10 Films Where The Supporting Role Was Better Than The Lead

There’s a wide variety of detail that must be incorporated into a film to have it come out with as much quality as possible. This will include writing, the style of cinematography, the manner of directing, and most certainly the acting. There’s a reason we tend to remember the actors in a film more so than those behind the camera, after all.

Sometimes, however, the thespian with the best acting isn’t the one whose name is biggest on the poster. We’ve all had those moments after exiting the movie theater where we find ourselves boasting more about the supporting actor or actress in a movie rather than the lead. The following are ten films where this notion is almost certainly confirmed.

10The Silence Of The Lambs
Anthony Hopkins


The infamous Dr. Lecter has disturbed all of us at one point in time. Sir Anthony Hopkins astonishingly portrays his character as a terrifying cannibal genius who is continually one step ahead of everyone else. Prior to his jail time in the film, he was a practicing psychiatrist who occasionally had some rather interesting patients. The confidence and improvisation that Hopkins is able to bring to the table is not only astonishing but also breathtaking. His conversations with Clarice are unlike any other.

Jodie Foster spoke in an interview about the movie with Entertainment Weekly, recounting that she and Hopkins were separated at almost all times by either glass or bars.[1] Nevertheless, Foster admitted to being frightened of Hopkins. Now, we’re certainly not saying that Jodie Foster was substandard by any means in this thriller (Sir Anthony admitted to being just as intimidated by her), but we tend to think that Hopkins is the first person who comes to mind once The Silence of the Lambs is brought to the table.

9My Cousin Vinny
Marisa Tomei


“You put your little deer lips down to the cool, clear water. Bam! ”—Mona Lisa Vito.

How could we not mention her? The energy, comedy, and disposition that Marisa Tomei brings to My Cousin Vinny is beyond words. In this film, two friends decide to stop at a roadside market, accidentally steal themselves a can of tuna, and are placed under arrest soon after. Confused and frightened by the interrogations, the pair soon realize that they’re being held accountable for a murder that took place at the market on the very same day.

Vinny (played by Joe Pesci) is the lawyer in the family and is unfortunately the only chance the men have at getting out of this sticky situation. Traveling alongside him is his soon-to-be wife, Mona Lisa Vito (Marisa Tomei). Tomei is able to brilliantly show off her New York sass while giving this comedy the kick-start it thrives on. The actress won for an Oscar for her performance in the film.

8Schindler’s List
Ralph Fiennes


We can all certainly agree that depicting the Holocaust in film is one of the most grueling tasks there is, something not every director would want to take on. However, Steven Spielberg took the bar to a whole different level when he released Schindler’s List in 1993. The content in the film is so truthful and graphic in its nature that we can’t help but admire every minuscule detail that went into making this masterpiece. One of these important aspects is the stellar acting. Needless to say, Liam Neeson does a great job as Oskar Schindler. However, it’s Ralph Fiennes as the evil Amon Goeth who makes our palms sweat. His faithfulness to the character is daunting and somewhat terrifying.

A scene in the film shows Goeth getting out of bed and firing rounds upon people in the concentration camp from his bedroom balcony (something the real Goeth did). Mr. Fiennes said he prepared himself for that harrowing scene by dredging up the memory of a primitive sensation. “It was like an extension of that boyish thrill with an air rifle when you aim at cans on a wall,” he said. “That satisfaction when you hit a target—it gives you a kick. It’s as basic as smashing a fly with your hand as a kid and standing in front of a windowpane for ages seeing how many flies you can kill.”[2] It’s certainly not hard to see how Fiennes steals the show here.

7No Country For Old Men
Javier Bardem


“Call it.” These words will never be quite the same for some of us who’ve watched the Coen brothers’ 2007 release of No Country for Old Men. This stupefying feature depicts a fabulous cast, all of whom stand out in their own roles.

That being said, there’s a reason Javier Bardem was cast as the villain. The way he is able to kindle us with pure shock for his actions is remarkable. From his deep voice to his soulless eyes, Bardem puts on a performance that the viewers can’t shake off once they exit the theater.

6The Godfather Part II
Robert De Niro


No, you didn’t read that wrong. The Godfather Part II, not Part I. The pure brilliance that De Niro is able to bring to Francis Ford Coppola’s sequel unquestionably reminds us all why he’s the best there is. The Godfather Part II takes a deep step back in time to show the audience how Don Corleone pioneers his way through the Mafia and how he slowly rose to the top. The movie depicts two points of views for the viewer to enjoy. One end is Michael (Al Pacino) in his own current affairs, while young Vito Corleone is figuring out the ropes of an early-1900s New York City. Coppola also doesn’t shy away from the gritty side details of immigration and the struggles many went through on their voyages to the new country.

After De Niro so rightfully won the Oscar in 1975, Coppola stated, “Well, I’m happy that one of my boys made it. I think this is a very richly deserved award. I think Robert De Niro is an extraordinary actor and he is going to enrich the films that are made for years to come, and I thank you on his behalf.”[3] De Niro stands out in this classic sequel, making the film shine on him so greatly.

