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Rami Malek's Best Onscreen Roles To Date

In the minds of many, Rami Malek burst onto the cinematic scene with his starring role as Freddie Mercury in 2018's "Bohemian Rhapsody." In reality, Malek's career has been growing steadily for years as he's repeatedly demonstrated a penchant for crafting uniquely empathetic characters. Malek has worked on TV and the silver screen in projects that vary from comedy to thriller to outright horror. With his incredible range, he can embody nearly any kind of character in any kind of environment.

Rami Malek's deep exploration of the figures he brings to life has sent him on many unique emotional journeys. Reflecting to The New York Times on what he learned from playing a depressed and isolated hacker forced to come out of his shell on "Mr. Robot," Malek said, "You don't get too many chances at enjoying your life, so why not step out into the world and be exactly who you want to be?" In Malek's case, being exactly who he wants to be means being other people — and we couldn't be more grateful. From hackers to pharaohs to rock gods, these are Rami Malek's best onscreen roles to date.

Ahkmenrah — Night at the Museum

Rami Malek might very well owe the beginning of his movie career to Ben Stiller. Malek's first feature film role was the ancient Egyptian pharaoh Ahkmenrah in 2006's "Night at the Museum." Stiller stars as Larry Daley, a man who takes a job as a night guard at the Museum of Natural History in New York City. His first night on the beat, Larry discovers that all the museum's exhibits come to life at sundown, thanks to a mysterious cursed tablet belonging to Ahkmenrah.

"Night at the Museum" did incredibly well, ultimately earning two sequels. Rami Malek returned for both of these follow-ups, but as he later divulged, the executives at Fox wanted to cut him from the very first film. "Fox was a little concerned about my interpretation and were looking to recast," the actor remarked (via AceShowbiz). "Maybe I'd been watching a little too much of 'Pirates of the Caribbean.'" According to Malek, he only made the final cut because Ben Stiller had faith in his interpretation of Ahkmenrah and pushed for him to remain a part of the film. Without that, who knows if Malek's career would have taken off the way it has?

Kenny — The War at Home

2005's "The War at Home" doesn't feature Rami Malek's first TV role, but it does mark the first time he became a series regular. Created by longtime writer and producer Rob Lotterstein, who previously worked on series like "Boy Meets World" and "Will and Grace," the show follows the hijinks of a dysfunctional family of five living on Long Island. Dave and Vicky Gold raise their three teenaged children, Hillary, Larry, and Mike, through two seasons' worth of weekly conflicts. Rami Malek plays Kenny Al-Bahir, 16-year-old Larry's best friend.

"The War at Home" never quite hit the zeitgeist, though a story arc in Season 2 spotlighting Malek received some measure of critical praise. In this storyline, Malek's Kenny comes out as gay, with several episodes exploring his experience. Kenny's parents react by throwing him out, and the Gold family has to take him in. The arc was lauded for being a genuine portrayal of a real-world experience. Malek later explained that while the specifics of the story were developed as that season was written, this aspect of Kenny's character had been decided from day one.

Marcos Al-Zacar — 24

Fox's long-running action drama "24" centers around counter-terrorism agent Jack Bauer, played by Kiefer Sutherland, as he defends the United States from plot after villainous plot. Each season of the show follows 24 hours in Bauer's life, with every episode taking a deep look at a single hour in a developing crisis. It ran for nine seasons and earned a spin-off and a television film entitled "24: Redemption".

Rami Malek makes an appearance in Season 8, which was originally slated to be the series' conclusion. Malek plays Marcos Al-Zacar, a man who becomes involved with a terrorist plot orchestrated by season antagonist Samir Mehran. Marcos is radicalized after his father is wrongfully arrested for connections to extremist organizations. Though Mr. Al-Zacar is eventually freed, his imprisonment costs him jobs and opportunities, which has a devastating effect upon his mental health. Though Marcos only appears in two episodes, Malek's soulful performance of a young man who's gone down the wrong path is unforgettable.

Finn — Need for Speed

Video game movies always turn out great, right? Well ... not so much. 2014's "Need for Speed" is an adaptation of the long-running racing franchise of the same name. The film stars Aaron Paul as Tobey Marshall, a mechanic and former racecar driver who runs illicit street races at night to make ends meet. Dominic Cooper, who plays Tobey's rival Dino Brewster, frames Tobey for manslaughter and lands him in prison for two years. When Tobey gets out, he's determined to put together a crew and get revenge on Dino.

