(Credit: Gage Skidmore)

From Christopher Nolan to Alejandro Iñárritu: Tom Hardy’s 10 best film performances

English actor Tom Hardy is famous for his performances in brilliant films like Mad Max: Fury Road, Inception and The Revenant, winning an Academy Award nomination for the latter. Apart from his prolific acting career, Hardy is an active philanthropist and is an ambassador for the Prince’s Trust. In 2018, he was appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire for his contribution to the performing arts.

Born in London, Hardy studied at Richmond Drama School and the Drama Centre London. While talking about his early influences, the actor cited Gary Oldman as his acting “hero”. Hardy admitted that he mirrored scenes from Oldman’s works when he was at drama school.

While the actor had two small projects to get his career moving, Hardy would be handed his big break almost immediately with a role in the high profile science-fiction film Star Trek: Nemesis: “I think I had only been working nine months when I got ‘Star Trek,’ and it was huge,” he once commented. “It was very overwhelming. So that opened my eyes a bit at an early age, kind of how not be frightened when walking into a responsibility of something like that.”

From that moment on, Hardy didn’t look back. Working with some of the biggest names in the business, the actor has forged a career built on his vividly intense portrayals of characters and has done so all while forcing himself into a new direction. “It’s funny in that because it is acting, and playing pretend, but I didn’t see myself being synonymous with these tough-guy roles,” he once said. “That’s not really me. I love acting. There was Bane, Warrior, Bronson, and now the Krays. I’m just surprised to be working, mate. Whatever gets me through the door.” 

When discussing his style, Hardy added: “There’s two types of acting: convincing and not convincing. People describe me as intense. It’s because I care. I am a pain in the ass because I care. Do I know what I’m doing? No. Do I have the best of intentions? Yes. Does that lead to hell? Sometimes.” 

Here, on his 43rd birthday, we take a look at some of Tom Hardy’s best film performances.

Tom Hardy’s 10 best films:

10. Bronson (Nicolas Winding Refn – 2008)

Nicolas Winding Refn’s 2008 crime drama is often regarded as the film that really kickstarted Hardy’s career. Based on a true story, Hardy plays the notorious British prisoner Charles Bronson. His powerful performance won him the British Independent Film Award for Best Actor. 

Hardy revealed, “I think with Bronson that’s his tool. That’s the environment he’s in. It’s also where they have no control over him. He said to me as well that it does their head in that they can’t stop him doing that.”

Adding. “They cannot stop him physically taking care of himself. I’ve had all kinds of conflicting reports while doing my investigative role, from both sides – pro and negative and from the guards and from Bronson’s friends and family about what the guards do, and what he does. Right down the middle, there’s a through line.”

9. Legend (Brian Helgeland – 2015)

Brian Helgeland’s Legend had Hardy in a dual role, playing identical twins Reggie and Ron Kray: two crime lords who dominated the London underworld in the 1960s. While the film received mixed to negative reviews, Hardy received the British Independent Film Award for Best Actor for his portrayal of the Kray twins. 

The actor spoke highly about his experience with Helgeland’s project, “It was a good challenge. I really enjoyed it. [Director] Brian Helgeland’s awesome, and everyone in it is awesome. It’s a really cool project.”

He also explained, “The two characters, they were pretty easy to slip between. The complicated part was to make an audience believe it wasn’t one performer doing both parts.”

8. The Dark Knight Rises (Christopher Nolan – 2012)

Hardy established his legacy in the illustrious pantheon of Batman villains with his portrayal of Bane in Christopher Nolan’s final instalment to the Batman trilogy. Masked with a heavy leather respirator to hide a facial deformity, Bane leads an uprising of disaffected revolutionaries who have had enough of the status quo. Hardy manages to create a truly menacing on-screen presence.

Hardy opened up about what it’s like to work with Nolan, “There’s a distinct lack of ego when you work with Chris. It’s wonderful. So everybody plays to that environment which is very intimate and gentle…So it doesn’t feel like such a big– overwhelmingly big—experience, which it is.”

7. Warrior (Gavin O’Connor – 2011)

Hardy stars as Tommy, an Iraq war veteran who returns home to Philadelphia to train in MMA with his alcoholic father (played by Nick Nolte). Dealing with sibling rivalries as well as the evils of addiction, Hardy delivers a charismatic performance in O’Connor’s gritty action drama.

“No, because that’s where I come from, that kind of background,” Hardy said. “That was me doing the bit I’ve done years of training on already. I’m not being flippant, genuinely, that the whole addiction, abuse storyline was not a shock, and not far from home.

