In just over a decade of screen performances, Adam Driver has cemented himself as one of American cinema's most reliable leading men. He's worked with many of the most iconic and innovative directors in Hollywood — including Martin Scorsese, Spike Lee, Ridley Scott, Jim Jarmusch, Noah Baumbach, and Steven Soderbergh — and shows no signs of slowing down, as collaborations with Francis Ford Coppola and Michael Mann are on the horizon.
His commanding stature, deep voice, and explosive screen presence make him equally fit to play atypical leading men, terrifying villains, and silly side characters. Driver can be funny, intimidating, and deeply empathetic — often within a single movie — and as he re-teams with Baumbach once again in the apocalyptic dark comedy White Noise, we look back on the multi-Oscar-nominated actor's best film roles.
In Paterson, Driver plays his gentlest character to date in Jim Jarmusch's quiet meditation on the beauty of everyday life. His character, a bus driver named Paterson in the New Jersey city of the same name, is an aspiring poet, converting mundane experiences into fragments of artistic expression as he scribbles in his notebook on lunch breaks.
Extended scenes of silent observation don't sound dramatically compelling on paper, but Driver watches and listens to the world around him with such kindness and careful attention that his very presence in a room somehow feels noble and important. He's an actor known for his explosiveness, but he's never been more restrained than he is here.
If you liked Paterson, you might also enjoy: Columbus (2017)
<i>Marriage Story</i> (2019)
Driver has worked with Noah Baumbach more than any other filmmaker — he has small roles in Frances Ha and The Meyerowitz Stories and a significant supporting part in While We're Young. However, their most notable collaboration, based in part on Baumbach's divorce, spawned memes aplenty and an Oscar nomination for one of Driver's most nuanced performances. His character Charlie is a narcissistic theater director who cares more about his work than his family, which naturally makes us sympathize with his wife Nicole (Scarlett Johansson) when she begins divorce proceedings. But Charlie isn't totally checked-out — Driver imbues him with a certain charm and magnetism from the very beginning, and though his efforts to maintain a healthy relationship are scattered, they feel genuine nonetheless.
As Marriage Story progresses, we spend more time with Charlie and discover that he's even more complicated and conflicted than we first assume: his raw anger makes him a frightening partner and boss, but his vulnerability and pain create a tenuous sense of sympathy despite his cruelty. We understand how he got into his unenviable situation, but we still pity his place there.
If you liked Marriage Story, you might also enjoy: The Squid and the Whale (2005)
Spike Lee's troubling crime dramedy BlacKkKlansman asks Driver to give a performance within a performance, where he must play a relatively nice guy pretending to be a racist monster. When Black police officer Ron Stallworth (John David Washington) connects with local members of the Ku Klux Klan over the phone, he accidentally gives them his real name, which means his coworker Flip Zimmerman (Driver) must pose as Stallworth in face-to-face meetings.
He has to be convincing enough that the other Klansmen believe his false persona, but stiff enough to create dramatic tension for the audience that knows he's putting on a facade — if he were 100% natural playing Stallworth, there wouldn't be much worthwhile conflict because we'd have no reason to worry about him. Driver fills his layered performance with verbal and physical discomfort so that all his infiltration scenes feel a little forced and over-the-top, but still maintains enough composure that the antagonists can believably overlook his deception.
If you liked BlacKkKlansman, you might also enjoy: Da 5 Bloods (2020)
<i>Star Wars: The Last Jedi</i> (2017)
Driver is wonderful as Kylo Ren in all three of Disney/Lucasfilm's Star Wars sequels, as the movies channel his brooding physique and unpredictable temperament into one of the most enticing villains of the last decade. His most electrifying performance comes in the middle chapter, The Last Jedi. He's more morally gray and conflicted than we're used to seeing in Star Wars characters, which is part of what makes this installment such a unique piece of the Star Wars tapestry.
Kylo is pulled between the light and dark sides of the Force, and Driver's anguish and fury makes the tension between the two sides seem torturous and lonely. It seems as though he and Rey (Daisy Ridley) could conceivably start their own neutral order of Force users that rejects the light/dark binary of their predecessors — and their bizarrely stirring sense of chemistry makes you want them to do it against your better judgment. The duo's thrilling action sequence in the throne room gives a rare glimpse of Driver as an action star, as he swings his lightsaber with a chaotic brutality that's noticeably distinct from the usual precision of a Jedi.
