John Cusack has been an onscreen staple for almost forty years as a beloved actor, producer, and screenwriter. The son of filmmaker and actor Dick Cusack and brother to actresses Joan and Ann Cusack, John and his family have certainly made their mark on American, and indeed global, cinema and television.
From beloved romantic comedies to action thrillers to heartwarming biopics to horror, Cusack is a true acting renaissance man. Averaging several films a year, as well as having a series regular role on the upcoming web television series Utopia, audiences have surely not seen the last of him. Here are the best John Cusack movies ranked by their IMDb scores.
Updated by Kristy Ambrose on December 1st, 2020: John Cusack’s resume just keeps getting longer, and movie fans couldn’t be more pleased. This is an actor who’s not afraid to take chances with movies that might be unpopular, don’t fit into the typical Hollywood mode, or are not intended for mass consumption. The hits keep on coming for John Cusack, and we’ve added a few more of his best movies to this list to better reflect his ever-growing body of awesome work as an actor.
16 Runaway Jury (7.1)
An adaptation of the powerhouse novel by John Grisham, Runaway Jury is one of the most entertaining legal thrillers of the 2000s. John Cusack stars, alongside Academy Award winners Gene Hackman, Dustin Hoffman, and Rachel Weisz, as Nicholas Easter, a seemingly reluctant juror in a high-profile lawsuit against a gun manufacturer.
The case, along with lawyers and members of the jury, soon becomes ensnared in a high stakes game of cat and mouse to determine legal victory. The film has been met with favorable reviews, even by author John Grisham who called it a “smart, suspenseful” movie.
15 The Journey of Natty Gann (7.1)
An early Disney adventure film featuring a surprisingly dark and realistic setting and tone, starring a female protagonist with a wild animal sidekick, no less. The Great Depression is the backdrop of Natty’s journey, and one of the mentors that helps her along the way is fellow wanderer Harry, played by John Cusack.
Harry helps Natty learn the nuances of life riding the rails, and being raised by an outspoken union organizer, which was a dangerous profession in the 1930s, Natty takes to it pretty well. Both adults and kids will enjoy this underrated and fairly obscure sample of Cusack’s work as a supporting character.
14 Better Off Dead (7.1)
Though not critically successful in its own time, one of the most savage teen black comedies of the ’80s is Better Off Dead. Fortunately, it has found its contemporary audience as a cult classic. Cusack stars as Lane Myer, a suburban ski bum who, after being dumped by his girlfriend, finds himself miserably seeking an end to his life or a way back to his ex-girlfriend.
The film also features a soundtrack that is anchored with rock-solid hits and a dreamy stop motion sequence of hamburgers and fries come to life, in addition to Cusack’s miserable humor. All in all, Better Off Dead is one of the most grossly overlooked movies of the 1980s.
13 Anastasia (7.2)
According to the official story, the last royal monarchs of Russia were executed by revolutionaries, but rumors and conspiracy theories about a possible survivor never really died down. Plenty of con artists took advantage of people searching for lost monarchs or obsessed with romantic ideas of rediscovering a secret princess, and John Cusack lends his voice to one of them, Dimitri, in Anastasia.
This animated adaptation is lovely to look at and features the voices of other stars like Meg Ryan and Christopher Lloyd. On the minus side, it jumps the shark with comic book-type nonsense like one of the antagonists being an undead Rasputin.
12 Eight Men Out (7.2)
For lovers of baseball and movies, there are several classic must-see films. Amongst the dramas, Eight Men Out stands as one of the best. The film is a semibiographical dramatization of the 1919 World Series and the ensuing “Black Sox Scandal” which dealt with eight members of the Chicago White Sox who conspired to intentionally lose the World Series in a gambling plot.
Cusack stars as Buck Weaver, one of the men tried for involvement. Cusack, along with star Charlie Sheen, were both hired for the movie for their talent in the game of baseball as well as their acting ability.
11 The Butler (7.2)
In a movie that features several actors playing famous historic figures, John Cusack takes on the role of Richard Nixon.
This is the story of Cecil Gaines, a former slave who became a butler in the White House and oversaw the best and worst of the US administrative power for several decades before the Civil Rights movement culminates in a personal and professional reckoning. The movie is based on the life of Eugene Allen, who served as a butler in the White House for more than 30 years.
10 Grosse Pointe Blank (7.3)
John Cusack is a master of comedic roles that toe the line between comedy and tragedy, for example, Grosse Pointe Blank. In the film, Cusack stars as Martin Blank, a depressed hitman who finds himself in Grosse Pointe, Michigan for his ten-year high school reunion that brings him face to face with memories of the past and uncertainty for his future as a hired killer.
Gross Pointe Blank was a humorous smash hit and its bombastic soundtrack by Joe Strummer of the Clash was successful enough to spawn two albums, with the first being a billboard hit. According to Cusack’s sister Joan, who also stars in the film, the movie War, Inc. is an informal sequel.
9 Say Anything… (7.3)
The directorial debut of filmmaker and Rolling Stone contributing editor Cameron Crowe, Say Anything… is one of the definitive romantic comedies of all time as well as a quintessential teen romance dramedy. John Cusack stars as Lloyd Dobler, an underachiever without any measurable plans for the future who falls in love with the class valedictorian, played by Ione Skye.
