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ryan gosling movie roles

Design by Maitane Romagosa for Thrillist

Like Brad Pitt and Jake Gyllenhaal, Ryan Gosling is a character actor in the body of a Hollywood hunk. He’s one of the best-looking men around, as beautiful as Robert Redford or Paul Newman before him. But he’s also a weirdo with an eccentric muscle he only sometimes gets to flex. That’s what happens when you start out on The Mickey Mouse Club, graduate to Young Hercules, and make a name off of The Notebook. In the years since, Gosling has struck a nice balance between indie misfit and mainstream sweetheart, which includes two Oscar nominations and one of the 2010s’ best Saturday Night Live sketches. His role as Ken in Greta Gerwig’s Barbie movie is already among next summer’s most exciting cultural events. For now, he’s appearing in something a bit less exciting: The Gray Man, a hollow action tentpole—the most expensive Netflix movie yet—that places him alongside Chris Evans, Regé-Jean Page, and Ana de Armas. You won’t find it on this list, but we are ranking Gosling’s finest films nonetheless.

lost river
Warner Bros. Pictures

19. Lost River (2014)

The directorial debuts of famous performers are often pre-judged as “vanity projects,” dismissed as monuments to actorly ego before the credits even roll, and Gosling’s first outing as a filmmaker certainly fits the description. To some viewers, Lost River will come off as self-indulgent: In telling this Detroit-set story of a troubled teenager (Iain De Caestecker) and his single mother (Christina Hendricks), Gosling lifts liberally from the arthouse playbook of his collaborators Derek Cianfrance and Nicolas Winding Refn. He doesn’t quite nail either approach, mistaking obscurity for profundity, and the movie drifts from one potentially visually potent sequence to another with little narrative drive or psychological nuance. But there are some powerful images in here that make it worth seeking out as a document of Gosling’s potential if he ever decides to return to the director’s chair in the future. —Dan Jackson

ides of march, ryan gosling
Columbia Pictures

18. The Ides of March (2011)

With such a stacked cast—Clooney, Giamatti, Tomei—it’s a shame that this Gosling-starring political drama runs pretty cold. The story about a young, promising campaign manager for a future Democratic president could be compelling. But an awful misogynistic side plot with Evan Rachel Woods’ character all but makes that fall apart. Even with Gosling’s strong performance at the center, this excavation of the dirty world of politics falls very flat. —Kerensa Cadenas

ryan gosling in only god forgives
Radius TWC

17. Only God Forgives (2013)

Following the success of Drive, which caught on as a legitimate arthouse crossover hit in 2011, Gosling reunited with filmmaker Nicolas Winding Refn for this grim, punishing underworld odyssey through Bangkok. Where Drive used synth-kissed ambiance to smooth down its rough edges, Only God Forgives, which comes from an original script by Refn and arrives with a dedication to cult filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky, is a harsher, hyper-violent hang. As a nearly mute criminal named Julian, Gosling does a lot of nodding, grunting, punching, and observing the cosmic cruelty of the universe. He often feels oddly numb in a movie that pummels you with its fatalistic worldview, with only the occasional striking shot or well-staged sequence breaking through the monotony of Refn’s musings on vengeance. —DJ

murder by numbers, ryan gosling
Warner Bros. Pictures

16. Murder by Numbers (2002)

Before Gosling became one of the aughts’ primo heartthrobs when The Notebook took everyone’s libidos by storm in 2004, he went toe to toe with Sandra Bullock in Murder by Numbers. Gosling’s brooding charms are used for evil, as he plays a high school student who is accused of murdering a woman with another classmate (Michael Pitt). This ’90s-esque thriller played around with all the aspects that make Gosling the star he is today. —KC

