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Top 10 Best Patrick Swayze Movies, Ranked

Beloved Hollywood star Patrick Swayze, who tragically passed away in 2009 of pancreatic cancer, was a man of many talents. Not only a successful actor, Swayze was also an esteemed dancer and choreographer, as well as a singer and songwriter.

At age 20, Swayze, whose mother was a dance instructor, relocated from Texas to NYC, where he was classically trained at the prestigious Joffrey Ballet school. These skills came in handy for several of his roles, including Dirty Dancing and One Last Dance, in which he appeared with his real-life wife Lisa Niemi. Additionally, several songs that were written and performed by Swayze were featured in his films, including Dirty Dancing, Road House, Next of Kin, and One Last Dance.

Before breaking out into film, he was a dancer for Disney on Parade, and played the role of Danny Zuko in a Broadway production of Grease. His first movie role was as a disco roller skater in the musical comedy Skatetown U.S.A. in 1979. A decade later, Swayze had become a household name.

Swayze’s acting credits span a wide variety of genres and styles, and many of his movies have become cult classics. He has hardly disappeared from the spotlight, and is still often referenced and recognized in contemporary media, ranging from hip-hop lyrics to sitcom episodes to “best of” lists. His presence will continue to live on through the work that he did and the impact it made on his fans. To celebrate his legacy, these ten of Patrick Swayze’s best performances, ranked.

Updated Feb. 24, 2024: In honor of the upcoming Road House remake, this collection of Patrick Swayze’s best performances has been updated with additional information, brand-new entries, and where to stream each title.

10 Red Dawn (1984)

Though far from a critical darling, Red Dawn would be something of a paramount film for not only Swayze, but a young Charlie Sheen, C. Thomas Howell, Lea Thompson, and Jennifer Grey as well. Set in an alternate timeline where World War III is kickstarted by a Soviet invasion of the United States, a group of teenagers is tasked with forming a grassroots rebellion in order to save not only themselves, but the United States as a whole. The film was co-written and directed by John Milius, with cinematography provided by Ric Waite. Watch the trailer for Red Dawn on YouTube

Swayze and the Cold War

A film as mired in the Cold War as Rocky IV, most would probably agree that Red Dawn as a whole isn’t necessarily one of the most impressive movies of the 1980s. That being said, it’s still a noteworthy film for a plethora of reasons. Swayze gets the lead role as Jed, and he shines with the material given to him. It’s a role that would act as a precursor to his future action roles. Additionally, Red Dawn would be the first film issued with a PG-13 rating within the United States, owing to its modest amount of violence and intense elements. Stream on Max


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9 To Wong Foo, Thanks For Everything! Julie Newmar (1995)

An NYC drag queen named Vida Boheme is probably not the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Patrick Swayze — but it is a role that he played, and remarkably well at that. To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar follows two seasoned drag queens, Vida and Noxeema Jackson (Wesley Snipes), as well as Chi-Chi Rodriguez (John Leguizamo), as they set off on a cross-country road trip to attend the Miss Drag Queen of America Pageant in Hollywood.

The title of this arguably absurd movie comes from a photo of performer Julie Newmar that the three stole off of a restaurant wall and carried with them on their journey. Predictably, the queens find themselves stranded in small town America where they anger a local cop, save a homemaker from an abusive husband, and just generally act as fairy godmothers to the townspeople. Watch the trailer for To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar on YouTube

Swayze Almost Got a Golden Globe

Some critics complained that the plot was trite and lacking substance, but the hilarity of the film and the talent of the three leads more than makes up for it. According to The Advocate, Swayze’s gracefulness as a dancer helped him get the part when he went out in drag with director Beeban Kidron, and proved he could nail the walk and successfully pass as a woman in public. Both Swayze and Leguizamo were nominated for the Golden Globe for Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor, respectively, for their performances. It is considered to be groundbreaking for its depictions of drag queen characters as well. Buy/Rent on Apple TV

8 City of Joy (1992)

City of Joy is a film by director Roland Joffé that is based on the 1985 novel of the same name by Dominique Lapierre. The story focuses on Swayze as an American surgeon named Max Lowe, who travels to Calcutta, India, to find spiritual enlightenment after the traumatic loss of a patient. After getting beat up by some locals, Lowe crosses paths with Hazari Pal (Om Puri), an Indian man who has just moved his family to the city for a better life but has been quickly put on the street. Pal and his family live in a “slum” called the City of Joy, where he brings Lowe and helps nurse him back to health. Lowe becomes enmeshed in the community, and through helping the residents of the City of Joy, he is able to overcome his own struggles and find inner peace.

