Jake Gyllenhaal's 15 Best Performances (2023)

from the cult classicDonnie Darkofor topical gems likeambulance, Jake Gyllenhaal always delivers intense and emotional work. Here's EW's list of the actor's best performances.

VonWesley Stenzel Jan. 12, 2023 at 12:56 p.m. EST

From her breakout roles in early films likeOctober skyeDonnie Darko,Jake Gyllenhaalturned out to be one of the most versatile protagonists of his generation. As a villain, romantic or action star, the actor always brings intensity and passion to his best projects. He has starred in some of the 21st century's strongest thrillers such as:zodiaceEnemy, and has also created memorable characters in dramas, comedies, westerns and more.

Many of his roles feel remarkably natural, but Gyllenhaal isn't afraid to make big and unusual changes to his style, either, as can be seen in the larger-than-life, eccentric energy of his later performances. From the dedicated detective to the deranged zoologist, here are the best performances from Jake Gyllenhaal's wide and varied acting career.

OCTOBER SKY, Chris Owen, William Lee Scott, Jake Gyllenhaal, Chad Lindberg, 1999, (c)MCA/courtesy E

Jake Gyllenhaal's 15 Best Performances (1)

Credit: Everett Collection

October sky(1999)

A fresh-faced Gyllenhaal directs this wholesome historical drama about West Virginia high schoolers who build rockets in their backyard after being inspired by Sputnik and the early space race. The actor shows a genuine, dreamy wonder when he speaks or works on his experiments, and he manages to make silly scientific processes really fascinating.

On the other hand, he shows dejected dismay when his peers and mentors don't share his enthusiasm for technology, and seems heartbroken and resigned when trying to explore other career paths. It's an emotionally heavy breakthrough role for Gyllenhaal, then 17, who demonstrated his acting skills early in his career.

If you liked itOctober sky, you may also like:stay by my side(1986)

DONNIE DARKO, Jake Gyllenhaal, Jena Malone, „Frank“, 2001

Jake Gyllenhaal's 15 Best Performances (2)

Credit: Everett Collection

Donnie Darko(2001)

Cult classicDonnie Darkocasts Gyllenhaal in the central role of a grumpy teenager in a haze who is dealt with "emotional issues". He sleepwalks, attacks his parents, and smokes with his friends, but his rebellion seems a bit unnatural. Gyllenhaal makes the most of his character's surreal side as he slips into odd bouts of near-hypnosis, where he's totally detached from his surroundings only to suddenly become it. And while he does have insightful moments of sensitivity — speaking kindly to strangers, passionately participating in classroom discussions, and helping those in need — it's not enough to stop his spiral and take the viewer (and a sort of Virgil) with him.Hase namens Frank) down with it.

If you liked itDonnie Darko, you may also like:the suicide virgins(1999)

ADORABLE AND FANTASTIC, Jake Gyllenhaal, 2001

Jake Gyllenhaal's 15 Best Performances (3)

Adorable and amazing(2001)

Nicole Holofcenterthe dramatic comedyfollows a family of women in search of security and self-esteem. Michelle, played byKatharina Keener, rebels against her ruthless husband by flirting with her teenage colleague, played by Gyllenhaal. The actor strikes the perfect balance the character deserves — he's charming enough that you understand why Michelle would risk anything for an underage affair, yet young and innocent enough that their relationship still feels deeply uncomfortable. Genuine, kind, and a little silly, he tells his skeptical mother that "Michelle is my mistress". It's clear that he aspires to be taken seriously, but his natural naivety and doggy energy make that impossible unless he grows up a bit.

If you liked itAdorable and amazing, you may also like:You can count on me(2000)

Filmtitel: Brokeback Mountain

Jake Gyllenhaal's 15 Best Performances (4)

Credit: Kimberly French/Focus Features

Brokeback Mountain(2005)

o Lee's seminal neo-western casts Gyllenhaal asideHeath Ledgeras two hardy cowboys who share a passionate summer romance with lasting consequences.Brokeback Mountainmakes great use of Gyllenhaal's inherent romance, using his loving gaze at every possible moment as the outgoing Jack. His character begins as a carefree git who sings at the top of his lungs and hugs his lover Ennis (a muffled ledger) with no fear or confidence. Later, his idealism gives way to pain when a full-fledged relationship cannot materialize, and the actor naturally bursts into silent, reluctant tears when a lifelong lover loses the love of his life. In his final scenes, Gyllenhaal embodies heartbreak, effortlessly conveying anger and disappointment at his partner, his own pain, and the world that won't let them be together.

