocks some seriously pink outfits, and delivers one-liners with a perfectly straight face, per Rolling Stone. It may have been a huge leap for Gosling, but audiences loved every minute of it. And hey, working with powerhouse director Greta Gerwig on this one definitely helped him “unearth his Kenergy.” Whatever that means!

The film tackled some serious issues about power dynamics in society, all wrapped up in a candy-colored package, states People. But guess what? It wasn’t just critics raving! “Barbie” became a record-breaker, soaring to the top of the box office charts and becoming one of the highest-grossing movies ever. And Ryan Gosling? His hilarious turn as Ken didn’t go unnoticed. He landed an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor, along with nods from the Golden Globes, Grammys, SAG Awards, and more! Looks like underestimating the power of pink was a major mistake.

Editor’s Pick: “The Notebook” (2004)

"The Notebook" (2004)
“The Notebook” (2004)

Per the insistence of StudyFinds Associate Editor Sophia Naughton, “The Notebook” simply could not be left out from this list. “When I think of Ryan Gosling, my mind immediately goes to the epitome of love stories: ‘The Notebook,'” says Naughton. “It would be a travesty to leave this out of our list.”

“The Notebook” isn’t just a Nicholas Sparks novel, it’s a cultural phenomenon. This heartbreaking yet heartwarming story has captured hearts for decades, and it’s no wonder. This cornerstone of romantic dramas wouldn’t be the same without Gosling’s amazing portrayal of a man consumed by love.

Gosling embodies Noah’s working-class charm. He’s a passionate soul with a hint of rebellion, determined to win the heart of Allie (Rachel McAdams). Their whirlwind summer romance crackles with undeniable chemistry, thanks in large part to Gosling’s ability to convey both fiery intensity and tender vulnerability.

Gosling excels at conveying the depth of Noah’s emotions through subtle expressions and stolen glances. He makes you believe in the power of a love that transcends time and circumstance.

“If you have already seen this ageless love story, I love watching it with people who are just watching for the first time,” adds Naughton. “If you know how it ends, it’s even more exciting to watch it unfold through the eyes of a first timer. Just be prepared for tears every time.”

So, if you’re looking for a film that will leave you swooning, look no further than “The Notebook.” Ryan Gosling’s portrayal of Noah Calhoun is a masterclass in romantic leading men, reminding us why he’s become a Hollywood heartthrob.


Note: This article was not paid for nor sponsored. StudyFinds is not connected to nor partnered with any of the brands mentioned and receives no compensation for its recommendations. This article may contain affiliate links in which we receive a commission if you make a purchase.


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