The 15 best Brendan Fraser movie and TV roles, ranked
From prehistoric caveman to Mummy-hunting hero, EW counts down the Oscar winner’s most memorable performances.
By Andrew Walsh March 14, 2023 at 06:57 PM EDT
The Brenaissance is officially upon us.
While DC comics fans were disappointed to learn his role as Firefly in the canceled Batgirl film will never see the light of day, Fraser still has plenty of high-profile projects in the pipeline to please audiences eager to see more of the actor. The Academy Award-winning star will soon grace both the big and small screen in Martin Scorsese‘s Killers of the Flower Moon, the upcoming comedy Brothers, and the fourth and final season of the HBO Max superhero series Doom Patrol.
With Tinseltown rolling out the red carpet for his return to A-list status, it’s the perfect time to see how he got here. Below, EW looks back at Fraser’s 15 best roles.
15. Encino Man (1992)
High school outcasts Dave Morgan (Sean Astin) and Stoney Brown (Pauly Shore) find a caveman (Fraser) trapped in ice while digging a pool in Dave’s backyard. The Valley boy duo names him Link (as in “Missing Link”) and take their discovery under their wing, transforming him from a prehistoric Neanderthal to… well, a modern-day Neanderthal. An early showcase for the comedic physicality Fraser would bring to later roles, Encino Man is a fun, silly, early ’90s throwback.
14. Blast From the Past (1999)
In 1962, Dr. Calvin Weber (Christopher Walken) and his pregnant wife, Helen (Sissy Spacek), retreat into a fallout shelter in the backyard of their Los Angeles home when they mistake a plane crash for a nuclear attack. Thirty-five years later, their (literally) sheltered son Adam (Fraser) emerges from the bunker in search of supplies, and learns the world is intact. Raised on a pop culture diet of I Love Lucy and Perry Como, the socially awkward Adam is another man out of time on the Encino Man‘s resumé — this time with more than a monosyllabic vocabulary. When he meets Alicia Silverstone‘s worldly Eve, the sparks begin to fly in this charming fish-out-of-water comedy that proves he is just as adept at playing romantic leads as he is at mowing down mummies.
13. Bedazzled (2000)
This devilishly delightful comedy costarring Elizabeth Hurley as the “Princess of Darkness” is an underrated gem from Fraser’s early aughts heyday. As the awkward, nerdy Elliot Richards, he pines for the affection of his coworker Alison (Frances O’Connor), who barely knows he’s alive — let alone that they work together. After a particularly humiliating attempt to ask her out, he declares he’d give anything to have her in his life. Cue Beelzebub herself, who arrives with a contract granting him seven wishes in exchange for his soul.
In this Harold Ramis-directed remake of the 1967 Dudley Moore original, Fraser gets to show off a variety of characters. As EW wrote in 2000, “It’s not every actor who can pull off playing a computer geek, a rock star, a genius, a drug lord, and a 7’9” basketball pro — all in the same movie. But that’s exactly what Fraser manages to do in ‘Bedazzled.”
12. No Sudden Move (2021)
In Steven Soderbergh‘s ensemble crime caper, three small-time crooks (Don Cheadle, Benicio Del Toro, and Kieran Culkin) are hired by underworld facilitator Doug Jones (Fraser) to steal a set of documents from the office of an auto executive (David Harbour). Of course, things go sideways, and the simple job turns into a complex series of double crosses as the nature of the documents are slowly revealed. Set against the backdrop of racial segregation in 1950s Detroit, with a smart, twisty script from Ed Solomon (Men in Black, Now You See Me), No Sudden Move is an engrossing modern-day noir.
11. Trust (2018)
The short-lived FX drama Trust is a Succession-esque period piece that tells the story behind the highs and lows of the infamous, wealthy Getty family. Created by writer Simon Beaufoy with Danny Boyle‘s direction — the duo behind the award-winning hit Slumdog Millionaire — Trust focuses on the 1973 kidnapping and ransom of John Paul Getty III (Harris Dickinson). Fraser is James Fletcher Chase, the chief of security for family patriarch J. Paul Getty (Donald Sutherland), who is sent to Italy to track down the abducted heir. A Southern fried, fourth-wall-breaking ex-CIA agent, whose genial persona masks the shrewd investigator underneath, he gives what EW critic Kristin Baldwin called “a controlled, magnetic performance.”
10. Airheads (1994)
L.A. rock band the Lone Rangers is so desperate for their big break that they hijack a local radio station to get airplay for their demo. But when the dimwitted trio’s tape is accidentally destroyed, they quickly find themselves at the center of an escalating crisis as they finally get the attention they craved — just not in the way they hoped. Starring alongside Adam Sandler, Steve Buscemi, and Chris Farley, Fraser’s frustrated lead singer Chazz is full of comic outrage, and he skillfully holds his own amongst Airheads comedy heavyweights in a role Sandler alleges he fought to cast the actor in.
9. With Honors (1994)
When ambitious Harvard senior Monty Kessler (Fraser) drops the only copy of his thesis paper down a grate, it falls into the hands of an eccentric unhoused man named Simon Wilder (Joe Pesci) who lives in the boiler room below. Simon uses this opportunity to blackmail Monty into performing a series of favors for him, and in exchange for each one, he’ll return one page. Without the paper, Monty won’t graduate “with honors,” so he agrees to the deal. As he earns back his thesis, Monty’s antagonistic relationship with Simon blossoms into a genuine friendship, and he learns valuable lessons about life and love. While the aspirational message leans a little on the schmaltzy side, Fraser gives an earnest, grounded performance that keeps this mid-’90s dramedy from going all the way over the edge.
