Cookies help us deliver our Services. By using our Services, you agree to our use of cookies. Learn More.

Kevin Bacon's Best Onscreen Performances

Kevin Bacon acts on the edge of a knife. If he veers one way, he's the rough-edged decent guy, like Ren, the dancing teenager in the 1980s pop hit Footloose. If he teeters in the other direction, he shows a beguiling ambiguity. "His light characters have darkness in them, and his dark ones have light in them," said director David Koepp, who has worked with Bacon twice. "I've always found him unique in that way."

A Philadelphia native, Bacon earned raves on the New York City stage before breaking out onto the big screen — although if no one kicks off their Sunday shoes around him again, he'd be grateful. He gamely mimicked his Footloose character on a 2014 appearance on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon, but the role has become a "millstone" for him, landing him boy-next-door parts that don't feel genuine. Luckily, he's carved a new path as a prolific and versatile character actor, comfortable on TV (as in the Amazon series I Love Dick) as well as film. "I'm grateful that the parts that come to me are sort of all over the map," he mused in 2020. "All I ever wanted was to not be pigeonholed." We're here to celebrate Bacon's versatility with this list of his best big screen performances.

Apollo 13

1995's Apollo 13 teamed Bacon up with Tom Hanks and Bill Paxton as the three astronauts aboard the Apollo 13 lunar module, which never actually makes it to the moon. An oxygen tank explodes during flight, forcing the crew to orbit the moon for days and calculate the precisely correct angle needed to land safely back on Earth. Director Ron Howard and his team, who won Oscars for Best Sound and Best Film Editing, earned kudos for keeping the film engaging, emotional, and suspenseful, even though the audience knows the story's outcome before going into it.

Bacon's Jack Swigert drops into the pilot's seat after illness sidelines original crew member Ken Mattingly (Gary Sinise). His character's ability to switch gears provides much-needed levity while he, Commander Jim Lovell (Hanks), and Fred Haise Sr. (Paxton) recalibrate their oxygen supply and handle assorted problems. "I know why my numbers were wrong. I only figured it for two people," a stressed but relieved Haise says at one point. "Maybe I should just hold my breath," Swigert replies.

A Few Good Men

A military uniform and an ambivalence towards duty and principles suits Bacon, who earned a Golden Globe for his performance as a Marine accompanying the body of a slain soldier in the 2009 HBO drama, Taking Chance. His talents are on similar display in 1992's A Few Good Men. While he isn't one of the main characters, Bacon's Capt. Jack Ross makes a strong courtroom adversary, who also happens to be friends on the softball field with Tom Cruise's military lawyer, Lt. Daniel Kaffee

This film follows two Marines accused of murder after a hazing situation escalates at the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base. Screenwriter Aaron Sorkin's trademark acrobatic dialogue is all over this film, memorably culminating in a confrontation between Cruise and Jack Nicholson, playing a superior officer. Among the supporting cast, Bacon stands out for his intelligence and willingness to do right by his friend, as well as his oath. "I don't think your clients belong in jail, but I don't get to make that decision," he tells Kaffee with memorable solemnity.

Mystic River

"Troubled investigator" is a frequent occupation for Bacon onscreen. He's played a former FBI agent trailing a serial killer on Fox's 2013 TV series The Following and a corrupt FBI agent on the 2019 Showtime crime saga, City on a Hill. As homicide detective Sean Devine in director Clint Eastwood's tragic 2003 crime drama Mystic RiverBacon portrays a character barely able to hide his constant, grinding pain. His pregnant wife has left him, but still calls him on the phone, staying silent on the line while he tries to connect with her. "I'm tired of wishing things made sense," he says, as she listens. "The dead are still dead."

Meanwhile, he's looking into the death of a young woman who happens to be the daughter of his childhood friend, ex-con Jimmy Marcus (Sean Penn). Dave Boyle (Tim Robbins), another childhood friend, was the last person to see the girl alive, but his involvement triggers Devine's and Marcus' buried guilt over being unable to shield Boyle from harm when they were boys. Bacon's understated performance brings home Devine's protectiveness and powerlessness. "The reality is, we're still 11-year-old boys locked in a cellar," he says, "imagining what our lives would have been if we'd escaped."


