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These Are Jake Gyllenhaal’s Best Performances, Ranked

Jake Gyllenhaal is a pure movie star with an impressive range of talent. His performances have spanned across several genres, and he is unquestionably one of the greatest actors currently working. Gyllenhaal has the charisma, physicality, and emotional range to steal every scene that he is in. Most recently, audiences watched as Gyllenhaal carried an entire film through his dialogue and emotion alone in The Guilty. Although Gyllenhaal usually plays the hero in most films, he proved in Spider-Man: Far From Home that he can also play a convincing villain.

Gyllenhaal was born in Los Angeles to a family with extensive ties within the film industry. He began working at an early age and landed his film debut in City Slickers. Gyllenhaal continued to audition and acted in a few of his father’s films until spending some time at Columbia University before dropping out. He landed his first leading role in October Sky, and since then, has acted steadily both in film and theater. Gyllenhaal has some exciting films coming out soon, such as Michael Bay’s Ambulance. Before then, let’s take a look at his best performances, ranked.

Related: Ambulance Gets a New Poster Putting the Bank Robbers Front and Center

9 Nocturnal Animals

Focus Features

In Tom Ford’s Nocturnal Animals, Gyllenhaal plays a broken man who witnesses the abduction of his family who are eventually murdered in a fictional story. At the same time, Gyllenhaal plays the author of the story who fails to keep his relationship together. Gyllenhaal gives a heartbreaking performance filled with rage and fury. The fact that he could play dual roles with such ease only adds to his sheer talent. Although we root for Gyllenhaal’s character, we are frustrated in his inability to save his family. We are then given the chance to see him work endlessly to avenge his wife and daughter.

8 Demolition

Fox Searchlight Pictures

In acclaimed filmmaker Jean-Marc Vallee’s Demolition, Gyllenhaal plays Davis, an investment banker, who begins to deconstruct his life after the death of his wife. His character is charismatic, and it is fascinating to see his methods of dealing with grief. At the same time, Davis acts as a father figure for a young boy (Judah Lewis) after befriending his mother (Naomi Watts). Gyllenhaal gives a fantastic performance with a good blend of comedy and drama. He has several convincing moments of heartbreak and regret.

7 Zodiac

Paramount Pictures

David Fincher’s Zodiac tells the story of the investigation of the Zodiac murders. Gyllenhaal plays a cartoonist who becomes obsessed with the investigation, eventually contributing a lot to. His performance is subtle and carried out quite well as a mild-mannered and innocent character, proving that he can play a wide variety of roles. At the same time, Gyllenhaal has great chemistry with his fellow co-stars including Robert Downey Jr. and Chloe Sevigny.

6 Donnie Darko

Pandora Cinema

Donnie Darko was one of Gyllenhaal’s earlier films, and it has since become a cult classic. Gyllenhaal plays a very dark character who begins to have terrifying visions. As a result, he is convinced to start carrying out several crimes. Gyllenhaal gives a disturbing and convincing performance as the troubled teenager, and proved that he had a dynamic acting range early in his career. At the same time, Gylenhaal brings us into the mind of a teenager dealing with severe mental illness.

5 Jarhead

Universal Pictures

In Sam Mendes’ Jarhead, Gyllenhaal completely embodies the torment and pain that can come along with being in the military service. Gyllenhaal gives a powerful performance with several great dramatic moments. He conveys the pain and frustration that soldiers feel while being at war. The film is a deep dive in the mind of a soldier, and Gyllenhall delivers an extremely convincing performance. He shows you the emotional toll that living in such a disturbing environment can have on an individual, giving us a good look into the modern age of war.

4 Stronger


Gyllenhaal gives a compelling dramatic performance in Stronger, telling the true story of Jeff Bauman who tragically lost his legs in the Boston Marathon Bombing. He totally transforms into Bauman and conveys the pain and sorrow that he felt during this time. At the same time, he shows us how to overcome even the most tragic situations, giving us a great story of strength and perseverance. Gyllenhaal also proves his ability to transform into a character physically by nailing a Boston accent and playing a character who was years younger than him.

Related: These Are the Best Biopics Ever Made, Ranked

3 Prisoners

Warner Bros. Pictures

In Denis Villeneuve’s Prisoners, Gyllenhaal plays a tough and intelligent detective who is determined to find two missing girls. Through his gritty emotion, Gyllenhaal creates a character who obviously has a dark past and has seen many disturbing things throughout his career. At the same time, Gyllenhaal incorporates a nervous tick throughout his performance, proving his excellence at transforming into a character physically.

2 Brokeback Mountain

Focus Features

Gyllenhaal gives one of his greatest performances to date as Jack Twist, a cowboy who falls in love with Ennis Del Mar, brilliantly played by Heath Ledger. Gyllenhaal’s performance in Brokeback Mountain shows us the pain and frustration he has loving Ennis in a world that will never accept them. Jack longs for a life with Ennis and Gyllenhaal completely showcases a man living a life of quiet desperation. Gyllenhaal earned an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor.

1 Nightcrawler

Open Road Films

Gyllenhaal gives possibly his most disturbing performance to date as Lou Bloom, a man driven to become a successful video journalist. Bloom spends his nights filming tragic news stories for cash, and he will do anything to get a good story. Gyllenhaal plays a character who is extremely charismatic, but lacks all empathy, making him a possible sociopath. His dark portrayal of Bloom shows us an evil character who will even kill to become a success. Nightcrawler was a smart look into the ruthlessness of capitalism, giving us Gyllenhaal’s best performance to date.

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