Ryan Gosling has been turning heads ever since he whisked us away in the 2004 romance classic The Notebook. Sure, he started making waves as a teen actor in the 90s (Young Hercules, Breaker High), but it wasn't until the early 2000s that Gosling became a real known entity.
At first, it seemed as if the Canadian actor could wind up as another typecast pretty boy who has more style than substance—even if he was ironically cast in The Notebook for not being "handsome," according to director Nick Cassavetes.
However, the A-lister has consistently proven his acting range time and time again with roles from suspected wife killer (All Good Things) to aspiring musician caught in a love triangle (Song to Song).
Here are my picks for Ryan Gosling's greatest movies, evaluated by both his performance and the film as whole.
15. The Believer (2001)
Directed by Henry Bean
Starring Ryan Gosling, Summer Phoenix, Peter Meadows
Drama (1h 38m)
Unlike his more well-known romance or action hero leads, The Believer sees Ryan Gosling as a Jewish neo-Nazi skinhead. Yep, you read that right! A Jewish Nazi. What in the oxymoron...
Although Daniel does believe in a Jewish God, he doesn't like Him and he views Him as a vengeful bully. Daniel begs for violence—to inflict it and to receive it—and is plagued by visions of himself as both a Nazi officer and a Holocaust victim.
Gosling's portrayal of this New York fascist fanatic could have easily veered into offensive caricature, but instead provokes us with electric, shocking intensity.
14. Lars and the Real Girl (2007)
Directed by Craig Gillespie
Starring Ryan Gosling, Emily Mortimer, Paul Schneider
Comedy, Drama, Romance (1h 46m)
Lars and the Real Girl is one of Ryan Gosling's more niche movies, practically unknown to everyone except film buffs (despite being critically acclaimed) and one of the few instances where Gosling didn't splash tabloids as a heartthrob.
He's not meant to, though. In Lars and the Real Girl, Gosling plays a socially awkward, haphephobic small towner whose girlfriend is... a life-size sex doll? One that Lars treats like a human.
Craig Gillespie's complex comedy ultimately leaves us with a twinge of sadness, mostly from Gosling's troubled protagonist who's somewhat uncomfortable (yet hilarious) to watch.
13. Crazy, Stupid, Love (2011)
Directed by Glenn Ficarra and John Requa
Starring Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling, Julianne Moore
Comedy, Drama, Romance (1h 58m)
If Ryan Gosling had a large female fan base in 2004, it only grew exponentially in 2011, which was the year he showed off his chiseled six-pack abs in Crazy, Stupid, Love.
Emma Stone stands in for any and all Gosling-loving viewers as she plays the romantic interest who gasps at the sight of his bare chest. It sounds hollow, but that's exactly what Jacob Palmer is supposed to be: sexy, suave, and shallow.
It's only at the end of this feel-good rom-com that Jacob learns to bring meaning into his life, after having taught Steve Carell's character how to style out his midlife crisis.
12. The Ides of March (2011)
Directed by George Clooney
Starring Ryan Gosling, George Clooney, Philip Seymour Hoffman
Drama, Thriller (1h 41m)
It might surprise you to know that George Clooney is also a director, and his best movie is by far The Ides of March. It's so good that it earned an Oscar nomination!
This was partly thanks to its riveting source material: an acclaimed, off-Broadway play from Beau Willimon (Farragut North) with events loosely based on the 2004 Democratic primary elections.
Clooney also stars in his own glossy political drama, playing the presidential candidate Mike Morris. But Morris isn't the center of this story! That goes to Ryan Gosling as Morris's junior campaign manager who gets all caught up in a political scandal.
11. First Man (2018)
Directed by Damien Chazelle
Starring Ryan Gosling, Claire Foy, Jason Clarke
Biography, Drama, History (2h 21m)
First Man is one of those anomalous movies that critics adored but remained largely forgotten about by general audiences. This could be due to its lack of in-your-face, all-American patriotism that's synonymous with the 1969 moon landing.