the notebook
New Line

15. The Notebook (2004)

Ah yes, the rain-soaked kiss that started it all. Nick Cassavetes’ weepy based on the Nicholas Sparks novel took Gosling from bit player to major Hollywood star, and it’s easy to see why. Wooing Rachel McAdams, who he would also date off-screen, he has an earnest sparkle that can melt even the most cynical of hearts. It more than makes up for his attempt at a Southern accent. (Ryan, we know you’re Canadian.) But, of course, it’s his water-logged dramatic moment that seals the deal. This is a movie star, able to sell the corniest of moments with lived-in emotion. —Esther Zuckerman

all good things
Magnolia Pictures

14. All Good Things (2010)

In 2022, it’s hard to separate the strength of the performances of All Good Things‘ legitimately stacked cast—Gosling in the lead, Kirsten Dunst as his wife, Frank Langella, Lily Rabe, Kristen Wiig, Phillip Baker Hall, etc.—from the grander frustrations of the movie itself, like why we’d want to watch a true-crime dramatization of Robert Durst’s exploits from being a young man under his powerful New York real estate father’s son to a thrice murderer who got away with it. (Alas, this was years before The Jinx.) Yes, Gosling is chilling as Durst’s fictionalized counterpart David Marks, but the structure reveal about halfway through the movie—that this is all being recounted during a present-day court testimony—sinks the remainder of it. (And that’s ignoring the aging prosthetics.) Nobody needs to spend all of this time with such a loathsome man, regardless of how good Gosling is. —Leanne Butkovic

the place beyond the pines
Focus Features

13. The Place Beyond the Pines (2012)

At first, The Place Beyond the Pines is about a stunt motorcyclist with nothing to lose, seemingly resembling another Gosling vehicle, Drive, released one year earlier. But where Drive veers into an action-movie lane and the actor remains stoic even as he’s on an emotional mission, The Place Beyond the Pines is more of a quiet, tense character study. In his second film with writer-director Derek Cianfrance (Blue Valentine), Gosling gives a complex performance as a young, directionless father unfurling when he learns that a woman (Eva Mendes) gave birth to his son a year ago. His masculine instinct to provide kicks in and compels him to rob banks for his new family. While the film plays with structure and eventually focuses on the ambitious cop (Bradley Cooper) obsessed with taking him down, Gosling’s striking presence (that bleach-blond hair and those tattoos included!) haunts the latter half. —Sadie Bell

song to song
Broad Green Pictures

12. Song to Song (2017)

Gosling can do comedy and melodrama just fine, but the cinema shines especially bright when he is brooding and enigmatic. That makes him an ideal fit for a Terrence Malick movie. Song to Song is one of the director’s sweeter puzzles, casting Rooney Mara as a budding musician hoping to land a record contract from a wealthy producer (Michael Fassbender) who toys with her emotions. Her meet-cute with another of the producer’s clients (Gosling) prompts a messy love triangle swirling against the backdrop of the rowdy Austin music scene. Gosling speaks in his quieter register, a quality he sometimes deploys that amps up his mysteriousness. But when he looks at Mara, we see nothing but affection—the gaze of a Hollywood hunk who has layers a more conventional romance might ignore. —Matthew Jacobs

lars and the real girl
MGM

11. Lars and the Real Girl (2007)

With hindsight, it’d be easy to lump Lars into the larger body of “quirky indie dramedies” that came out in the mid-to-late aughts whose tweeness has aged poorly. The good news is that Craig Gillespie’s Pygmalion film holds up better than it maybe ought to, thanks to the empathetic script from Nancy Oliver, gentle performances from the ensemble cast, and of course Gosling’s commitment to his titular character who orders a silicone RealDoll and totes her around to family dinner and work parties as if she were alive. Gosling, taking a break from Hot Leading Man status to show off his range, brings immense pathos to the reclusive Lars, subconsciously processing a lifelong trauma through Bianca the doll while those around him—especially his pregnant sister-in-law Karin (Emily Mortimer) and therapist (Patricia Clarkson)—support his strange journey with care even as they struggle to understand why he’s doing it. With a single pained smile under a heavy mustache, Gosling communicates that he’s just trying his best. —LB

