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VOICE OVER: Phoebe de Jeu
Now that's artistic range! Welcome to WatchMojo, and today we're counting down our picks for the most notable examples of actors breaking typecasting. Our countdown includes Michael Keaton in “Batman”, Ralph Fiennes in “The Grand Budapest Hotel”, Bryan Cranston in “Breaking Bad”, Woody Harrelson in “Natural Born Killers”, Heath Ledger in ““The Dark Knight”, and more!

#30: Elijah Wood

“Sin City” (2005)
For a long time, Elijah Wood was known for his boyish charm, gentle demeanor, and heroic roles. He had won over audiences as a cute child actor and eventually embodied heroism itself by playing the soft-spoken Frodo Baggins in “The Lord of the Rings.” But come 2005 - just a few years after the iconic fantasy trilogy - Wood broke type by playing a menacing, cannibalistic serial killer in “Sin City.” He never said a word, but he still managed to unsettle viewers with a threatening stare and a malicious smile. Wood’s disturbing performance proved he had a dark side. We didn’t know he had it in him, and we had to watch “Lord of the Rings” again as a palette cleanser.

#29: Woody Harrelson

“Natural Born Killers” (1994)
Today, Woody Harrelson is known as a highly versatile actor, having taken on all sorts of different roles - heroic, villainous, and something in between. But that wasn’t the case in the early ‘90s, when he was known for playing Woody Boyd on “Cheers.” The role earned him widespread acclaim - not to mention the Emmy for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series. But Harrelson’s comedic persona was shattered in Oliver Stone’s controversial thriller “Natural Born Killers,” in which he plays sadistic mass murderer Mickey Knox. This film showcased Harrelson’s natural ability to handle darker material and led him down the path into more complex and varied characters. Luckily, he never lost that cheeky sense of humor.

#28: Andre Braugher

“Brooklyn Nine-Nine” (2013-21)
The late Andre Braugher built his reputation on serious drama with standout performances in shows like “Homicide: Life on the Street” and “Men of a Certain Age.” Luckily, and to the surprise of everyone, his dry personality worked perfectly for comedy, as showcased on “Brooklyn Nine-Nine.” Braugher displayed impeccable comedic timing while still maintaining his stoic charm, making Captain Raymond Holt one of the most distinctive characters on television. The great thing about this role is that Holt himself isn’t a funny person - he’s made funny through Braugher’s brilliant performance, his robotic line delivery, and his complete lack of social awareness.

#27: Daniel Craig

“Logan Lucky” (2017)
It takes a certain kind of man to play James Bond - unflappable, cold, tough. Daniel Craig did it all and received praise for his portrayal of the secret agent. His Bond was much darker and grittier than previous iterations, and the role brought Craig enormous fame as an action hero. But he defied expectations as Joe Bang in “Logan Lucky,” complete with bleach blonde hair and thick Southern accent. The role showed off Craig’s comedic chops, not to mention his deft ability to disappear into flamboyant and eccentric characters. He would go on to play a similar role in “Knives Out,” carving himself a nice post-Bond career in the process.

#26: Mary Tyler Moore

“Ordinary People” (1980)
Winning seven Emmys throughout her legendary career, Mary Tyler Moore is an icon of the small screen. She earned widespread recognition for her bubbly characters on “The Dick Van Dyke Show” and “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” both of which made her a pop culture superstar of the ‘60s and ‘70s. Absolutely no one was ready for her profoundly sad and moving performance in “Ordinary People,” in which she plays the grieving mother of a troubled teen with PTSD. Moore’s powerful performance earned her an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress and proved she could tackle heavyweight dramatic roles with finesse. Frothy TV sitcoms, Best Picture-winning dramas - Moore could do it all.