Damien Chazelle elects for a soaring visual feast over a cold, fact-based historic account, featuring Ryan Gosling as astronaut Neil Armstrong. Having perfected the obsessed artist trope in Whiplash, Chazelle knew how to capture Armstrong's dangerous need to conquer space.
His preference for close-up, handheld shots reinforces the personal side of Armstrong's story, where his family life is treated as equally important to his career.
10. The Nice Guys (2016)
Directed by Shane Black
Starring Russell Crowe, Ryan Gosling, Angourie Rice
Action, Comedy, Crime (1h 56m)
Ryan Gosling really let his (surprising) knack for comedic timing shine in The Nice Guys. It's an overlooked and difficult skill to master in the movie business, especially when you aren't a comedy actor!
Gosling has made us laugh before, but in The Nice Guys, he has us wheezing. His talent for balancing sincerity with exaggeration comes into play here as he depicts a loser private detective in 1970s LA.
Starring opposite Russell Crowe's brooding competitor-turned-friend, Gosling spends most of Shane Black's buddy-comedy stumbling around, confused, and drunk.
9. The Big Short (2015)
Directed by Adam McKay
Starring Christian Bale, Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling
Biography, Comedy, Drama (2h 10m)
Capitalizing on his Saint Laurent-wearing, charming-man role in Crazy, Stupid, Love, Ryan Gosling later appeared as the money-loving salesman Jared Vennett in The Big Short.
A Jordan Belfort-like narrator (The Wolf of Wall Street) who constantly breaks the fourth wall, Jared's purpose in The Big Short is to both inform and entertain. Tick and tick.
The Big Short is a fairly complicated look into the nitty-gritties of the 2008 financial crash, hence why we need Gosling there to explain it. And what a perfectly cast middleman he is, using humor to excite the corporate exposition.
8. The Place Beyond the Pines (2012)
Directed by Derek Cianfrance
Starring Ryan Gosling, Bradley Cooper, Eva Mendes
Crime, Drama, Thriller (2h 20m)
Since his days of being told "you're not handsome, you're not cool, you're just a regular guy who looks a bit nuts" by Nick Cassavetes, Ryan Gosling has aged like fine wine and managed to win over model/actress Eva Mendes. (Their marriage went public in 2022.)
The couple met on the set of Derek Cianfrance's crime epic The Place Beyond the Pines, in which Gosling is covered head-to-toe in tattoos and riding motorcycles in an ambitious exploration of masculinity.
Their bittersweet family plotline is taken over by Bradley Cooper in a surprising mid-way plot twist, followed by another new protagonist in the third act. A thematic triptych of fatherhood.
7. Barbie (2023)
Directed by Greta Gerwig
Starring Margot Robbie, Ryan Gosling, America Ferrera
Adventure, Comedy, Fantasy (1h 54m)
Ryan Gosling's most recent film sees him with bleached hair and neon roller skates as he plays the Ken to Margot Robbie's Barbie. Greta Gerwig used the kids toy as a platform to critique society, mostly through a pink-tinted feminist lens.
Gosling's part as Ken in a Barbie world is just that: "just Ken." A Ken that, after being transported to the real world, discovers what the patriarchy is and brings it back with him—then finds out he was #kenough all along.
Some people complained that Gosling's performance overshadowed Barbie, which goes completely against the film's point. Yet, you can't blame him for being such a natural and likable comedian!
6. Half Nelson (2006)
Directed by Ryan Fleck
Starring Ryan Gosling, Anthony Mackie, Shareeka Epps
Drama (1h 46m)
Half Nelson is an underappreciated indie gem that features Ryan Gosling as a lonely, cocaine-addicted history teacher in Brooklyn. Boy, range really is his middle name!
An inspiring teacher reminiscent of John Keating (Dead Poets Society) or Erin Gruwell (Freedom Writers), Dan uses unorthodox methods to better reach his students.
