(Credit: Gage Skidmore)

Discovering 10 best films starring Mark Ruffalo

“I like to think the movies that I’ve picked have something worthwhile to say. Something relevant.”– Mark Ruffalo

Mark Ruffalo has quite a distinct appearance; with his kind eyes, messy curls, cheeky smile and raspy voice, he is still being thirsted over by youngsters for being the embodiment of nerdy and awkward, traits which have ultimately endeared him to millions. Born to working-class parents, Ruffalo struggled with undiagnosed dyslexia and ADHD from a young age. However, he has often described himself as a “happy kid”, which is quite evident in his laughing eyes and the immediate warmth that radiates from his on screen persona.

Ruffalo made his first debut in Lonergan’s This Is Our Youth which, subsequently, helped him land quite a few film roles and shaped his acting career that spread out over nearly three decades. This marked the beginning of his remarkable career, but it was not until he bagged the MCU deals to star as Hulk that he gained worldwide recognition and adoration. 

Humble and wise, Ruffalo is extremely devoted to his fans. On The Graham Norton Show, he went on to say, “I know all my fans by name. All seven of them.” Goofy and kind, he shares an excellent rapport with his co-stars who cannot help but smile at his gleeful antics and child-like smile. 

Also known for being the Spoiler King (besides Tom Holland), he has, many a time, revealed important information due to slippage of the tongue. His expressions have been precious. “Let me just say this. Like every other Marvel movie, it doesn’t end well for the superheroes… wait until you see this next one [Infinity War]. Everybody dies!” He is too adorable to make the Russo brothers and the rest of the cast flip out – almost like an ancient, nervous dad, trying to keep up with the fast-paced times.  

A doting father and devoted husband, he has always been a sport fan while admitting how he was not particularly a favourite among his kids. “My son said to me the other day when he was mad at me ‘I always hated The Hulk. I think he is shit’”. That said, the Hulk is not the only character this eccentric ball of happiness has played. With a range of versatile and meaty roles to boast of, Mark Ruffalo is iconic, and “the world’s biggest dad” as proclaimed by Twitteratis. 

Today, on the actor’s 53rd birthday, as we celebrate him taking another trip around the sun, we look at ten best Mark Ruffalo films that have shaped the actor’s career. Cue up Lou Reed’s ‘Walk on the Wild Side’ (yes, that is Ruffalo’s favourite song and an ode to NYC) and go through the list to find out some of the best films starring Mark Ruffalo. 

10 best Mark Ruffalo films:

10. Shutter Island (Martin Scorsese, 2010)

US Marshal Teddy Daniels and his newly assigned partner, Chuck Aule, travel to the Ashcliffe Hospital on a remote island to investigate the disappearance of the patient. As Teddy delves deeper into the investigation, he realises the sinister nature of the asylum and its inmates; he must confront the ghosts of his past as well as his fears to be able to successfully leave the island. 

Intense and unsettling, Shutter Island is one of Scorsese’s most phenomenal yet underrated works. Provocative, the film challenges the sanity of the viewers. He pervasive gloom and anxiety is heightened by Leo’s outstanding performance as Teddy Daniels, a man haunted by his traumatic past. Mark Ruffalo as the well-informed Chuck Aule adds a brilliant dimension to the former. Ruffalo said, “It was very collaborative. We had these long discussions really breaking down the story, and we were watching all these films. So not only was it a great rehearsal period, it was our own little film school with Marty.” Scorsese pulls off the greatest plot twist at the end of the movie, leaving an indelible mark on the minds of the viewers.  

“Which would be worse – to live as a monster? Or to die as a good man?” 

9.13 Going on 30 (Gary Winick, 2004)

At 13, Jenna Rinks is a gawky and awkward teen who yearns to be popular and harbours a crush on the coolest boy in her class. However, lack of tits and a pair of braces have led to her growing insecurities; the only person who cares about her is her nerdy next-door-neighbour and best friend, Matty, who has a crush on her. During her birthday party, after being humiliated by her popular classmates, Jenna wishes she was 30 years old and her dreams come true. However, with age comes responsibilities and complications that a 13-year-old cannot possibly fathom, and the film follows Jenna as she embarks on a quest to find her true purpose in life. 

