Some performers just seem to have that indescribable “it factor” — and when it comes to Adam Driver, boy, does he have it. After gaining prominence in a lead role in the HBO hit series “Girls,” Driver has catapulted to superstardom. Driver established himself as an actor who likes to take risks and work with all kinds of unique creators, and that’s something that’s remained key to his success.
The breadth of Driver’s work is undeniably impressive. He’s done everything from taut political thrillers to voice work to massive blockbusters, never once compromising on his talent. There are a lot of impressive movies in Driver’s filmography (not to mention multiple Oscar nominations and several other accolades), and he has built up a career that most could only dream of. But what are his very best films? Well, that’s what we’re here for. Let’s dive into the 15 best Adam Driver movies, ranked.
Adam Driver has never been an actor to back down from movies that like to get weird — in fact, judging by his filmography, he seems to relish them. Speaking of weird, it doesn’t get much stranger than Jim Jarmusch’s “The Dead Don’t Die.” The film opened the 2019 Cannes Film Festival, but it’s not your typical festival fare. The zombie film has an outstanding cast including Bill Murray, Tilda Swinton, Chloe Sevigny, Selena Gomez, Tom Waits, Steve Buscemi, Danny Glover … and of course, Adam Driver.
Driver stars as police officer Ronnie Peterson, and what was supposed to be a normal day gets weird fast. Or rather, not so fast, as what sets “The Dead Don’t Die” apart from other zombie movies is its irreverent, lackadaisical attitude towards just about everything. Its tone is unlike anything you’ve seen in a film like this before, and while there certainly is panic over people literally rising from the dead, the officers are awfully chill about the whole thing. The film is a lovely oddity (there’s a zombie that chants for chardonnay instead of brains), and while it’s sometimes a little too off-kilter for its own good, Driver is spectacularly deadpan.
It’s easy for filmmakers to fall into a certain level of familiarity, but when it comes to the Coen Brothers, you really never know what you’re gonna get. Case in point: After directing the western remake “True Grit,” they helmed “Inside Llewyn Davis,” a film about struggling folk musician Llewyn (Oscar Isaac) in New York City in the early ’60s.
“Inside Llewyn Davis” is a wonderful film that rewards audiences more with each subsequent viewing. While Driver is certainly memorable, it’s one of his smallest roles, only appearing in the film for a couple of minutes. But man, does Driver know how to make the most of his time. His portrayal of Al Cody is an absolute delight, stealing the show in a performance of “Please Mr. Kennedy.” Every line reading is gold, and “Inside Llewyn Davis” is our first glimpse into Driver’s surprising and impressive musicality. I could listen to him sing “uh-oh” and “outer space” all day long.
The excitement was palpable when (yet another) “Star Wars” trilogy was announced. After watching the stirring trailer, how could it not be? An entirely new story with the original legends returning had fans (and myself) salivating for more stories in the “Star Wars” universe. While it wasn’t likely to match the glory of the original trilogy, surely it couldn’t be worse than the prequels. That prognostication turned out to be dead-on, as J.J. Abrams’ “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” proved to be a hugely successful crowdpleaser, even if it felt overly familiar — when it comes down to it, it’s basically “A New Hope” with a fresh coat of paint. But hey, that’s some pretty great paint.
The film also provided a massive opportunity for Adam Driver, who had been in quite a few indie productions and the odd minor role in bigger films. This time around, Driver was playing the main villain in a “Star Wars” movie. His Kylo Ren is moody and vicious, and he’s responsible for one of the most heartbreaking moments in the storied franchise. It’s an exciting performance for Driver, and while we don’t get a whole lot of his character in “The Force Awakens,” it’s clear there’s plenty to come for the baddie.
A regular collaborator with Steven Soderbergh, Scott Z. Burns (who wrote “Contagion,” “Side Effects,” and “The Informant!”) made his directorial debut in 2019 with “The Report.” The film is a terse and tense political thriller that follows political staffer Daniel Jones (Adam Driver). Jones finds himself in a prickly situation with quite the task: He must investigate the CIA’s Detention and Interrogation program, which shifted in a post-9/11 world.