Director Ryan Fleck shoots almost exclusively in close-ups (making mainstream viewers click away in unfamiliarity) so that Half Nelson feels both claustrophobic and intimate.
This tight focus on Dan, whether freebasing in a locker room or picking up off a student, makes the emotional impact particularly sting.
5. Blue Valentine (2010)
Directed by Derek Cianfrance
Starring Ryan Gosling, Michelle Williams, John Doman
Drama, Romance (1h 52m)
Blue Valentine employs a close-up, handheld style that earned it high praise among cinephiles. Derek Cianfrance directs Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams as a volatile couple across two timelines (who actually lived together in preparation for their roles).
Dean and Cindy begin their relationship in a sweet tale of modern courtship and young romance. The end of their marriage, though, is a much sadder story.
Gosling's three-dimensional performance also gifts us a stripped-down version of the vocals he showed off in La La Land as he sings his rendition of "You Always Hurt the One You Love."
4. The Notebook (2004)
Directed by Nick Cassavetes
Starring Ryan Gosling, Rachel McAdams, James Garner
Drama, Romance (2h 3m)
Ryan Gosling has played his part in a fair few movie romances, but none so iconic as The Notebook. Probably his most mainstream film—which still makes the lists of "best movies to cry to" 20 years on—The Notebook is an adaptation of the novel by Nicholas Sparks.
Romance wasn't quite dead back in the 1940s, the time period in which The Notebook is mostly set (even as it flicks back to the modern day because the plot is being recalled to us Titanic-style).
Gosling plays a working-class boy who chases an upper-class girl, then builds an entire mansion for her all while putting everyone's husbands to shame. Say what you will about The Notebook, but Gosling's performance as Noah is one not to forget.
3. Blade Runner 2049 (2017)
Directed by Denis Villeneuve
Starring Harrison Ford, Ryan Gosling, Ana de Armas
Action, Drama, Mystery (2h 44m)
Sequels to cult classics are always risky business, but with Ryan Gosling in the driver seat, Blade Runner 2049 was a pretty safe bet.
Continuing on from the story of Harrison Ford's Rick Deckard chasing androids in a dystopian Los Angeles, Gosling appears as a Nexus-9 replicant who believes Deckard is his father.
Denis Villeneuve contemporizes the cyberpunk aesthetics that made Blade Runner so visually iconic, making us gasp in awe at the smoke-filled, neon-lit images. But aside from looking awesome, Gosling grounded the film with his gritty depiction of a noir-like protagonist.
2. La La Land (2016)
Directed by Damien Chazelle
Starring Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, Rosemarie DeWitt
Comedy, Drama, Music (2h 8m)
We've already mentioned that Ryan Gosling can sing, but did you know he can also tap dance? And play piano? And guitar? And bass? Talk about a jack of all trades...
La La Land is one of the few musicals that even musical-haters enjoy, directed by Damien Chazelle whose passion for music can be found in Whiplash, Grand Piano, and Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench.
Gosling expertly harmonizes charisma, humor, romance, and passion to win over Emma Stone in this dreamy caricature of Hollywood, all while occasionally breaking out in song. We wouldn't mind bumping into him at his jazz bar...
1. Drive (2011)
Directed by Nicolas Winding Refn
Starring Ryan Gosling, Carey Mulligan, Bryan Cranston
Action, Drama (1h 40m)
Move over Steve McQueen! Ryan Gosling is the new certified King of Cool, most evident by his showing in Drive in which he makes up for his other appearances in some questionable action flicks (The Gray Man, Gangster Squad...).
Simply referred to as "Driver," Gosling plays a man-of-few-words in Nicolas Winding Refn's crime drama and puts in a brooding performance worthy of a standing ovation at Cannes.
Stuntman by day, getaway driver by night, Gosling's protagonist is macho without the sexism, eventually falling for his new neighbor Irene (played by Carey Mulligan).
Sparse dialogue and slick cinematography make Drive one for the film lovers, though be warned of its graphic violence.