Bacon teamed up with director Ron Howard in this 2008 Oscar-nominated film, that dramatizes an exclusive interview between British talk show host David Frost (Michael Sheen) and disgraced former president Richard Nixon (Frank Langella). Nixon anticipates a duel, but he does not expect the trial Frost puts him through by examining the Watergate scandal in unsparing detail.

As Jack Brennan, a former Marine who became the retired Nixon's chief of staff, Bacon is loyal and reassuring, the guy on the inside who knows where all the bodies are buried. "That stuff's been combed over a million times," Brennan says of Watergate. "Frost is just not in your intellectual class, sir. You're going to be able to dictate terms, rebuild your reputation." But his faith wavers when Nixon suggests digging up some dirt on Frost using "some fellas that we could send in, Cubans with CIA training." Nixon says he's joking, but it takes Brennan a credible moment to shake it off, wondering how far his conscience has fallen.


Although both of Bacon's films with writer-director David Koepp (Stir of Echoes and You Should Have Left) are what the director describes as "a bit dour," Bacon has a knack for comedy. "Kevin's got terrific comic timing," Koepp has said. "I would love to do something with him where he gets to be funny on screen."

1990's Tremors, an affectionate sendup of 1950s B-movies, gives Bacon one such comedic showcase. As Valentine McKee, he's a "brain-crimped" hero, a la Ash (Bruce Campbell) of the Evil Dead franchise, although he's less crass and more endearing. Bacon has amiable chemistry with Fred Ward as his buddy and business partner Earl Bassett, who winds up on the menu for the gigantic and hungry underground worms weaving beneath sleepy Perfection, Nevada. Bacon delivers one of the funniest uses of the f-word in a PG-13 film in this outing, but it his screwball energy and what Entertainment Weekly called his "inspired dumb luck rather than Uberhero strategizing" that make his performance, and Tremors, a treat.

National Lampoon's Animal House

1978's National Lampoon's Animal House might not feature Bacon's greatest performance, but it's worth a mention as his feature-film debut. His preppy Chip Diller, in a blazer and blue-and-gold beanie, is one of many Omega House hopefuls in this subversive comedy from director John Landis. Chip seems to have a lot of swagger and confidence, even though the film mostly sees him acting as eager to please as possible. He's unerringly chipper, even during a pledging ritual in his underwear which sees a fraternity member whack him on the backside with a paddle. "Thank you, sir, may I have another?" he says, in a closeup.

Animal House led Bacon, feathery '80s hair and all, to being cast as one of the disposable teen victims in 1980's Friday the 13thOddly, an image from that film is one that fans often want him to sign. "I'm always horrified by the fact that, when it comes to autograph hounds, that's probably the number one picture that I'm asked to sign. Me, with blood coming out of my mouth and an arrow through my neck," Bacon mused to Entertainment Weekly. "You know, I'm a pretty easygoing guy. After a while, it just gets to you. You're like, really, do I have to sign another picture of me dead? "


Footloose introduced Bacon to the mainstream, but 1982's Diner was the breakthrough that hinted at his later character work. Directed by Barry Levinson, this '50s-set film follows a bunch of buddies (Bacon, Timothy Daly, Steve Guttenberg, Mickey Rourke, and Daniel Stern) as they gather for a wedding and trade stories. As Timothy Fenwick, "the grinning prankster first seen punching windows, [Bacon] conveys the inner hurt of a man who hides his true intelligence until he is alone," The Guardian wrote.

New York Magazine critic David Denby noted the juxtaposition between Fenwick's quiet discontent and his status as the ladies' man his pals envy. "Surely we're meant to admire the upper-class Catholic bad boy Fenwick, the kind of alcoholic doomed youth with murder and blasphemy in his eyes who will do anything for a laugh," Denby wrote. "The gifted [off-Broadway] actor Kevin Bacon gives him a self-mockingly satanic laugh and dissolute good looks — he's both attractive and creepily self-destructive." 