13 Going on 30 is a testament to all our teenage struggles. It is a heartwarming story where a young Jenna finally learns what is important for her. The film is innocent and magical, devoid of adult complications. Love triangles galore, it ends on a happy note as all teenage films do; we are always made to believe that we too, like Jenna, will find our happy ending. Jennifer Garner plays the sweet, goofy adult Jenna while Mark Ruffalo plays Matty who had a major glow up and became a shy and attractive young man. The film, despite containing elements of magic and mysticism, is not far-fetched; it is indeed painfully and comically reflective of our teenage selves. 

“Just because you don’t look like those girls in Poise magazine doesn’t mean you’re not beautiful in your own way.”

8. Infinitely Polar Bear (Maya Forbes, 2014)

Set in the late 1970s Boston, the film revolves around Cameron Stuart who has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder. To support their family of four which includes two young girls, his wife Maggie applies to Columbia University and moves there to complete her education which might help her get a job. Cameron is stuck, taking care of his two children who love and loathe their father’s behaviour.

The film is outstanding in its portrayal of bipolar disorder, and how much mental health issues affect inter-and intrapersonal relationships. Cameron’s anxiety regarding his inadequacy as a father is palpable and heartbreaking. One cannot help but feel sorry for the girls who are exposed to such psychologically scarring events early on in their lives. Mark Ruffalo is brilliant as Cameron Stuart, his condition complex and distressing. Zoey Saldana as his wife, Maggie is is crumbling inside. The film, in all, leaves a huge impact on the minds of the viewers, leading us to value our families a little more in the process. 

“My father was diagnosed manic depressive in 1967.” 

7.You Can Count On Me (Kenneth Lonergan, 2000)

This Oscar-nominated film catapulted Mark Ruffalo’s career into the initial phases of stardom before he bagged the MCU films. Well-crafted with soulful acting, Lonergan’s film dares portray a “touchy adult relationship between a brother and a sister”, struggling to make ends meet as the middle-class in America. The ordinary problems of ordinary people gain precedence in the film which is portrayed beautifully and neatly, with tender yet truthful silences. As Edelstein said, the film has a “subtext so powerful that it reaches out and pulls you under. Even when the surface is tranquil, you know in your guts what’s at stake”. 

The film is about a single mother Sammy and her young son Rudy, whose quest for finding his absent father rises from his curiosity and yearning. Terry, Sammy’s feckless and troublesome brother, saunters into their lives and gathers a special place in Rudy’s young heart. With the siblings growing closer yet farther apart base don various misunderstandings and inexplicable expectations, Terry and Rudy’s bond strengthen. The characters are flawed and learn from their mistakes, hoping to build themselves a better future someday. Ruffalo as the irresponsible and half-baked yet lion-hearted Terry is sure to move the audience, as is the rest of the talented cast of the film.

“Well, I don’t think… I don’t particularly think anybody’s life has any particular importance besides whatever – you know – whatever we arbitrarily give it. Which is fine. I mean we might as well… I think I’m as important as anybody else…”

6.Begin Again (John Carney, 2013)

With an intimate and tender on-screen camaraderie, Keira Knightley and Mark Ruffalo weave a thread of subtle magic which adds a delightful flavour to this simple love story. Fate and heartbreaks coupled with a shared passion for music bring these two lost souls together; they are simply at the ‘right place’ at the ‘right time’. Keira’s doleful yet striking eyes and impeccable voice brings about a certain mellow cheeriness in the film, while Mark’s ruffled curls and droopy eyes, as well as the passion within his booze-fuelled heart, to restore his position in the film industry, redeem his character. The film revolves around the duo who plays Gretta, an aspiring, recently heartbroken songwriter and Dan, a drunkard record-label executive, who stumble upon each other in an NYC bar one night; their star-crossed fate and “disarming emotional intimacy” brings them together yet creates an unbridgeable and platonic distance that cannot be traversed by either of them. 