If you liked Star Wars: The Last Jedi, you might also enjoy: Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015)
One of Driver's most despicable characters is his self-absorbed stand-up comedian Henry McHenry in Leos Carax's bizarre musical. Henry is an abusive partner and an exploitative father, and the actor has no problem embodying him without an ounce of sympathy. He becomes more despicable with every subsequent scene, but you can't look away because you're so invested in his downfall.
Annette is the best showcase to date for Driver's musical talents — as he sings the haunting original songs by Sparks, it's clear that his voice isn't quite as refined as a professional singer or a Broadway star, but as he demonstrated in Marriage Story's karaoke scene, it's incredibly emotive and powerful, full of character and nuances that a more conventional vocalist might lack.
If you liked Annette, you might also enjoy: Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007)
In Martin Scorsese's harrowing historical drama Silence, the actor plays Francisco Garupe, a Jesuit priest who travels to Japan with Sebastião Rodrigues (Andrew Garfield) to find their mentor (Liam Neeson). Driver lost around 50 pounds and trained with a Jesuit priest to inform his performance.
Garfield and Driver bring tense complexity to the relationship between their characters — they frequently disagree about the right course of action, and they're constantly torn between desperation and resolve. But they also provide a sense of companionship and security for each other that's much more apparent when they're separated, allowing despair to settle in.
If you liked Silence, you might also enjoy: The Last Temptation of Christ (1988)
<i>What If?</i> (2013)
Also called The F Word internationally, Michael Dowse's lighthearted rom-com casts Driver as an enormous, goofy wingman to Daniel Radcliffe's romantic lead. It's the kind of doofus sidekick role you'd expect Jason Segel or Vince Vaughn to play, but much, much weirder — a character who belittles the protagonist and casually espouses romantic wisdom.
He's comically aggressive and totally unpredictable, randomly speaking Spanish, stroking his co-stars' faces, and bellowing lines like "I just had sex and I'm about to eat NACHOS" from the top of his lungs. He also has great oddball romantic chemistry with Mackenzie Davis, the movie's other chaotic sidekick.
If you liked What If?, you might also enjoy: Always Be My Maybe (2019)
<i>The Last Duel</i> (2021)
In 2021, the actor starred in two ensemble movies directed by Ridley Scott, and though House of Gucci was the bigger commercial success, Driver's performance in The Last Duel is the stronger of the two. In a historical epic full of awful medieval men, Driver's character is the worst of them all.
The movie is split into three distinct chapters from three different people's perspectives, and while some characters — like Matt Damon's Sir Jean de Carrouges — seem dramatically different depending on the eyes through which we see them, Driver ensures that every iteration of his intimidating and forceful squire is totally without remorse. Even though the middle section of the movie from his perspective, it still depicts his central act of sexual violence to be graphic, disturbing, and cruel.
If you liked The Last Duel, you might also enjoy: Braveheart (1995)
<i>Inside Llewyn Davis</i> (2013)
Before they appeared together in the Star Wars sequel trilogy, Driver and Oscar Isaac first shared the screen in the Coen brothers' heartbreaking folk saga. He's only in a few scenes, but Driver is one of the major comedic highlights of Inside Llewyn Davis.
As Al Cody, he gives a ridiculous vocal performance in the studio with the film's namesake (Isaac) and Jim Berkey (Justin Timberlake) as they perform a novelty song about space travel. The scene takes full advantage of Driver's booming, throaty voice and amplifies it to cartoonish extremes as he ad-libs outer space gobbledygook and makes sci-fi sound effects.
If you liked Inside Llewyn Davis, you might also enjoy: Frances Ha (2012)
<i>While We're Young</i> (2014)
Driver is the embodiment of 2010s Brooklyn millennial snobbery in Noah Baumbach's charming dramedy. His character embraces an offbeat, out-of-reach new lifestyle that the older protagonists (Ben Stiller and Naomi Watts) attempt to capture for themselves by befriending him and his partner (Amanda Seyfried).
