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Christopher Walken's Most Memorable Roles Ranked Worst To Best

Hollywood veteran Christopher Walken has always operated in the area between character actor and full-fledged star. With his piercing stare, twitchy demeanor, and raspy voice, he's best known for playing psychopaths, criminals, and plain weird characters who are often capable of extreme violence. Sometimes, that intensity organically fits the story, and the results are mesmerizing. In his lesser movies, he's usually asked to play an exaggerated version of himself and chew the scenery, often against the backdrop of an absurdly comedic plot.

Walken has notched up nearly 140 acting credits during a career that began back in 1953, when he was still a child. No matter his age and regardless of the job, he has never offered anything less than 100% commitment to a role. Even when he's working with a bad script or playing a character that reads as a Christopher Walken parody, he doesn't phone it in. That's no doubt a big reason why he's been working steadily in Hollywood for so long now.

Total commitment to a role isn't always enough, however. For every classic that he's been in, there's a stinker that even he couldn't save, despite his best efforts. From giant missteps to unforgettable star turns, these are Christopher Walken's most standout roles, ranked from least to most memorable.

25. Kangaroo Jack

A movie that tried to use Christopher Walken's intimidating persona for laughs, "Kangaroo Jack" was a failure on every level. Released in 2003, it has a staggeringly bad 8% rating on Rotten Tomatoes — and, quite frankly, that's generous. Set in Australia, "Kangaroo Jack" is a terrible comedy with a CGI kangaroo that stars "Stand by Me" alum Jerry O'Connell as beauty salon owner Charlie. Walken plays his unimpressed stepfather, a gangster named Sal Maggio. After Charlie and his best friend (Anthony Anderson) bungle an easy job, Sal snaps and dreams up the most tortuously roundabout plan imaginable to have him killed.

Sal decides to send his stepson to Australia with an envelope full of money. He tells Charlie to meet an associate named Mr. Smith, who is actually a hitman. Mr. Smith is supposed to take the $50,000 once the job is done, but the cash gets stolen by a kangaroo before Charlie makes it to the meeting (because, Australia). Writing for the BBC, critic Neil Smith said of the film: "It's a thin, tedious caper only notable for its impressive Outback locations and a cameo from Christopher Walken that proves the word 'no' isn't in his vocabulary." Walken's serious line reading for O'Connell's bumbling character feels like it was meant for a different movie.

24. Balls of Fury

Screenwriters Thomas Lennon and Robert Ben Garant have collaborated on commercially successful comedies like "Night at the Museum" and "Herbie: Fully Loaded," but 2007's "Balls of Fury" is one of their poorer efforts. The film is essentially a parody of Bruce Lee's "Enter the Dragon," with ping pong in place of martial arts. A former ping pong star named Randy Daytona (Dan Fogler) comes out of retirement when the FBI asks for his help in taking down Feng (Christopher Walken), a criminal mastermind who is also a master of table tennis.

Walken playing an Asian-coded character isn't the only thing wrong with this flat and forgettable film. The fact that he's the most memorable part of it despite his character being distasteful at best meant that "Balls of Fury" was always doomed to fail. Michael Compton of the Bowling Green Daily News called it "a below average film that Walken almost single-handedly carries to mediocrity." Walken is many things, but bland isn't one of them, and the film was just dull when he wasn't on the screen.

23. Man of the Year

Sometimes, things that seem like a good idea on paper aren't executed well enough, especially in Hollywood. A prime example of this is the disappointing film "Man of the Year," released to poor reviews in 2006. It stars Robin Williams as talk show host Tom Dobbs, who decides to run for president. He ends up in the White House, not because he's the right person for the job, but because there's an error with the voting machines.

In theory, a political satire featuring Williams as a commentator-turned-president sounds like comedy gold. Throw in Christopher Walken as his gruff, acid-tongued manager (and later campaign organizer), as well as the bombastic Lewis Black as his head writer, and you have what appears to be a recipe for success. They certainly have their moments, but the film gets bogged down by subplots that are both dull and hard to believe.

By and large, the critics hated it: "Man of the Year" scored just 21% on Rotten Tomatoes. The ones who enjoyed it did so because of Walken. "Christopher Walken, as Tom's wise and loyal manager, has a good time, as he always does, pausing in midsentence, raising his eyebrows and defying gravity with his hair," said The New York Times.