8. George of the Jungle (1997)
A live-action remake of the 1960s animated Tarzan spoof, George of the Jungle redefines the term physical comedy. Ripped and slapstick ready, Fraser’s George swings through the titular jungle, slamming into trees while falling — literally and figuratively — for plucky San Francisco heiress Ursula Stanhope (Leslie Mann). In EW’s 1997 review of the Disney hit, Lisa Schwarzbaum wrote “that Fraser, previously primitive in Encino Man, is so appealingly game — and therefore funny — in his Nicolas Cage-in-Con Air hair, as he tries to make sense of his very human attraction to Ursula, that he charms the butt flaps off you.”
7. The Quiet American (2002)
Directed by Phillip Noyce and costarring Michael Caine, this adaptation of Graham Greene’s 1955 novel is one of the best-reviewed films of his career. Set in Saigon in 1952, Fraser plays Alden Pyle, an American aid worker whose aw-shucks persona hides a more nefarious purpose: He’s been sent by the CIA to further America’s interests in the region. He soon finds himself entangled in a romantic triangle with British journalist Thomas Fowler (Caine) and Fowler’s Vietnamese lover Phuong (Do Thi Hai Yen), as he attempts to push forward his violent imperialist agenda.
Former EW critic Lisa Schwarzbaum gave the film an A- upon release, stating “[a] beautiful melancholy hovers over the tragic players in this superbly controlled, passionate adaptation… Michael Caine gives a towering performance as a tired British journalist; Brendan Fraser matches him as a fresh-faced American on a mission.”
6. Doom Patrol (2019-present)
Following a deadly crash, bad boy race car driver Cliff Steele’s (Fraser) brain is implanted into a clunky robot body by the morally ambiguous scientist Niles Caulder (Timothy Dalton). Presumed dead by the world and unable to experience any physical sensation, Cliff rages against this second chance at life and the prison of his metal body. He yearns to reconnect with the now grown-up daughter he left behind as he gets roped into all manner of bizarre world-ending scenarios.
With the exception of a few flashbacks, Fraser’s presence on the HBO Max series Doom Patrol is mostly relegated to voice-over. The role allows the star to show he is more than just a recognizable face, as he delivers a pitch-perfect performance, imbuing the comically stiff Robot Man with a beating human heart.
5. Gods and Monsters (1998)
Gods and Monsters is a semi-fictional account of the final days of openly gay Frankenstein director James Whale (Ian McKellen). After the filmmaker suffers a series of strokes, he begins to relive memories of his time in a World War I POW camp, his turbulent childhood, and his past Hollywood glories. Lonely and depressed, he becomes infatuated with his hunky heterosexual gardener Clayton Boone (Fraser), whom he convinces to pose as a model for his sketches. In this Oscar winner for Best Adapted Screenplay, Fraser gives one of his most vulnerable performances, prompting former EW scribe Steve Daly to call him “a revelation.”
4. School Ties (1992)
In one of his earliest film roles, Fraser plays David Greene, a Jewish student awarded a football scholarship to a prestigious Catholic prep school. Fearing the prejudice he will face, David hides his faith, ignoring the anti-Semitic remarks he hears on a regular basis. But when a teacher accidentally exposes the truth to a rival classmate, the campus turns on him, and he becomes the target of bigotry and false accusations.
Thousands of actors auditioned for the lead role —including Noah Wyle, Kyle Chandler, and Matthew Perry. But director Robert Mandel said in EW’s 2017 School Ties oral history, “You put Brendan in a group of 10 other guys, he clearly was David.” Giving a standout, multi-layered performance amongst a who’s who of ’90s stars like Chris O’Donnell, Matt Damon, and Ben Affleck, Fraser anchors this film about the insidious nature of intolerance.
2. The Mummy (1999) and 3. The Mummy Returns (2001)
As swashbuckling adventurer Rick O’Connell in the Mummy franchise, Fraser is at the height of his leading man powers. With his killer jawline and six-pack abs, he’s Indiana Jones by way of Crossfit, an action figure in human form. His roguish charm and romantic chemistry with costar Rachel Weisz turned this remake of the 1932 Boris Karloff monster movie classic into a modern-day blockbuster. However, the star shows off more than his muscles in his battle with Imhotep (Arnold Vosloo) for the fate of the world.
As EW’s critic said in 1999, “Handsome in a funny way, swaggering in a goofy way, Fraser gooses the movie with his deft comic timing… It’s a good thing the Mummy didn’t go looking for a funny bone, because if he did, Fraser would be a dead duck.”
1. The Whale (2022)
Director Darren Aronofsky’s adaptation of Samuel D. Hunter’s play is a dark, psychological drama about a reclusive English teacher with a compulsive overeating disorder who attempts to reconnect with his estranged teenage daughter Ellie (Sadie Sink) while struggling with the grief of losing his partner. Charlie (Fraser) teaches his courses online behind the safety of a black screen. His only regular interactions are with a pizza delivery boy, with whom he avoids contact, a missionary trying to convert him, and his best friend and caretaker, Liz (fellow Oscar nominee Hong Chau). After eight years of avoiding her father, Charlie convinces Ellie to spend time with him in exchange for all the money in his bank account, and the two embark on an emotionally fraught reunion as his health rapidly deteriorates.
To inhabit Charlie’s 600-pound frame, Fraser — in a decision that has attracted controversy — dons heavy prosthetics, but underneath the added layers, the actor gives a hauntingly nuanced turn, imbuing Charlie’s struggle with complexity and a deep empathy. In her review, EW critic Leah Greenblatt called Fraser’s work “lovely” and “unshowy,” and deserving of its many award wins. Despite the focus on the 54-year-old’s metamorphosis, the Oscar winner succeeds in “finding the light in a dark place” and delivers one of the greatest performances of his career.
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