John Carney had been critical of Knightley’s performance, vowing to never work with “supermodels” which earned him major backlash and later led to his subsequent apology. Despite these hiccups and the revelation that the actress and the director did not get along on set, Begin Again is an enthralling and surreal poetic piece that can melt the hardest of hearts. Carney, who directs this film right after his Irish musical Once, infuses certain similar elements in the film. His idea of love is indeed frustrating as he has a recurring habit of positing two extremely compatible and attractive individuals in an environment fuelled by platonic lust and poetic haplessness. The film is beautiful in its entirety and somewhat enchanting and irresistible; a wonderful music composition by Gregg Alexander, that can lull the viewers to embark on a romantic escapade, adds dimension to the film. 

Musicians for the most part are monosyllabic teenagers who really don’t have a whole lot to say.”

5. Marvel Films (various directors, 2008-) 

The Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) has had a massive fan following. With recurrent superheroes like Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, Hulk, Black Widow and Hawkeye comprising an invincible group termed the Avengers, evil forces are defeated and cities are saved. While all these superheroes have standalone movies (except Hawkeye and Black Widow; the latter is soon getting her film), there are several others, namely Spider-man, Doctor Strange, Ant-man, Guardians of the Galaxy, Black Panther etc . who are fan favourites and have appeared together in the biggest ensemble film of all time, Avengers: Endgame (2019).

Mark Ruffalo plays the nerdy genius Dr Bruce Banner who’s shy and awkward personality has an alter ego, an enraged green monster known as the Hulk whose unparalleled physical strange and rage can be unleashed in times of crisis. One of the most adorable yet terrifying superheroes, Bruce’s romantic interest is the stunning and sneaky Natasha Romanoff, better known as Black Widow. Following suit of Eric Bana and Edward Norton, Ruffalo was approached to play this role which he initially refused as he thought he was the “wrong guy” for it. However, he eventually came around and Hulk turned out to be one of the most prominent characters of his career. Ruffalo reportedly finds it “humiliating” to play the role of this emotionally vulnerable humongous monster as he has to wear “ridiculous pyjamas that made “ him “look like a Chinese checkerboard”. Robert Downey Jr. allegedly came up to him while shooting Endgame, and Ruffalo recounted, “In the last movie, he came up to me and he said: ‘I have a lot of compassion for you. And I was like, ‘Why?’ He’s like, ‘Because I see how hard it is for you to stand around in that costume all day.”

“Hulk smash!”

4. Zodiac (David Fincher, 2007) 

David Fincher is no people-pleaser. He will not tweak facts and produce historically inaccurate narratives to appease audience expectations. When a murder is grisly and vile, he will take a painstaking 18 months to research on the subject of his film with his team. His thriller film, Zodiac, is thus, a masterpiece with incredible performance, phenomenal cinematography, gruesome scenes and a chilling and accurate narrative. The film revolves around the epic manhunt for the serial murderer who was better known as the Zodiac Killer in the Bay Area for his notoriety. He taunted the police and almost invited them into a dangerous game of cat-and-mouse chase where he would leave behind suggestive clues like letters, cyphers, clothing and more. the case is still one of the most infamous, unsolved cases, which is why the film does not give the viewers closure. Do not be salty, one cannot just go against history. Or can they?

Jake Gyllenhaal plays the cartoonist Robert Graysmith whose obsession with the Zodiac Killer leads him to solve puzzles to be able to track this murderer down. Although Robert Downey jr.’s Paul Avery pokes fun at him, they later understand how helpful they both are. Mark Ruffalo plays Dave Toschi, a police inspector assigned to the case alongside his partner Bill Armstrong. Although there was some resentment among the cast members for Fincher’s finicky nature and constant strife for perfectionism (this has led to many calling him the net Kubrick), Ruffalo defended the director by saying, “The way I see it is, you enter into someone else’s world as an actor. You can put your expectations aside and have an experience that’s new and pushes and changes you, or hold on to what you think it should be and have a stubborn, immovable journey that’s filled with disappointment and anger”. Although the film has often been criticised for the explicit portrayal of violence in certain grisly scenes (the vivid stabbing scene, for instance), it has been applauded for the vast research, gripping narrative, stellar performances and unparalleled direction. 

