Top 10 Kevin Spacey Movies

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The Netflix mega hit “House of Cards” might be among the first titles that come to mind when one hears Kevin Spacey’s name, but the actor’s decision to star in a TV show was initially shocking to movie buffs who recognize the star for his contribution to Hollywood cinema. Before becoming the power-hungry Frank Underwood, Spacey was best known for his portrayal of several iconic characters in critically acclaimed dramas and thrillers. Below are ten favorites among Spacey fans who love the actor’s movie characters just as much as others love the political monster he currently portrays in the Netflix series.

“21” (2008)

For more than twenty years, a group of students at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology used card counting techniques to beat casinos at blackjack across the world, with strategies so successful that gambling establishments started banning them from their premises. Author Ben Mezrich wrote a biographical book on the students and their casino endeavours. Titled “Bringing Down the House,” the book became a bestseller and was adapted into the movie “21,” starring Jim Sturgess, Laurence Fishburne and, of course, Kevin Spacey. Playing a character fictionalized especially for the movie, Spacey is Mickey Rosa, an unorthodox professor at MIT who leads the blackjack gang. The movie was released a couple of year after the popularity of online poker and blackjack rooms began to fade – a possible explanation as to why it failed to impress at the box office.

“The Life of David Gale” (2003)

A drama with thrilling twists and dark themes that would not be as effective without Spacey’s convincing and intriguing take on the title character, a long-time protester of capital punishment. Kate Winslet plays a journalist paid to hear and write about Gale’s story, as he himself is sentenced to execution for a murder which he may or may not have committed. Sitting on death row, Gale’s story is revealed to the audience through a series of flashbacks. “The Life of David Gale” is a movie that raises questions about the reliability of criminal investigation, the ethics of capital punishment and the nature of political passion.

“Pay It Forward” (2000)

Another inspiring story that Spacey makes all the more heartfelt by his moving performance, “Pay It Forward” tells the heart-breaking tale of a social studies teacher (Spacey) who challenges his seventh-grade students to an assignment where they must devise a plan of action that will help make the world a better place. One particularly bright student played by Haley Joel Osment embarks on a project called Pay It Forward in which people pass on favors to others. Obstacles of an emotional nature are encountered along the way, but the charitable idea brings out more in the characters than they ever thought possible. While “Pay It Forward” received mixed reviews, few critics can deny the acting of Spacey, Osment and co-star Helen Hunt were anything short of excellent.

“Swimming with Sharks” (1994)

Spacey is as detestable in “Swimming with Sharks” as he is amiable in “Pay It Forward.” The movie stars the actor as an arrogant, overbearing and unreasonable producer boss to a mild-mannered and naive studio assistant played by Frank Whaley. The movie is regarded by many Spacey fans as an underappreciated gem and a fantastic representation of the universally recognised ‘bad boss’ figure. One part dark comedy, one part thriller, “Swimming with Sharks” is a testament to Spacey’s ability of bringing to life an utterly abhorrent character (the type that he would revisit with the more recent “Horrible Bosses” movies.)

“Shrink” (2009)

Mental breakdowns, dysfunctional relationships, celebrity madness and a lot of marijuana all come to play in “Shrink,” a drama which maintains an element of humor in light of its difficult subject: depression and the apathy that so often accompanies it. Spacey plays a successful and high-profile psychiatrist to the rich and famous of L.A., but starts finding it increasingly difficult to keep on top of his own problems. He begins to find that his personal emotional hurt, however, provides something of a key in connecting with the patients under his care.

“K-Pax”

This time, it’s Spacey on the therapist’s sofa. In the sci-fi dramedy, he plays Prot, a patient at a mental hospital who believes he comes from the distant, utopian planet K-PAX. Though his story is at first considered absurd by the hospital staff, Prot slowly begins to convince not only the professionals taking care of him but other patients in the mental ward that he is telling the truth – and to wonderful effect. Instilling hope and wonder in those around him, Prot is a weird but likeable character in a movie that has become a cult classic.

“Seven” (1995)

One of the greatest depictions of a serial killer in cinema history, the eerily calm and disturbingly obsessive murderer in “Seven,” whose crimes are inspired by the seven deadly sins, is without a doubt one of Spacey’s finest performances. The darkly gripping and gritty crime thriller directed by David Fincher has been acclaimed for its iconic twists and a stellar cast. Spacey chills the audience with his portrayal of a genius but merciless villain in the timelessly influential movie – one best avoided by the faint-hearted.

“L.A. Confidential” (1997)

Just two years after Spacey stunned audiences in “Seven,” the actor starred in the critically acclaimed “L.A. Confidential.” A brutal but good-hearted cop, a self-righteous lieutenant and sleazy celeb detective each use their own methods for solving a series of mysterious murders in 1950s L.A. Spacey’s distinctly smooth-talking and suave demeanor of course has him playing the sleazy detective out of the three and, though he is by no means the main character, he adds comic relief to the noir-style crime drama. Not just one of Spacey’s best, but one of the cinematic greats.

“The Usual Suspects” (1995)

A crime mystery with the mother of all twists, “The Usual Suspects” is yet another classic starring Spacey, who plays one of five criminals that meet through an apparent chance encounter at a police line-up. Together they plan a heist which turns deadly, leaving Spacey as the sole survivor. Through a series of flashbacks, Spacey’s character explains to the police exactly what happened and how things went so terribly wrong. Central to his incredible story is the legendary criminal mastermind responsible for his partners’ demise, Keyser Soze. “The Usual Suspects” is cleverly deceptive on many levels and will leave you in shock as the credits start rolling.

“American Beauty” (1999)

Finally, first place has to go to the Oscar-winning “American Beauty”, a befitting name for a truly American story in every sense and a strangely beautiful one. Told through dream-like visuals and provocative imagery, “American Beauty” examines the contradictions, lies and superficiality of the American Dream in a tasteful and wonderfully ambiguous manner. Spacey plays Lester, a self-conscious, middle-aged pushover who is agonizingly bored with his pathetically average life in the suburbs. Something changes, however, when Lester meets the beautiful classmate of his teenage daughter. Lester’s growing infatuation with the teenage girl sparks an epiphany, and he is suddenly filled with the kind of hope and motivation he’d forgotten was possible to feel. Falling in love changes his life for the better, but also for the worse. “American Beauty” is a carefully crafted visual delight from start to finish, leaving the audience pondering over difficult questions on the true nature of happiness.