Our guide to Oscar Isaac’s best performances

Oscar Isaacs Duke
Image via Legendary Pictures

He starred in a fan-favorite Sci-fi epic, an indie critical darling, and is already set to reprise his role as Miguel O’Hara, aka Spider-Man 2099 in Sony/Marvel’s Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse (Part One), as well as starring in and producing his own Marvel/Disney Plus streaming series, Moon Knight this March.

It is safe to say that Oscar Isaac has been having a good couple of years. Decade, really. Here are some of his best performances.

Inside Lewyn Davis

Isaac already had a fair amount of minor and supporting roles before turning in his titular performance as Davis in this Cohen Bros. helmed dramatic comedy, but this was inarguably the movie that brought him his first real critical notice as a leading man. For his portrayal of Davis, a talented yet unknown folksinger struggling in Greenwich Village’s early 1960s music scene, Isaac received his first Golden Globe nod. The film won the Grand Prix at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival.

Ex Machina

Isaac’s performance as Ex Machina‘s charismatic and manipulative CEO, Nathan Hamlet Bateman, won him critical accolades and more indie cred. A great example of cinematic hard sci-fi, the film presaged a lot of the work Isaac would be associated with over the next few years. Plus, those dance moves.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Although one could certainly make the argument that Isaac’s Poe Dameron was underutilized in the latest installment of trilogies, that didn’t keep Isaac from throwing himself into the role every time he was onscreen. He certainly makes the most of it in The Force Awakens during his escape sequence with John Boyega’s Finn. While the series didn’t go on to mine the chemistry, they established it certainly exposed Isaac to the biggest audience of his career yet.

Annihilation

Isaac would pivot back to harder sci-fi fare with 2018’s Annihilation, reuniting with Ex Machina director Alex Garland. Isaac adds high-intensity emotional stakes to the movie as the husband of star Natalie Portman. Or is he? Annihilation is a massive brain teaser of a movie switching between extremes of body horror to Arthur C. Clarke level questioning of the very meaning of humanity and our relationship with our planet.

Scenes From a Marriage

In 2021, Oscar Isaac and his A Most Violent Year co-star and former Julliard classmate Jessica Chastain re-teamed to star in Scenes From a Marriage, a remake of famed director Ingmar Bergman’s acclaimed 1973 Swedish miniseries. Made for HBO, the story follows the dissolution of a marriage over the course of its five episodes with an unflinching gaze. Though often grueling, Isaac’s performance was lauded by critics, and his chemistry with Chastain is undeniably electric.

The Card Counter

The Card Counter may be the best movie you never saw last year. The Paul Schrader helmed indie film was released to little fanfare last year, but many are touting it, and Isaac’s performance in particular as Oscar-worthy. In his Hollywood Reporter review of the film, critic David Rooney calls Isaac a “remarkably compelling force” and describes his portrayal of William Tell, the titular card counter, “an intense performance with the dangerous magnetism of Al Pacino in his early Michael Corleone days.”

Dune

It goes without saying that Isaac’s performance as Duke Leto Atreides in Dune was one of the major selling points of the movie. He’s ended up in promotional shots of the film almost as often or more as his co-stars Timothee Chalamet, Zendaya, and Jason Momoa. Isaac himself lobbied Director Denis Villeneuve for a role in the film as he was a fan of the books. Isaac slid into the role after Jürgen Prochnow and William Hurt’s turns as the character, but in his own inimitable way, Isaac makes the Duke as much his character as any of the other performances on this list.

Fans can see Oscar Isaac in Disney Plus’s Moon Knight beginning March 30.