What could have been a routine assignment in someone else’s hands becomes a mammoth challenge for Jones, who becomes deeply frustrated by how inaccessible his job has suddenly become. Practically everything Jones comes across is heavily redacted, which spurs him to push for the answers, risking his career and his personal safety in the process. “The Report” almost feels like a horror movie at some points, as if some sort of monster will burst through the walls of the dimly lit, office in which Jones does his work. The film occasionally feels a bit too clinical in its approach to … well, clerical work, but the intensity rarely wavers, and Driver is impressive as a man desperate to uncover the truth.
To paraphrase “Forrest Gump,” you never know what you’re gonna get with Steven Soderbergh. The filmmaker has made just about every kind of film you can imagine, and he also releases films at a truly impressive rate. At one point, Soderbergh was actually on a self-imposed hiatus, but it was a high-octane racing heist movie that brought him out of the woodwork to where he belongs: directing great movies.
Changing things up with a surprising burst of color, 2017’s “Logan Lucky” follows two brothers — Jimmy (Channing Tatum) and Clyde Logan (Adam Driver) — fed up with the state of things, determined to take life into their own hands. They devise a plan to do the unthinkable, planning an epic heist during a NASCAR event. It’s not exactly what you’d expect from a construction worker and a bartender, but both use their considerable real-world expertise — including Clyde’s time in the military — to try and make the impossible possible. Soderbergh is no stranger to the heist movie; in fact, it’s typically where he’s operating at the highest level. “Logan Lucky” is a funny and exciting movie that’s grounded with surprising earnestness and great performances from Tatum, Driver, Daniel Craig, and Riley Keough. A worthy addition to Soderbergh’s heist movies, which include “Ocean’s Eleven,” “Out of Sight,” and “No Sudden Move.”
One of Driver’s earliest film roles, and his first of many collaborations with Noah Baumbach, was 2012’s “Frances Ha.” The film follows Frances (a magnetic Greta Gerwig, who also co-wrote the script), a dreamer trying to find a sense of purpose. She crashes with Benji (Michael Zagen) and Lev (Adam Driver), struggling to hold down meaningful — or even lucrative — work as a dancer.
“Frances Ha” is absolutely brilliant, and if this was just a list of the best films Driver appeared in, it would almost certainly be at the top. But it’s not really much of a Driver film, per se, as he only appears in a few scenes — though he is downright charming as Frances’ roommate and friend Lev. It’s a fun, but not especially impactful part, and there aren’t really any special moments that make you remember Driver after the credits roll. Still, “Frances Ha” is a sensational exploration of millennial life and that difficult-to-explore feeling that you’re not where you should be in life.
If exploring Adam Driver’s career reveals one thing, it’s that Driver is an actor who loves taking risks. Challenging narratives and avant-garde experimentation are never off the table, and “White Noise” may be the strangest film in Driver’s entire oeuvre. The film, written and directed by frequent collaborator Noah Baumbach, is based on the novel of the same name by Don DeLillo, a book so labyrinthine and all over the place that it seems utterly unfilmable.
When watching “White Noise,” it’s pretty clear that Baumbach is working with some complicated material that’s downright wacky. The highly satirical film finds Driver playing professor Jack Gladney, who teaches Hitler studies (yes, really). He’s with his fourth wife, Babette (Greta Gerwig), and appears to have the dream suburban family life. But when a bizarre happening occurs, known as “The Airborne Toxic Event,” it sends the Gladney family in a tailspin, as they evacuate their home to try and stay alive. “White Noise,” to its credit, is impossible to predict, and there’s a lot of fun to be had as the plot careens in every imaginable (and unimaginable) direction.
While a lot of film lovers know Adam Driver for his villainous turns in the “Star Wars” movies, he’s largely known for playing quirky, charming, complicated men. Even Kylo Ren has more to him than just being evil. But Driver took a risk, signing onto Ridley Scott’s historical epic “The Last Duel.” He plays Jacques Le Gris, and there’s no sugarcoating it: this man is seriously evil. There’s not one redeeming quality in Le Gris’s personality, and it’s no easy task to play a man of such relentless nastiness.
