Hugh Jackman’s 5 Best Roles

the wolverine 2 hugh jackman 600x399 Hugh Jackmans 5 Best Roles

Like Wolverine, Hugh Jackman is himself a bit of a strange animal. At times it seems like he’s been fashioned in a laboratory, designed by engineers looking to make the most perfect modern-day star performer possible. He sings, dances, acts, is funny and presumably a nice guy. Oh, and he can also can kick ass. He’s routinely tremendous in pretty much everything he does these days. It’s as if he’s so seemingly perfect that part of us want to see him really mess something up to reassure ourselves that he is human and fallible like the rest of us. He’s almost so perfect that it’s boring. You know? The person who does everything right can get dull.

With the exception of work in the likes of Movie 43 and Real Steel, minor, forgettable pieces of work in which he was certainly not the reason they weren’t great, Jackman is the type of actor who clearly puts a ton of work into his characters but not quite so much that it looks like he’s working really hard when he’s playing them. He balances this work out with what seems like a natural charisma and showmanship that results in the type of magnetism that separates star actors from character actors. It’s why he initially stole the show in X-Men from the first time we encountered him as Wolverine, to the point where he has spawned two solo movies including the newly released The Wolverine.

Looking at his filmography, it also feels as though he’s just beginning to get going when it comes to movies. Here are the 5 of the best roles Hugh Jackman has inhabited on screen for us so far.

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5) Australia

Australia Hugh Jackmans 5 Best Roles

In a movie that is perhaps a tad overlong and a smidge underinteresting, Hugh Jackman is very likely the most enjoyable part of it. I’ve read that it was director Baz Luhrmann’s attempt at making a version of Gone With the Wind set in his native country and so it borrows the romanticized and drawn out style of that era. It’s a gorgeous-looking bit of filmmaking that pays tribute to the Australian terrain, making it as beautiful as the American west was in the Western era of film history, and with this aim at capturing an era of cinema, it tends to fall into the clichés we associate with classic movies.

The role Jackman ended up playing was apparently going to go to Russell Crowe initially, surely a bullet dodged; Crowe is quite good in the understated work that brought him to fame in the 90s and 2000s, quiet stuff relying on the subtle expression of deep emotion and immense restraint and all that, but a movie that’s meant to mimic the cinema of classic Hollywood is much better served by a showman like Jackman, who resembles one of those classic, clean-cut and always-on stars of those days. And he ends up playing the throwback cattleman with charm and wit, as one would expect.

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4) The Prestige

The Prestige Hugh Jackmans 5 Best Roles

So back in 2006 there were these two rising stars named Hugh Jackman and Christian Bale, and it pains me to admit that at first I could never remember which one was which. But god bless Christopher Nolan’s heart: this movie set me straight once and for all, pitting the two against each other in a story of duality and deceit. They’re meant to work in tandem, as a sort of visualized duality, whose stories parallel each other but for small but meaningful divergences and whose paths cannot help but continue to cross. Being a Christopher Nolan movie, this is naturally revealed through a series of winding roads and layers of detail that we don’t fully come to understand until the conclusion, and maybe not even until the second or third time watching.

The rivalry between the magicians depicted by Jackman and Bale drives the movie, a competition that is never all that friendly, but the contrast between the two characters, especially as more and more gets revealed about the two of them, is nicely and subtly handled by the actors. Both are quite likable, but it’s Jackman who garners more sympathy as the underdog, continually one step behind his opponent, and becoming more and more desperate to beat him at his own game. It speaks to the inherent qualities these two actors possess, specifically Jackman, who even though it’s clear that he can do virtually everything, is entirely convincing and compelling as the can’t-catch-a-break type. That is to say, it’s hard to imagine him playing up the sleaze the way Bale can.

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3) Wolverine

Wolverine Hugh Jackmans 5 Best Roles

Even when he’s sporting his mutton chops, Jackman doesn’t do away with his acting chops. He is the reigning champ when it comes to playing a superhero the highest number of times—a role he has revisited five more times since his debut in X-Men in 2000. At this point it’s nearly impossible to imagine the character of Wolverine being played by anyone else. Wolverine and Hugh Jackman go hand in hand, so much so that he couldn’t help but sing about it when he hosted the Oscars. He’s to Wolverine what Sean Connery once was (and to many, still is) to James Bond.