5Inglourious Basterds
Christoph Waltz


“Wait for the cream!” This Tarantino classic will change the way you watch movies. This is not only due to the unique writing and direction of the plot but also from the way Christoph Waltz is able to portray true evil. Waltz portrays a Nazi who hunts for Jews who’ve not yet been rounded up and taken into camps. From the get-go, we can tell he’s unfortunately superior at his job, not leaving without the truth.

Hans Landa’s (Waltz) frightening dialogue and emotion are able to frighten the viewer despite the fact that the film is presumed to take place in France over 70 years ago. Mr. Waltz stands out as the best in this movie, and it’s evident. Not only that, but he also walked away from this 2009 hit with an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor.

4The Graduate
Anne Bancroft


Anne Bancroft, aka “Mrs. Robinson,” was almost every young boy’s first crush back in the day. She was beautiful and seductive, but best of all, she was a stellar actress in Mike Nichols’s classic feature The Graduate, starring Dustin Hoffman. This early gold mine modified the way all of us viewed our friend’s mom.

Hoffman undoubtedly comes across as the “innocent” recent college graduate who’s supposed to be searching for his future. However, without a doubt it, is Anne Bancroft’s constant teasing and diversions that fix a smile upon our faces once she’s on-screen. Surprisingly, Bancroft and Hoffman were only about six years apart in age. If there is one certainty about this flick, it is that Bancroft seduces the audience with her sensual tactics.

3The Usual Suspects
Kevin Spacey


It’s difficult to find a film that Kevin Spacey doesn’t shine in. Bryan Singer’s The Usual Suspects turned out to be a revolutionary time for Spacey fans, blowing itself far out of the water. This crime thriller revolutionized the “plot twist” style of modern-day movie endings and surely requires more than one viewing. Verbal Kint, a lonesome survivor and witness to a vicious attack, informs police exactly what occurred. This all takes place soon after a group of individuals find themselves as suspects in the station.

Trivia about the film states that the character of Verbal Kint was always meant for Kevin Spacey. Also included in the cast are Stephen Baldwin, Gabriel Byrne, and Kevin Pollak, but it is Kevin Spacey who holds the crown in this 1995 picture.

2Goodfellas
Joe Pesci


Is this list funny? Does this top ten list amuse you? Sound familiar? Surely you’d expect the classical Joe Pesci to be placed somewhere on this list. Tommy DeVito, from start to finish in Martin Scorsese’s cult classic Goodfellas, is able to invoke fear not only in those who associate with him but in the viewer, too. Pesci is naturally able to make you believe that he’s affiliated with the Mafia in his free time. Other actors in this picture also seem to come to the realization that Tommy DeVito is the alpha male amid them all.

Goodfellas also stars Ray Liotta, Lorraine Bracco, and the great Robert De Niro. Henry Hill (Liotta) grows up, involving himself with the mob, slowly working his way up to the top. However, it’s once he reaches the top that he realizes it’s not as great as he originally thought. Alongside him are Tommy DeVito and Jimmy Conway (De Niro). These two cons work beside Henry as he develops into a true gangster.

Joe Pesci stands out in this 1990s classic not because he looks frightening but due to the persona he puts on, which conjures fear and terror among everyone around him. Fun fact: Joe Pesci had one of the shortest Oscar speeches in Academy Awards history. He walked up to the podium, stared directly at the audience, and said, “It’s my privilege, thank you.”

1The Dark Knight
Heath Ledger


It should come as no surprise to see Heath Ledger as number one on this list. Christopher Nolan’s revamping of the Batman franchise caught most by surprise. Beginning with Batman Begins in 2005, many fans weren’t exactly sure where or how the series would play out. To our absolute surprise, in 2008, all of us would become witnesses to one of the largest milestones in moviemaking history.

It’s not an accident that this sequel is so renowned. The reason this feature is so highly ranked on almost every movie review website is due to Heath Ledger’s role as the infamous Joker. Many have tackled the role, such as Cesar Romero, Jack Nicholson, and Mark Hamill. However, no one has shown us the true darkness contained in the Joker’s character. From opening to closing, we’re held in such suspense, not knowing the fate of anyone on-screen. Screenrant states that Ledger even locked himself in a hotel room for six weeks “in order to get into the mind of the Joker.” During his isolation, he read the source material, experimented with different Joker voices, and kept a journal.[4]

After filming was completed, Ledger was found unconscious in his Manhattan apartment due to an overdose of prescription drugs. He was only 28 years old when he died. Some would say that Ledger essentially gave his life for this performance, and it certainly doesn’t go unnoticed. He posthumously received his well-deserved Oscar in 2009. It is not uncommon to hear claims that Heath Ledger played the best supporting role in cinematic history.

Avery Cohen is a six-time award-winning indie filmmaker who has had his short films and writing pieces incorporated in over ten film festivals across the US. For years, he’s had a thriving passion for film, writing, and entertainment and truly values the arts for what they are and what they can be. He currently runs Macoproject Film Festival, a widely renowned, IMdB-credited online film festival. The link, as well as more detail on the subject, is at MacoprojectFilmFestival.com


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