If you liked itBrokeback Mountain, you may also like:the power of the dog(2021)

Jake Gyllenhaal

Jake Gyllenhaal's 15 Best Performances (5)

Credit: Everett Collection


David Fincherfact-based crime thrillerzodiacIt's a fantastic display of all that Gyllenhaal has to offer. Like most of the actor's early roles, Robert Graysmith begins the film as a soft-spoken, soft-spoken character with a quiet but sweet demeanor that exudes naivety. In an editorial office full of seniorsChronicle of San FranciscoJournalists, Robert as a cartoonist gives him an outsider status that implicitly leads to wanting to protect him, and his inquisitive demeanor in solving the Zodiac Killer's cryptic codes is the stuff of the underdogs.

As the film progresses, his curiosity morphs into an obsession, meaning Robert transitions into the kind of character Gyllenhaal is drawn to later in his career - an intense, unstable eccentric who inspires discomfort wherever he goes. His wide-eyed gaze and quick deliveries suggest hyperfixation and paranoia, which makes sense given his closeness to a mysterious serial killer, but also alienates those around him as they work toward the common goal of uncovering the killer.

If you liked itzodiac, you may also like:Se7en(1995)

Brothers (2009) Jake Gyllenhaal

Jake Gyllenhaal's 15 Best Performances (6)

Credit: Lorey Sebastian/Lionsgate


No psychological family melodramabrothers, Gyllenhaal plays Tommy, an ex-con who takes care of his sister-in-law Grace (Natalie Portman) after his brother Sam (Tobey Maguire) disappears while deployed in Afghanistan. Tommy begins the film as a selfish, down-at-heel idiot whose smug carelessness annoys everyone around him. But when he bonds with Grace, her rough edges are ground down, and Gyllenhaal sells his transition to a warmer, kinder man who takes on tough responsibilities. It's a quick transformation, but the actor makes it feel natural and deserved, and you're fired up for him to win the film's complex relationship struggles when he's done.

If you liked itbrothers, you may also like:brothers(2004)

End of vigil Jake Gyllenhaal

Jake Gyllenhaal's 15 Best Performances (7)

Credit: Scott Garfield/Open Road

end of shift(2012)

Gyllenhaal plays a charming young police officer in this crime drama directed byDavid yesterday.end of shiftexplores the actor's brotherly chemistry with his co-starMichael shame, and their camaraderie feels so natural that it often feels completely improvised. Their playful banter paves the way for a real intimacy that's rare in American action movies, which makes it entirely believable that they would take the bullets for each other afterwards.

Gyllenhaal also has strong romantic chemistry with himAnna Kendrick— they flirt, hug, and even perform an elaborately choreographed dance to Salt-N-Pepa's "Push It." Adding to the film's authenticity is the fact that his character is filming a documentary about policing, which means that Gyllenhaal also serves as cinematographer in many key scenes in the film, requiring advanced coordination between his performance and his job as cinematographer.

If you liked itend of shift, you may also like:training day(2001)

Prisoners (2013) Alex (Paul Dano) is confronted by Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal).

Jake Gyllenhaal's 15 Best Performances (8)

Credit: Wilson Web/Warner Bros.


Denis Villeneuve's other 2013 thrillerprisonersalso stars Gyllenhaal, this time as Detective Loki, who searches for an angry and grieving father (Hugh Jackman) missing daughter. He starts off a bit gruff, eating alone in a restaurant on Thanksgiving, but is clearly passionate about his work and manages to remain calm and collected as he speaks (or at least tries to) speak Jackman's character from his worst impulses.

Loki's intense thirst for justice comes as no surprise as we see him bend the rules to follow his instincts while hunting suspects. Even if he's clearly over-invested in his work, Gyllenhaal gives our would-be hero an edge that helps him on the case - but at a somewhat unethical cost.

If you liked itprisoners, you may also like:missing girl(2014)

FEIND (2014) Jake Gyllenhaal

Jake Gyllenhaal's 15 Best Performances (9)

Photo credit: Caitlin Cronenberg/A24


Gyllenhaal creates an impressive double effort inDenis Villeneuvepsychological thrillerEnemy. Playing two identical-looking characters secretly investigating their mysterious doubles, it's always remarkably clear which version of Gyllenhaal is on screen at any given time. The main character, Adam, speaks in a shakier but gentler tone and has a slightly despondent demeanor, while Anthony, an actor, carries himself with a much more confident and pleasant demeanor. Adam is characterized by a slight insecurity and gentleness, while Anthony maintains a harder composure. Gyllenhaal never resorts to obvious signs or tricks to distinguish the characters from one another - their subtly differing dispositions are more than enough to make the difference clear - and both are fully realized roles in their own right.

If you liked itEnemy, you may also like:Storage(2000)


Jake Gyllenhaal's 15 Best Performances (10)

Credit: Chuck Zlotnick/Open Road Films


In this chilling thrillerDan Gilroy, Gyllenhaal plays Lou Bloom, an aspiring freelance video journalist who is so determined to capture criminal activity on film that he begins becoming dangerously involved in crime scenes.nocturnalGyllenhaal's anti-hero is by far Gyllenhaal's most disturbing role to date, as he is a collection of behaviors that seem more like an alien mimicking human patterns than a real person. He is manic, manipulative and willing to do anything to get a good story. Behind his bulging eyes hides a Death who lacks any empathy, so it's not surprising when he shows complete indifference to the people he insults and hurts - all for a chance to make money.

