“I’ve learned it’s important not to limit yourself. You can do whatever you really love to do, no matter what it is.” – Ryan Gosling
Ryan Gosling is a Canadian actor and musician who gained recognition after playing the sociopathic loner in The Notebook. Having established an uncompromising reputation as one of Hollywood’s most sought after actors, Gosling has usually had a knack for portraying stuntmen or sociopaths in many of his films. While insanely gifted, he has an intensely compelling on-screen presence and exemplary acting prowess.
One of the most bankable romantic leads of his generation, Ryan Gosling had, however, reportedly been influenced by Sylvester Stallone’s action films. “When I was in first grade, I watched First Blood, and I filled my Fisher-Price Houdini kit with steak knives and brought them to school and started throwing them at kids in recess,” he once commented. Needless to say, the future thespian had been suspended for this dangerous re-enactment, but that planted in him the desire to act.
Given that his talents are multi-faceted; he likes to box, make furniture, play jazz guitar as well as sing, it should come as little surprise that his cinematic achievements are varying in genres and filmatic approaches, offering nuances across a supremely impressive artist CV.
Here, we take a look at the 20 best films Ryan Gosling has starred in, including works by the likes of Terrence Malick, Ryan Fleck, Damien Chazelle and more.
See the 20 best films starring Ryan Gosling, below.
Ryan Gosling’s best 20 films:
20. Only God Forgives (Nicolas Winding Refn, 2013)
Although nowhere near as good as Drive – Refn’s finest collaboration with Gosling, Only God Forgives features a similarly interesting visual style by the highly eccentric auteur who went so far as to call his own work a masterpiece and compared it to Citizen Kane.
The film stars Gosling as an American expatriate in Bangkok who is revered by many in the criminal underworld. Although Gosling has very few lines throughout the neo-noir action drama, his performance is competent and adds to the general mystique of the film’s setting.
19. Song to Song (Terrence Malick, 2017)
Featuring the likes of Gosling, Natalie Portman, Rooney Mara and Michael Fassbender, Song to Song is an enigmatic late work by Terrence Malick. Set in Austin, Texas, the film explores questions of lust and loyalty through intersecting stories in the city’s vibrant music scene.
“These days, with modern technology, you can shoot a lot in 40 days,” said Malick, who admitted his first cut of Song to Song was eight hours long. “It took a long time to cut it down to a manageable length…We had enough footage to tell the story from different perspectives.”
18. The Nice Guys (Shane Black, 2016)
This 2016 action comedy by Shane Black was on everyone’s radar when it first came out, especially because it promised the on-screen partnership of Gosling and Russell Crowe. Although it was a moderate commercial success, The Nice Guys is memorable for the starring performances.
Gosling is funny as a private detective who teams up with a no-nonsense Crowe in order to figure out what happened to a missing girl. Set in 1977 Los Angeles, The Nice Guys remains a noteworthy addition to the illustrious filmographies of both Gosling and Crowe.
17. Stay (Marc Foster, 2005)
Marc Foster’s 2005 psychological thriller is an ambitious meditation on the nature of human mortality and the illusory nature of mortal romance, starring Gosling alongside Naomi Watts and Ewan McGregor. The film tanked at the box office but is received more favourably by newer generations of audiences.
While coming up with the concept of the project, Foster cited the likes of Alfred Hitchcock and Nicolas Roeg as primary influences. However, the finished project looks closer to the artistic investigations of surrealist master David Lynch than any other filmmaker’s work.
16. The United States of Leland (Matthew Ryan Hoge, 2005)
One of Gosling’s most significant early roles, The United States of Leland stars him as a soft-spoken teenager who shockingly commits a horrifying murder. The film tries to understand the nature of such an absurd crime by focusing on the relationship between the titular Leland and his teacher (Don Cheadle) who takes an interest in him.
Hoge’s 2005 drama was lampooned by critics when it first came out but there has been a notable disparity between the critical consensus and the reception by the audience. Looking back, the film appears to be an exigent chronicle of the omnipresent social malaise in youth.
15. All Good Things (Andrew Jarecki, 2010)
Andrew Jarecki’s weird crime drama features Gosling as a rich white guy who is set to inherit everything from his father – a formidable New York real estate magnate. However, things take a turn for the worse when his wife (played by Kirsten Durst) suddenly disappears after a lot of turbulence.