Say Anything… was a critical success and has been deemed a hallmark among genres such as rom-com, teen comedy, or 80’s movies. The iconic scene where Cusack holds a boombox over his head outside of his love interest’s window playing Peter Gabriel’s “In Your Eyes” has become one of the most culturally identifiable in American cinema.
8 Identity (7.3)
Though most known for comedic roles, Cusack has his forays into the darker territory of action or horror. For example, the psychological slasher film Identity. Identity, an adaptation of the Agatha Christie-style whodunnit (think And Then There Were None), revolves around ten strangers who find themselves in an isolated hotel.
Isolation quickly turns to terror as they are mysteriously killed off. Cusack stars as Edward Dakota, a limo driver, and a former officer for the Los Angeles police. The film was met with generally favorable reception and was a box office success, more than tripling its $28 million budget worldwide.
7 Bullets Over Broadway (7.4)
From the eclectic mind of famed filmmaker, Woody Allen comes Bullets Over Broadway, a black comedy crime film with a story that marries John Cusack’s comedic acting with Allen’s writing beautifully. Cusack stars as David Shayne, a juvenile playwright freshly arrived on Broadway in 1928. Forced to cast a gangster’s girlfriend and finding himself stealing ideas from her gangster escort, Shayne finds he has gotten more than he bargained for preparing for opening night.
The movie was met with critical acclaim and was nominated for seven Academy Awards, with star Dianne Wiest winning one for Best Supporting Actress. Allen later adapted the film for the stage as Bullets Over Broadway the Musical.
6 Love & Mercy (7.4)
Love & Mercy is one of the most touching and articulately crafted biographical dramas of all time. The film portrays the poignant and magical life of Brian Wilson, co-leader and primary songwriter for The Beach Boys. In the film, John Cusack plays an older Brian Wilson in the 1980s, with Paul Dano playing the young Wilson in the 1960s.
Love & Mercy alternates between the two timelines and emphasizes Wilson’s struggle with mental illness and the production of the monumental Pet Sounds album. It was a critical and commercial success and was praised for its attention to factual detail, even by Brian Wilson himself who said, “the guy who plays me, John Cusack, he’s really good. And he sings well.”
5 The Besieged Fortress (7.5)
This is a documentary that distinguished itself from the crowd by taking on a dramatic natural event and the narration powers of a big-name star. The Besieged Fortress is the story of a termite colony and the natural elements that devastate this sophisticated underground community.
The termites fight floods and opposing armies of aggressive insects. The story takes place in the wild savannah of Burkina Faso, and even though it’s a documentary, it’s an exciting narrative with some individual stories mixed in with factual information.
4 High Fidelity (7.5)
Based on the novel by Nick Hornby, with the location switched from London to Chicago, High Fidelity is a brilliant film that does well in blending aspects of comedy, romance, and drama, which are all strong suits for John Cusack. He stars as Rob Gordon, a record store owner with an encyclopedic knowledge of music, a propensity for compiling “top five” lists, and an inability to understand women.
The film was a critical and commercial success with a special commendation for the cast, especially Cusack and Jack Black (who called the film his breakout). High Fidelity also spawned a meticulously selected soundtrack album and an upcoming spinoff television show on Hulu.
3 The Thin Red Line (7.6)
The year was 1998, and it was the age of war movies. John Cusack plays Captain John Gaff in The Thin Red Line, a film adaptation of the James Jones autobiographical novel about WW2.
This movie sets itself apart from other war films of the time with a long list of big-name stars taking part, including director and screenwriter Terrence Malick, who had been in semi-retirement for 20 years. Surprisingly, several of the scenes with actors like Gary Oldman, Viggo Mortensen, and Martin Sheen ended up on the cutting room floor, but Cusack’s part survived mostly intact.
2 Being John Malkovich (7.7)
When John Cusack asked his agent for the “craziest, most unproduceable script” that he could find, that script was a fantasy comedy about an unemployed puppeteer who unwittingly discovers a portal that leads directly into the mind of award-winning actor John Malkovich. Cusack would end up in the lead role as that puppeteer, Craig Schwartz, in Being John Malkovich.
The off the wall comedy was an unexpected success and was nominated for three Academy Awards, including Best Original Screenplay. Though upon his first reading of the script John Malkovich was said to be “half intrigued and half horrified,” it was a wise role for him to take as it was called one of his best performances.
1 Stand by Me (8.1)
Remember when Wil Wheaton was still cute, nobody knew that Stephen King wrote the story on which this was based, and River Phoenix was just entering the peak of his career? Cusack’s role in this movie was relatively small, appearing only in Gordi’s flashbacks, but the relationship between Gordi and his older brother was crucial to the story so his performance had to make an impression.
Cusack succeeded, and everyone remembers the tragedy his younger brother was grappling with as he and his friends trekked cross-country to see “The Body.” Stand By Me is one of the best “coming of age” movies of the 20th century thanks to Cusack’s role.
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