Just because you can’t prove it, doesn’t mean it’s not true.”

3. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (Charlie Kaufman, 2004) 

Joel Barish and Clementine Kruczynski meet each other during a train ride at Montauk Station, fall in love and spend a good time before their wonderful time comes to an end. Instead of communicating with each other, Clementine erases her memories of the relationship. The film is about Joel’s erasure of memories while the viewers relieve the relationship in his head before complications arise forcing the star-struck lovers to meet again. 

A wonderful take on fate and predestination, the film basks in the brilliance of its main leads, Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet. With seamless visuals and whimsical music, the film leaves an everlasting impression on the viewers’ mind. Winslet’s hair colour changes following her moods. A timeless masterpiece that revels in the poetic nature of love and sorrow, “the formidable Gondry/Kaufman/Carrey axis works marvel after marvel in expressing the bewildering beauty and existential horror of being trapped inside one’s addled mind, and in allegorising the self-preserving amnesia of a broken but hopeful heart.” Ruffalo plays the role of Stan Fink, Kirsten Dunst’s boyfriend. He bagged the role after he provided Gondry with “an unexpected take on the role”- he suggested Stan be a Joe Strummer lookalike and The Clash fan. 

2.The Kids Are All Right (Lisa Cholodenko, 2010)

A lesbian couple, Nic and Jules, each give birth to Laser and Joni using the same anonymous sperm donor. Laser is intrigued to meet his actual father and enlists the help of his sister Joni. eventually, they find Paul, an organic food restaurateur, who grows invested in the kids and decides to get involved in their lives. Chaos ensues when Jules and Paul are attracted to each other which tears the happy couple apart, giving rise to tensions amidst the family members. 

The film is a brilliant and endearing take on the institution of marriage and the drab and drudgery that might lead a relationship to seem mundane after years of togetherness. Paul is a dash of freshness which probably attracts Jules. Mark Ruffalo’s portrayal as the bohemian sperm-donor Paul won his first-ever Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor; despite being allotted a fairly small role, his brilliance outshone other performances on-screen. Cholodenko, impressed by Ruffalo’s calibre, admitted that he was her first choice to be cast as Paul. After seeing him act on You Can Count On Me, she decided that he was “capable of portraying a character that was simultaneously unlikable and redeemable without being ‘pathetic’, which can be hard to do”. 

It’s hard enough to open your heart in this world. Don’t make it harder.”

1. Spotlight (Tom McCarthy, 2015)

Based on a spine-chilling true story of the oldest investigative journalist unit in Boston Globe, known as the “Spotlight” team, the film chronicles the investigation of systemic paedophilia, child abuse and molestation in the Boston area by Roman Catholic priests. True to its genre, it has been termed the “finest newspaper movie of its era”, and has been compared to classics like Citizen Kane and All the President’s Men. 

The film garnered universal acclaim for its daring portrayal of the horrors inside the Catholic church along with the rampant perversion and misogyny that lead to the psycho-sexual slaughter of young children. It also highlights how the Catholic Church attempts to cover up the allegations to maintain a holy facade for themselves. The film boasts of a heavyweight ensemble cast comprising legendary actors like Michael Keaton. Stanley Tucci, Mark Ruffalo and Rachel McAdams. Both McAdams and Ruffalo received Academy Award nominations; though they did not win, the film went on to win two Oscars for Best Picture and Best Original Screenplay. A graceful exposé of the corruption of the Catholic Church, the film ends up lionizing “its heroes, resulting in a drama that honours the audience as well as its real-life subjects”.  Thrilling and riveting, Mark Ruffalo stands out amongst the crowd with his “long-suppressed outburst of emotion”. He is “one of the film’s few grandstanding showstoppers” with his honest and passionate performance. 

If it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a village to abuse one.”

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