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The 6 films that changed Neil Patrick Harris' life


Neil Patrick Harris’ hand in contemporary culture is three-fold, being a prominent figure in television, film and theatre. From his role as Barney Stinson in the CBS show How I Met Your Mother, to his upcoming feature in Lana Wachowski’s highly anticipated Matrix 4, Harris works across a variety of projects and consistently brings his unique quippy personality to each one. 

Born in Albuquerque, New Mexico, Harris’ career began as a child actor, before he was discovered by the playwright Mark Medoff who later would cast him in the Golden Globe-nominated Clara’s Heart. This would spark his adult career, starring in Starship Troopers and Undercover Brother at the turn of the millennium before his scene-stealing performance in the stoner comedy film Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle would lead him down a totally new path. 

With an already eclectic filmography, appearing in everything from children’s animations to David Fincher thrillers, it is clear that the actor is inspired by a variety of film and television, a fact which becomes particularly clear when Harris outlines the six movies that changed his life. 

His first choice is The Empire Strikes Back, the second in the Star Wars franchise that would inspire a whole generation, featuring some of cinema’s most iconic moments. As Neil Patrick Harris commented about the film, “I remember being conflicted about Han Solo being frozen in that carbonite chamber,” he said in an interview with EW. “And it ended that way! And he wasn’t freed from that,” he added, noting that as a child he was not conformable with a cliffhanger. Though he adds, “I was also very excited by the Ewoks in [“Return of the Jedi”]…so I enjoyed the resolution there.”

Inspiring his love of musical theatre, there’s little surprise to see 1982s Annie next on his list, with the actor stating: “I loved the Aileen Quinn movie version, with Albert Finney [as Daddy Warbucks]. I guess that spoke to small-town me and wanting to maybe someday get to the big city and do something bigger”. Having won a Tony award for his theatre performance in Hedwig and the Angry Inch in 2014, “My interest in musicals started with ‘Annie,'” the actor commented, exclaiming, “I loved that that small story turned into a much larger adventure.”

In a similar vein, Neil Patrick Harris also felt a deep passion for the family classic The Goonies, inspiring a similar sense of joy and adventure for the young actor. “I was a bit obsessed with Goonies,” Harris noted, explaining that: “Knowing that theoretically, if you could find the right map, that under your house were potential catacombs that led to waterslides that led to pirate ships—I liked that notion.”

Perhaps his most favourite, or at least his most rewatched film, is 1985s Clue, based on the board game Cluedo, which fulfils his love of choose-your-own-adventure books. Explaining his excitement to see the original film, the actor said: “I knew the movie was coming out and that it had multiple endings, and when you went to the theatre, it would say whether it was ending A, B, or C.”

Continuing: “I was just infatuated with the idea that you could see the movie and it would be different sometimes. I think that’s the movie I’ve seen the most ever.”

The most celebrated Christmas movie of all time, It’s a Wonderful Life, fills Harris’ fifth spot, reminding him of an annual gathering around the television, but also of the love and generosity of his mother. Dropping her career in law to move to L.A. and help Harris with his growing acting career, Harris comments: “She’s one of the most selfless people you’ll ever meet…she worked tirelessly for my brother and me. She is a pretty exquisite mom.”

Check out the full list of the six films that changed Neil Patrick Harris’ life below.

Neil Patrick Harris’ 6 favourite films:

  • Annie (John Huston – 1982)
  • Clue (Jonathan Lynn – 1985)
  • The Empire Strikes Back (Irvin Kershner – 1980)
  • Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (John Hughes – 1986)
  • The Goonies (Richard Donner – 1985)
  • It’s a Wonderful Life (Frank Capra – 1946)

Bookending Harris’ list is Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, a film over which he and his older brother, Brian, bonded over, sharing Matthew Broderick’s slyly cynical approach to school and teenage life. The actor noted that “Ferris was always cooler than I ever imagined I could be…I loved how he tried to beat the system in a clever way, and his longing for adventure.”

With his quick humour and sharp personality, there’s a lot of Ferris Bueller in How I Met Your Mother’s Barney Stinson, making the film perhaps the most important influence in Harris’ career. As the actor further comments: “In fact, I think there is a lot of Ferris Bueller in my interpretation of Barney Stinson.”