The Big Picture

A year before Tremors debuted, Bacon starred in The Big Picture, a sendup of the film industry co-written and directed by Christopher Guest (This Is Spinal Tap). As recent film school graduate Nick Chapman, out to capitalize on his minor momentum in Hollywood, Bacon is the foil for scene stealers like Michael McKean and J.T. Walsh. But he holds the audience's sympathy fast as an ambitious dreamer trying not to let his integrity ruin his success. "[A]long the way [he] compromises his talent, betrays his best friend, takes up with a conniving starlet, loses his sweetie, and ends up in squalor until he catches on that success comes only when you stay true to yourself," Rolling Stone wrote. 

While The Big Picture isn't one of his best-known films, Bacon has noted that its commentary on fame — how Nick becomes a hot property, then cold, then hot again after he stops returning phone calls — echoes his own experience, especially after Footloose: "It was a very similar thing. Everything happens quickly, everyone's on the phone, 'He's hot, he's hot' and then everyone's 'He's not, he's not.' I can't tell you how many times I'll go, 'This is like The Big Picture!'"

The Woodsman

Bacon had proven himself a brave and unselfconscious performer by the time he appeared in 2004's The Woodsman, director Nicole Kassell's tale of a pedophile who returns home after 12 years in prison. Based on the stage play by Steven Fechter, the film shows Walter (Bacon) delicately piecing his life back together: Visiting with a therapist, a suspicious detective, and his brother-in-law, getting hired at the lumber mill, and beginning a romantic relationship with a co-worker (Bacon's wife, Kyra Sedgwick, of TV's The Closer). But once his past becomes known, his tenuous present starts to unravel. 

The Evening Standard praised The Woodsman for taking the audience "deep inside the heart and mind of a social pariah," with Bacon as its anchor: "Often cast in high-energy, borderline manic roles, Bacon creates here a sad, lank-haired, introverted character who doesn't fish for sympathy and, for that very reason, and against all odds, ends up winning it." 

Stir of Echoes

Bacon delivers a performance "so genuine that it's creepy" in this 1999 horror-mystery, adapted from Richard Matheson's novel by director David Keopp. Telephone lineman Tom Witzky (Bacon) scoffs at supernatural phenomena (and also plays in a band on the side, as Bacon does with his older brother Michael, as the Bacon Brothers). Tom never wanted to be ordinary, either, so he lets his sister-in-law (Illeana Douglas) put him into a hypnotic trance. This is how he discovers that he has a gift, which shakes him to his core: He has the ability to see spirits, including that of a missing teenage neighbor. As Tom dives into a wholehearted belief in his visions, including digging up the yard, his wife (Kathryn Erbe) and others wonder if he's losing touch with reality.

Critic Roger Ebert called Stir of Echoes one of Bacon's best performances, noting, "Kevin Bacon is sometimes able to suggest characters who are being driven mad by themselves. Here he implodes in a role where that's the right choice; another actor might have reached too far."

Cop Car

In addition to acting, Bacon also directs (1996's Losing Chase) and produces (The Woodsman, The Following, I Love Dick, You Should Have Left). Among his efforts as producer is Cop Car, a 2015 thriller directed by Jon Watts, who went on to blend youthful mischief and danger as the director of 2017's Spider-Man: Homecoming.

Cop Car sucks in viewers immediately through the story of two restless youngsters (James Freedson-Jackson and Hays Wellford), who take off on a joyride in what they think is an abandoned police cruiser. It turns out that Sheriff Kretzer (Bacon) had only stepped away from the car to bury a body — and he left a hostage in the trunk.

The Globe and Mail praised the film for its suspense, in no small part because of Bacon's mercurial ability to switch from dangerous to charming. "The film is anchored by Bacon's wired and wiry sheriff, taut with anxiety when alone but instantly erecting the facade of the upright man of justice  — avuncular with the law-abiding; self-righteous with the wayward — the moment another person is in earshot."