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The best Ethan Hawke movies of all time

It's quite a challenge to pick a list the best Ethan Hawke movies, but we gave it a shot and included his best action movie epics, thriller movies, and more.

The best Ethan Hawke movies: Ethan Hawke as Reverend Toller in First Reformed

What are the best Ethan Hawke movies? After close to 40 years in the film industry, there’s so many great roles on Ethan Hawke’s long list of credits that it’s quite a challenge to narrow it all down to the best of the best, but we gave it a shot anyway.

Hawke started young, bagging his first big screen role at the age of 15, with the science fiction movie Explorers in 1985. Just four years later, Hawke would go on to star in the classic drama movie Dead Poets Society, alongside Robin Williams. For Hawke, these roles in the ‘80s were more than just a flash in the pan, they would be the foundation upon which a superb career would be built.

So, what are the best Ethan Hawke movies? We’ve got everything from horror movies, thriller movies, and even some romance movies for good measure, because in such a distinguished career, there’s a little bit of something for everyone in Ethan Hawke‘s eclectic filmography. Let’s take a look then, shall we?

What are the best Ethan Hawke movies?

  • The Purge
  • The Black Phone
  • Sinister
  • Before Sunrise
  • Dead Poets Society
  • Boyhood
  • The Northman
  • First Reformed
  • Training Day

The best Ethan Hawke movies: The Purge

The Purge (2013)

It would appear that in the early 2010s, Ethan Hawke got a taste for going darker with his projects, teaming up with the horror movie studio Blumhouse on multiple occasions.

The Purge franchise is now five movies and a TV series deep, but Ethan Hawke was right at the heart of the first instalment of The Purge movie universe. While the series may have run out of steam a little now, the original movie was a brilliantly tense and provocative thrill ride.

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The Black Phone (2022)

Hawke’s second collaboration with Scott Derrickson doesn’t quite hit the pant-wetting highs of Sinister (see below), but it’s still a deliciously creepy movie that allows Hawke to flex his chops as a seriously sinister movie villain.

The Grabber is a bone-chillingly mercurial adversary, and Hawke’s unhinged performance makes what could have been a forgettable villain into something truly terrifying. Here is our Black Phone review for more details.

The best Ethan Hawke movies: Ethan Hawke in Sinister

Sinister (2012)

If The Purge wasn’t dark enough for you, then we’re pretty sure Sinister will be the perfect slice of horror to satiate your desires. However, this movie is terrifying, super graphic, and you should not watch this alone.

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That said, there’s some pretty cool kills in Sinister that are well worth watching. This movie was made by Scott Derrickson, the director of the MCU movie Doctor Strange, and the filmmaker who Hawke teamed up with again for The Black Phone.

The best Ethan Hawke movies: Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy in Before Sunrise

Before Sunrise (1995)

Richard Linklater’s Before trilogy is widely regarded as one of the most perfect trilogies in movie history, and the first instalment of this beautiful love story is definitely up there as one of the best movies of all time.

Before Sunrise is wonderfully simple – just two young souls wandering around Venice, getting to know one another on one fateful night, as they fall in love and then disappear from each other’s life. Poetry in motion!

The best Ethan Hawke movies: the cast of Dead Poets Society

Dead Poets Society (1989)

Robin Williams is better known for his work in comedy movies, but whenever he took on dramatic roles, there were few who could lay a glove on him. Williams leads a fantastic ensemble cast in this emotional coming-of-age tale.

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A young Ethan Hawke may not have a big role to play, but as part of the titular society, he contributes to the heart and soul of the movie. If you’re settling down to watch this for the first time, get ready for tears!

The best Ethan Hawke movies: Ethan Hawke in Boyhood

Boyhood (2014)

Hawke joined forces with Richard Linklater once again, for the incredibly ambitious project Boyhood, which was shot over the course of 12 years.

Boyhood details the life of Mason (Ellar Coltrane) as he grows from a young child to a young man, with Hawke playing his father. As is usually the case with Linklater movies, this is such a simple and gentle story, but is guaranteed to get you in the feels.

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The Northman (2022)

2022 was quite the year for Hawke. Not only did he dive into the MCU timeline as the bad guy in the Marvel series Moon Knight, and star in the horror movie The Black Phone, but he also had a key role in the epic Viking revenge story The Northman, from visionary director Robert Eggers.

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“I will avenge you, Father,” pledges Amleth, as he sets out on his deadly mission to take the life of the man who killed his beloved father. Hawke is the morally questionable daddy in question, and brings his captivating screen presence to the role of King Aurvandill in one of the best movies of 2022. By the end of the action movie epic, you’ll wonder if he was worth avenging after all.

The best Ethan Hawke movies: Ethan Hawke as Reverend Toller in First Reformed

First Reformed (2017)

It’s funny how a few of these Ethan Hawke movies need to come with a warning. Well, we told you Sinister was pretty damn scary, and now we’re here to tell you that First Reformed is pretty damn bleak. A fun movie, this is not, but it sure is powerful.

Hawke stars as Reverend Toller, a pastor in a small church, who begins to have a crisis of faith. It’s a real powerhouse performance from Hawke who once again proves he is one of the best actors around. And Paul Schrader (who wrote Taxi Driver among many other great screenplays), directs the hell out of it (no pun intended).

The best Ethan Hawke movies: Denzel Washington and Ethan Hawke in Training Day

Training Day (2001)

Buddy cop movies don’t come more badass than this. When you put Ethan Hawke and Denzel Washington together, you know you’re going to get something pretty special, and Training Day is most certainly special.

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Training Day is cool, it’s action-packed, and it’s an edge of your seat thriller with a finale that will leave you breathless. It’s also the source of the iconic Denzel Washington GIF, where he clutches his chest in relief, so the legacy of Training Day is pretty much immeasurable.

There we have it, those are the best Ethan Hawke movies. If you want to dive into more actor filmographies, take a look at our list of the best Chris Hemsworth movies and the best Denzel Washington movies before casting your eye over all the new movies coming out in 2023.