“The Last Duel” isn’t an easy watch. The film follows an accusation made by Marguerite de Carrouges (Jodie Comer) that she was raped by Le Gris. Marguerite’s husband, Jean (Matt Damon) is furious, and stands by his wife, leading to a gritty, violent duel to the death. What makes the film special is the way the narrative unfolds, echoing Kurosawa’s “Rashomon,” as we see the story from the perspectives of Jacques, Marguerite, and Jean. It’s a shame “The Last Duel” didn’t get more attention, crashing at the box office before winding up on streaming. This is the kind of sophisticated, adult film that doesn’t get made much these days, and that’s unfortunate.
Look, making a “Star Wars” film isn’t easy. The fanbase is quite possibly the most rabid of all fanbases — and in the days of social media, that’s really saying something. That said, I’m always surprised when I think of “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” and remember that a lot of fans have so much vitriol towards it, especially when it’s such an excellent movie. That didn’t stop it from making a ton of money, of course, grossing over $1.3 billion at the worldwide box office. King of the murder mystery Rian Johnson took the helm for the eighth installment, which featured an expanded role for new big bad Kylo Ren (Adam Driver).
I doubt I need to tell you anything about the film — you’ve either seen it loads of times or are inexplicably averse to “Star Wars” entirely. But what you need to know is that it’s a really stellar showcase for Driver, who gets to be downright evil, but with an emotional vulnerability that’s become a trademark of his best work. Thankfully, Driver also gets to be a bonafide badass, culminating in an epic showdown against Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill).
Spike Lee reminded everyone that he’s one of the greatest living directors with his enthralling and essential crime drama “BlackKkKlansman.” The film tells the improbable, but true story of an African American detective and his Jewish co-worker teaming up to infiltrate and attempt to take down the Ku Klux Klan in Colorado Springs. Driver plays Philip “Flip” Zimmerman, who’s tasked with going undercover into an organization that wants his very existence wiped out.
It’s a tough and meaty role that Driver knocks out of the park. His performance showcases the two sides of Flip’s world: him in his real life and his undercover existence. His undercover personality is a far cry from his true self — vicious, rage-filled, and hateful. His sudden bursts of ferocity are tough to stomach, but they must be even harder to Flip, who has to convincingly be antisemitic when he himself is Jewish, let alone saying aggressively racist things that his Black partner has to hear. It’s a brutal job, but somebody’s got to do it, and Driver finds impressive humanity in a man torn between his commitments and his true feelings. The Academy was impressed too, bestowing upon Driver a nomination for best supporting actor.
Martin Scorsese is revered as one of the great filmmakers for a reason. His films tackle every imaginable genre, though Scorsese’s most personal films often tackle weighty themes, like faith. His faith-focused film, “Silence,” is one of his most unflinching works. It’s also one of his best. Released in 2016, “Silence” follows two Catholic missionaries, Garupe (Adam Driver) and Rodrigues (Andrew Garfield), as they make their way to Japan to attempt to find their mentor, Ferreira (Liam Neeson), who’s vanished ever since going to Japan himself. Set in the 17th century, the missionaries face tremendous difficulty in their quest, as Catholicism is deeply suppressed in the nation, and punishments for practicing it are severe.
Scorsese’s “Silence” doesn’t pull any punches — it’s an incredibly challenging film, and those who carry religious trauma with them may be best avoiding it. But for those up for this epic, there’s a tremendous amount of reward. Both Driver and Garfield give searing performances as men utterly bound by their faith. Scorsese’s work is full of powerful moments that remind you of what incredible screen presence Driver has, and that Scorsese as a filmmaker only seems to get better with age. “Silence” is a towering achievement that needs to be seen, and Driver is a huge reason why.