Swayze Finds Himself in India

The film addresses the theme of poverty in modern day India and attempts to give the viewer an intimate look into this world and the real hardships that its citizens go through. It’s easily one of the most intriguing films Swayze has done from the premise alone, and it’s an incredible example of his wider range as an actor, especially when he’s sharing the screen with Om Puri. It’s certainly a Hollywood interpretation of a foreign culture, and thus not perfect, but City of Joy is still definitely worth a watch. After all, it’s one of his highest-ranked movies on Rotten Tomatoes. Stream on Prime Video

7 The Outsiders (1983)

The Outsiders is director Francis Ford Coppola’s 1983 adaptation of S.E. Hinton’s extremely popular 1967 novel of the same name. The story follows two gangs of teenagers in rural Oklahoma who battle with issues of morality as they struggle to survive each other’s violence. Ponyboy (C. Thomas Howell) is the central protagonist who is a part of the lower-class gang, the Greasers, and finds himself the target of the higher-class rival gang, the Socs. An added stressor for Ponyboy is his complicated relationship with his brothers Darry (Swayze) and Soda (Rob Lowe). Diane Lane also stars as Cherry Valance, who acts as the love interest trapped between the two groups. Watch the trailer for The Outsiders on YouTube

Swayze’s Sophomore Film

The film was praised by critics for its natural portrayal of teenagers and the reality of poor kids trying to make it on the streets, with Swayze’s performance being a notable highlight. It additionally stars several actors that would become members of the celebrated group, the Brat Pack, in the following years. This includes Rob Lowe, as well as Emilio Estevez and Tom Cruise, who played Greasers named Two-Bit and Steve, respectively. Actors Matt Dillon and Ralph Macchio fill out the group. C. Thomas Howell and Swayze would later reappear together in Red Dawn.Buy/Rent on Apple TV

6 Donnie Darko (2001)

donnie darko

Donnie Darko

Release Date
October 26, 2001

Richard Kelly

Donnie Darko is a psychological sci-fi thriller by director Richard Kelly that became a cult classic. It stars Jake Gyllenhaal as a mentally troubled teenager who begins seeing visions of a giant rabbit named Frank (James Duval) who influences him to commit crimes.

Patrick Swayze has a relatively small role in the film, but one that sticks out in viewers’ minds. He plays a motivational speaker named Jim Cunningham, with whom Donnie gets into a heated argument during a school assembly. It’s later revealed that Cunningham was a fraud and child abuser. Donnie’s sister, Elizabeth Darko, is played by Jake Gyllenhaal’s real life sister and actress Maggie Gyllenhaal. The movie also stars Mary McDonnell as Donnie’s mother, Jena Malone as his love interest, Seth Rogen as a school bully, and Drew Barrymore as one of his teachers. Watch the trailer for Donnie Darko on YouTube


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A Small Role in a Legendary Film

Donnie’s internal darkness is juxtaposed with the 1980s suburban setting, which adds to the film’s uncomfortably compelling energy. Though the story is admittedly weird, Donnie Darko has been widely celebrated for its originality and the way it blends themes of science fiction and spirituality with a coming-of-age story.

While it may not have any Academy Awards to its name, Donnie Darko would receive a nomination for the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival, in addition to nominations for Best First Feature and Best First Screenplay at the Independent Spirit Awards. It’s one of the rare instances of Swayze playing an exceedingly egotistic character, let alone an antagonistic one, especially when compared to his more famous roles. Stream on Tubi

5 Point Break (1991)

Point Break is a 1991 crime drama by Kathryn Bigelow which stars Patrick Swayze and a young Keanu Reeves. Reeves plays FBI agent Johnny Utah, who is tasked with capturing a crew of bank robbers who wear masks with the faces of former presidents. He suspects Swayze’s character Bodhi, the leader of a local surfing gang, is involved in the crimes, and Utah goes undercover within the surf group to prove it. The two men develop a complicated relationship as the movie progresses, finding themselves both skeptical of each other and yet strangely drawn together, battling to see who will come out on top. Watch the trailer for Point Break on YouTube

Swayze, Philosophy, and Action

The film is surprisingly philosophical for a crime-laden beach movie and tells an entertaining tale of the human spirit, where the lines between good and bad are blurred. Rather than relying on traditional portrayals of criminals or law enforcement, the story zooms in on the high-intensity sport of surfing, bringing an added element of suspense and an interesting twist. Bodhi is an energetic treat to watch, and for the role, Swayze performed all his own stunts, including learning to surf and going skydiving. Though some critics thought the plot didn’t quite rise to the level of the production, Point Break has been celebrated for both its athletic and cinematographic feats. Stream on Tubi

4 11:14 (2003)



Release Date
September 5, 2003

Greg Marcks

The neo-noir thriller 11:14 is a fascinating film that weaves together five interconnected storylines that center around two car accidents that occur at 11:14 PM. In one of Swayze’s last 10 movies, he plays the role of Frank, whose involvement in one of the accidents puts him at odds with the numerous other cast members featured throughout. These include the likes of Henry Thomas, Blake Heron, Barbara Hershey, Hilary Swank, Ben Foster, and Rachael Leigh Cook. Watch the trailer for 11:14 on YouTube

A Captivating Swayze Thriller

Invoking the feelings of Christopher Nolan’s Memento, 11:14 plays with elements of time and awareness, as neither the characters nor the viewers have a clear picture of the events until the film’s conclusion. There is no semblance of chronology; instead, the film is split into five sections, each portraying the events of the night from a different perspective.

