Edward Norton has built a nearly 30-year filmography full of fantastic and creative films, and his best films are his signature intense dramas. The actor’s first film was Primal fear, in which he had a supporting role, and it immediately established him as a major award winner. Since the thrilling legal drama, Norton has starred in one hard-hitting film after another, best known for classics such as Fight Club, American History X, and the record Glass onion: A Knives Out Mystery. The actor is known for playing intelligent but troubled characters and his roles oddly tend to have dual personalities.


Once actors reach the status and fame of being the leads, they rarely take on any other role, but that’s not the case with Norton, who seems to have actively taken supporting roles because they were interesting characters. And he also ventures into films with ensemble casts, such as the Wes Anderson-directed one The French broadcast, where he works best. Although Norton has yet to win an Academy Award, he has been nominated for three Academy Awards, and his losses were some of the most controversial in the ceremony’s history. Between emotionally exhausting character pieces and grand popcorn flicks, Norton’s best films show just how much of a chameleon he really is.

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The Incredible Hulk (2008)

The Incredible Hulk was the second attempt at a blockbuster film about the angry green man and the second film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, seen as an improvement over 2003’s Hulk. The film’s quality is on par with most MCU Phase 1 releases. The film has also become important in the MCU as the Abomination returned in Phase 4 and The Leader returns in Phase 5. Norton’s typically intense performance was a perfect match for the typically intense superhero, but there’s a reason why Mark Ruffalo has played the character since 2012, of which Norton rewrote large parts The Incredible Hulk against Marvel’s wishes.

Rounders (1998)

Worm looks stressed in Rounders

Rounder is a great movie about gambling and not many have matched its detailed depiction of the casino game. The film underperformed at the box office (via Box Office Mojo) and didn’t get a particularly glowing reception from critics, but it has since found its fan base and become a cult classic. Although the film is a drama and Norton has an acting problem in the film, it still shows a less extreme side of the actor. His performance as Worm, a hunter and trickster, marked a creative and entertaining turn for him, helping to set Rounder among the best poker movies of all time.

Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery (2022)

Miles smiles at the dinner table in the Glass Onion

Glass onion is one of the best examples of Norton at the top of his game in an ensemble cast. Here, Norton’s character in particular has received a lot of attention due to the coincidental similarities between Bron and Elon Musk. Whether it’s because he loves the competition or because he enjoys multi-threaded narratives, Norton seems to be at his best when it comes to these kinds of films. Norton plays Miles Bron, a billionaire who may or may not have killed his business partner. His performance, along with performances from Kate Hudson and Dave Bautista, made this a worthy one Knives out follow-up and a success for Netflix.

The people vs. Larry Flynt (1996)

Edward Norton in court in People vs.  Larry Flynt

Larry Flynt is Woody Harrelson’s best role, but Norton gives an equally great supporting role The People vs. Larry Flynt. The film follows the life of Hustler runner Larry Flynt as he battles religious institutions and the law, and Norton plays Flynt’s lawyer, Alan Isaacman. After Primal fear, where Norton plays a character on trial, he’s on the other side of the law in the biopic, playing a twisted, well-suited lawyer as well as a murder suspect. The film was not so much a hit as primal fear, but it showed Norton’s talent to operate at the level of much more experienced actors.

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Primal Fear (1996)

Edward Norton as Aaron Stampler in Primal Fear

The 1996 film is known for two things which Primal fear has a shocking twist ending and was the film that introduced the world to Norton. Norton holds his own against Richard Gere and even outshines him as he gives a riveting performance as murder suspect Aaron Stampler, a 19-year-old altar boy. It’s the first example of Norton’s extremely nervous style, which works so well in the legal thriller. Few actors have ever had such an impressive acting debut, but what’s more impressive is that despite being his first ever film role, Norton was nominated for Best Supporting Actor at the Academy Awards.

25th Hour (2002)

Edward Norton walks his dog in 25th Hour

Spike Lee is best known for his breakout film, The Deep Do the right thingand the endlessly repetitive robbery Inside man. But the director operates at his highest level when addressing societal issues of class and race, and this is why 25th hour is Lee’s best film of the 21st century. The film follows Monty (Norton) on his last day of freedom before he is sent to prison, leading to a unique perspective on gangs, crime and the many prejudices of New York. It’s almost like a spiritual sequel to American History X and features one of Norton’s best scenes ever, the hilarious but eye-opening “f*** monologue”.

Moonrise Kingdom (2012)

Bruce Willis - Moonrise Kingdom (with Edward Norton, Bill Murray, Tilda Swinton)

Moonrise Kingdom sees Norton again in an ensemble cast, but mostly a cast of children, as he plays Randy Ward, a scoutmaster who has to take care of his scouts. The film was also a big part of Norton’s career outside of box office success and awards consideration, as it marked the first collaboration between the actor and director Wes Anderson. The two would go on to work together several times in the 2010s and into the 2020s. While he has many, Moonrise Kingdom is Anderson’s best love story, and the coming-of-age comedy led to a pleasantly surprisingly sweet performance from Norton.

The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)

Henckels interrogates M Gustave at the Grand Budapest Hotel.

Grand Budapest Hotel is the second film that Anderson and Norton worked on together, and is generally considered Anderson’s masterpiece. The film is non-linear as it has a story-within-a-story-within-a-story narrative, looks as animated as a live-action film can, and has a huge cast of movie stars. The film follows the concierge and a bellhop at the titular hotel as they embark on a wild journey together, and Norton is just a small piece in the massive Grand Budapest puzzle, but an important one. Norton plays Henkels, a police officer investigating a murder, and it stands out in his career for being a peculiar and internationally stiff performance.

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American History X (1998)

Derek gets arrested in American History X

Norton was heavily involved in the American History X, as he also wrote scenes and had a hand in the editing. And although it led to a huge row with director Tony Kaye, who was so angry he demanded not to be credited, the result is the most powerful film of 1998. Norton plays Derek Vinyard, who becomes a neo-Nazi after his father is murdered by a black drug dealer and brutally murders a black gang member. It’s a grueling and exhausting story of how Derek became so hateful, but also how he changed his ways in prison, and it earned Norton his second Oscar nomination.

Birdman (2014)

Michael Keaton and Edward Norton fight in Birdman

Birdman sees actors play actors as the satirical comedy centers on Hollywood actors trying to shed the stigma attached to them, whether it’s playing superheroes or being notoriously difficult to work with. It’s cinematically impressive as the cuts are hidden and it looks seamless as one shot. But beyond the visual effects, it’s also a masterclass in acting. Birdman features powerful performances from Norton, Michael Keaton and Emma Stone, all of whom were nominated for Academy Awards for their performances. Norton plays an exaggerated version of himself, as he has been criticized for being hard to work with, much like his character in the film.

Fight Club (1999)

Narrator fights Angel Face in Fight CLub

If any of Norton’s films are considered a classic, this is it Fight Club. The film is a large part of pop culture, regardless of whether it is because Fight Clubs iconic twist ending, Tyler Durden’s quotes or its quirky narrative. Norton plays an unnamed character referred to simply as the Narrator, working with Tyler to build a network of anarchists across the United States. The film has come a long way since its release when it wasn’t exactly the critical darling it is. Today. The film is darkly comical, sickeningly violent, and totally mind-blowing, and for all these reasons, it’s considered one of the greatest films of all time (via IMDb).

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