Most of the critical acclaim was showered on Durst’s performance who put in a fantastic shift as the working-class girl who stumbles into an insidious world. While Gosling is held back by the ambiguity of the writing, he still manages to rise to the occasion and contribute to the film’s general air of mystery.
14. Fracture (Gregory Hoblit, 2007)
Fracture places Gosling in unfamiliar territory, forcing him to fill the shoes of an ambitious deputy district attorney who engages in an unlikely battle of wits with an intelligent criminal. The criminal in question is played by Anthony Hopkins, a highly educated engineer who shoots his wife.
It is extremely difficult to keep up with someone as talented and experienced as Hopkins but Gosling manages to do just that, constructing an extremely entertaining dialogic feud. For his fantastic work, Gosling earned a nomination at the Teen Choice Awards.
13. Half Nelson (Ryan Fleck, 2006)
Another addition to the extensive body of work belonging to the school drama genre, Half Nelson stands out because of its unique takes. Gosling is brilliant as a middle school history teacher who does not care for the uninspired curriculum and chooses to adopt a dialectical approach to teaching history.
Although he appears to have his life figured out, he indulges in copious amounts of cocaine use in his free time to cope with the insignificance of his existence. Everything changes when one of his students discovers his habit, leading to the formation of a strikingly vulnerable relationship.
12. Lars and the Real Girl (Craig Gillespie, 2007)
Craig Gillespie’s nuanced 2007 interpretation of the highly commercialised rom-com genre failed to translate into profits but it received critical acclaim for its vision and the acting performances. The film revolves around a socially inept young man (Gosling) who finally introduces his girlfriend to his family – a sex doll purchased from the internet.
Over the course of their relationship, he develops a strong romantic bond with the inanimate object because it appears to be the only thing who is willing to listen to him. For his moving work, Gosling nabbed a Golden Globe nomination in the coveted Best Actor category.
11. The Big Short (Adam McKay, 2015)
The Big Short has an all-star cast, ranging from legends such as Christian Bale and Steve Carell to unforgettable cameos by Margot Robbie and Anthony Bourdain. The 2015 biopic delves deep into the financial crisis of 2008, investigating how the fraud in the housing market led to the stock market crash.
Gosling is almost unrecognisable as the film’s narrator as well as a participant who plays a major part in the financial success of Mark Baum (played by Carell) by taking the unique fraud case to him by accident. Gosling’s character is actually based on the hedge fund manager Greg Lippmann.
10. The Ides of March (George Clooney, 2011)
George Clooney’s political drama The Ides of March reinforces the belief that running a campaign in the sphere of American politics is extremely exhausting, both physically and morally. The film takes place in a Democratic place with the central character being a press secretary, Stephen Meyers, who works for the governor, Mike Morris. The latter is competing against Sen. Pullman. Meyers is confident in Morris’ abilities and integrity; however, a chance meeting with Pullman’s campaign manager and casual romp with a naïve intern results in a scandal that poses a threat to Morris’ chances.
The film boasts of a talented ensemble cast, including George Clooney, Ryan Gosling, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Paul Giamatti, Evan Rachel Wood, Marisa Tomei and more. Besides other amazing performances from the rest of the cast, Ryan Gosling’s idealism is a breath of fresh air among the cynics in the film. He has an “insistent presence” and does justice to his role as the brilliant, prodigious secretary who thinks Morris is the only hope for Americans.
“When you make a mistake, you lose the right to play.”
9. The Believer (Henry Bean, 2001)
The protagonist of the film, Danny Balint, is based on a real person named Daniel Burros. Danny is a bright yeshiva student who rejects Judaism and believes his fellow Jewish men to be weak to have been persecuted by the Nazis. He is caught between anti-Semitism and self-hate and confronts his roots which as a neo-Nazi he is not well-informed of.
The film is oddly compelling and thrilling; however, some vital questions remained unanswered along with a lack of clarity in the ending. Ryan Gosling as the troubles and fanatic neo-Nazi, Daniel, is phenomenal on screen. He is a revelation, his performance is bold, captivating as well as “difficult in the best sense”. In a fight against himself, Daniel is caught in a moral dilemma and fanaticism which is best portrayed by Gosling’s provocative, daring performance. However, the film may portray the wrong message to the wrong crowd and thus must be dealt with immense sensibility and maturity.