crazy stupid love
Warner Bros. Pictures

10. Crazy, Stupid, Love (2010)

Crazy, Stupid, Love is Gosling’s most “hey, girl” role to date. As the ultimate playboy Jacob—dressed to the nines, drinking old-fashions at stylish clubs, and getting women into bed with Dirty Dancing references—he’s a smarmy version of that 2010s meme incarnate, taking Steve Carell’s hapless, recently separated Cal under his womanizing wing. The lovable rom-com features a handful of interconnected stories about love and heartbreak, but Gosling’s rapport with Carell and eventual romance with frequent co-star Emma Stone’s lost-in-love Hannah are undeniably the best bits. As sleazy as he is, singles could take a few pointers by the sheercharisma dripping off his perfectly pressed lapel. Who else could pull off a move as silly as the Dirty Dancing lift and still make it charming? —SB

fracture movie
Warner Bros. Pictures

9. Fracture (2007)

Gosling thrives in roles as men under extraordinary pressure—from hiding secrets, repressing feelings, suppressing trauma, moral urges—until they one day crack, and his careerist ace prosecutor Willy Beachum in Fracture… well, it’s right there in the title. On his way out from the DA’s office to a cushy private gig, he’s handed what seems like a no-brainer murder case, but bungles it through a combination of his own carelessness and the cunning of the suspect Ted Crawford (Anthony Hopkins), who ends up being acquitted for killing his wife. (Their tête-à-têtes, with a Lecter-ian performance from Hopkins, are some of the most compelling scenes of the movie.) Stuck between wanting to get the fuck out of his current job and the vain urge to save his reputation, Gosling builds Willy’s frustration and weariness until his cup runneth over. —LB

the big short
Paramount Pictures

8. The Big Short (2015)

Like fellow Canadian hunk Ryan Reynolds, Gosling knows how to turn on the smarm when he needs to. In The Big Short, Anchorman director Adam McKay’s first foray into quasi-explainer-y political drama, Gosling is tasked with playing Jared Vennett, a tanned super-salesman for Deutsche Bank who walks the viewer through some of many tricky financial models and concepts that led to the 2007 housing crisis. Unsurprisingly, Gosling makes the jargon go down easy, using a Jenga tower to literalize the perilous economic situation and show how his associates can profit from it. “What’s that smell?” he asks. “I smell money.” It’s the type of rakish asshole role that the quintessential nice-guy actor doesn’t play often enough. —DJ

drive
FilmDistrict

7. Drive (2011) 

Before the scorpion jacket became a Halloween costume staple and its Cliff Martienz synth score got smeared across playlists, Drive was simply a movie. Assembled from spare parts of crime classics like Thief, Point Blank, and The Driver, Nicolas Winding Refn’s stylized thriller hummed with tension, intensity, and a touch of vulnerability courtesy of Gosling, who played the the nameless protagonist tasked serving as a getaway driver in a heist-gone-wrong. Refn’s steely minimalism, punctuated by bursts of grotesque violence, flirts with parody at times, which might explain why many now find their own past excitement for the movie a little embarrassing. Looking back, it feels like there’s not a lot there there. But Gosling’s performance, a balance of tough guy kitsch and genuine soulfulness, keeps this machine from bursting into flames. —DJ

la la land
Lionsgate

6. La La Land (2016)

In some ways, what director Damian Chazelle asked Gosling to do in the much-debated La La Land was to return to his roots. The song-and-dance talents he honed on The Mickey Mouse Club were resuscitated, along with the heartthrob that he occasionally sidelined for more intensely off-putting parts. It’s a potent combination in Chazelle’s meticulous tribute to his Golden Age and New Wave musical loves, hampered only by the fact that Gosling’s Sebastian is the most frustrating character on-screen. He’s swoony, but he’s also the white guy who loves jazz maybe a little too much—a detail that Gosling seems to relish, making the romantic lead sort of a pill. At the same time, his chemistry with Emma Stone is unmatched. When they are together, it generates a star power that is rare for the 21st century. —EZ

