Jeffrey Wright’s 10 Best Performances, Ranked


Jeffrey Wright stepped firmly into the spotlight when his Tony, Golden Globe, and Emmy-winning role as Belize in Angels in America took Broadway and HBO by storm. He became an accomplished character actor in supporting roles in films like Ali, Syriana, and W. He has now found himself one of the biggest character actors in Hollywood, getting to be part of some of the biggest franchises from Batman to James Bond to the Hunger Games.


Wright has now been thrown into the awards race thanks to his incredible performance in the film American Fiction. In a year that has seen Cillian Murphy in Oppenheimer and Paul Giamatti in The Holdovers, it speaks to how great Wright is that he is being considered a potential frontrunner. Combine that with his return as Uatu the Watcher in What If…? season 2. 2023 was a great year for Jeffrey Wright. Here is a look at his best performances.

Update January 8, 2024: This article has been updated following Wright’s incredible 2023, which saw his highly acclaimed role in American Fiction and What If…? season two.


10 Beetee – The Hunger Games Series

Lionsgate

As one of the highest-grossing film franchises of all time, The Hunger Games was understandably one of the 2010s big hitters as far as the box office was concerned. This series of films focused on Katniss Everdeen and the dystopian society in which she found herself having to compete in the Hunger Games. While he didn’t appear in the first installment of the franchise, Wright would go on to feature as Beetee in Catching Fire and Mockingjay Part One and Two.

Related: Jeffrey Wright’s 10 Best Movies, Ranked by Rotten Tomatoes

Wright is extremely likable as Beetee, a respectable and empathetic character who is a tech genius and reportedly responsible for much of the Capitol’s technological advancements. He soon becomes one of the leading figures of the resistance and helps equip them with technology to bypass much of the Capitol’s superior firepower. Wright is given the opportunity to regularly show off his Thespian qualities, giving his on-screen persona an edge and depth that remains partly shrouded in mystery. Rent The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, Mockingjay Part One and Two on Vudu and Prime Video.

9 The Watcher – What If…? (2021 to Present)

The Watcher in the mirror dimension in Marvel's What If...? series
Marvel Studios

Voice roles often get overlooked when it comes to performance list, but if one can say that Rocket Raccoon is one of Bradley Cooper’s best performances, then the same can be said for Wright as The Watcher in the Marvel Cinematic Universe series What If…? (and one episode of I Am Groot). Based on the character Uatu, the Watcher from Marvel Comics, Wright’s character acts as a sort of Rod Serling Twilight Zone narrator for the audience, setting the stage for each episode in the vast Marvel multiverse.

Yet despite his vow to never interfere, The Watcher has found himself interacting with various alternate timelines, including assembling the Guardians of the Multiverse and having frequent conversations with Captain Carter. Wright gives The Watcher a cosmic gravitas, one of all power and knowledge the audience is fascinated by and wants to listen to. Despite being a voice role in an animated series, fans are hoping he appears in live-action as the character at some point. Stream on Disney+.

8 General Grif Gibson – Asteroid City (2023)

Asteroid City Jeff
Focus Features

As we have become accustomed to over the lifespan of Wes Anderson, the auteur has his favorites as far as casting his characters is concerned, and after working together collaboratively on 2021’s The French Dispatch, Anderson and Wright joined forces again, this time for 2023’s Asteroid City. The film that follows an assortment of junior stargazers and space cadets in the wake of an extra-terrestrial landing is really just Wes Anderson on a whimsically inspired ego trip but of the abundantly charming, vivacious kind.

Wright presents General Grif Gibson, and while, like most of the star-studded roster, is reduced to a few brief scenes, his immense capacity to be able to fully immerse himself in the role and adhere to the particular, idiosyncratic demands of Wes Anderson makes him such a vibrant screen presence. In his most captivating scene, where he delivers a four-minute-long speech in such an engrossing and theatrical way, the actor never loses the sense of who he’s playing; a military man, with respected authority. Stream on Prime

7 Lt. James Gordon — The Batman (2022)

Jeffrey Wright's Best Performances The Batman
Warner Bros. Pictures

The Batman was a box office smash hit when it opened in 2022, being second-highest opening of any film during the pandemic era behind only Spider-Man: No Way Home with $128.5 million. It saw the return of the caped crusader, with Robert Pattinson inhabiting the unmistakable black suit. The return follows Batman as he must track both Riddler and the Penguin through Gotham City as the pair wreak havoc.