As you can see from this list, Adam Driver has worked with a very impressive array of filmmakers. His most frequent collaborator is Noah Baumbach, who he teamed up with for the intimate, challenging, and beautiful character study, “Marriage Story.” It’s exactly what you’d expect from the title: an exploration of a relationship between Nicole (Scarlett Johannson) and Charlie (Adam Driver). While marriage is certainly central to Baumbach’s film, “Marriage Story” is actually an exploration of the dissolution of marriage; specifically the process of divorce. It’s unwavering in its examination of how complicated, costly, and difficult the process can be.
While it’s not my favorite Baumbach movie on this list (that would be “Frances Ha”), “Marriage Story” provides an incredible platform for Driver to process every possible emotion and remind everyone what a formidable talent he is. It’s one of the biggest roles in his career, and he shows extraordinary vulnerability and passion that proves he’s one of Hollywood’s best leading men. Just watching his rendition of Stephen Sondheim’s “Being Alive” is enough to break you.
What’s that? You’ve never heard of the Canadian romantic comedy “What If?” Well, my friend, you are in for one heck of a treat. Michael Dowse’s film takes place in Toronto, where Wallace (Daniel Radcliffe) meets Chantry (Zoe Kazan), falling head over heels for her. Only problem: she has a boyfriend. So, the pair begin a friendship and are there for each other every step of the way. The film makes great use of its Toronto setting, which is so often disguised as various American locations, but “What If?” makes the case that the Canadian city is a perfect fit for the rom-com genre.
Driver delivers a performance that showcases what makes him such a gifted actor as Allan, Wallace’s best friend. He’s loud, hilarious, a bit annoying, and honestly, everything you could ever want in a friend. He offers Wallace valuable (and not-so-valuable) advice. Driver’s role is the very definition of a scene stealer — the movie is refreshing and extremely sweet, but every time Driver is on screen, you can’t see anyone else. He also delivers a truly spectacular line reading about nachos which will live in your mind long after the film’s over. And it’ll also make you make nachos. Totally worth it.
Jim Jarmusch’s first collaboration with Adam Driver was so small you’d be forgiven for skipping it. But “Paterson” is an absolutely essential film that effectively explores what makes Driver such a tremendous actor. He plays Paterson, a bus driver in Paterson, New Jersey who loves writing poetry whenever he can. Paterson’s poems are insightful and charming, and his words appear on the screen as he writes, creating an intoxicating effect, immersing us in Paterson’s quiet world. His wife Laura (Golshifteh Farahani) loves his work and believes bigger things are destined for Paterson than his bus driver job, and urges him to try and get his work published.
Jarmusch has always been adept at exploring intimate human detail, and Driver provides the perfect muse. “Paterson” thrums with heart and purpose, as it examines inner beauty in unexpected places. It’s a sweet, savory experience that makes you feel so much better about the mundanity of life. What more could you want from a film?
Leos Carax is arguably one of the most exciting filmmakers alive. You truly never know what to expect from the director, but you can prepare for risks that few others would dare to make. From “Holy Motors” to “The Lovers on the Bridge,” Carax has reveled in astonishing audiences. Case in point: “Annette,” Carax’s first English-language film, a musical written by The Sparks Brothers.
The film revolves around Henry McHenry (Adam Driver), a successful stand-up comedian whose routines feature a healthy dose of incendiary humor, and his tumultuous relationship with his far-more-successful wife Ann Desfranoux (Marion Cotillard), a hugely acclaimed opera singer. They have a child together named Annette, whom they discover has a remarkably beautiful singing voice. The birth of their child threatens to change their lives, and those around them, forever. Annette soon becomes a star at a young age, which makes things incredibly complicated. Oh, and Annette is a puppet. Believe me, it all somehow makes sense when you see it.
“Annette” is bold and unique, absurd yet grounded. Driver is magnificent in the lead role, playing an oftentimes detestable man you want to root for. It’s the perfect film that emphasizes what makes Driver so exciting. He loves working with visionaries and creatives that are unafraid to push boundaries, just like Driver does with his work.