There might not be a cooler, more accomplished, and hardworking actor than the great Christopher Walken. From starring alongside amazing Robert De Niro in The Deer Hunter to playing Frank Abagnale’s father in Catch Me If You Can, the Academy Award-winning native has proven himself to be the master of playing eccentric, psychopathic, and off-kilter characters.
Walken has appeared in more than 100 movies and television programs during his career, receiving numerous awards for his performances. In celebration of Walken’s 77th birthday, here is our list of the New York native’s ten most iconic performances, ranked. Enjoy!
10. Annie Hall (1977)
Only Christopher Walken can be hilarious and utterly terrifying at the same time, and this is best on show in Woody Allen’s 1977 romantic comedy Annie Hall. Walken plays the titular character’s (Diane Keaton) brother, Duane, with Woody Allen playing her boyfriend, Alvy Singer. In an incredibly creepy, awkward, and comical scene, Duane very calmly tells Alvy that he often feels a desire to turn his car into oncoming traffic when driving at night. He then vividly describes what he sees happening in the crash, just before being asked to drive his sister and Alvy to the airport. He is then shown driving completely expressionless with a very nervous looking Alvy in the passenger seat. It may not be a major role for Walken, but it is a truly unforgettable one in a film that won Best Picture, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, and Best Actress.
9. Pennies From Heaven (1981)
It would be criminal to talk about Christopher Walken without mentioning his musical side, as he has proven as adept at dancing as he is at delivering an enthralling monologue or playing a terrifying character, and this variety is what makes him such a cool and much-loved actor. His performance in Fatboy Slim’s video for “Weapon of Choice” is a must-watch. Still, equally impressive is his performance in the 1981 musical Pennies from Heaven, a highlight in his career that showcases his fantastic dancing ability. Walken plays the role of a stylish pimp known as Tom, and he performs a show-stopping tap dancing routine, which will amaze anybody that sees it. The film also stars Steve Martin, Bernadette Peters, and Jessica Harper, and Dennis Potter, who adapted his screenplay for the film from the original BBC series, earned an Academy Award nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay.
8. Sleepy Hollow (1999)
Tim Burton and Christopher Walken have worked together twice, and, as you would expect, this has proven to be a tremendously creepy and strange collaboration. It was a toss-up between Batman Returns and Sleepy Hollow for inclusion on this list, with the latter getting the nod for Walken’s truly insane and twisted portrayal of The Headless Horseman. His screen time may be limited in this role, but he is worth the wait once you see his piercing blue eyes, sharpened teeth, and demonic expression. The film also stars Johnny Depp (obviously), as well as Christina Ricci, making it an impressive cast in what is a spooky, stylish, and fun film. Set in 1799, the plot follows police constable Ichabod Crane (Depp), who is sent to Sleepy Hollow to investigate a series of murders committed by a headless horseman, and here he uncovers a troubling conspiracy.
7. King of New York (1990)
Christopher Walken may be best known for his supporting roles or cameos in films, but he has also proven more than capable of playing the starring role. This is evident with the 1990 crime thriller King of New York, which also features Laurence Fishburne, David Caruso, Wesley Snipes, and Steve Buscemi. Walken plays the role of Frank White, a drug lord who has just been released from prison. Prison appears to have changed Frank, as he now has a utopian vision which does not go down well with his fellow gangsters. Frank wishes to bankroll a hospital in New York, but he will not hesitate to kill anyone that stands in his way, and this makes him a complex and morally ambiguous character. Walken excels in the role and powers the film, and although it is a polarizing movie, there is no denying that it is a compelling performance.
6. Catch Me If You Can (2002)
An excellent biographical drama, Catch Me If You Can is based on the life of Frank Abagnale (Leonardo DiCaprio), a con artist who scams millions of dollars by posing as a pilot, doctor and lawyer—all before turning 19. Throughout the film, he is pursued by an FBI bank fraud agent (Tom Hanks), but he always finds himself one step behind Frank. The fantastic story is aided massively by a supporting performance from Walken, who plays the role of Frank’s father, Frank Abagnale Sr. A highlight is his brilliant “two mice” speech, as well as a moving scene where Frank Sr. tells his son that it can never be the way it used to be. The scenes with both father and son are extremely powerful and touching, and it would earn Walken an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor.