22. Things to Do in Denver When You're Dead

The following entry contains mentions of child abuse.

Quentin Tarantino's "Pulp Fiction" had many imitators, films that tried to mimic its violent and stylized aesthetic. While some did a pretty good job, others — like 1995's "Things to Do in Denver When You're Dead" — did not. It's the story of a crime lord (Christopher Walken) who comes up with a convoluted plot to help his son, a child abuser named Bernard. Walken's character (referred to only as The Man with the Plan) desperately wants his son to change his vile ways, so he brings former gangster Jimmy "The Saint" Tosnia (Andy Garcia) out of retirement. Jimmy's job is to convince Bernard's ex-girlfriend to take him back by any means necessary.

Walken's character is quadriplegic, meaning the actor couldn't rely on his patented physicality and had to come up with different ways of being menacing. He's more than up to the task, but he couldn't save the film singlehandedly. Despite an excellent cast (Christopher Lloyd and Steve Buscemi also feature) and a memorable Walken performance, "Things to Do in Denver When You're Dead" was a letdown. The film has an underwhelming 33% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

If you or someone you know may be the victim of child abuse, please contact the Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-4-A-Child (1-800-422-4453) or contact their live chat services.

21. The Rundown

2003's "The Rundown" is a good, old-fashioned buddy action movie starring Dwayne Johnson and Seann William Scott. The plot revolves around Johnson's bounty hunter, who is on a mission to find Scott in the wilds of Brazil and return him to his father. Christopher Walken plays Cornelius Hatcher, a corrupt mine owner who initially agrees to help Johnson. That changes when Scott's character discovers a valuable treasure.

From there, the usual buddy picture shenanigans ensue, with Johnson and Scott trudging through the jungle and encountering a resistance group led by Rosario Dawson. Walken provides his usual menacing presence, elevating the picture. There's something about the way his eyes and mouth twitch that makes it seem like his calm demeanor could explode into violence at any time. The film was received positively by the majority of critics, earning a respectable 69% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. It's a fairly physical role for Walken, who was in his 60s when he took on the part of Hatcher.

20. Suicide Kings

1997's "Suicide Kings" was based on the idea that Christopher Walken is so commanding a presence that he could dominate the screen while tied to a chair. He does just that, though the final product didn't impress the critics: It was trashed at the time and hasn't gotten much love in the years since, as its 34% Rotten Tomatoes rating reveals. The film lost millions at the box office, but Walken is excellent in it, outwitting his captors while incapacitated.

Walken plays a mob boss who gets kidnapped by a group of young men. They want him to use his money and connections to facilitate the release of one of their sisters, who has been taken hostage. The inexperienced kidnappers cut off one of his fingers, but he intimidates them with his experiences as a gangster and employs his charm to get information out of them. When he reveals that one of his kidnappers was involved in the abduction of the sister, all hell breaks loose. Despite his profession and generally menacing demeanor, Walken isn't the real villain of the film — but he's definitely the most memorable part of it.

19. Wayne's World 2

If you're making a sequel to a popcorn picture, you need to make it bigger and louder without losing the original charm. The 1992 box office smash "Wayne's World" featured Rob Lowe as a sleazy producer who tried to steal Wayne's (Mike Myers) girlfriend, so how could they up the ante in the sequel? By casting Christopher Walken as an even sleazier producer, of course.

Released in 1993, "Wayne's World 2" follows the titular rocker as he tries to launch his own music festival. It wasn't as successful as the original (it made $48 million from a $40 million budget), but it had some amusing moments. It was an early comedic role for Walken, who plays the part straight, providing a foil for the wacky Wayne. Walken did get the chance to do a bit of dancing, however, which is always a treat. He's also in a memorable scene that parodies "The Graduate," with Wayne rushing to prevent his girlfriend from marrying Walken's producer character.

18. Click

2006's "Click" is an Adam Sandler vehicle, which means a mix of low-brow humor and treacly sentiment. This film went heavy on the latter. It's about a man who gets given a magical remote control that allows him to fast-forward and rewind his life at will. It starts out with all the usual crude jokes but then gets pretty deep — well, as deep as an Adam Sandler movie goes. It did better than many of his films with the critics, but, as its 34% Rotten Tomatoes score suggests, it's far from a masterpiece.

