Movie List

12 Best Jake Gyllenhaal Movies You Must See

August 22, 2019
10 min read

Did you know Jake Gyllenhaal was being considered for the role of Batman in Christopher Nolan‘s ‘Batman Begins’? Imagine that! He was also being considered to play Spider-man in ‘Spider-man 2’ after Toby Maguire fell sick and was willing to pull out. Certainly, if he had been cast in either of those two films, his career track might have been different. But ultimately, he slowly climbed his way to the top of acting hierarchy and is now considered one of the best known acting talents in Hollywood. Over the years, he has featured in some really great films. Here is the list of top Jake Gyllenhaal movies that you must see. You can watch some of these best Jake Gyllenhaal movies on Netflix, Hulu, or Amazon Prime.

Honorable Mention: ‘Love and Other Drugs’, ‘Everest’

12. Velvet Buzzsaw

Not the best of films, but ‘Velvet Buzzsaw’ sure does entertain. Directed by Dan Gilroy, who also made ‘Nightcrawler’ with Jake Gyllenhaal, the film follows a frightening but hilarious plot wherein, after the death of an old artist, his paintings are discovered but they are actually alive and seek revenge on those who use the art for commercial purposes. Some might put the film in the same bracket as ‘Nightcrawler’, but in my opinion, it lacks the clinical touch and finesse of the 2014 cult thriller. However, ‘Velvet Buzzsaw does have a lot of positives. The overall tone of the film is quite unique and it blends elements of comedy and supernatural horror. But the script is the major issue; it lacks flow and the character inconsistencies affect the overall experience of the film.

Jake Gyllenhaal becomes the saving grace of the movie. He plays a showy art critic named Morf Vandewalt. His performance here isn’t subtle at all; it’s not what the film demands from him. He goes all out in a performance that is hilarious, bizarre and strangely unique in so many ways. Gyllenhaal brilliantly uses his natural charm and charisma to craft a performance that is bigger than the movie itself. It would be fair to say that the actor single-handedly turns the film into an extremely entertaining, comic affair. It’s a performance that lacks depth, but one must understand that there’s only so much that an actor can do when the script isn’t well written. I wouldn’t really recommend this film, but Gyllenhaal fans might have a blast with this one.

11. Wildlife

One of the most underrated films of last year, ‘Wildlife’ is a beautifully crafted drama that is replete with breathtaking performances and deeply poignant moments. The film tells the story of a mother and her teenage son, who tries to understand his family’s devastating situation after his father deserts them to take on an extremely dangerous job. It’s a wonderfully made film that genuinely moves you and the characters’ situation here is very relatable. It’s quite universal in a sense. Critics heavily praised Carey Mulligan‘s performance in the role of Jeanette Brinson, but for me Jake Gyllenhaal’s beautifully understated performance was equally crucial in elevating the film from a seemingly familiar family drama to a deeply moving, complex piece that explores the most intimate of human emotions.

Gyllenhaal is in a supporting role and he makes sure that his natural charisma and flamboyance do not overpower the screen at any point. He completely understands his character, his situation and brilliantly compliments Mulligan, who may have just delivered the finest performance of her career here. ‘Wildlife’ does not offer anything new in terms of story or themes, but it’s a film that deserves to be seen for its sincere approach, impeccable character writing and astonishing performances. Hollywood often comes up with several family dramas but there are only a few that strike a chord in you. This is one of them. ‘Wildlife’ is, without a doubt, one of the better films of the decade.

10. Source Code

Jake Gyllenhaal’s Colter Stevens is a pilot and part of a secret program of the government, by which he is given to relive the last few minutes in the life of another man, who died in a train explosion. Stevens needs to learn the identity of the bomber, but when he takes up the task, he sees that many things are at stake. ‘Source Code’ gives a new twist to the concept generally used in time-travel films that we are used to seeing, and does so brilliantly. At the center of it is a brilliant Jake Gyllenhaal performance.

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9. Southpaw

As a boxer who deals with a tragedy, Jake Gyllenhaal is phenomenal here. While the film itself could have been much better, Gyllenhaal ensures that you have your eyes fixated on him, even if the story lacks the originality. In a story that we have seen countless times before, Gyllenhaal shines bright like a star and impresses you with his impeccable acting skills.

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8. Demolition

‘Demolition’ tells a unique story about the emotional journey of a man dealing with his lack of emotions. The story’s uniqueness and raw emotional power will definitely appeal to you. Jake Gyllenhaal plays the role of a man suffering from inside but cold on the outside. It is one of his most underrated performances.

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7. Donnie Darko

Jake Gyllenhaal was an unknown figure back in 2001. But you can still see the hunger to excel in his eyes. ‘Donnie Darko’, as a film, has a grandiose vision with a sprawling imagination of an affluent adolescent. Down to its insidiously naughty elements, the film is about a young rebel named Donnie, played by Gyllenhaal. Films like ‘Donnie Darko’ are very rare. And even though it is dense with ideas and nearly impossible to understand in one-viewing, very few films are as inventive and unique as this one. And yes, Gyllenhaal still manages to leave a mark in this richly complex film.