Wright plays Lieutenant Gordon, a member of the city’s police department. A clear ally of Batman, as seen when Gordon is whispering to the Caped Crusader a plan on how he can escape the police station without being caught by the hostile officers giving them the death stare. Wright had monumental boots to follow, succeeding the great Gary Oldman. However, he didn’t disappoint and was a refreshing, slightly light-hearted change to this lawman. Stream on Max and Netflix.

6 Winston — Broken Flowers (2005)

Jeffrey Wright, in character as Winston, sits a dining table during an indoor scene from Broken Flow
Focus Features

Jim Jarmusch has proven that no matter the stage in his career, he’s always full of surprises. In his late-career triumph Broken Flowers, Jarmusch tells one of his most moving and insightful stories to date. The film stars a brilliant Bill Murray as Don Juan, an aging retired software tycoon with a string of failed relationships behind him, who receives a mysterious letter from an unknown ex claiming he has a son. Encouraged by his neighbor Winston, he sets out on a road trip to discover the potential identity of the letter’s author, along the way reconnecting with several of his old flames. Broken Flowers succeeds thanks to Jarmusch’s compassionate yet artful direction and Murray’s understated and nuanced performance, one which reflects the film’s subtle storytelling as well.

Wright plays Don’s busybody neighbor with a lively accent and steals every scene he’s in. A standout scene is when he and Don convince Winston’s young son that the cigarette Winston smokes is “just cannabis,” instead of tobacco in what is perhaps one of the funniest scenes in the film, especially given Wright’s comic timing and delivery of the line. Rent on Prime and Apple TV+

5 Roebuck Wright — The French Dispatch (2021)

Searchlight Pictures has revealed the first poster for The French Dispatch
Searchlight Pictures

The French Dispatch was released in October 2021 after pandemic-related delays. It is Wes Anderson’s comedy/romance love letter to journalism and tells the very interesting and wild story of an American newspaper published in France. The French Dispatch is perhaps one of the most visually appealing films to have been released in 2021. From the cinematography to the set design and costuming, everything about the movie is delightful to watch.

Related: All 10 Wes Anderson Movies, Ranked

A fitting, audacious ode to a particular style of long-form journalism, shown in a series of vignettes, The French Dispatch shows Wes formally at his most free. There’s plenty of Wes’ signature camera movement and gorgeous black-and-white cinematography sprinkled with his signature sense of melancholy tableau. First-time collaborator, Jeffrey Wright plays Roebuck Wright, a food journalist based on an amalgamation of James Baldwin and A. J. Liebling. Aside from his wig, which is both charming and equally endearing, Wright brings a confident yet subdued intensity to the role. His character’s TV interview scenes with Liev Schreiber are Wes Anderson’s unique style at its finest. Wright slots into the role effortlessly, and with all the natural pizzaz of an actor born to play under Anderson’s quirky direction. Stream on FuboTV

4 Felix Leiter — Casino Royale (2006), Quantum of Solace (2008) & No Time to Die (2021)

Jeffrey Wright in Casino Royale (2006)
Sony Pictures Releasing

In Daniel Craig’s James Bond films, dating back to Casino Royale, Wright played Bond’s CIA “good guy” liaison, Felix Leiter. He returned in Quantum of Solace before resurfacing in No Time to Die after going noticeably missing from Skyfall and Spectre. With the Craig Bond films being one giant origin for the character, showing his first mission up until his final mission, the relationship with Felix Leiter is a delight. Audiences get to see their first meeting in Casino Royale, and by the time of No Time To Die, the two are goofing around and joking as long-established friends before Felix’s tragic end.