So what is Christopher Walken doing in this movie? He plays Morty, a strange man who turns out to be an angel. He's the one who offers the remote to Sandler's character and explains to him that he cannot avoid the things he sees in the future, no matter how painful they appear. Despite being the Angel of Death, Walken's performance is quirky rather than menacing (with his bowtie and curly hair, he looks more like Willy Wonka than one of the archangels), and "Click" simply wouldn't be worth your time without him.

17. Man on Fire

A remake of the 1987 film of the same name, 2004's "Man on Fire" follows ex-CIA agent John Creasy (Denzel Washington), an alcoholic who is struggling to come to terms with what he did in the line of duty. He goes to Mexico to visit his friend, fellow former agent Paul Rayburn (Christopher Walken), who suggests that he take a bodyguard job to get back on his feet. When the child he's assigned to protect (Dakota Fanning) is abducted right in front of him, he sets about finding the men responsible, leaving a trail of bodies in his wake.

"Man on Fire" scored just 39% on Rotten Tomatoes, but casual film fans took a very different view: The cult hit has an audience score of 89%. Viewers loved Washington in the role of a vengeful protector, and Fanning brought her A-game as Lupita "Pita" Ramos, the daughter of a wealthy Mexico City businessman. It's Washington's show, but Walken is memorable as his wise mentor, helping to give the film the kind of prestige that many revenge thrillers sorely lack.

16. A View to a Kill

1985's "A View to a Kill" was the last James Bond film to star the late Roger Moore. Moore was 57 when he made the movie, and while he was still in decent shape, the contrast with his love interest(s) was pretty stark. It didn't impress the critics at the time, and it hasn't aged particularly well: It holds a pretty poor 38% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. The film drags in places (it's well over two hours long), and there's a weird disconnect between the humor and the wholesale slaughter perpetrated by its psychotic villain, industrialist Max Zorin (Christopher Walken).

Trained by the KGB and injected with special steroids that gave him enhanced strength and speed, Zorin is a formidable foe for Bond. He sets out to destroy Silicon Valley, hoping to monopolize microchips. Walken (who grew up loving Bond films) is gleefully deranged in the role, walking his typical razor's edge between being charming and seemingly about to snap. The weird giggle he lets out just before his death is especially memorable, and the unhinged delight he displays as he guns down his own men in a mine is genuinely unsettling. It wasn't subtle, but James Bond films rarely are.

15. Brainstorm

1983's "Brainstorm," a cerebral sci-fi starring Christopher Walken as a scientist working on a device that records sensory experiences, had a troubled production. Co-star Natalie Wood died on a boat trip towards the end of the shoot, and Walken — who was on the trip with her — was devastated. Wood's death also deeply affected the film's director, Douglas Trumbull. "It actually became the most difficult thing I've ever had to do — get that movie finished — and so it never really was anything it was intended to be," Trumbull said (via The Hollywood Reporter). "We had to finish it with money from the insurance company and try to get it on the screen."

Wood had already filmed most of her scenes when she died unexpectedly. She works well opposite Walken, whose complex character operates in gray areas and is far from straightforward with her. He plays the role with his trademark intensity, though there's also a vulnerability that's unusual for him. He's passionate about his work and deeply in love with his wife (from whom he's estranged at the beginning of the film), and it shows. Walken was ideal for the role because his scientist character often lives inside his own head, becoming detached from reality.

14. A Late Quartet

Christopher Walken plays an aging musician diagnosed with a debilitating disease in 2012's "A Late Quartet." While this is a story about the personal ambitions of two members of the quartet — a husband and wife played by Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Catherine Keener — Walken manages to rise above the melodrama as the film's emotional core. No matter what else is happening in the movie, Walken's authority is absolute. As the leader of the quartet, he demands the attention of the other characters and the audience, too.

"A Late Quartet" was critically acclaimed, scoring 76% on Rotten Tomatoes. Writing for Hudak on Hollywood, critic Rubén Rosario was full of praise for Walken's moving performance. "Surrounded by the unraveling lives of his longtime musical partners, the understated gravity that Walken gives this fading arts patriarch is a gratifying reminder that it's the quieter notes that are often the most resonant, onstage and off." This is a real gem for fans of Walken and classical music.

