Tom Hardy’s 20 Best Film Performances
20. Rocknrolla (2008)
There aren’t as many mockney-geezery roles in Tom Hardy’s career as you might think, although he has a turn in this and also in Matthew Vaughn’s Layer Cake, in which he plays one of the lackadaisical members of a crew run by Daniel Craig’s icily professional cocaine dealer. In Guy Ritchie’s notorious gangster drama he plays Handsome Bob, a bit of a lairy bastard, with a secret emotional life, who works with Idris Elba. The film set my teeth on edge, but Hardy brings some of his trademarked truculent charisma.
19. This Means War (2012)
This is a dodgy one for Hardy fans, although he gets points for an excursion outside his comfort zone into the world of larksome capers. In this frantic, strained comedy, Hardy plays a super-tough federal agent, a cockney superlad with a V-necked jumper and a simian walk. His partner is smooth hottie Chris Pine. Both guys fall for adorable Reese Witherspoon, and use all their spyware paraphernalia to spy on each other taking Reese out on dates. Maybe Jason Statham and Dwayne Johnson would have been better.
18. Venom (2018)
Hardy deserves a high-profile role in a Marvel movie — and he is one of the very few actors who would be equally credible as superhero or supervillain. But this isn’t the one. Here he plays tough investigative reporter Eddie Brock, who takes down corporate bad guys in his weekly online show. But then he “fuses”, horribly, with a symbiote organism imported from outer space by precisely the kind of evil business behemoth that he exposes on his programme and becomes the monstrous Venom. The element of broad comedy really isn’t Hardy’s thing.
17. Marie Antoinette (2006)
Hardy has a tiny role in Sofia Coppola’s film, playing Raumont, the discontented nobleman at Marie Antoinette’s court, a young intriguer who is a keen enough participant in the power politics of the day, but without the status to which he thinks himself entitled. Hardy’s relatively low profile here is probably because he is not fully plausible as a pretty-boy figure and had yet to grow into a his bulkier, more macho looks.
16. Child 44 (2015)
Hardy is here well into his broodingly impassive hunk phase in this hefty adaptation of the historical bestseller, set in the postwar Soviet Union and based on a real case. Hardy plays Leo Demidov, the soldier who hoisted the Red Flag atop the Reichstag in Berlin in 1945 and went on to become a security officer. He’s on the trail of a serial killer, but hated by the regime for his tough refusal to denounce his wife on a trumped-up charge. It’s a heavy meal of a film, but Hardy brings to it an actorly muscle-mass.
15. The Reckoning (2002)
14. Lawless (2012)
Hardy isn’t especially known for patterned knitwear but maybe he should be, considering his woolly attire in this gonzo-violent Prohibition-era mob drama. He plays the deadpan Forrest Bondurant, a hooch runner in Virginia whose jumper really needs a handwash. His brother is Howard, played by Jason Clarke, and there’s a nervy younger brother, Jack, played by Shia LaBeouf. Hardy’s slow-moving, cool presence gives the film some ballast.
13. Warrior (2011)
This was a film widely considered in its day to have brought the smackdown and delivered the action wowsers. Hardy plays Tommy, an Iraq war veteran returning home to Philadelphia to settle the score with his boozy, bullying dad, Paddy, played by Nick Nolte. The father contritely agrees to coach Tommy in his career as an MMA fighter, but Tommy’s opponent turns out to be his equally tightly wound brother Brendan, played by Joel Edgerton. It’s by-the-numbers stuff, but Hardy is simmeringly charismatic.
12. Dunkirk (2017)
This is just a returning cameo, but what a cameo and what a film, from a director who gave Hardy some his best roles. The scene is the victory-from-defeat miracle of Dunkirk, when thousands of stranded British soldiers were rescued from the beaches of northern France with the aid of a plucky flotilla of small boats. Hardy plays Farrier, the lone RAF pilot who engages the enemy overhead at almost suicidal risk: it’s a role supercharged with significance considering how much the RAF was resented for a perceived failure to provide sufficient air cover during the evacuation.
11. Capone (2020)
A very strange but arresting performance from Hardy as the prematurely ageing Al Capone, under house arrest in Florida in the last year of his life, suffering from dementia and syphilis, starting to hallucinate and displaying an unfortunate habit of soiling himself in moments of stress. Hardy growls and rasps his insults in Italian and English.
10. Bronson (2008)
Many Hardy connoisseurs believe that it was this film, from the Danish provocateur Nicolas Winding Refn, that really propelled the actor into the big league. Crucially, he gained 100lbs (which meant he had a new Russell Crowe-type beefiness and solidity) to play the notorious British prisoner Charles Bronson (a self-given name, having been born Michael Peterson), a lifer whose bizarre delusions and propensity for violence in jail has kept him banged up for the past three decades. Bronson addresses the audience directly, like a droll and dapper music hall turn. It’s a strange film, but a strong performance from Hardy.
9. Legend (2015)
Playing twins is a test for any actor, and Hardy tackles it with gusto in this dual role that he was surely born to play – Reggie and Ronnie Kray, the hideous cockney siblings who ruled East End gangland in the 1960s. Reggie is the supposedly more rational one, although without glasses, and Ronnie is barking mad, with glasses, and a tiny bit more weight. Hardy’s Ronnie has a perpetual pop-eyed stare of psychopathic disapproval, insisting on his own gayness in a growling voice, like a scary Tommy Cooper. Reggie, in all his comparative normality, is closer to being the film’s romantic lead.