One of Tobey's crew members is computer expert and uber-hacker Finn, played by Rami Malek. The film was released one year before Malek appeared as a very different kind of hacker on the USA Network show "Mr. Robot." Unfortunately, "Need for Speed" bombed critically and failed to create an ongoing film franchise. Still, for anyone who loves a good revenge plot and wants to see Malek back behind the keyboard, "Need for Speed" is a must-see.

Clark — The Master

In 2012, Rami Malek appeared in a psychological drama partially inspired by L. Ron Hubbard, the founder of Scientology. Paul Thomas Anderson's "The Master" is a cerebral and somewhat disturbing experience: Through the eyes of traumatized World War II veteran Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix), this film tells the story of Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman), who sets out to create a new religious movement simply called The Cause.

Lancaster's son-in-law, who is also a diehard devotee of The Cause, is played by Rami Malek. While his screen time in the film is limited, he's enormously proud of his role. As he told The Huffington Post, "50 years from now, if I am still alive — which I don't know that I will be — I'll be able to look back and say I got to act with some of the greatest filmmakers and artists of my generation." Malek more than holds his own alongside the film's major stars. It's no wonder he was only a few years away from getting regular starring roles of his own.

Jim Baxter — The Little Things

Released in 2021, "The Little Things" stars Denzel Washington as Deputy Sheriff Joe "Deke" Deacon and Rami Malek as Detective Jim Baxter. The two are brought together when a murder in Baxter's jurisdiction turns out to bear certain similarities to an unsolved serial killing case Deke worked years earlier. The FBI is looped into the case, giving Deke and Baxter a mere week to catch the killer before it's taken out of their hands. As the two of them dive into the mystery, Baxter becomes so obsessed with the killer that Deke warns him the case could end up haunting him for life.

"The Little Things" was criticized for its predictable plot and unsatisfying conclusion, which seems designed to act as sequel bait. Despite these negative notes, however, critics praised the acting in the film as strong. As The Hollywood Reporter put it, "the performances of Denzel Washington and Rami Malek ... supply enough glue to hold everything together," even in the depths of a middling movie.

Seneschal Higginbottom — Da Sweet Blood of Jesus

2014's "Da Sweet Blood of Jesus" is the second Spike Lee movie to feature Rami Malek, after 2013's "Oldboy". The film, which is a remake of 1973's "Ganja and Hess," was funded through Kickstarter, eventually earning a budget of $1.4 million. The story follows Dr. Hess Greene (Stephen Tyrone Williams) who, after getting stabbed with a supposedly mystical Ashanti blade, develops invulnerability and a taste for human blood. That's not to say he's a traditional creature of the night, however. As Lee details on the Kickstarter campaign's page, the film's characters "are ADDICTED to BLOOD. Yet however they are not VAMPIRES."

Rami Malek plays Dr. Greene's household servant, Seneschal Higginbottom. His character witnesses the developing horror with very little ability to stop it, or to defend himself from the more dangerous aspects of his employer's new lifestyle. "Da Sweet Blood of Jesus" is a unique horror film to be sure, boasting an unforgettable atmosphere, a thoughtful message, and a spectacular performance from Malek.

Louis Dega — Papillon

While it's not quite a biopic, 2017's "Papillon" is based on Henri Charrière's 1969 autobiography of the same name, as well as an earlier film adaptation of that book. In the 1930s, Charrière (Charlie Hunnam), whose nickname is Papillon, is framed for murder and sent to an infamous penal colony. Inmates there are forced into dangerous labor, brutally abused, and often locked up in solitary confinement for extended periods of time. Papillon spends seven years in solitary, with much of that time being served in total darkness. He eventually escapes from the prison, and, as the movie's postscript makes clear, goes on to live as a free man.

Louis Dega, Rami Malek's character in the film, is a wealthy man sent to the prison at the same time as Papillon. The other inmates plan to kill Dega for the money he's hiding, so Dega agrees to finance Papillon's escape in exchange for protection. The two of them strike up a friendship that ends up being their only support system through years of imprisonment. As Malek explained to Den of Geek, he viewed the relationship between the two men as essential to the film's story. "For me it was always trying to enhance that," he said, "and convey how much two people would need each other in a situation like that."