13. Wedding Crashers

2005's "Wedding Crashers" is another example of Christopher Walken playing a terrifying straight man in an over-the-top comedy. Starring Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson as best friends who crash weddings to sleep with emotionally vulnerable women, it earned a solid 75% rating on Rotten Tomatoes and made nearly $300 million worldwide. In the film, the two men become involved with the daughters of politician William Cleary (Christopher Walken) after crashing a fancy wedding. Wilson's character falls in love with the already-engaged Claire Cleary (Rachel McAdams). They manage to get themselves invited to the family compound and shenanigans ensue, with Walken frequently intimidating both men.

"Walken was someone I really believed in," director David Dobkin told Mel Magazine. "[New Line] wasn't sure why I wasn't picking someone who wasn't purely comedic for the role. Burt Reynolds was hot off 'Boogie Nights,' but I just said, 'I see Walken,' because I knew I wouldn't have to lift a finger to make people scared of him. He's already doing that heavy lifting for me. He's also one of the greatest actors alive." He's a supporting player in the film, but Walken steals every scene he's in.

12. Heaven's Gate

Late director Michael Cimino was known for his attention to detail and a penchant for excess. That combination worked wonders on 1978's "The Deer Hunter," but it backfired badly on 1980's "Heaven's Gate," which became one of the most notorious bombs in Hollywood history. The epic Western pulled in less than $3.5 million despite costing $44 million to make — the initial budget was $7.5 million, but an absurd number of reshoots saw the cost quickly skyrocket.

Walken portrays real-life frontier figure Nate Champion, one of the men at the center of the Johnson County War (1889-1893). Immigrants from Europe were coming into increasing conflict with the wealthy cattle barons of Wyoming, and Champion decided to stand up for the newcomers. It's one of Walken's most physical roles and among his most memorable. His performance is the best part of "Heaven's Gate," which many now see as a misunderstood movie: The Times went as far as calling it a "modern masterpiece" when it revisited the film in 2012.

11. Biloxi Blues

Christopher Walken plays a cruel drill instructor named Sergeant Merwin J. Toomey in 1988's "Biloxi Blues," a comedy-drama set during World War II. Told from the point of view of Private Eugene Jerome (Matthew Broderick), the film documents the relentless battle between Toomey and Private Arnold B. Epstein (Corey Parker), who constantly pushes back against his harsh training methods. What makes Toomey so interesting — and Walken such a fascinating choice for the role — is the deep humanity behind his cruelty.

There have been many mean drill instructors in movies over the years, so what makes Toomey different? Walken's character is facing a disability evaluation, with a possible honorable discharge looming. Desperate, he snaps and holds Epstein at gunpoint, preferring prison over being discharged. Walken's character is also funny in a way that only he can be: Toomey is equal parts cruel and absurd. The film is still well thought of to this day, boasting an impressive 78% on Rotten Tomatoes.

10. Batman Returns

1992's "Batman Returns" was a worthy successor to the blockbuster original, making over $260 million worldwide. Amidst all the flashy costumes and melodrama is Christopher Walken's Max Shreck, a ruthless industrialist positioned as Bruce Wayne's ideological opposite. His viciousness led to the creation of Catwoman — he pushed Selina Kyle (Michelle Pfeiffer) out of a window without a second thought after she discovered that he was planning to take over Gotham's power gird. He didn't make sure she was dead, however. Kyle came back as Catwoman and joined forces with Michael Keaton's Batman to foil his plot.

Walken wasn't director Tim Burton's first choice for the role. Burton reportedly wanted David Bowie to play the part of Max Shreck, but Bowie chose to do "Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me" instead. When casting director Marion Dougherty suggested Walken, Burton said: "No, I'm afraid of him. He scares me." He ultimately came around to the idea, and the film was better for it. In the end, Walken was more than a match for those running around in costumes. Despite having no superpowers, his sheer ruthlessness made him a formidable character.