blue valentine
The Weinstein Company

5. Blue Valentine (2010)

The most joyful scene in Blue Valentine is also an omen. Standing outside a formalwear boutique, Gosling grabs a ukulele and sings “You Always Hurt the One You Love” to his new beloved (Michelle Williams), an affected quiver in his voice. His character, Dean, is a high school dropout who works at a Brooklyn moving company, and when he falls for Williams’ aspiring doctor, he quickly agrees to help raise her baby. Thus begins a punch-drunk romance that sours into something a bit too punchy and a bit too drunken. Dean does hurt the one he loves, and Gosling handles each emotional gradation with a weary depth that evokes Marlon Brando. —MJ

first man
Universal Pictures

4. First Man (2018)

Gosling’s performance as the unflappably determined astronaut Neil Armstrong in Damien Chazelle’s elegiac drama First Man is nothing short of astounding, impossibly marrying the real Armstrong’s soft-spoken, unassuming presence with the larger-than-life conviction of the type of guy who is dead-set on being the first person to set foot on another world—at the cost of everything else. Instead of a movie about getting somewhere, First Man is about the act of leaving, who gets left, and the things that change when (if) you return, yourself forever changed. Gosling’s unflinching portrayal of Armstrong perturbed some audiences who were expecting a celebratory film about one of humanity’s greatest achievements, but its strength is in how honestly it understands and accepts that great men aren’t necessarily good people. —Emma Stefansky

blade runner 2049
Warner Bros. Pictures

3. Blade Runner 2049 (2017)

The very thought of a sequel to Ridley Scott’s sci-fi masterpiece Blade Runner seemed almost sacrilegious before Denis Villeneuve set all doubts aside with his melancholy, mournful Blade Runner 2049, following another detective/hitman on a metaphysical search for the meaning of humanity. Gosling plays K, a replicant tasked with hunting down runaway non-humans. In a similar fashion to the first movie, he learns a potentially paradigm-shifting piece of knowledge about the nature of fabricated life that could, if found out, change their futuristic society for good. Gosling is quiet as K, subdued and monosyllabic, finding comfort only in the virtual arms of a holographic companion (Ana de Armas) and looking out upon the action of the movie with a muted series of emotions that flit across his unreadable face. —ES

half nelson
THINKFilm

2. Half Nelson (2006)

After The Notebook made him a heartthrob, Half Nelson popularized the idea of Ryan Gosling the serious actor. It’s a rare “adult befriending a child” movie that doesn’t drown its potency in cliché. Gosling plays a Brooklyn middle-school history instructor who tries to keep a promising student (Shareeka Epps) away from the drugs that have inundated her neighborhood. The catch: He’s a cocaine addict himself. Half Nelson avoids white-savior downfalls by making neither protagonist the clear-cut guardian; each saves the other in different ways. Gosling’s croaky baritone works particularly well during his more frenzied drug sequences, but what makes the character memorable are his contradictions. Alone, he is sleepy and downtrodden; in the classroom, he is engaged and inventive. Can he reconcile those two halves? Gosling makes you want to find out. —MJ

the nices guys
Warner Bros. Pictures

1. The Nice Guys (2016)

Ryan Gosling is one of those people who is best described as “a weird guy trapped in a hot guy’s body,” his comedic ingenuity and masterful sense of timing only on display when he’s allowed to let a little loose. That’s exactly the kind of opportunity he gets in Shane Black’s uproarious murder-mystery/detective comedy, set smack dab in the heyday of the ’70s porn industry. Gosling dons a mustache and various printed button-down shirts to skulk around Los Angeles and square up against (and eventually alongside) a sweaty, trigger-happy Russell Crowe, the two private eyes bumbling their way through a murder investigation and generally trying not to get hit by any stray bullets. As single dad Holland March, Gosling flinches and shrieks his way from seedy location to seedy location, his hysteria rising so high in cadence that you almost can’t believe everything ends up working out in the end. —ES

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