Breaking into Hollywood stardom in the early 2000s, Josh Hartnett fast became a teenage idol through his early work and was fast-tracked to become the next best thing. Initially disillusioned with the celebrity lifestyle, though, he turned down many starring roles in major movies and even resorted to taking a lengthy hiatus from the industry not to lose his passion for acting entirely.
While fans of Hartnett from his earliest roles may lament the lost possibility of what could have been, his carefully selected career trajectory has seen him feature in some bizarre but brilliant films. With Oppenheimer seeing the much-loved movie star back on the big screen in front of mainstream audiences, these 10 films present as the best of a stellar career that may be just hitting its peak.
10 ‘O’ (2001)
Taking Shakespeare’s classic play Othello and applying it to the basketball scene of a modern American high school, O was an experimental teen drama that was always intriguing despite having some flaws. It focuses on local basketball star Odin (Mekhi Phifer), who is convinced of his girlfriend’s cheating by a conniving friend motivated by jealousy.
While the premise seems difficult to take seriously, O actually produced some genuinely good dramatic moments, and its approach to teenage violence was strikingly mature. It also struck gold in casting Hartnett as the envious villain, allowing him to display his acting chops as a complicated character that was both despicable and entirely believable.
9 ‘Wrath of Man’ (2021)
A gritty action delight noteworthy for reuniting Guy Ritchie and Jason Statham, Wrath of Man offered intense thrills and a winding story to boot. It follows H (Statham), a mysterious new employee at Fortico Security whose exemplary combat skills prevent a heist and lead his colleagues to question the man and his sketchy past.
With elements of one-man-army action, heist thrills, and even revenge drama, the movie offered up something for all action lovers to enjoy. It also featured Josh Hartnett, who stood out among the star-studded cast with his enjoyably unheroic turn as a fellow Fortico Security guard who gradually finds his courage.
8 ’30 Days of Night’ (2007)
Based on the comic book miniseries of the same name, 30 Days of Night was a pulsating mixture of blood-and-guts horror and thrilling action. It follows the residents of a remote Alaskan town who struggle to survive a month of no sunlight when a mob of vampires descends upon them, killing most of the townsfolk immediately and leaving the rest in a desperate fight for their lives.
An amalgamation of horror subgenres doused in more than enough gore to keep the genre’s most eager fans satisfied; it kept finding new ways to be intriguing throughout its duration, even with its simple premise. While Danny Huston’s villainous performance received plenty of praise, the film also served as an adequate reminder of Josh Hartnett’s natural ability in leading roles.
7 ‘Oh Lucy!’ (2017)
An overlooked gem of modern Asian cinema, Oh Lucy! was a dazzling hit of empathetic, tragic fun which blended romance with adventure. The film follows Setsuko (Shinobu Terajima), a lonely office worker in Tokyo who develops a crush on her English teacher and ventures to America to follow him when he abruptly leaves.
The film grounded itself in universal themes, which it explored in quirky yet strikingly honest ways, with the entire cast putting in outstanding and nuanced performances to make it work. It also wasn’t afraid to get quite dark, making for a heartbreaking tragicomedy that thrived off the back of Terajima’s brilliance and used Hartnett’s comedic talent perfectly.
6 ‘The Faculty’ (1998)
After making his debut in one of the forgettable installments of the Halloween franchise, Josh Hartnett got more opportunities to showcase his potential in the sci-fi/horror The Faculty. From director Robert Rodriguez, it follows a misfit group of high school students who discover their classmates and teachers have been overtaken by parasitic aliens and cook up an unlikely plan to save everyone.
In addition to its overt sci-fi/horror premise, The Faculty also ran with an affectionate focus on teen drama and high school politics, themes brought to life by the film’s surprisingly fantastic cast. Hartnett portrayed Zeke Tyler, an intelligent though problematic youth who holds the answer to defeating the alien race in his drug-dealing antics.
5 ‘Lucky Number Slevin’ (2006)
A fascinating example of differing opinions, critics were harsh on Lucky Number Slevin, but casual moviegoers loved it. The action crime-thriller follows a wrongly apprehended man. He is dragged into a vicious feud between two rival crime lords, where he is given a violent ultimatum and is tailed by two men as he frantically decides what he’ll do next.
Using an outstanding cast boasting the likes of Bruce Willis, Morgan Freeman, and Ben Kingsley alongside Hartnett in the starring role, the movie presented as a fun-filled action spectacle. It also utilized a twisty story, heavily stylized characters, and eye-catching set design to make a lasting impression on audiences.
4 ‘The Virgin Suicides’ (1999)
For much of the early part of his career, Josh Hartnett was considered a heartthrob. It is easy to see how his role in The Virgin Suicides may be a big reason for that. As Sofia Coppola’s directorial debut, it focuses on five sheltered teenage sisters in 1970s America and the neighborhood boys who grow obsessed with them.
Based on Jeffrey Eugenides novel of the same name, the film uses the boys’ reminiscing of their younger days as the framework for the premise, allowing the film to take on a hypnotic, dreamlike meditation of adolescent angst. In what was just his third feature film credit, Hartnett was able to make the part of the young Trip Fontaine a memorable highlight of his career.
3 ‘Sin City’ (2005)
With its striking stylistic choices, graphic yet cartoonish violence, and forbidden allure, Sin City was a barnstorming, flamboyant dose of comic book ultra-violence. It follows a range of shady characters as they go about their business in the cesspool that is Sin City, with everything from vigilante cops to ex-prostitutes and their lovers getting their time to shine.
Within the chaos, Hartnett appeared as The Salesman — aka The Man or The Colonel — a slick assassin who is hired by a woman who wants to kill herself. His small, condensed story of passion and violence proved to be a perfect introduction to the film, highlighting its neo-noir tone, arresting style, and penchant for jarring and abrupt violence.
2 ‘Black Hawk Down’ (2001)
Based on real events, Ridley Scott’s grueling yet gripping modern war drama presented a horrifying depiction of combat. Following the American Special Forces units who were sent into Mogadishu to capture two lieutenants of a violent warlord, it shows how the mission went wrong as the soldiers were overrun and two of their Black Hawk helicopters were shot down.
While it was somewhat limited in scope and perspective, Black Hawk Down was incredibly effective as a no-holds-barred nosedive into combat’s graphic intensity and abruptness. Hartnett was more than comfortable in the starring role, leading a stellar ensemble cast with aplomb.
1 ‘Oppenheimer’ (2023)
Oppenheimer should go on to become one of the biggest films of 2023. A commercial smash hit and a critically acclaimed masterpiece from Christopher Nolan, the film follows J. Robert Oppenheimer’s (Cillian Murphy) work on developing the atomic bomb and the political fallout that came as a result of that and his leftist leanings.
Among the many great delights the film offered, one that made many fans happy was seeing Hartnett back on the big screen in a major blockbuster. His supporting role was also quite significant, portraying the Nobel Prize-winning nuclear physicist and Oppenheimer’s colleague Ernest Lawrence, which gave him ample opportunity to showcase his acting talents.
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