Born in Guatemala but raised in the US, Oscar Isaac has become one of the most critically acclaimed actors of his generation. If his portrayal of Poe Dameron in the Star Wars franchise first put him on the map, in the following years he delivered a series of performances that continue to surprise us to this day, proving that he can tackle any genre and deliver exceptional, memorable characters. With a Golden Globe and a Primetime Emmy nomination to his name, what are some of his top movies? Here’s a list of 5 great Oscar Isaac films to watch right now, ranked from worst to best!
5. The Card Counter (2021)
Isaac plays William Tell in this 2021 noir thriller from master storyteller Paul Schrader. Tell is an ex-special ops soldier who has just come out of prison, where he became an expert at card counting. But our protagonist is trying to keep a low profile, and, while others are playing bigger games like crazy time casino, he makes sure he earns just enough money to make a living and not draw anyone’s attention. But one day the past comes knocking, in the form of a young college dropout named Cirk (Tye Sheridan) and a woman named La Linda (Tiffany Haddish).
Both characters have their own agendas, but they affect Till’s life so much that he eventually decides to embark on a journey to finally get what he longs the most: a chance at redemption. It’s best not to say anything else about the film, but if you’re a fan of Paul Schrader’s noir films and stories about lonely heroes who redeem themselves, The Card Counter is for you. Needless to say, Oscar Isaac is excellent, alongside an all-star cast that also includes the great Willem Dafoe.
4. Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens (2015)
The Force Awakens has been hotly debated among Star Wars fans, who are notorious for having very strong opinions and being extremely vocal about them. But whether you like the movie or not, you have to admit that Oscar Isaac is pretty great in it. The film essentially rebooted the franchise, acting as the first entry of three movies that showed us what happened after the events of Return of the Jedi (1983). It’s set thirty years after the defeat of the Empire at the hands of Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and our favorite galactic heroes, and it introduces a new villain named Kylo Ren (Adam Driver).
The Force Awakens mainly serves to set the scenes for the films to come, introducing us our main new characters: Rey (Daisy Ridley), who is learning the ways of the force while trying to find out who she is, Kylo Ren’s New Order, which pretty much replaces the Empire, and a bunch of likable rebels including stormtrooper-turned-hero Finn (John Boyega) and pilot Poe Dameron. The friendship between Poe and Finn is one of the highlights of the movie, and the film itself is pretty epic and entertaining, regardless of how much you know about the franchise.
3. Dune Part 1 (2021)
Based on Frank Herbert’s acclaimed series of novels, Dune Part 1 took the world by storm upon release, in 2021, so much so that Part 2 is among the most anticipated movies of 2024. It got ten Academy Award nominations and has been called the best sci-fi movie of the century by some, and for good reasons: the books upon which it is based is one of the most influential sci-fi series of novels of all-time, and, up till 2021, there had yet to be a good film adaptation of it. But Denis Villeneuve’s movie is much more than good: it’s as epic, gripping, and action-packed as you imagine it to be, and it also contains plenty of the director’s signature visuals.
The film is set thousands of years in the future and revolves around an interstellar society where all civilizations are trying to gain control of the most valuable substance in existence: the “Spice”, which holds immense power. Isaac plays Duke Leto Atreides, the newly appointed governor of planet Arrakis, whose previous residents, the Harkonnens, aren’t exactly thrilled at the news. Led by Baron Harkonnen (Stellan Skarsgård), they set forth to regain ownership of their planet by taking out not only the Duke but also his concubine (Rebecca Ferguson) and their son, Paul (Timothée Chalamet), who might just be the key to the Atreides’ survival.
As you wait for the release of Part 2, don’t miss this highly immersive sci-fi epic.
2. Inside Llewyn Davis (2013)
Joel & Ethan Coen
Inside Llewyn Davis absolutely deserves to be at the top of this list, as it’s one of the movies that best showcases Oscar Isaac’s talent. Isaac plays Llewyn Davis, a struggling 1960s folk singer whose life is falling apart. As he trudges between auditions and small-time concerts, he embarks on a journey to find success that takes him across the country, from New York City to Chicago, where he will ultimately have to make a choice between the two possible lives he might be able to have, and decide who he wants to be.
Carey Mulligan co-stars in a sensitive, charming film that doesn’t forget about the humor, and that successfully immerses you in a music scene you’ll find irresistible. If you haven’t seen much of Oscar Isaac’s work, this would be a great place to start!
1. Ex Machina (2015)
Ex Machina is a fantastic film that will subvert your expectations from start to end. In this 2015 science-fiction movie, Isaac plays Nathan Bateman, the secretive CEO of a company who creates intelligent humanoid robots. One day, Nathan invites the film’s protagonist, programmer Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson), at his house to show him one of his new inventions, an AI robot named Ava (Alicia Vikander). But a business trip turns into something else entirely when the lines between humanity and technologies begin to blur, allegiances switch, and our poor protagonist doesn’t even know who he can trust anymore. This tense sci-fi thriller from the writer-director of Annihilation is an absolute must-watch, and proves that Oscar Isaac is just as good as playing disquieting, ambiguous characters.
With a hugely impressive track record, Oscar Isaac has quickly become one of the world’s favorite actors. Whether you’re new to his filmography or you’re looking to revisit some of his best works, the 5 films listed above are all great watches with excellent, diverse, performances. Happy watching!