9. Seven Psychopaths

When you're making a film about seven psychopaths, you're missing a trick if you don't offer Christopher Walken a role. This critically acclaimed dark comedy is about a screenwriter penning a movie called "Seven Psychopaths" and delves into the lives of the people that inspire him along the way. A satirical take both on the Hollywood writing process and the kind of hyper-violent, hyper-verbal films that Quentin Tarantino pioneered, it's a thrill ride from start to finish.

Walken co-stars as a quiet man named Hans, a member of a dog-napping ring that targets the wealthy. The film's plot lurches into place when they kidnap a dog belonging to a dangerous gangster. It's a film stacked with talent (Colin Farrell, Sam Rockwell, and Woody Harrelson all bring their A-games), but Walken is the cream of the crop here. "Walken sometimes leans toward self-parody, but here his performance has a delicate, contained strangeness," said the veteran film critic Roger Ebert.

8. The Jungle Book

The 2016 live-action remake of "The Jungle Book" was a huge hit for Disney, making almost a billion dollars globally. Of course, the talking animals in the film were CGI, but they were designed around the actors voicing them. Christopher Walken plays King Louie, who was an orangutan in the original animated version and was voiced by the legendary jazz singer, Louis Prima. He wanted the secret of fire from Mowgli to fulfill his fantasy of being able to fit in with the humans.

In reimagining the film, director Jon Favreau made King Louie a Gigantopithecus, a huge ancestor of the orangutan. He was far scarier than the original King Louie, mainly because of his size, but also because the CGI made him look a lot like Walken. Louie's song, "I Wanna Be Like You," was a swinging number in the original film. It's modified a little for Walken, who adds a sense of menace to it with his raspy singing voice.

7. Hairspray

The 1988 cult hit "Hairspray" was ahead of its time, dealing with topics like racism, integration, and body shaming when not many movies were doing so. It's the story of teenager Tracy Turnblad, who harbors dreams of becoming a dancer. It was adapted into a hit stage musical in 2002 and remade as a movie musical in 2007. Christopher Walken plays Tracy's dad in the big screen remake, while his old friend John Travolta is barely recognizable as her mother Edna, a role traditionally played by men. It was Travolta who suggested Walken for the part of Edna's husband, Wilbur.

"Well, you know, we're old Broadway hoofers!" Travolta told the Daily Mail. "He knew that Wilbur was crazy about Edna and said 'They're wild in the sack, aren't they?' and I said: 'Yes, you've got it.' So then it was easier to react flirtatiously towards him because I was getting that energy from him." Walken and Travolta have a marvelous singing and dancing duet, one of the film's standout scenes. Both men show off their wide range of talents during the fantasy sequence, in which they dress up in various fancy outfits. The movie was a big hit, making over $200 million worldwide.

6. Annie Hall

Christopher Walken is the master of the cameo. He's been in several films where just a short appearance threatened to steal the entire picture, thanks to his weirdly cold charisma. One of his earliest and most memorable cameos came in 1977's "Annie Hall." Like many Woody Allen films, there's not much plot. It's about a comedian named Alvy (Allen), who ponders over his failed relationship with a woman named Annie Hall. There are all sorts of clever and innovative techniques, including dream sequences and animated scenes.

Walken appears as Annie's bizarre brother Duane. At one point, he invites Alvy into his room to confess something: He often fantasizes about driving into oncoming traffic. It's deeply unnerving to see a younger version of Walken with that same, raspy voice deliver a chilling monologue that's almost devoid of emotion. Later in the film, when he has to drive Alvy to the airport in the rain, the camera cuts to a terrified Alvy to complete the gag.

5. True Romance

Written by Quentin Tarantino, 1993's "True Romance" is overstuffed with sex, violence, fanboy Easter eggs, and scene-stealing cameos by a host of actors. Starring Christian Slater and Patricia Arquette as a young couple on the run, the film boasts an impressive 93% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Early in the movie, Slater goes to his father (played by Dennis Hopper) for help — and he ends up accidentally putting him in danger. When he leaves, the mobster tailing him shows up, and he's played by none other than Christopher Walken.

In what's become known as the film's standout scene, Walken grills Hopper over the whereabouts of his son, and he proves to be a worthy opponent. Hopper's character knows that he's going to be killed no matter what he says, so he launches into an extended and ludicrous rant against Sicilians that makes the ice-cool Walken chuckle. Walken, resplendent in a beautiful suit and scarf, allows Hopper to insult him at length until it no longer amuses him. Then, he shoots him dead. Speaking at Comic-Con (via Business Insider), Tarantino said that the scene is one of the best he's ever written.

