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Ethan Hawke's Best Movies and TV Shows, Ranked by Metacritic

Years of collaboration with Richard Linklater have been fruitful for Ethan Hawke. Find out what other projects are among his highest-rated, according to Metascore.
by Joshua Cox-Steib — 
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Ethan Hawke 

Tommaso Boddi / Getty Images

Ethan Hawke is a prolific and accomplished actor with a long-standing career, dating back to his first professional film credit of Explorers in 1985. Hawke was cast in that first role at the young age of 14. Since then, he has performed in a wide variety of genres spanning film and TV, such as rom-com Reality Bites, police drama Training Day and Richard Linklater's Before... trilogy However, he is not just an actor: He has writing, producing, and directing credits dating back to 1993. He even created and ran a television show — an adaptation of The Good Lord Bird for Showtime in 2020 — and directed a six-part documentary about Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward (The Last Movie Stars in 2022).

Hawke's vast experience in the entertainment industry has earned him much acclaim from critics, which you will see below on the list of his highest-rated projects, but also from awards voters. Over the years he has been nominated for four Oscars (two in the Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role category and two in the Best Writing, Adapted Screenplay category), as well as four Screen Actors Guild Awards and a BAFTA Award, while he picked up wins at the Gotham Awards, Critics Choice Awards and Daytime Emmys (to name a few).

Beyond the screen, Hawke starred in numerous theatrical performances, including Hamlet. Serendipitously, one of his newest films, The Northman, is based on the same ancient story as Hamlet, only this time Hawke plays the role of father and king, instead of young prince.

With such a diverse list of titles, there should be something on this list for just about anybody. (Although his current Marvel Studios series Moon Knight and his most recent film The Black Phone unfortunately didn't make the cut.) Those who enjoy watching his romantic performances and deep character roles may find more here to their liking than others. 

Here, Metacritic highlights the best movies and TV shows Hawke has acted in, ranked by Metascore.    


Boyhood

Metascore: 100
Best for: Fans of growth stories and unique approaches to cinema
Where to watch:

, Google Play, iTunes,
Runtime: 165 minutes

Linklater directed this unique take on childhood and growing up, filming Boyhood with the same cast over 12 years. This approach allowed them to capture the growth and difficulties of youth in an unusually authentic manner. Hawke stars as the father of Mason (played by Ellar Coltrane), the child this film follows, and Patricia Arquette stars as Mason's mother. The parents are divorced, and we see the pain of this separation and conflict through Mason's eyes as he ages throughout the movie. The film moves forward in time frequently, showing the lasting impacts that moments big and small can have on our growth and the growth of our children.

"Linklater makes you feel as if you're watching a photograph as it develops in the darkroom." — Chris Nashawaty, Entertainment Weekly


Before Midnight (2013)

Metascore: 94
Best for: People who enjoy romance movies and want to see more realism in relationship conflict
Where to watch:

, Google Play, , iTunes,
Runtime: 109 minutes

This is the third and final film in Linklater's love story of Jesse and Celine (played by Hawke and Julie Delpy, respectively), two people that first met as budding young adults in Before Sunrise. This film picks up 18 years after the first the trilogy, but nine years after the middle part, Before Sunset, and follows Jesse and Celine as they raise three kids, two of whom they've had together. A love story that begins with youthful frivolity and innocent ardor in Before Sunrise has started to show the fray of time, stress, and responsibility. When the couple finally finds some time alone, their hopes for closeness quickly turn to conflict and their long-standing relationship's unaddressed strains and difficulties boil to the surface, demanding attention above all else.

"Delpy and Hawke have never been more persuasive. Nor has the series." — Bob Mondello, NPR


Quiz Show

Metascore: 92
Best for: Those who enjoy television history, cultural narratives, and the evolution of social perception
Where to watch:

, Google Play, iTunes,
Runtime: 133 minutes

Based on a true story, Quiz Show highlights and analyzes the story of a televised game show that was ultimately revealed to be rigged. A recent winner on the show Herb Stempel (John Turturro) has his time cut short due to producers who feel ratings would be energized by having a new face on the program (Charles Van Doren, played by Ralph Fiennes). But that doesn't sit right with Herb, and he eventually goes public about the show's manipulations. The film explores a cultural fall from idealistic innocence into skeptical cynicism, as well as how culture and audience interest changed over time. While Herb is a working man from New York, Charles is an erudite and aristocratic sort, a professor at Columbia. Hawke has a brief cameo as one of the students at Columbia.

"Quiz Show manages a trick that few films even dare try — to take a hard look at personal and public moral issues and still provide dazzling entertainment." — Peter Stack, San Francisco Chronicle


Before Sunset

Metascore: 90
Best for: People who like romantic dramas and are Hawke and Delpy fans
Where to watch:

, Google Play, iTunes,
Runtime: 80 minutes

The middle film in Linklater's trilogy, Before Sunset, picks up nine years after its prequel, Before Sunrise. No longer as young and impulsive, our two star-crossed lovers meet again after almost a decade of growing into their own separate lives. Jesse, now a successful novelist, is promoting his book when it leads to a chance encounter with Celine. Although so much time has passed and certain elements have caused them to live with guarded hearts, it's clear that what bound them before still reigns strong. Their deep attraction and affection for each other quickly reignites, and they rekindle their relationship, allowing the audience to see another very specific snippet of their time together.