#25: Jason Bateman

“Ozark” (2017-22)
For better or worse, Jason Bateman is one of those actors who found his strengths and stuck to them. All of his comedic characters are pretty much the same - sarcastic, uptight Michael Bluth types who react with disdain to the kookiness around them. But Bateman’s comedic roots were put to the test in “Ozark,” a Netflix drama in which he plays a cartel money launderer. Bateman delivered a darkly complex performance that garnered critical acclaim and his first Emmy nom for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series. With its dark, dramatic tone far removed from the comedic Bluth family antics, “Ozark” proved that Bateman is a master of both genres.

#24: Ralph Fiennes

“The Grand Budapest Hotel” (2014)
No one does villains quite like Ralph Fiennes. Amon Göth. Voldemort. That creepy chef from “The Menu.” Maybe he just has one of those faces, but the man was born to play the baddie. So his association with menacing villains didn’t prepare us for his performance in Wes Anderson’s whimsical comedy “The Grand Budapest Hotel.” Fiennes plays the hotel’s eccentric concierge, Gustave H., and he has one heck of a good time doing so. He displayed a strong talent for comedic timing, and unlike many of his cold villains, Gustave was a generally warm, loving, and ultimately inviting figure. Then again, he is the concierge, so that’s to be expected!

#23: Leonardo DiCaprio

“Django Unchained” (2012)
Before “Django Unchained,” Leonardo DiCaprio hadn’t really played a villain. Not to this extent, at least. DiCaprio was a heartthrob in his early career, playing romantic young characters like Jack Dawson and Romeo Montague. He eventually grew up and took on more complex characters, but none of them really fell into the realm of pure villainy. That changed with Calvin Candie, an eccentric plantation owner with more than a few sadistic tendencies. Complete with a southern accent, DiCaprio completely transformed for the role and showed us a malicious dark side that we hadn’t seen before. It was more than a little unnerving.

#22: Harrison Ford

“What Lies Beneath” (2000)
Known for his rugged heroes, Harrison Ford has enjoyed a long and prosperous career as a franchise actor. From Indiana Jones to Han Solo to Jack Ryan, Ford is the ultimate man’s man, a handsome hero with a ton of charisma and an innate ability to kick some butt. But he has also tackled some more challenging material, like Robert Zemeckis’s psychological thriller “What Lies Beneath.” Playing a professor whose wife is terrorized by a ghost, Ford departed from his usual heroic schtick and played a far more complex character with greater maturity and darker motives. It signaled that Ford could be taken seriously as a dramatic actor with a heavy load to bear.

#21: Matthew McConaughey

“Dallas Buyers Club” (2013)
By 2013, Matthew McConaughey was known for one of two things - either “alright alright alright,” or being the male lead in a slew of romantic comedies. McConaughey earned widespread acclaim for playing AIDS advocate Ron Woodroof and took home the Academy Award for Best Actor. With that Oscar win, Hollywood finally realized that McConaughey was a genuine talent who could easily carry a drama, even one as dense and heavy as “Dallas Buyers Club.” His career was never the same.

#20: Adam Sandler

“Uncut Gems” (2019)
Adam Sandler is enormously popular for his immature brand of humor, marked by fart jokes, pee jokes, and those weird gibberish noises. That said, Sandler has played against type on numerous occasions, proving that he’s an excellent dramatic actor. His first big “serious” role was that of Barry Egan in “Punch-Drunk Love,” but he also proved astoundingly good in “Uncut Gems.” Sandler’s performance earned him universal praise; some believed that he would be up for an Oscar. While he was awarded Best Actor by the National Board of Review, he was totally snubbed by the Academy. Still, he’s come a long way from being peed on by a deer!

#19: Will Ferrell

“Stranger Than Fiction” (2006)
It’s amazing to consider how many comedians make a seamless transition to drama. Will Ferrell really hit his film stride in the early 2000s with films like “Old School,” “Elf,” and “Anchorman.” In all of them, he plays a man who’s immature for his age. And then came “Stranger Than Fiction.” This comedy drama follows an IRS agent who learns that he’s the subject of a novel in progress - and that the ending dictates his death. The movie was warmly received for its unique story and performances, which saw Ferrell delivering a confident performance alongside the likes of Maggie Gyllenhaal, Dustin Hoffman, and Emma Thompson. And to think, this came out three months after “Talladega Nights!”