4. Pulp Fiction

1994's "Pulp Fiction" was a genuine cultural phenomenon. It turned Quentin Tarantino into a star, pulling in over $200 million worldwide on an $8 million budget. Even with its many frenzied and shocking moments of violence, Christopher Walken nearly stole the entire film with a single scene. Bruce Willis stars as Butch, a boxer who gets asked to throw an upcoming bout. Shortly before his big match, he recalls a conversation with a man named Captain Koons (Christopher Walken), who came to see him as a child. Koons is there to give Butch his father's gold watch, but he doesn't just hand it over.

Walken combines earnestness and intensity as he delivers what has become an iconic monologue, revealing that both he and Butch's father had to hide the watch in very uncomfortable places while being held prisoner. Speaking to Film Comment, Tarantino revealed that he cobbled the scene together using a variety of takes with different tones, mixing the serious and sentimental with the absurd. "He's just so great at doing monologues, about the best guy that there is at it, and that's why he did the movie, because he doesn't get the chance to do three-page monologues in movies knowing it's not gonna be cut," Tarantino said of Walken.

3. The Dead Zone

Christopher Walken always makes for an unusual leading man. That was very much the case in 1983's "The Dead Zone," David Cronenberg's adaptation of Stephen King's novel of the same name. Walken plays a teacher named Johnny Smith, who spends five years in a coma following an accident. When he wakes up he realizes that when he touches someone, he creates a unique connection with them: He can witness their future or even see a horrible secret in the present. The movie keeps upping the ante for poor Johnny, who gets asked to help the local police catch a killer.

When Johnny discovers that the culprit is a police officer, he is almost killed by the disgraced deputy's vengeful mother. He withdraws from society as a result, but he has a change of heart after using his gift to save a young boy's life. With renewed purpose, he sets about trying to assassinate a man destined to cause a nuclear war. The actor is utterly absorbing in the role, one of his most memorable by far. "Walken does such a good job of portraying Johnny Smith, the man with the strange gift, that we forget this is science fiction or fantasy or whatever and just accept it as this guy's story," said Roger Ebert.

2. Catch Me If You Can

Steven Spielberg's "Catch Me If You Can" is a film about real-life con artist Frank Abagnale Jr. and his pursuit by the FBI. It was a showcase for Tom Hanks and Leonardo DiCaprio, with the latter starring as the charming trickster who pretended to be a pilot and doctor. The film has a 96% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, with critics praising it as a breezy and fun Spielberg movie that touches on his career-long obsession with father issues.

Walken turns in a memorable performance as Frank Abagnale Sr. In the film, he gets into financial trouble and his wife leaves him. Frank Jr. wants nothing but his father's approval, even as he earns nationwide infamy for his deception. Walken got his second Oscar nomination for the film, and while he lost out on the night, he did pick up BAFTA and Screen Actors Guild awards for his warm performance. His nuanced and sensitive characterization of Frank Sr. as a broken but proud man who loves his son is one of his best to date.

1. The Deer Hunter

Playing mill worker and prisoner of war Nick Chevotarevich in best picture winner "The Deer Hunter" paved the path for Christopher Walken's long and celebrated career. He had appeared in a handful of small roles up until that point, but the trademark Walken combination of manic intensity and surprising sensitivity was born right here. Released in 1978, it was one of the first films that dealt with post-traumatic stress disorder and also one of the first that dealt with the Vietnam War in any meaningful way. The film was not overly political, however. Instead, it asked some hard questions about the well-being of soldiers.

Walken won his first and, to date, his only Academy Award for the role. In the film, Nick is part of a group of friends in Pennsylvania who work in a steel mill and go hunting on weekends. They all leave to fight in Vietnam and end up getting tortured in a POW camp. The central image and metaphor of the film is them being forced to play Russian roulette. Nick eventually snaps and makes playing the dangerous game his life in Saigon. It's tragic, terrifying, and you can't take your eyes off it. For fans of Walken's work, it really doesn't get any better than this.