The Sheen family are a big deal in Hollywood. After the legendary familial collection of the Coppolas, the Sheen family are arguably the most successful relatives in the film industry – though the Fondas and the Smiths are also fierce competitors.
At the head of the family sits the great Martin Sheen, born Ramon Estevez in 1940. He took on the stage name Martin Sheen, a combination of Robert Dale Martin – the casting director that gave Sheen his first big break – and a televangelist by the name of Fulton J. Sheen.
Sheen admitted that his Spanish surname had led to rejections when applying for jobs and rental agreements. He once said: “Whenever I would call for an appointment, whether it was a job or an apartment, and I would give my name, there was always that hesitation, and when I’d get there, it was always gone. So I thought, ‘I got enough problems trying to get an acting job’, so I invented Martin Sheen. […] I thought I’d give it a try, and before I knew it, I started making a living with it and then it was too late.”
Sheen rose to stardom for his performance in the Broadway play The Subject Was Roses and reprised his role in the 1968 film adaption of the same name, for which he was nominated for a Golden Globe Award for Best Actor. Several high-profile roles followed, most notably in Francis Ford Coppola‘s 1979 Vietnam War epic Apocalypse Now.
Sheen’s emergence and status in the industry also allowed his children to emulate their father’s success. Emilio, Ramon, Renee and Carlos (AKA Charlie Sheen) have all become Hollywood stars in their own right, though with varying levels of success.
Today marks Martin Sheen’s 81st birthday, so to celebrate, we’re going to take a look at some of the best films featuring members of the Sheen family.
The six best films of the Sheen family:
Martin Sheen – Badlands (Terrence Malick, 1973)
After The Subject Was Roses, this film was probably the feature that really kicked Martin Sheen’s career into motion. Sheen plays Kit, a war veteran who kills his father’s lover and proceeds to elope with her on a wild killing spree.
Badlands was Terrence Malick‘s directorial debut, and he also wrote and produced the film himself. The neo-noir period crime drama earned universal critical acclaim and is widely considered one of the most influential films of all time.
Emilio Estevez – The Breakfast Club (John Hughes, 1985)
A classic 1980s coming-of-age comedy in which five teenagers with various backgrounds and tastes are reprimanded for their misdemeanours at high school and must spend their Saturday locked in detention.
Emilio Estevez plays an athletic wrestler – essentially a ‘jock’. The five students eventually open up to one another, settle their cultural differences and become friends. It transpires that Estevez’s character does not want to be an athlete at all and only does so to appease his father.
Charlie Sheen – Being John Malkovich (Spike Jonze, 1999)
A truly mind-bending and surreal film in which John Cusack portrays a puppeteer who discovers a portal into the mind of the actor John Malkovich, with stark and traumatic consequences.
Sheen, like Malkovich, plays himself, and in one particularly memorable moment, Malkovich begins to worry that his thoughts are being invaded by someone else. However, Sheen bats this ludicrous notion off as mere paranoia and the fact that Malkovich is probably just “stoned”. If anyone were to know, it would most likely be Sheen.
Charlie Sheen – Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (John Hughes, 1986)
Just a year after Charlie Sheen’s appearance in The Breakfast Club, director John Hughes cast his brother Emilio in another coming-of-age American classic, in which Matthew Broderick’s titular character skives a day off school.
Though Sheen only had a minor role in the film – he played a ‘bad boy’ being reprimanded in a police station – his looks and attitude would lead him to be offered a breakthrough role in Platoon just a year later.
Martin Sheen – Apocalypse Now (Francis Ford Coppola, 1979)
Martin Sheen’s most accomplished role came in Francis Ford Coppola’s examination of the mental consequences of the war in Vietnam. Sheen played Captain Willard, who takes a team of American soldiers through the Vietnamese jungle to find a potentially insane defector played by Marlon Brando.
Apocalypse Now suffered from a horrific production schedule. Hearts of Darkness, a 1991 documentary, explored these issues, including bad weather, the ill health of the cast and the entire production team, including director Francis Ford Coppola, almost descending into madness.
Charlie Sheen – Platoon (Oliver Stone, 1986)
The closest that any performance of a Sheen family member has come to emulating the success of the family’s patriarch, arguably because both Platoon and Apocalypse Now explore the depravity and mental instability of the horrific Vietnam War conflict.
Platoon featured an all-star cast including Sheen, Willem Dafoe, Forest Whitaker and Johnny Depp. Stone wrote the script based on his own experiences as an infantryman in the Vietnam War. It is undoubtedly one of the best war films ever made.