While Felix Leiter was always a staple of the Bond franchise, he likely was not one fan thought of the same way they did M, Moneypenny, Q, or even the wide array of iconic villains. Yet thanks to Wright’s performance, giving Felix an American cool guy swagger to contrast against Bond’s British sophistication, he is now one of the most beloved parts of the James Bond mythos. Stream Casino Royale, Quantum of Solace and No Time to Die on Prime

3 Bernard Lowe — Westworld (2016 – Present)

Jeffrey Wright in Westworld
HBO

Imaginative world-building has defined Westworld‘s captivating vision of the future, featuring jaw-dropping architecture and the beautiful landscapes of its central robot theme park(s). This drama adapted the classic ’70s James Brolin flick using modern technology and set design, backing up its sci-fi premise with strong visual effects and sleek cinematography. The wonders only grew as the story branched out to include more than the initial Wild West park, the story of the robot revolution spilling into the real world and other Delos parks — even a “Westeros” one. The series’ stunning version of 2058 gave us a technologically advanced (albeit morally corrupt) Los Angeles, and 2022’s season 4 continued to deliver where it had left off in season 3.

Wright plays Bernard Lowe, Westworld’s head of the programming division and programmer of artificial people’s software. Wright also portrays Arnold Weber, the co-founder of Westworld. Wright plays Lowe and Weber exceptionally. His seasoned experience continually shines through, and his ability to hold onto this permanent sense of rationale and reason through this boffin-like character. While much of the cast got praise, from Evan Rachel Wood to James Marsden and Thandiwe Newton, one could mark the argument that Wright was the breakout star of the series. Stream on DirectTV

2 Jean-Michel Basquiat – Basquiat (1996)

basquiat
Miramax

Eight years after the death of one of the most influential artists of his generation, the 1996 biopic, Basquiat, hit the silver screen. Detailing the life and times of Jean-Michel Basquiat, who started out as an urban street artist before making his name as one of the leading painters in the world. The film confronts the artist’s struggles with addiction and the difficulties of life growing up in one of the most impoverished, deprived areas of New York.

Jeffery Wright assumes the mantle of the titular character, a major step in his filmmaking career, with it being his first leading role in a feature. Shooting the film in his late 20s, Wright was at the perfect stage in his career to portray this complex, deeply troubled, yet incalculably talented artist. Capturing this legend with such empathy, nuance, and intricacy, Wright’s display is full of this almost unattainable pensive quality that this fanciful figure possessed. Stream on The Criterion Channel.

1 Thelonious “Monk” Ellison – American Fiction (2023)

A Black man and woman strolling through a field with tall grass.
Amazon MGM Studios

Now 58, the actor’s most recent role came in 2023’s American Fiction, a riveting social commentary on inner workings of a Black American family and the life of an author disillusioned by the ways of the world and the perpetual profiteering from “Black” entertainment. This poignant lesson on the disenfranchisement of the Black community is both timely and expertly executed, and it is conceived through the lens of Wright’s presentation of the principal character, Thelonious Ellison. Wright thoroughly embodies this conflicted man, who finds himself succumbing to both societal and industry pressure, putting pen to paper on a book and plot he despises.

Wright excels as this profoundly intelligent and incredibly privileged black man, challenged by his toughest opposition to date: his ego. The film is a great comedy and drama, and all hangs on Wright’s ability to balance both tones, at times playing bewildered and leaning into stereotypes to appease white audiences in what they want while also needing to focus on smaller character scenes struggling with his families personal drama and an emerging relationship with a neighbor Carolina (Erika Alexander).

While primarily known for supporting roles, American Fiction is truly Wright’s time to shine in a lead role and one he deserves. Wright has already been nominated for many Critics Awards for his performance and was nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Actor in a Leading Role – Comedy or Musical. He is now predicted to be a nominee for Best Actor at the upcoming Academy Awards and he certainly would deserve the recognition. Currently in Theaters

Watch MovieWeb’s interview with Jeffrey Wright and Sterling K. Brown on American Fiction.



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