#18: Leslie Nielsen

“Airplane!” (1980)
For many of us, it’s hard to imagine the late Mr. Nielsen as anything but an obvious choice for comedy casting directors - but that wasn’t always the case. For about 25 years between the 1950s and 1970s, Leslie was a steadily employed actor in serious films. These included well-known classics like “Forbidden Planet” and “The Poseidon Adventure”. However, the perception of this talented actor was forever altered with his hilariously deadpan performance as Dr. Rumack in “Airplane!” This would also lead to one of his most memorable roles, as Frank Drebin in the film series “The Naked Gun.”

#17: Henry Fonda

“Once Upon a Time in the West” (1968)
The patriarch of the highly respected Fonda acting dynasty, Henry originally built his career as the heroic everyman, always primed to fight for what’s right in the world. That’s why it took so many people by surprise when he took on the role of the hired gun Frank in “Once Upon a Time in the West.” He’s sent to intimidate a local landowner, but instead slaughters the man and his kids. The image of the actor who played the lone holdout, heroic juror from “12 Angry Men” killing three children forever altered the way he was seen by audiences everywhere.

#16: Melissa McCarthy

“Can You Ever Forgive Me?” (2018)
This funny woman burst onto the scene with “Bridesmaids,” earning herself an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress - a rare Academy acknowledgment of the comedy genre. This led to a long string of comedic roles. In 2018, however, McCarthy pivoted in a big way when she starred as Lee Israel in the acclaimed biographical comedy drama “Can You Ever Forgive Me?” The movie is based on Israel’s criminal career in literary forgery, penning up to 400 fake letters from dead authors and actors. McCarthy’s performance was widely praised, and she earned her second Academy Award nomination - this time in the Lead Actress category. She ended up losing to Olivia Colman for “The Favourite.”

#15: Jeff Daniels

“Dumb and Dumber” (1994)
In the late 1980s, Jeff Daniels earned back to back Golden Globe nominations for his work in “The Purple Rose of Cairo” and “Something Wild.” In 1993 he played Colonel Joshua Chamberlain in the epic war film “Gettysburg.” And in June 1994 he played a SWAT officer in “Speed.” Six months later... he was enduring explosive diarrhea on a broken toilet and giving bottled pee to a police officer. Yep, “Dumb and Dumber” changed how we saw Jeff Daniels forever. We never expected such lowbrow comedy from an actor of Daniels’ stature, but Daniels made it work thanks to his commitment and incredible chemistry with Jim Carrey. He wouldn’t often return to comedy, but we all know that he can do it.

#14: Robert Pattinson

“Good Time” (2017)
If an actor is looking to break type, all they have to do is go to the Safdie brothers. It worked for Adam Sandler, and it worked for Robert Pattinson. After “Twilight,” many were willing to write off Pattinson as just another heartthrob flavor of the month. But maybe he just needed the right director and material. In the 2010s, he tackled roles in several dramas, but it was his performance as Connie Nikas in “Good Time” that really cemented his reputation as a serious actor. The role earned him widespread acclaim and Best Actor noms at various film festivals. He’s since carried his newfound reputation into more stellar work like “High Life” and “The Lighthouse.”

#13: Johnny Depp

“Edward Scissorhands” (1990)
Throughout the 1980s, Johnny Depp was perceived as something of a pretty boy, and cast accordingly - not unlike Robert Pattinson. He had a starring role in “A Nightmare on Elm Street,” appeared as Lerner in Oliver Stone’s war drama “Platoon,” and later starred as the titular character in John Waters’s “Cry-Baby.” And then came “Edward Scissorhands.” Directed by Tim Burton, the movie was positively received for its gothic, fairy tale style, and Depp was nominated for a Golden Globe. It was the first time he was recognized by a major institution, and would prove the first of ten Golden Globe nominations. Funnily enough, the success of “Edward Scissorhands” resulted in a new typecasting, as he became the go-to guy for Tim Burton and weird, fantastical characters.