Unlike Connery and Bond, Wolverine’s appeal is less in his masculine smoothness than in an intense longing for independence and personal identity as well as order and fairness and honor and justice, in his own way. And so it’s impressive that Hugh Jackman, the musical theater star who seems so personable and pleasant in real life, can make the grouchy, grunting (and often screaming) loner both believable and sympathetic, albeit maybe a little too tall, whatevs. He makes him something of an anti-hero or at least a punk rock, stick-it-to-the-man type of hero, pissed at the hand he’s been dealt but determined to make the most of it. It’s what makes his cameo in X-Men: First Class so perfect: he’d rather be sitting alone in a bar with his glass and cigar. But at the same time Jackman’s demeanor never truly allows you to doubt that when he’s really needed, he’ll be there.

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2) The Fountain

The Fountain1 Hugh Jackmans 5 Best Roles

I’m going to go out on a limb and say that The Fountain is probably the most poetic, avant garde, and ambitious film Hugh Jackman has ever starred in. While Les Misérables spans a couple of generations, The Fountain spans three millennia. It also marked a bit of a crazy year for Jackman—in 2006 he was featured in a total of six films: The Fountain, The Prestige, X-Men: The Last Stand, Scoop, Flushed Away and Happy Feet. So if he was at one time an unknown commodity to movie audiences, this was the year that changed all that once and for all.

The only way this movie works emotionally, and it’s a very emotionally-driven impressionistic movie, is if we believe and invest in its central love story between the Jackman character and the one played equally wonderfully by Rachel Weisz. It’s his character, though, that is the focus of the film; it’s through him that we’re meant to try to deal with the death of a loved one, and the lengths to which we’ll go to try to reverse or prolong the inevitable. That makes the entire movie dependent on a quality that Jackman possesses which is difficult to pinpoint, but it’s just a seemingly genuine earnestness contained in every gesture and feeling that instantly makes his quest our quest. In an empathetic medium like film, being able to harness that inherent quality and manipulate one’s own emotions to move an audience is a simple act on paper but a profound one when depicted on screen in service of a story, especially one as abstract and centered on feelings as The Fountain is. Until last year, this was Hugh Jackman at his very best.

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1) Les Misérables

Les Miserables8 Hugh Jackmans 5 Best Roles

It was nice to see Jackman receive an Academy Award nomination for his portrayal of Jean Valjean in Les Misérables not just because he did a fantastic job capturing the character but because it was a role that came with a lot of cultural baggage in the form of people’s almost impossible-to-meet expectations. It’s one of those stories whose source material holds such an emotional place in a lot of people’s lives that any attempt to put a new face to the name and history of a character is nearly doomed from the start. Which is all to say that it’s a role that comes with a fairly high degree of difficulty, and the fact that he was regarded by most as a capable, even excellent choice for the part, speaks volumes. But he succeeds precisely because of his aforementioned earnestness and his ability to genuinely emote, essentially qualities of the Valjean character. His opening sung monologue in the church is too strong for viewers to continue to deny that he doesn’t fit the part; he plays it as though it was written specifically for him.

Though his list of movie credits remains relatively short, it’s clear that Hugh Jackman has the kind of staying star power that ensures the type of longevity enjoyed by the most beloved entertainers ever to grace the screen. He’s just so damn likeable. And that doesn’t appear as though it will be changing any time soon. What’s most impressive though is that he doesn’t just use this innate agreeability to advance a bunch of straightforward hero roles. His resumé shows that he’s capable of embodying a variety of characters, usually complicated and flawed and not always completely pleasant, but he also has too much of that ‘it’ factor to not be on center stage in a story. It’s simply where he belongs.

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  • jessied44

    You should have made the “bad” films Butter and Movie 43 as films so bad that even Hugh’s acting talents couldn’t save them, but he was actually good at what was required. Real Steel was a totally entertaining “family” film with a nice story arc if not on the level of the ones you chose. I can do a love/hate rant on “Australia” for several minutes because Luhrmann managed to turn what could have been a magnificent epic into a sloppy mess, but it isn’t the fault of the cast, the country, or the history. Les Mis is the top (so far) and I will maintain forever that the only reason Jackman doesn’t have gold is that DDL released a picture in the same year and besotted voters couldn’t see past that to the real winner.

  • AnneBridget

    Love this list. Count me as another The Fountain fan and his role in The prestige was just impecable. One the reasons I noticed is that he made me care for Wolverine who I cannot stand. I knew he was a great actor when he pulled that one on me. Here is for more success for Mr Jackman. :)

  • ryan

    two of my favourite movies are the prestige and the fountain.. asides from the story telling and emotions from the two films that the two amazing writers and directors created.. deep down I think jackman is the reason they are so great. im sure he will continue to amaze.. cant wait to see what he does next. great list!