8. The Place Beyond the Pines (Derek Cianfrance, 2012)
This neo-noir drama chronicles three linear stories that include a daredevil motorcycle stuntman, Luke Glanton, turning into a robber to support his beloved and their child and an ambitious policeman, Avery Cross, who exposes the corrupt malpractices of his department. They also run into each other with disastrous results; history repeats itself when their sons, A.J and Jason befriend each other fifteen years later oblivious to the bad blood between their fathers.
Ambitious with daring leaps in the plotline, Cianfrance’s film is an epic commentary on the lives of the working-class who are uncertain about their future. An outstanding cast is pulled forward by the stellar performances of Ryan Gosling and Bradley Cooper. As the blatantly ambitious cop, Cooper is perfect for the role, while the tattooed Gosling, clad in ripped T-shirts and flaunting his bleached hair and huge biceps, is a “startling presence”. His quiet nature and deliberate movements heighten the anxiety on the screen; he is desperate to feed his family and ends up taking the wrong route.
“He’s [Jason] my son and I should be around him. I wasn’t around my dad and look at the fuckin’ way I turned out.”
7. First Man (Damien Chazelle, 2018)
Although the idea of space travel has attracted a lot of positive buzz and imagination, Chazelle’s biographical drama about Neil Armstrong’s mission to the moon does not romanticise the idea of it. Instead of a tranquil picture, he paints the real, dreadful experience along with the idea of being trapped in a purgatory of existential dread.
Gosling as Neil Armstrong is stoic and quiet. He is compelling and in control of his character as the intelligent astronaut. “Gosling makes Armstrong a figure of intensely contained can-do moxie whose ability to guide a ship, especially when it’s at death’s door, is the essence of grace under pressure.” His emotional turmoil turns him into a nervous wreck, and rightfully so. The journey is frightening, and the film will probably never allow one to think of man’s historic walk on the moon in the same way ever again.
6. Crazy, Stupid Love (Glenn Ficarra, John Requa, 2011)
In this raunchy character-driven rom-com, Cal Weaver lives the American dream with a wonderful house, a great job, a beautiful wife, Emily, and children. However, Emily soon asks for a divorce due to her alleged infidelity with a co-worker which shatters Cal’s nearly perfect life. Middle-aged and suddenly divorced, Cal decides to immerse himself in the dating pool but gets list in its fickleness. However, the charming Jacob palmer enters his life and teaches him how to play the game and be the perfect flirt.
The plot focuses on the stories of each character which makes it an interesting and fun watch. Modern-day dating is portrayed in all its glory- deceptive and capricious. Steve Carell as Cal Weaver is vulnerable, insecure yet adorable with all the mishaps he manages to get himself into. Ryan Gosling, as Jacob Palmer, however, steals the show. As the flirtatious lothario, he is genuinely invested in helping Cal gain confidence. He is quite vulnerable which shadows the sleaze factor that resides within him; the change of heart and manners for the person he falls in love with (Hannah) is endearing to watch.
“Honestly, I don’t know if I should help you or I should euthanise you.”
5. Blue Valentine (Derek Cianfrance, 2010)
The film is observant of an arc of romance which witnesses the lives of Dean and Cindy, a young couple living a quiet life. On the outside, they have a normal and somewhat happy life, getting by. However, they are caught in a downward spiral which results in an extremely irritable and rocky relationship. All the passion they had at the start of the relationship starts to fizzle out with Dean’s lack of ambition and Cindy’s self-withdrawal, which leads to impending marital doom.
Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams are stunning on-screen. Though it might be slightly disturbing to watch the intrinsic analysis of a rocky marriage, the unusual depth and emotional bandwidth of their characters make the film extremely special. The actors would improvise dialogues and film unscripted scenes based on what they thought would be essential to their respective roles. To add authenticity to the characters, Cianfrance would fan the tension. “One night he told Gosling to go into Williams’ bedroom and try to make love to her. Gosling, soundly rejected, ended up sleeping on the couch”. Intense and minutely crafted, the film sees the development of a relationship complicated by an unplanned pregnancy and the subsequent fracture.
“How do you trust your feelings when they can just disappear like that?”
4. Drive (Nicolas Winding Refn, 2011)
Ryan Gosling plays the unnamed Driver, who is a Hollywood stuntman, playing a getaway driver in movies. He grows increasingly fond of his neighbour, Irene, and her son, Benicio. When Irene’s husband, Standard Gabriel, is released from prison, they become friends and plot a million-dollar heist that endangers the lives of everyone. With the heist-gone-wrong, the Driver must put his life at stake to protect Irene and Benicio from the vengeful sharks behind the robbery.