#12: Jamie Foxx

“Ray” (2004) & “Collateral” (2004)
Before “Ray,” Jamie Foxx was known for his comedy. He performed on “In Living Color” and starred in his own WB sitcom, “The Jamie Foxx Show,” from 1996 to 2001. And when he ventured into film, he was given supporting roles in movies like “Any Given Sunday” and “Ali.” That changed in 2004, when Foxx starred in “Ray” and “Collateral,” which were released around three months apart. Both proved Foxx’s capabilities as a leading dramatic actor, and each earned him widespread praise from critics and Academy members. In fact, he received two Oscar nominations in the same year, making him just the third male actor in history to do so.

#11: Jonah Hill

“Moneyball” (2011)
Once an actor who was more likely to be nominated for a Teen Choice or MTV Movie Award than an Oscar, Jonah Hill had his breakout role as the vulgar and funny Seth from “Superbad.” That is, until he was tapped for his role of Peter Brand in the 2011 biographical sports drama “Moneyball.” Cast as an economics expert who changes the way that baseball teams are put together through his expertise and knowledge, “Moneyball” depended on Hill’s untested ability to be taken seriously. Pulling it off to such a degree that it earned him an Oscar nomination, he turned out to be well worth the gamble.

#10: Will Smith

“Ali” (2001)
While Jamie Foxx was great in “Ali,” that movie belonged to Will Smith. Early in his career, Smith was widely known for his rapping and “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.” When he ventured into film, he mostly stuck to fun, lighthearted movies like “Men In Black,” “Independence Day,” and “Wild Wild West.” Even “Bad Boys,” his most “serious” work at the time, had elements of camp and goofiness. Smith took on more prestigious work with Michael Mann’s “Ali,” filling some massive shoes by portraying the titular boxing legend. While the movie earned a solid, if somewhat muted, reception, Smith’s performance as Ali was singled out for praise, and it earned him his first Academy Award nomination for Best Actor.

#9: Jim Carrey

“The Number 23” (2007)
When Jim Carrey’s first famous leading film role involved a sequence where he literally talked out of his ass, it set a precedent for the types of roles he was offered and given thereafter. In the years since then, he’s attempted to fight that perception with more and more dramatic roles, including acclaimed performances in “The Truman Show,” “Man on the Moon” and “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.” Still the idea that he was that guy who starred in outrageous comedies that took advantage of his rubber-faced antics persisted. For many, it took him starring in a psychological thriller as a man struggling with dreams of murder to truly break the mold he’d created.

#8: Michael Keaton

“Batman” (1989)
Many actors have broken type by playing Batman, including Christian Bale. But none have shattered their type quite like Michael Keaton. Before 1989, Keaton was a comedic performer. He was on the sitcoms “All’s Fair” and “The Mary Tyler Moore Hour” and starred in film comedies like “Night Shift” and “Mr. Mom.” In 1988, he worked with Tim Burton on “Beetlejuice,” which of course led to his starring role in Burton’s “Batman.” Keaton’s casting actually caused considerable controversy. Thousands of protest letters were sent to Warner Bros., and even Batman creator Bob Kane voiced his reservations. Luckily, it all worked out, and “Batman” became the fifth highest grossing movie in history at the time.

#7: Joe Pesci

“Home Alone” (1990)
In many of Joe Pesci’s most famous film roles, he’s the most dangerous and feared person on screen - despite his small stature. It takes an actor who’s capable of tapping into a raw anger and rage that few of us can understand to be able to pull that off successfully. For the same actor to be able to make a fool of himself for the delight and laughter of families worldwide without missing a beat is truly impressive. But that’s just what Pesci did as Harry in 1990’s “Home Alone.” Even more amazingly, this performance came right on the heels of his role as Tommy DeVito in “Goodfellas” - showing just how easily Pesci was able to switch character types.