As the film progresses, however, Driver reveals himself to be much more unappealing and immature than they see at first glance. This is a tricky balance because his performance doesn't really change as the movie goes on — Driver remains consistent and strange throughout, and the character just becomes more obviously annoying as the other characters react to him more critically.
If you liked While We're Young, you might also enjoy: The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected (2017)
<i>Logan Lucky</i> (2017)
One of Driver's most transformative supporting performances is In Steven Soderbergh's return to the heist genre, lovingly nicknamed "Ocean's 7-11." Aside from his prosthetic arm, Driver doesn't look any different from his other characters — long hair, imposing physique, lots of hats — but his temperament is so distinct from his other performances that you're likely to forget you're watching an Adam Driver movie.
The actor adopts a Southern drawl to play Clyde Logan, an Iraq War vet who robs the Charlotte Motor Speedway with his brother Jimmy (Channing Tatum). He's a character defined by comic misfortune, which the actor emphasizes with tangible irritation and occasional dismay. Driver uses a uniquely slow vocal cadence and constant visible frustration to craft a funny supporting character who's much more than meets the eye — closer to characters played by Billy Bob Thornton and Tim Blake Nelson than the actor's typical roles.
If you liked Logan Lucky, you might also enjoy: Ocean's Eleven (2001)
<i>The Dead Don't Die</i> (2019)
Driver re-teamed with Jim Jarmusch for this offbeat horror-comedy about the zombie apocalypse encroaching on a small town. He plays a quiet, quirky police officer who's laughably unfazed by the zombie apocalypse as it unfolds around him and the chief (Bill Murray).
Rather than taking significant action, Driver's character just constantly repeats the refrain "this is all gonna end badly," but delivers nearly every line with the same deadpan tranquility that suggests he doesn't really care. He seems like he's thinking about something else that he never reveals, and probably has no interest in sharing, anyway.
If you liked The Dead Don't Die, you might also enjoy: Shaun of the Dead (2004)
<i>The Report</i> (2019)
In Scott Z. Burns' political thriller The Report, Driver plays a Congressional staffer who's obsessive, awkward, and really good at his job. He stumbles over basic small talk interactions without being overly showy — it's just clear that he values his work far more than anything personal because work quickly becomes personal.
The whole movie is about how traumatic human rights violations are somehow converted into paperwork and impersonally approved and carried out by bureaucracy. Driver's character's passion, though, puts him in direct opposition to the supposed neutrality that the job requires — and also makes him one of the only morally upstanding characters in the entire piece.
If you liked The Report, you might also enjoy: All the President's Men (1976)
Driver has a significant supporting role in this Australian drama, inspired by the true story of Robyn Davidson's nine-month camelback trek across Australia. Mia Wasikowka plays the determined, standoffish lead role, and Driver portrays a National Geographic photojournalist who helps document her travels.
His character is neurotic but friendly, and has more of an aw-shucks everyman quality than Driver's later roles. The actor employs a ton of stammering and smiling to solidify his awkward yet sunny disposition, which ultimately serves as a sharp contrast to Robyn's cold introversion.
If you liked Tracks, you might also enjoy: Nomadland (2020)
<i>The Man Who Killed Don Quixote</i> (2018)
Terry Gilliam spent nearly 30 years trying to make his long-awaited Don Quixote movie, which combines elements from Miguel de Cervantes' novel with a story about modern film production. Johnny Depp, Ewan McGregor, Robert Duvall, and John Hurt were each attached at various points, but it was finally produced with Jonathan Pryce as Quixote and Driver as Toby, the filmmaker at the center of the story. Like the actor's characters in Marriage Story and Annette, Toby is a self-centered artist whose narcissism comes back to haunt him.
Unlike Driver's other characters, however, Toby slowly loses his grip on reality and radically transforms as the film progresses. As in many of his other projects, Gilliam asks his lead actor to move between mania, paranoia, and hedonism, and Driver delivers, slipping into song and a different accent as his character unravels.
If you liked The Man Who Killed Don Quixote, you might also enjoy: The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus (2009)