“Living with addiction isn’t something that’s difficult for me to access. I’m nine or ten years sober, anyway, so it’s not a long, long way from my last drink. But I know people who’ve died, so that’s a territory I feel responsible for being a part of.”

6. Inception (Christopher Nolan – 2010)

Nolan’s 2010 sci-fi action thriller revolves around a group of dream terrorists, led by Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio), who invade their target’s subconscious and rummage around for the secrets they are looking for. Hardy is Cobb’s crew member Eames, whose specializes in shape-shifting identity theft. This role was a unique departure from the kind of roles Hardy was used to at that time.  

Hardy commented, “When you receive a script like Inception, it’s always pretty complicated on the page because it’s a lot of narrative. It’s a lot of interaction with characters. It’s a lot that you have to get right and you basically sink into it. That’s the complicated work.

“Especially when it belongs to somebody like Chris Nolan who is so prolifically brilliant in our world. He’s someone we all want to work with. He’s probably the best director we’ve got in the West.”

5. The Drop (Michaël R. Roskam – 2014)

Based on a story by Dennis Lehane, Hardy plays an ordinary guy called Bob, who works in a bar owned by his cousin Marv (played by James Gandolfini). For what is probably his most conventionally heroic role, Hardy earned a nomination as Best Actor from the London Critics Circle.

While speaking about his co-stars, Hardy said, “We’re kindred spirits I think — Noomi, Matthias [Schoenaerts], even Jimmy [James Gandolfini]. Jimmy loved the craft; he loved acting and the work.

“That’s a certain type of person who will do anything to achieve the best in themselves and in the team. A working partner is somebody you have to trust implicitly and complicity.”

4. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (Tomas Alfredson – 2011)

Although John Le Carré’s intelligence thrillers do not have the romanticism of Bond films, Hardy’s character Ricki Tarr bears a striking resemblance to 007. Dressed in a reddish-blonde wig for the role, Hardy is almost unrecognisable but pulls it off with a consistently engaging performance.

The actor said, “[Tomas Alfredson] truly has a vision which, for an actor, is very rare to meet a director like that unless you’re very fortunate. It takes an abundance of effort off your shoulders. The only trouble I had through any of it was sitting opposite Gary Oldman and trying to not watch him while I was trying to do my work because I was fascinated by him doing his.”

3. Locke (Steven Knight – 2014)

Hardy shines in the spotlight as Ivan Locke, successful construction manager whose entire life turns upside down when he receives a phone call. Almost all of the narrative is driven through phone calls and the result is an intimate and intense psychological journey. Hardy won the Los Angeles Film Critics’ Award as Best Actor for his fantastic performance.

“It’s relatable to so many people in a way that another genre or film wouldn’t be,” Hardy said. “If you go with it, you will be taken on a journey. Ultimately that’s what a film should be: going on a journey while you’re watching.”

2. Mad Max: Fury Road (George Miller – 2015)

In George Miller’s acclaimed follow-up to the original Mad Max series, Hardy plays a drifter who teams up with a group of fiercely independent women (led by Charlize Theron) as they flee from their tyrannical leader. The film won six Oscars out of ten nominations and Hardy picked up a Critics’ Choice Movie Award for Best Actor in an Action Movie.

Hardy reflected, “I hadn’t done that much action at that time, certainly not with this level of involvement. The nature and sheer scale and volume of action set pieces was unlike anything I had experienced.”

At a news conference at Cannes, the actor apologised to Miller for the times he felt frustrated during the shoot: “There is no way George could’ve explained what he could see in the sand when we were out there. I knew he was brilliant, but I didn’t quite know how brilliant.”

1. The Revenant (Alejandro G. Iñárritu – 2015)

Although Iñárritu’s 2015 epic is mostly remembered as the film that finally won Leonardo DiCaprio an Oscar for Best Actor, it also features a stunning performance from Tom Hardy as John Fitzgerald, a vicious trapper who is challenging DiCaprio’s character. The role earned him an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor.

Hardy had this to say about his character, “There’s a lot of things going on in John Fitzgerald, but I think his most heinous crime comes in two parts. One is the actual killing of the boy, and the second part is the burying of Hugh Glass. I don’t know why he didn’t kill Hugh Glass.”

He added, “Maybe he didn’t have time. I don’t know why he didn’t kill Bridger. There was an opportunity to do that, and he didn’t, but if he had, it would’ve made him a very different character.”

Subscribe to our newsletter
Delivering curated content