The movie is small in scale and is more a puzzle to be solved than the vessel of a greater message. It’s dark, intense, and absurdly funny. 11:14 is a project that requires viewer participation, and though it can be enjoyed over and over again, you can only experience solving the puzzle the very first time you watch it — and it’s worth it. ​​​​​​Buy/Rent on Prime Video

3 Road House (1989)

It wouldn’t be a Patrick Swayze list without at least one mention of Road House. This iconic action film from the ’80s follows James Dalton (Pastrick Swayze), a professional bouncer whose troubled past drives him to pursue work at a remote club, the Double Deuce, in Missouri. However, Dalton’s presence soon draws the ire of business mogul Brad Wesley (Ben Gazzara), prompting Swayze to take on dozens of unruly thugs that soon plague the Double Deuce. All the while, Dalton starts falling in love with Elizabeth Clay (Kelly Lynch). In addition to starring in this film, Swayze would also lend his voice for two songs on the soundtrack, “Raising Heaven (In Hell Tonight)” and “Cliff’s Edge.”

The Best 1980s Action Movie

Paired with a terrific performance from Sam Elliot and some incredible action scenes, Road House is as clear a demonstration of Swayze’s physicality as can be. His past as a dancer gives him a degree of athleticism that really makes Road House‘s numerous fights stick out. He’s an incredibly convincing action lead overall. While yes, it may not be the most incredible character work he’s done compared to other entries on this list, Road House‘s impeccable legacy and cultural prominence continues to resonate with audiences from around the world. This is especially true seeing as how a remake starring Jake Gyllenhaal is set to release in March. Stream on Max


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2 Dirty Dancing (1987)

dirty dancing

Dirty Dancing

Release Date
August 21, 1987

Emile Ardolino

Nobody puts Baby in a corner.

We’ve all heard this famous line uttered by Swayze long before anyone knew that the film it came from would become a beloved and timeless classic. Dirty Dancing was a small-scale romantic dance drama (it only had a budget of $4.5 million and was filmed in 43 days) that shocked the cast and crew when it became a massive success. The movie is set in 1963 at a Catskills resort where a well-off young woman named Baby (Jennifer Grey) meets bad-boy dance instructor Johnny Castle (Swayze). The two come from two vastly different worlds but find themselves falling in love as they learn to embrace each other on and off the dance floor. Watch the trailer for Dirty Dancing on YouTube

An Incredible Soundtrack

This project was a great opportunity for Swayze to show off his talent as a classically-trained dancer, though he had to teach not only Baby how to dance within the narrative, but his co-star Grey as well. Both Swayze and Grey were nominated for the Golden Globe Award for Best Actor and Actress, respectively.

The music in Dirty Dancing is also one of its greatest achievements. It’s chock-full of period-perfect classics like “Big Girls Don’t Cry” and “Hungry Eyes,” as well as the song “I’ve Had the Time of My Life,” which was written specifically for the movie and won the Oscar for Best Original Song. Dirty Dancing also features the song “She’s Like the Wind” which was written by and performed by Swayze himself. Acclaimed music producer Jimmy Ienner was the music supervisor for the film and the soundtrack he curated has been certified Platinum 14 times. Stream on Hulu

1 Ghost (1990)



Release Date
July 12, 1990

Jerry Zucker

You wouldn’t necessarily think that a romantic ghost story where a woman’s dead lover inhabits the body of a fake psychic played by Whoopi Goldberg in order to solve his own murder would work, but strangely, it did. In Ghost, Patrick Swayze plays Sam Wheat, who is killed by what looks like a mugging gone wrong, and afterward finds himself trapped in the limbo between Earth and the afterlife. Because of this, he sets out to investigate what happened to him. He crosses paths with Oda Mae Brown (Goldberg), who is shocked to find that she can communicate with an actual dead person. Wheat convinces her to help him reach out to the love of his life, Molly Jensen (Demi Moore), and attempts to solve the mysterious circumstances surrounding his death. Watch the trailer for Ghost on YouTube

Nominated for Five Academy Awards

Ghost successfully merges the genres of fantasy, horror, murder mystery, comedy, and romantic drama into a uniquely coherent and entertaining narrative. What may sound like a niche film was actually a commercial and critical success. Ghost was nominated for five Academy Awards, including Best Picture, and Whoopi Goldberg won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress after originally being refused for the role. The film would also win Best Original Screenplay.

Swayze and Moore’s steamy pottery wheel moment is probably the most recognizable scene from the movie, and though it’s been referenced and parodied many times over the years, there is so much more to enjoy in these two hours than just that ghostly caress. It’s a staple film of the 1990s, with both Swayze and Moore bringing an iconic romance to life in an incredibly memorable film. Given its critical and commercial success, this is easily Patrick Swayze’s best movie. Stream on Max


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