Michael Douglas started his life in Hollywood as the son of Kirk Douglas, but since then, has had such an incredible career that not many remember that fact. The actor was one of the biggest movie stars of the ’80s and ’90s, and he’s still working all these years later, be it in the MCU as Hank Pym, as Liberace in Behind the Candelabra, or in the TV series, The Kominsky Method.
The actor has won two Academy Awards in his career, one as the lead actor in Wall Street, and one as the producer for One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, and through his work, what’s always been obvious is how good of taste he has at selecting roles, creating a very eclectic career full of memorable characters that are still remembered, many years later. Here are Michael Douglas’ 10 greatest movies, ranked.
10 Traffic (2000)
- Release Date
- March 23, 2000
- Benicio Del Toro , Jacob Vargas , Andrew Chavez , Michael Saucedo , Tomas Milian , Jose Yenque
Traffic tells three different, interconnected stories about the war on drugs. Douglas plays an Ohio judge who is named head of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, but at home, his daughter (Erika Christensen) is already an addict who is using crack and heroin.
The Most Heartbreaking Part of Traffic
The film has an incredible cast, with many moving parts, so Douglas is not the leading man, but his story might be one of the most heartbreaking, as he spends his time as a public persona fighting the drug trade, but once he experiences firsthand the damage drugs can do to a family, his way of thinking changes, showing his vulnerability and sadness with everything that is happening to his daughter.
Rent on Apple TV
9 Falling Down (1993)
Falling Down is a weird, scary, film that might have more in common with the TV series Beef than it might seem at first sight. This is the story of Bill Foster (Douglas), a man, who, after many injustices in his life, and while in a traffic jam on the hottest day of the year, can’t take it anymore and goes on a violent, anger-fueled rampage.
Douglas Embraces a Violent Role
Douglas is incredible as Foster. You can see the disillusionment behind his eyes; his rage, and his violent personality are coming out as he feels the world is against him. He’s had enough, and doesn’t care about exploding. The film might also be a distant relative of Joker, as this character and Arthur Fleck (Joaquin Phoenix) have the same feelings against society.
Rent on Apple TV
8 The China Syndrome (1979)
The China Syndrome is all about Kimberly Wells (Jane Fonda), a TV reporter who wants to be taken seriously, and gets her chance when she stumbles into an almost catastrophe at a power plant that could have killed thousands of people. With her cameraman (Douglas), they try to report it and fall into a conspiracy, as some powerful people don’t want that information out.
A Solid Conspiracy Flick
It’s one of the best films about conspiracies, and one of the first where Douglas proved he could be a leading man. His portrayal of Richard Adams is that of a roguish cameraman who films things he shouldn’t, and steals the footage once it’s taken from him. Douglas has always been good at playing grey characters, and his role here starts as such before proving he’s a good person who might be killed for what they have uncovered.
Rent on Apple TV
7 The Game (1997)
The Game is all about Nicholas van Orton (Douglas), a man who has everything in life, so he gets a unique birthday present from his brother, Conrad (Sean Penn), one that will change his life.
An Unlikable Protagonist
The film should have been a Fincher classic, as it’s an incredible thriller, and as the twists and turns keep happening, Douglas shows how the character is being broken inside more and more, so much so, that audiences believe the evolution of his arc, and what he tries to do to stop the whole thing. The actor has always allowed himself to look bad for a role, and here he does so in spades.
Stream on Starz
6 Basic Instinct (1992)
In Basic Instinct, Nick Curran (Douglas) is a police detective who must solve the murder of a rock star. It looks like her widow, Catherine (Sharon Stone), a writer who published a novel with the same killing method as the perfect suspect. The problem is that Curran is being seduced by her.
The King of Erotic Thrillers
Douglas was the lead in many sleazy, thrillers with a kind of erotic feel, where his character was easily seduced by an insane woman, so we had to put one on the list. This one is the wildest story of them all, and was an incredible surprise at the box office, leading to a couple of memorable moments that are still remembered today.
Stream on Paramount+
5 The War of the Roses (1989)
Barbara (Kathleen Turner) and Oliver (Douglas) seem like the perfect marriage from the outside, but nothing is further from the truth. When their divorce starts, they fight to get every material thing in their house. That’s the plot of The War of the Roses, one of the darkest comedies ever made.
Incredible Chemistry with Kathleen Turner
After doing Romancing the Stone, the chemistry between Turner and Douglas was more than obvious, so it made sense that they would repeat it with another film, and this was a great vehicle for it. Douglas plays Oliver, who starts as controlling and in love, but as the movie moves along, he becomes vindictive and vengeful, trying to take as much damage as possible from his wife, even if at the end there’s an inch of redemption for his character.
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4 Romancing the Stone (1984)
In Romancing the Stone, Joan Wilder (Kathleen Turner) is a romance writer who must go to Colombia to rescue her kidnapped sister. To do so, she needs the help of smuggler Jack Colton (Douglas).
A Rare Action Hero Role
The adventure-romance genre should come back, and this film is proof of why, as it has a fun rhythm, some jokes, a slow-burn romance, and some surprising action set pieces. The chemistry between the two actors is incredible, and Douglas was great as the Indiana Jones-style character, showing he could also play a certain kind of action hero.
Rent on Apple TV
3 Behind the Candelabra (2013)
Behind the Candelabra is all about famous pianist Liberace (Douglas), and his love story-turned-toxic with young lover, Scott Thompson (Matt Damon).
An Underrated Biopic
Both Douglas and Damon are great in this unique Steven Soderbergh film. Douglas switches between a flamboyant, charismatic persona on stage, and a much more selfish and resentful person when he’s with Thompson, especially at the end of their relationship, when things are going sideways. Douglas won an Emmy for the performance, and well deservedly so.
Stream on Max
2 Wall Street (1987)
Wall Street tells the story of ambitious broker Bud Fox (Charlie Sheen), who becomes much richer with the help of his mentor, Gordon Gekko (Douglas), while bending the legal rules for his own benefit.
An Effect on Culture
The film and the “greed is good” speech earned Douglas his second Academy Award (and first for acting), and his character, who should be the devil, is so charismatic, that he sent a whole generation of ambitious, money-first people into the real Wall Street, as they believed Gekko’s speech was a way of life. That’s right, Douglas’ performance was so good, that it made the real Wall Street worse.
Stream on Starz
1 The American President (1995)
The American President is a romantic story where the widowed President of the United States (Douglas) falls for a lobbyist (Annette Bening), and it works well as both a romance, and a commentary on what it means to be President and the circus the elections were starting to become.
Michael Douglas’ Best Movie
Douglas has always had the charisma and power to play the president, but what makes the character great here is how he mixes those qualities with vulnerability, and a romantic soul, creating one of the best performances as a United States President ever, and one that works greatly with Bening. This was one of the first scripts by Aaron Sorkin, and it’s fun to see it as a test run for what would become The West Wing, including some of the actors in it, like Michael Sheen and Joshua Malina.
Stream on Apple TV