#6: Robin Williams

“One Hour Photo” (2002)
A lot of actors who’ve earned the respect of their peers spend the later years of their career coasting on fame and taking on easy roles that line their wallets. Fortunately for ardent film fans, Robin Williams was not one of those people. Choosing to stretch his acting muscles in dark new ways, his performance as a photo clinic employee with a dangerous obsession was so organic and real we wish he’d given the genre a try much earlier. The role won him universal acclaim from critics and a Saturn Award for Best Actor.

#5: Tom Cruise

“Collateral” (2004)
Tom Cruise has spent most of his career carefully cultivating a resume of respected performances and a squeaky clean image. He has played against that image at times, for example, as the villainous yet charming Lestat in “Interview with the Vampire”. Then there was the vulgar and over the top Les Grossman in “Tropic Thunder.” But it is as Vincent in Michael Mann’s neo-noir crime thriller “Collateral” that he truly stands out. As a remorseless contract killer who makes no attempt to be likable, this role had critics raving and moviegoers seeing him in an all new light.

#4: Heath Ledger

“The Dark Knight” (2008)
The Joker is arguably one of the most recognizable and acclaimed villains in modern pop culture. Previously brought to the big screen by Hollywood heavyweight Jack Nicholson, anyone assigned the challenging role certainly had big shoes to fill. So when they cast the guy who sang in the bleachers in a 90s teen comedy, a lot of fans were shocked and appalled. Even though he’d given respected performances in films like “Lords of Dogtown” and “Brokeback Mountain” prior to “The Dark Knight,” few thought he’d be up to the task. Outperforming even the highest expectations, he gave one of the most legendary performances in film history and earned a posthumous Oscar to boot.

#3: Steve Carell

“Foxcatcher” (2014)
Steve Carell is one of the most acclaimed and respected comedians working today. He received widespread recognition for his work as Michael Scott on “The Office” and supplemented this with hilarious work in “Anchorman” and “The 40-Year-Old Virgin,” among many other films. And while he demonstrated his dramatic chops in “Little Miss Sunshine,” that movie can still be considered a comedy - a word no one would use to describe “Foxcatcher.” Carell was barely recognizable as wrestling coach and convicted murderer John du Pont, and he, Channing Tatum, and Mark Ruffalo all received praise from critics. Carell earned his seventh Golden Globe nomination (the first six being for “The Office”) and his first Oscar nomination for the role.

#2: Tom Hanks

“Philadelphia” (1993)
In the 80s, Tom Hanks shot to fame thanks to his roles in comedies, including “Splash” and “Big.” However, his filmography took a very different turn in the next decade. 1993 saw him star as Andrew Beckett, a gay lawyer and AIDS patient, in the legal drama “Philadelphia.” At the time, the film was groundbreaking in mainstream cinema for addressing the HIV epidemic and homophobia. Hanks’ performance won him his first Oscar, and led to a number of other dramatic roles in the 90s, such as in “Forrest Gump” and “Saving Private Ryan.”

#1: Bryan Cranston

“Breaking Bad” (2008-13)
Few people can be both funny and utterly terrifying. Bryan Cranston is one of those people. Before “Breaking Bad,” Cranston was primarily known for his comedy work. He had a bit part on “Seinfeld” playing Tim Whatley before hitting it big with “Malcolm in the Middle.” Before that glorious bald head and glasses look became iconic, all anyone could picture was Cranston doing a goofy dance on rollerskates. But “Breaking Bad” proved Cranston to be an accomplished dramatic actor. He disappeared into Walter White, becoming another one of those brilliant casting decisions that make it impossible to imagine anyone else in the role. He won four Emmys, one Golden Globe, and two SAG awards for his performance, solidifying his place in television history.

What’s your favorite example of typecast-breaking? Let us know in the comments below!