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6. Nocturnal Animals

‘Nocturnal Animals’ is a neo-noir psychological thriller about a rich, unsatisfied middle-aged woman, whose painful memories from her past are triggered when her ex-husband sends her the first copy of a book he has written. Revealing anymore about the movie would spoil its textured brilliance, as Tom Ford effortlessly crafts a sad, painful and emotionally terrifying multi-layered narrative that could very well trigger your own personal demons and fears. Jake Gyllenhaal yet again takes a challenging role and makes it completely his own. Without a doubt, it is one of his best works in recent times.

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5. Enemy

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Gyllenhaal plays a double-role in this mind-bender of a movie. Playing two radically different characters in a film is a daunting task, but Gyllenhaal gives his hundred percent here, perfectly embodying the role of a lonely professor as well as that of a movie star. ‘Enemy’ once again displays Gyllenhaal’s knack of playing subtle, understated roles. There’s a palpable sense of existential dread that runs throughout the film and Gyllenhaal’s performance here brilliantly conveys that feeling. It’s not the kind of performance that instantly wows you but looking back, you just cannot imagine anyone else donning the dual roles. While cinephiles still debate the philosophical and thematic depth of the film, Gyllenhaal continues to receive praise for his work in the film. It is truly a remarkable achievement.

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4. Zodiac

087‘Zodiac’ is, without a doubt, one of David Fincher‘s greatest works. Apart from his trademark visual style, this film is elevated by the terrific performances of its actors, led by the quietly determined Jake Gyllenhaal himself. One would think that Mark Ruffalo was at the forefront of the movie, but Gyllenhaal actually shines above Ruffalo and Robert Downey Jr. as the reporter obsessed with finding the killer. Again, you can see that Gyllenhaal deeply understands his character and the demands of the film. He adopts a very subtle approach and stays well within the overall tone of the film. It is quite remarkable in many ways because you don’t even see a glimpse of the actor Jake Gyllenhaal in the role here; he has been absorbed entirely into the troubled psyche of Robert Graysmith. And that to me is the mark of a truly great actor: one who always remains a servant to the script.

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3. Prisoners

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Before ‘Prisoners’, Gyllenhaal was having a sort of rough patch in terms of acting, appearing as Prince Dastan in the forgotten ‘Prince of Persia’ movie and then starring alongside Anne Hathaway in ‘Love and Other Drugs’. But his performance as Detective Loki in ‘Prisoners’ (helmed by Denis Villeneuve, who also directed ‘Enemy’) was actually a revelation. It is hard to describe the character of the Detective; he is quiet, reserved and dedicated towards his job. But underneath that quiet facade there is repressed anger, steeped in frustration. That anger comes out during a chilling scene when he messes up his workplace, throwing away his computer. Furthermore, it’s also hinted that the character is an insomniac, thus making him more complex and fascinating.

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2. Brokeback Mountain

A landmark film. A landmark performance. ‘Brokeback Mountain’ shattered many pre-conceived notions about homosexuality. And it wouldn’t have been possible without Gyllenhaal’s terrific performance. There is not much that can be written about Gyllenhaal’s moving portrayal of a man who develops this special bond with another man; it is one of those performances that need to be seen and felt, and will certainly be talked about for years to come.

At the hands of any other less capable actor, the character of Jack Twist might have looked unconvincing and awkward, but Gyllenhaal effortlessly slips into the role and nails it with stunning confidence. Sure, Heath Ledger was also brilliant, but for me it was Gyllenhaal’s performance that defined the film. The scene where he tells Ledger’s character, ”I wish I knew how to quit you” has to be one of the most heartbreaking moments in cinema. You could feel the lump in his throat. It’s just pure, heartfelt acting. ‘Brokeback Mountain’ is, undoubtedly, one of the greatest films of the century and perhaps the finest LGBT film ever made.

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1. Nightcrawler

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Yes. This is it. ‘Nightcrawler’ remains Jake Gyllenhaal’s strongest performance till date. It was really a shame that he was overlooked when it came to an Oscar nomination. It is a terrifying portrayal of a man who is alone, desperate to make it big in the seething cesspool of L.A. He will do anything for success, and is like the complete antithesis of Travis Bickle in ‘Taxi Driver’. ‘Nightcrawler’ may have received high praise from critics at the time of its release, but it still remains underappreciated as a true masterpiece. It’s a brutally honest look at a man’s desires, ambitions and the competitiveness in him that can drive him to crazy extents. The script is an actor’s playground.

As Lou Bloom, Jake Gyllenhaal is brilliant beyond words. He doesn’t talk a lot, but when he does, you can never look away. He is charming, persuasive, polite and yet there’s something so frightening and creepy about him that you just cannot describe in words. You could see that in the way he smiles, the way he looks and observes the most seemingly mundane things. During one of the film’s early moments, he quietly observes a photographer recording the events at an accident scene and out of curiosity, he asks him certain important questions pertaining to his job. It’s a brilliant scene as it clearly establishes Lou’s character, his inquisitiveness, and the hunger to succeed. Gyllenhaal is still pretty young and will surely go on to feature in better films that pose different kinds of challenges, but I just think that he may have peaked with ‘Nightcrawler’, in terms of his acting abilities. It’s not the kind of role that comes often in an actor’s life.

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