8. London Road (2015)
This excellent, undervalued film from Rufus Norris was one of the most startling cinema experiences of the past decade: a movie opera based on the Ipswich serial killer case of 2006, in a reportage verbatim style, taken from eyewitness accounts – based on the stage play at London’s National Theatre. Hardy plays Mark, a minicab driver who has a choric function, singing about his own expertise on the subject of psychopathic homicide. He says defensively: “I’ve studied serial killers; it doesn’t mean I am one.” (But there is a worrying pause before the phrase: “I am one.”) It’s the nearest Hardy has come to Travis Bickle.
7. Inception (2010)
In Nolan’s dizzyingly hi-tech, high-concept cerebral thriller, Hardy plays one of a crew run by Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio), an industrial espionage hacker whose speciality is to invade people’s subconscious in order to steal their commercially sensitive secrets. Or, in this case, to mastermind the implanting (or inception) of an idea that will break up a business empire. Hardy is Cobb’s man Eames, whose speciality is shape-shifting identity theft, a skill that is very helpful in manipulating the enemy. It’s a posher, smoother and more sinuous role than we have come to expect from Hardy, and Nolan’s film brings out all the actor’s latent style and menace.
6. The Dark Knight Rises (2012)
This was another of the heavy-hitter roles that put Hardy on the map in a big way. In the third and final of Nolan’s Dark Knight movies, Hardy plays the mighty and merciless Bane, who squares off with Batman. Bane is a man masked with a heavy leather respirator to hide an awful disfigurement and he is the leader of an underground army of the disaffected. Most perplexingly, he speaks rather indistinctly through his mask and you often have to concentrate very hard to work out what he is saying. He sounds like Darth Vader shouting, while playing the bass accordion through a Harley Davidson exhaust pipe. But Hardy never gives it less than 100%.
5. The Revenant (2015)
This was probably the most purely and successfully villainous role of Hardy’s career, although he might as easily have been cast in the lead. Leonardo DiCaprio plays the real-life 19th-century frontiersman Hugh Glass, who was part of an expeditionary forceto establish a fur-trapping base in Missouri.
Hardy’s John Fitzgerald is one of the shifty men working alongside him who abandons Glass to his doom after the group is set upon by a warrior tribe, and later claims extra pay for having supposedly given him a Christian burial. But Glass is still alive, survives against terrible odds, and comes for payback. In a way, Hardy is there to embody all that DiCaprio’s character is fighting against: he has to be a worthy alpha-adversary, not simply mean and duplicitous. His gloweringly malign presence bookends the movie at the beginning and end – we are heading for a mighty confrontation.
4. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011)
John Le Carré’s intelligence thrillers are a far cry from the romanticised fantasies of James Bond. His is a world of dull chaps in dull suits trying not to think about shabby, shame-filled compromises and betrayals. But in this excellent version of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Hardy’s character Ricki Tarr is the nearest thing the drama has to a 007 figure, surrounded by Ms and Qs. He’s a young, physically fit spy who has a bit of derring-do and womanising in his life, dramatically reporting back to Gary Oldman’s Smiley from his posting in Istanbul. He is not posh like the others, and he wears a sheepskin jacket, racy denim shirt – and Hardy also has a reddish-blond wig for the role. The get-up is borderline absurd, perhaps, but Hardy carries it off and it is entirely consistent with the period. Smartened up, Hardy will make an excellent Bond.
3. The Drop (2014)
Of all the leading movie roles Hardy has had, this is probably the most conventionally sympathetic and heroic. In a Boston crime drama that is adapted from a story by Dennis Lehane, Hardy plays a nice, ordinary guy called Bob, who works in a bar owned by his glowering cousin Marv (James Gandolfini). The place is used as a drop point by Chechen gangsters for their illegal cash. Bob rescues a puppy from a trash-can nearby and this quaint act of altruism and innocence sets in train a series of dramatic and tragic events. Bob is a unique figure in Hardy’s CV: he is basically likable and relatable, and Hardy’s face and style have always resisted this kind of ingratiation. His character is also quite vulnerable, being bullied by a local cop and accused by him of letting down the church. The Drop is, in many ways, an outlier for Hardy, but it could point the way ahead for his future career.
2. Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)
For the majority of his fanbase, this is probably the key Hardy movie: George Miller’s widely adored reboot of his Mad Max franchise – a bizarre convoy-chase action fantasia in the post-apocalyptic Australian desert, where a warlord controls oil, water, bullets and milk. Hardy plays the taciturn Max Rockatansky (approximately the character played by Mel Gibson in the original), a former interceptor lawman and now a lone wolf, tormented by memories of the wife and child he couldn’t save.
He is captured by a hateful chieftain and taken to his stronghold from which he escapes in the company of the charismatic Charlize Theron. She is is to lead a feminist fightback against the misogynist tyranny that keeps the women oppressed, like farm animals, and she is to make common cause with Max. It is almost a silent movie role for Hardy, but his potent, bullish, violent presence and fierce face – rugged, yet sensually full-lipped – make him a living cartoon of rage in the desert sun.
1. Locke (2013)
This is Hardy’s finest hour, a film that shows what he really can do as an actor, when all the films that had made him famous seemed to have been suppressing the very qualities of subtlety and sensitivity that he shows here. Hardy plays British construction manager Ivan Locke, and the entire film is simply a shot of him at the wheel of his car, like a dashcam, as he talks to the people who are important in his life on his hands-free mobile. He is a dependable, professional, unemotional bloke who had been about to supervise the pouring of thousands of tonnes of wet cement into the foundations of new building in the Midlands.
But just when he is needed there in person, Locke has abandoned the site and is driving south to London. He is having a marital crisis and an emotional breakdown, but he is keeping it together; Hardy’s outstanding less-is-more acting shows the awful damage that this is inflicting on him personally. It is a vocal and physical performance that could be compared to Richard Burton, but is entirely distinctive personal work. This is top Hardy.