"Hawke, who so often comes off as glib and conceited, carves out a character with a depth created from disappointment and compromise." — Sean Axmaker, Seattle Post-Intelligencer


Before the Devil Knows You're Dead

Metascore: 85
Best for: Fans of tragic comedies and family stories gone wrong
Where to watch:

, , Google Play, iTunes, ,
Runtime: 117 minutes

In a complex presentation of family drama, deep character flaws, and unmitigated desperation, Before the Devil Knows You're Dead follows brothers Andy (played by Philip Seymour Hoffman) and Hank (played by Hawke) through the dismal mistakes of their lives. Indebted and broke, Andy contrives a criminal scheme — to rob their own parents' store — and pressures his younger brother into complicity. But he couldn't imagine how wrong it could possibly go.

"The storyline in Before the Devil Knows You're Dead carries both the rhythms of youthful vanity — and its attendant fearlessness — and the dead-on, relentless morality of an Old Testament Hollywood hand." — Marc Savlov, The Austin Chronicle


First Reformed

Metascore: 85
Best for: People who want to see how one might navigate the difficulties of faith and environmentalism
Where to watch:

, , Google Play, iTunes, ,
Runtime: 113 minutes

A story of faith, community, and the ever-marching tides of time, First Reformed stars Hawke as Ernst Toller, a pastor in a crisis of faith. His small but historic New York church has become more of a tourist attraction than a worship site, yet that ambiance is about to change. When a member of his congregation (played by Amanda Seyfried) comes to Ernst seeking counsel for her husband, a radical environmentalist (played by Philip Ettinger), the pastor is reinvigorated, spiritually. However, this renewal of faith isn't without its shades of darkness, as Ernst takes on his own environmental concerns.

"The result is an embittered look at our world through the eyes of someone who's increasingly horrified to be a part of it, and a film that's one of the most searing cinema experiences of the year." — David Sims, The Atlantic


The Good Lord Bird

Metascore: 84
Best for: Fans of abolitionist history and dark comedy
Where to watch:

, , Google Play, iTunes, ,
Seasons: 1

An adaptation of James McBride's novel of the same title, The Good Lord Bird, stars Hawke as abolitionist John Brown in his quest to end slavery. The series' protagonist is an enslaved boy named Henry (nicknamed Onion and played by Joshua Caleb Johnson) who gets caught up in Brown's mission and ends up on the road with him. This show juggles quite a bit, dealing with aspects of a coming-of-age story, a grim look at slavery and the battles against it, and a deeper insight into the controversial historical figure.

"Much of the joy of The Good Lord Bird… comes from watching everybody's wheels spinning, on-screen and behind-the-scenes, trying to figure out how to approach John Brown's place in this tragicomic history." — Dan Fienberg, The Hollywood Reporter


The Northman

Metascore: 83
Best for: Fans of Icelandic history and epic action movies set in the past
Where to watch: In theaters
Runtime: 136 minutes

The Northman is a Viking epic that takes place in ancient Iceland centering on Prince Amleth — who inspired William Shakespeare's play, Hamlet. Here, Amleth is played by Oscar Novak in childhood and Alexander Skarsgård in adulthood, and he witnesses his father, the king (played by Hawke), being murdered by his uncle (played by Claes Bang). This event leads young Amleth to flee for his life while swearing vengeance, which he eventually goes after as an adult. The Northman journeys through an ancient world ruled by supernatural beliefs and customs that have long since become a source of legend.   

"The Northman is a film of hard-bitten masculinity, about a time in history when 'bros being bros' meant fighting to the death at the foot of an erupting volcano." — Clarisse Loughery, The Independent.


Waking Life

Metascore: 83
Best for: People who enjoy experimental films, ideas around dreaming, and animated movies
Where to watch:

, Google Play, iTunes,
Runtime: 99 minutes

This rotoscoped film explores the idea of dreams and wakefulness and how thin and misunderstood the boundary between them might be. The tale follows an unnamed protagonist (played by Wiley Wiggins) through the odd landscape of a lucid dream as he tries to puzzle his way to wakefulness. Unable to wake, though, Wiley takes viewers through the landscape of his dream, showing montages and vignettes of different characters and scenes, pieced together with the style of pseudo-sensibility that epitomizes dreams. This is where Hawke comes in, as he reprises his Before... trilogy role (alongside Delpy) for a quick scene. Linklater wrote, directed, and shot this film as well.

"Waking Life does tell a story, but it's one made up of a cross-weaving of dream threads, a warp and weft of conversations that make sense sometimes in real-life logic and sometimes only in the shimmery, half-aware logic of our dreams." — Stephanie Zacharek, Salon


Dead Poets Society

Metascore: 79
Best for: Fans of comedy, counterculture, and Robin Williams
Where to watch:

, Google Play, iTunes,
Runtime: 128 minutes

Williams stars as Mr. Keating, a new poetry teacher at a reserved and strict New England prep school. When faced with the seriousness of his young students, Keating encourages them to "seize the day" and live their lives. While this attitude is at odds with the school and many of Keating's students, there are some with whom his message resonates. These eclectics form the secret, eponymous club and meet in private, reading, writing, and sharing poetry. More than that, though, they begin to explore who they are and what they want their lives to be. Hawke plays one of these young members, named Todd Anderson.

"Poetry and passion, comedy and tragedy are fused into one absolutely marvelous affirmation of independent spirit." — Judy Stone, San Francisco Chronicle