Nate — Short Term 12

2013's "Short Term 12" brings Rami Malek, Brie Larson, John Gallagher Jr., Kaitlyn Dever, LaKeith Stanfield, and many more talented actors together before many of them even had their breakout roles. Destin Daniel Cretton wrote and directed this movie, which is based off an earlier short film. In addition to assembling a ludicrously star-studded cast, "Short Term 12" also earned glowing reviews across the board.

Brie Larson leads the film as Grace Howard, supervisor of the titular Short Term 12, a group home that aims to help teens in crisis. The story opens as Howard and the other workers welcome Nate, played by Rami Malek, a new employee at the home. From there, viewers follow the growing bonds between the home's residents and counselors, as well as Howard's developing relationship with fellow supervisor Mason (John Gallagher Jr.). "Short Term 12" is a well-acted, warm-hearted examination of mental illness that also helped boost Malek's accelerating career.

Jonah/Buster — Buster's Mal Heart

Rami Malek's first leading role in a feature film came in Sarah Adina Smith's second directorial effort, 2016's "Buster's Mal Heart." He owes the role to his earlier work in "Short Term 12" and, funnily enough, the metaphysical resonance of tarot cards. Smith told Filmmaker Magazine that she'd originally intended to cast a native Spanish speaker in the lead role, but after several actors fell through due to scheduling conflicts, she decided to broaden her search. Malek quickly became her top choice. "I had only seen his work in 'Short Term 12' and 'The Pacific,' but I thought he was incredibly compelling," Smith remarked. "And plus, I did a tarot card reading and the cards said he was the one. The cards don't lie."

Buster lives up in the mountains, spending his time chilling in abandoned vacation cabins and avoiding the police. Before he embarked upon this rugged life, he was named Jonah, and lived with his wife and daughter while working as a nighttime concierge. The film touches on the possibilities of time travel, alternate realities, the afterlife, and Y2K, while exploring the events that precipitated Jonah's transformation into Buster. Malek shines in the role with a performance that oscillates between warm family man and unhinged doomsday prophet. "Buster's Mal Heart" won't please everyone, but its story and themes will linger long after the first viewing.

Freddie Mercury — Bohemian Rhapsody

Rami Malek is arguably best known for playing the legendary lead singer of Queen, Freddie Mercury, in 2018's "Bohemian Rhapsody." This film stands out even among the increasingly crowded field of musical biopics, a fact its four Oscars for Best Sound Mixing, Best Sound Editing, Best Film Editing, and Best Actor pay testament to. Malek's work in the film also earned him a Golden Globe, a Screen Actors Guild Award, and a BAFTA for Best Actor.

Malek prepared obsessively for the role. As he told Screen Daily, he took piano, singing, and movement lessons, in addition to watching countless hours of archival Queen footage and doing as much research into Freddie Mercury's life as possible. He worked hard to embody Mercury's physicality and mental space in unique ways, like wearing a set of fake teeth "every night, almost, for a year" to become comfortable wearing them while filming. All that effort resulted in a mind-bogglingly accurate portrayal of one of the greatest rock stars to ever live.

Elliot Alderson — Mr. Robot

For four stupendous seasons, Rami Malek starred alongside Christian Slater on "Mr. Robot." Sam Esmail's techno-thriller follows computer hacker Elliot Alderson (Malek) as he becomes ever more deeply entangled in a plot to collapse global banking networks. The show can get immensely technical, but its sure-footed direction and Malek's incredible performance clue the audience into what's going on when a complicated hack is being carried out. As Malek told GeekWire, preparing for the role meant learning as much as he could about hacking and coding. "If I don't understand it," he remarked, "there's no way an audience member is going to understand it."

The real focus of the show is Elliot's personality disorder and clinical depression. His emotional journey, which often hinges on his relationship to Mr. Robot (Slater), is the core of the show's moment-to-moment tension. Malek perfectly embodies Elliot's fractured mental state, a performance he produced through deep consideration of the character's struggles. "My approach with Elliot is to dig deeply," Malek detailed, "but know that I just have to find a way to distance myself from him before it really becomes something that physically and mentally can torment me." 45 episodes of stunning work makes it clear that "Mr. Robot" features Rami Malek's best onscreen role to date.