5. Pulp Fiction (1994)
Once again, it is a small role for Walken in Tarantino’s 1994 classic Pulp Fiction, but as always, it is a stirring performance and indeed a memorable moment in the film. Walken takes on the role of Captain Koons, who brought Butch Coolidge a gold watch that had been passed down three generations of Coolidge men since World War I. Butch’s father had hidden the watch in his rectum for five years in a POW camp, and after dying from dysentery, Koons hid the watch in his rectum for a further two years before delivering it to Butch. It is a bewildering and bizarre monologue (classic Walken), and although his screen time is limited, it is one of the best scenes in one of the all-time great movies. After True Romance, Tarantino clearly knew that there was no one better suited for such a small but strange and pivotal role than Walken.
4. Seven Psychopaths (2012)
One of his more recent roles was in Martin McDonagh’s black comedy Seven Psychopaths, a film that was perfect for Christopher Walken. The fantastic story is hilarious, dramatic, and self-aware, and this is aided by a star-studded lineup that also includes Colin Farrell, Sam Rockwell, Woody Harrelson, and Tom Waits. Walken plays Hans Kieslowski, who works with Billy Bickle (Rockwell) kidnapping dogs and then collecting the owners’ cash rewards. The story leads to Hans, Billy, and Marty (Farrell), a struggling writer, driving out into the desert to escape Charlie (Harrelson), a violent gangster. It is another stellar performance that sees him hilariously chime in with his thoughts on Marty’s story (“your female characters are awful”), and refuse to put his hands up at gunpoint. Smart, fun, wild, and packed full of extreme characters, Seven Psychopaths is a must-watch.
3. The Dead Zone (1983)
A rare leading role for Walken was in the 1983 horror film based on Stephen King’s 1979 novel, The Dead Zone. Walken plays the role of Johnny Smith, a schoolteacher who awakens from a coma to discover that he has physic powers. He uses his powers to help with a series of murders, but after being shot and unable to save the day, he becomes disillusioned. After seeing a vision of a boy falling through ice and delivering one of his most famous lines (“the ICE… is gonna BREAK!”), he realizes that he can change the future. He then faces a moral dilemma when he sees visions of a U.S. Senatorial candidate becoming President and bringing on a nuclear holocaust. It is a very eerie and unsettling film from start to finish, which is brought to life by a haunting performance from Walken.
2. True Romance (1993)
True Romance is a fantastic film written by Quentin Tarantino and directed by Tony Scott that is loaded with talent, including Christian Slater and Patricia Arquette in the starring roles, with a supporting cast of Dennis Hopper, Val Kilmer, Gary Oldman, Brad Pitt, and Christopher Walken. Although in typical fashion, Walken only appears in one scene, it is one of the highlights of the movie and yet another fantastic performance. Walken plays the role of Don Vincenzo Coccotti, a Sicilian mob boss attempting to intimidate Clifford (Hopper). It is an extremely tense scene as Coccotti attempts to find out where Clifford’s son has gone, and knowing that he is going to die anyway, Clifford insults Coccotti, who then shoots him in the head. The scene is one of Tarantino’s proudest moments as a writer, and the entire film is heavily praised for both its story and the brilliant cast performances.
1. The Deer Hunter (1978)
Unquestionably, Christopher Walken’s most significant performance is one of his earlier ones in what is considered one of the greatest films of all time—Michael Cimino’s The Deer Hunter. Starring Robert De Niro, Christopher Walken, John Savage, Meryl Streep and John Cazale in his final role, the film follows a trio of steelworkers and their service in the Vietnam War. Walken plays Nick Chebotarevich, who becomes psychologically scarred after being forced to play Russian roulette in a riverside prisoner of war camp. It is an incredible story that, while heart-wrenching, is extremely difficult to watch at times (including the Russian roulette scene), making it an evocative film that will leave you emotionally shattered by the conclusion. This is only helped by the bone-chilling of its cast performances, with Walken receiving an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor and the film picking up a further four (including Best Picture).