Hardworking, engaging and consistent are great descriptions of the work Mark Ruffalo puts into every performance. From playing cops to fathers to transforming into the biggest character in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, he can do it all. In honor of his newest project “Dark Waters,” here are the top ten performances from one of the best actors working today.
10Detective Ray Fanning in “Collateral” (2004)
dir. Michael Mann
There is a lot to love about Michael Mann’s neo-noir crime thriller, “Collateral.” From its compelling premise to its magnetic performances from leads Tom Cruise and Jamie Foxx, it has everything going for it. But through it all, the most underrated part of “Collateral” is Ruffalo’s Detective Ray Fanning. As the cop trying to solve the string of murders being committed by Cruise’s Vincent, he transforms this ordinary cop into a relatable, resonant character. While focused on the main story, you start to root for him to save Foxx’s Max and stop Vincent. When the two stories collide, Fanning’s resolution leads to shocking ramifications. His heartbreaking fate shows no one is stopping Vincent from completing his mission.
9Paul in “The Kids Are All Right” (2010)
dir. Lisa Cholodenko
In his first Oscar-nominated performance, Ruffalo plays Paul, a charismatic restaurant owner who comes in contact with the children (Mia Wasikowska, Josh Hutcherson) spawned from his sperm donation. Much to the dismay of the children’s parents (Annette Bening, Julianne Moore), he forms a bond with his offspring. Beyond his new fatherly relationship, he starts dabbling in a romance with Moore’s Jules, rocking the foundation of the family he’s stumbled into. In the end, you’re not on his side at all, yet you know he is a good guy who should have never crossed the line.
8Cam Stuart in “Infinitely Polar Bear” (2014)
dir. Maya Forbes
It’s not easy playing a real life person — let alone a version of your director’s father — yet Ruffalo took on this challenge in Maya Forbes’ “Infinitely Polar Bear.” He plays Cam, a man struggling to balance his bipolar disorder with the care of his daughters. As his wife (Zoe Saldana) is trying to go to school, Cam takes on more responsibility than he could possibly handle. Ruffalo gives a touching examination of someone struggling with their disability while also doing the best they can for their loved ones. Personal and relatable, he gives Forbes a performance to make her father proud.
7Stephen in “The Brothers Bloom” (2008)
dir. Rian Johnson
To be a good con man, you have to look like someone everyone can believe in. Thus, when the con happens, they will never see you pull it off. In “The Brothers Bloom,” Ruffalo’s Stephen is the imperfect con man who enlists his brother Bloom (Adrien Brody) for one last job. The deeper the con goes, the more the web gets tangled. Stephen knows if he wants it to work he’ll have to sacrifice everything, including his relationship with Bloom. Ruffalo’s performance is equal parts dashing and cunning, and the main reason why Rian Johnson’s caper works.
6Terry in “You Can Count on Me” (2000)
dir. Kenneth Lonergan
This early performance gave a glimpse of the kind of actor Ruffalo can be when given a meaty role. In “You Can Count On Me,” he’s Terry, a troubled man whose relationship with his sister Sammy (Laura Linney) is strained. With no place left to turn, he moves in with Sammy and tries to fix his relationship with her and her son (Rory Culkin). Bumpy at first, time shows how much the siblings need each other. Ruffalo plays Terry beautifully, showing all the pain he’s gone through in his life. He’s at a crossroad and needs a reset button. By the end, he matures and becomes a better man for himself and his family.
5Bruce Banner/The Hulk in “The Avengers” (2012)
dir. Joss Whedon
In Joss Whedon’s “The Avengers,” Ruffalo took a shot as the genius scientist who turns into a green monster when he gets mad. Edward Norton played this character in the stand alone film in 2008 but left the franchise due to creative differences. By making the move to Ruffalo, Marvel and Whedon cast someone who has become the best big screen version of the iconic hero. In “The Avengers,” he brings such a humanity to Banner, showing the struggle he faces daily with the monster inside him. But he knows it’s his curse, he fully embraces Hulk as a part of him and beautifully lets his anger out. When the credits start rolling, you can’t imagine anyone else playing these characters.
4Stan Fink in “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” (2004)
dir. Michel Gondry
Your heart really goes out to Stan Fink in Michel Gondry’s “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.” Ruffalo’s technician for a mind-erasing company is the most innocent character in this sci-fi comedy. Just wanting to do his job and not upset his boss (Tom Wilkinson), Stan comes across problems when Joel (Jim Carrey) tries to break out of his erasing session. As the night goes on, Stan discovers revelations about Mary (Kirsten Dunst), the girl he is dating, and how he is stuck in the middle of an awkward relationship. Ruffalo gives him so much empathy due to everything in his life falling apart. He does finish the job but his life has changed forever. In the end, Ruffalo performance makes you feel terrible for Stan.
3David Schultz in “Foxcatcher” (2014)
dir. Bennett Miller
Sometimes a quiet performance can say so much. In Bennett Miller’s “Foxcatcher,” Ruffalo is David Schultz, the former Olympic world wrestler mentoring his younger brother Mark (Channing Tatum) before John du Pont (Steve Carrell) corrupts him. Mark and du Pont are the focus of “Foxcatcher,” its David who’s the force lingering throughout the story. For Mark, he must surpass David’s and his achievements in order to prove he is the better wrestler. For du Pont, David is the obstacle in his way of gaining full control over Mark. As du Pont comes closer to gaining the upper hand, David is there to stop him destroying the brothers’ relationship. Leading to a tragic conclusion, Ruffalo shows the lengths and sacrifices a brother will go to protect his sibling.
2Mike Rezendes in “Spotlight” (2015)
dir. Todd McCarthy
Ruffalo’s most recent Oscar-nominated performance for “Spotlight” is one of his showiest roles to date. As Mike Rezendes, he is the loudest member of The Boston Globe’s team writing an article about the child sex abuse cover up by the Catholic Church. Most of “Spotlight”‘s biggest revelations come from Rezendes interviews. The more he learns, the angrier he becomes. Thus, when editor Robby Robinson (Michael Keaton) says they are going to delay the piece, he explodes and pleads to release the story. His declaration is the overall message of “Spotlight,” telling the audience it’s time to speak up and not let these atrocities continue. Ruffalo feels so human in the moment and it’s what makes him so effective in the role.
1David Toschi in “Zodiac” (2007)
dir. David Fincher
The crown jewel of Ruffalo’s career comes from one of the best films of 2007, “Zodiac.” In David Fincher’s crime epic, he plays Detective David Toschi, who is responsible for tracking down the infamous Zodiac killer in 1970s San Francisco. He’s’ played cops before but this is the most depth he’s found with a role, showing Toshi’s struggle for over a decade. Left with dead end after dead end, he remains determined to solve this case. From different partners to working with cartoonist Robert Graysmith (Jake Gyllenhaal), he vows to solve this unsolvable case. Even though “Zodiac” is left unresolved, you sense Toschi can find peace in who really was the Zodiac based on what he and Graysmith discovered.