If you liked itnocturnal, you may also like:The king of comedy(1982)


Jake Gyllenhaal's 15 Best Performances (11)

Credit: Scott Garfield/TWC


No spoken dramaleft-handed, Gyllenhaal plays a character more gruff than his usual type. He aggressively speaks in a lower pitch than normal and spends much of the film bruising. The actor was in perfect shape to play the character of Billy Hope, a boxing champion whose family was torn apart, bringing raw intensity to every fight sequence in the film.

The tragic loss of his wife in an accident and his daughter to CPS fills him with anger and regret, and he lets it all out in the ring with a magnetic intensity that emanates from his performance. Gyllenhaal also manages to sway to a fatherly softness in scenes with his character's daughter, while maintaining the ever-present undercurrent of aggression.

If you liked itleft-handed, you may also like:Believe(2015)

Jake Gyllenhaal I Okja

Jake Gyllenhaal's 15 Best Performances (12)

Photo credit: Jae Hyuk Lee / Netflix


EmBong Joon-hodie bizarre Science-Fiction-Satireokja, Gyllenhaal plays an eccentric television personality who's like a mad Steve Irwin when the cameras are rolling and a messy cartoon character when they're not. A morally corrupt zoologist tasked with explaining (and kidnapping) the best "super pig" for a shady corporation's PR campaign, his character exists as some sort of drunken Ron Burgundy mixed with a hyperactive Muppet, a gun-wielding villain with Mustache jokes between screams and screeches. It's over the top and irritating, but as the satirical face of media sensationalism coupled with corporate greed, Gyllenhaal once again fits the film's manic, absurdist tone perfectly.

If you liked itokja, you may also like:Sorry to bother you(2018)

Jake Gyllenhaal stronger

Jake Gyllenhaal's 15 Best Performances (13)

Credit: Scott Garfield/Lionsgate/Roadside Attractions

But strong(2017)

EmDavid Gordon GreenvonBut strong, Gyllenhaal embraces the discomfort and anxiety that PTSD causes in his victims and those around them. The actor plays Jeff Bauman, a runner who lost his legs in the Boston Marathon bombing. Along with his upbeat Bostonian accent and overall cordial manner, his trauma still leaves him lashing out in anger and terror at his most vulnerable moments.

Gyllenhaal also does an excellent job of highlighting Jeff's exhaustion, with a grim weariness in his eyes that makes his persistence all the more inspiring. Frightened and self-loathing, his performance shows how unbelievable tragedies and stories happen to normal people, not just extraordinary heroes or people who are predisposed to be extraordinary, but there are many typical people with strengths, flaws and insecurities.

If you liked itBut strong, you may also like:goodwill hunt(1997)

Jake Gyllenhaal spielt „Morris“ in Jacques Audiards THE SISTERS BROTHERS

Jake Gyllenhaal's 15 Best Performances (14)

Credit: Magali Bragard/Annapurna Pictures

The brothers brothers(2018)

Gyllenhaal plays a private investigator and physical gold miner in 19th-century Oregon in a little-seen western.The brothers brotherswho also play the leading roleJoaquin PhoenixeJohn C. Reillylike brothers who want to track down Gyllenhaal before he gets rich. His character differs from most men we see in westerns, as Gyllenhaal plays him with an odd Mid-Atlantic accent and a calm, thoughtful demeanor. There is an enchanting gentleness to his presence here and his reunion with his accomplice.Ahmed Ricecould not be more different than the time togethernocturnal- Their relationship is now warm, tender and sincere as they realize how much they have in common.

If you liked itThe brothers brothers, you may also like:true courage(2010)


Jake Gyllenhaal's 15 Best Performances (15)

Credit: Andrew Cooper/Universal Pictures


The high-octane thrill of aMichael BayProjekt proved perfect to Gyllenhaal's energy, as the unrelenting pace and over-the-top tone ofambulanceprovide him with a fitting opportunity to embrace the extreme. The criminal mastermind behind a multi-million dollar bank robbery, his character Danny is so absurd it borders on parody: he screams most of his dialogue, drips a sweat for most of the film, and threatens other people in almost all of his interactions. . His ridiculously condescending tone brings a layer of humor to many of his scenes, but Gyllenhaal also manages to be so intimidating it feels like he could explode with deadly consequences at any moment - and he's the chaotic, unpredictable force behind the scenes keeps the movie going.

If you liked itambulance, you may also like:speed(1994)

Related content:

  • Jake Gyllenhaal opens up about his strongest friendship with Jeff Bauman
  • Jake Gyllenhaal is celebrating 'unreal' 20 years of Donnie Darko
  • Ambulance's Jake Gyllenhaal, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II and Michael Bay on pushing the action to the limit


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