Like Tarantino, Refn is an exploitation-film maniac and thus his work mirrors cult favourites like To Live and Die in L.A. With talented actors like Ryan Gosling, Oscar Isaac, Carey Mulligan and others. Drive is a riveting watch. “Drive takes the tired heist-gone-bad genre out for a spin, delivering fresh guilty-pleasure thrills in the process”. Gosling as the Driver is stoic and hardly breaks into a cold sweat during the nerve-wracking scenes. He is not a one-dimensional character- his emotional depth and sensitivity to the situation are remarkable. Having performed several of his own stunts, Gosling’s Driver is iconic.
“You get out of here and you never fucking come back. You never come back.”
3. The Notebook (Nick Cassavetes, 2004)
Adapted from Nicholas Sparks’ novel of the same name, the film bears testament to Noah and Allie’s love story. In 1940s South Carolina, Noah Calhoun is a mill worker while Allie is a rich girl; despite their economic differences, they are haplessly in love much to the disdain of Allie’s parents. When Noah goes to serve in the Second World War, their story seemingly comes to an end and Allie is set to marry another man. However, with Noah’s return on the brink of Allie’s marriage, the passion is rekindled, and their love affair is not even close to being over.
Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams were constantly at loggerheads with each other during filming; eventually, they made up and even ended up, dating. The Notebook, too, is a story of fiery passion and love that triumphs all. McAdams, fresh out of playing Regina George in Mean Girls, is adorable with her emotional complication and dramatic depth. Gosling, too, is incredible on screen, exuding romance in his otherwise natural demeanour. Gosling recalls Cassavetes saying, “I want you to play this role because you’re not like the other young actors out there in Hollywood. You’re not handsome, you’re not cool, you’re just a regular guy who looks a bit nuts.” With an iconic kissing scene amidst a torrential downpour, The Notebook, even a decade and half of its release continue to be a fan favourite tear-jerker.
“I wrote you 365 letters. I wrote you every day for a year. It wasn’t over… it still isn’t over.”
2. Blade Runner 2049 (Denis Villeneuve, 2017)
A new blade runner for the LAPD Officer K uncovers a hidden secret that could potentially plunge the remainder of the society into chaos and mayhem, Thus, he embarks on a quest to find the former blade runner, Deckard, who has been missing for 30 years. Described as “bleakly beautiful”, Villeneuve’s Blade Runner 2049 is a worthy successor with its delicate craftsmanship and artistry.
Ryan Gosling as Officer K is “superb, soulful”, his camaraderie with Harrison Ford is enviable. Gosling’s presence is intensifying and compelling. He is a perfect successor to Harrison Ford’s Deckard. His journey is tragic yet bizarre and fulfilling. Overall, Blade Runner 2049 is a perfect example of exquisite filmmaking skills and a satisfying narrative that “expands I’s predecessor’s story” while being an epic journey in its own right.
“All the best memories are hers.”
1. La La Land (Damien Chazelle, 2016)
Damien Chazelle is no stranger to directing extraordinary films. With La La Land, he dances into the world of art and love, along with two other phenomenal actors Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling. Brilliant cinematography along with sublime dream sequences helps the film stand out from the rest. Stone and Gosling are fantastic on screen, their chemistry wins the hearts of the audience, who cannot help but grin sheepishly as the story progresses. In this musical, the actors thrive as they use the art of singing and dancing to convey their emotions. Los Angeles is the city of stars and sparkle and it is nothing short of a fairytale. The exquisite beauty has a hint of sadness which is a result of Chazelle’s genius.
La La Land documents the love story of Sebastian Wilder, a jazz pianist striving to realise his dream of opening his jazz bar, and Mia Dolan, an aspiring actress. They are both trying to make a living for themselves in Los Angeles while acting out their respective roles in the musical. They are young and passionate, and very much in love but are uncertain of a future together. Life is not necessarily a fairy-tale with a happy ending and all actions have consequences. They meet again after five years where Mia is married to David, and Sebastian has his jazz bar. He plays their love theme one last time; they share a knowing smile, and the film ends on this touching note. Chazelle also pays tribute to nearly all the predecessors and is an ingenious exhibition of visuals and sound that is bound to make the audience laugh, cry, and fall in and out of love at the same time.
“I’m letting life hit me until it gets tired. Then I’ll hit back. It’s a classic rope-a-dope.”