Ryan Gosling is one of Hollywood’s most fascinating actors. Handsome, charismatic, and talented, Gosling thrives as the prototypical leading man in action blockbusters, romantic comedies, and adult dramas. Yet, Gosling is also a character actor at heart, willing to play strange protagonists, goofy sidekicks, and silent killers.
Gosling’s career can be broken down into four different stages. Stage 1 is “Heartthrob Gosling,” spanning from The Mickey Mouse Club to The Notebook. Stage 2 is “Experimental Gosling,” from Stay to Lars and the Real Girl. Stage 3 is “Prestige Gosling,” from Blue Valentine to First Man. Gosling is currently in stage 4, “Movie Star Gosling,” with The Gray Man and Barbie under his belt.
Within each stage, there are memorable roles that showcase the multifaceted actor. In honor of Barbie, here are Gosling’s seven best performances.
Note:Barbie was not considered for the rankings.
7. The Notebook (2004)
This will be the most controversial selection on the list. Is The Notebook going to go down as Gosling’s best role? No. It’s a flawed film, but The Notebook is a monumental moment in Gosling’s career. Before The Notebook, Gosling still had a Disney Channel stigma around him from his days on The Mickey Mouse Club. But Gosling went from child star to Hollywood heartthrob overnight with the success of The Notebook.
Based on the novel by Nicholas Sparks, The Notebook chronicles the love story between Noah Calhoun (Gosling) and Allie Calhoun (Doctor Strange‘s Rachel McAdams) in 1940s South Carolina. James Garner and Gena Rowlands play the older versions of the characters as Noah reads their love story from a notebook. For many, this was Gosling’s coming-out party, as the world took notice of his leading man looks, magnetic charm, and natural charisma.
Rent The Notebook on Prime Video.
6. The Big Short (2015)
The Big Short is Gosling’s best supporting role to date. His performance as the cocky and arrogant Jared Vennett is what Bill Simmons likens to a “Dion Waiters heat-check performance.” Waiters was a former NBA player who typically came off the bench and lit up the stat sheet, for better or worse. He was a boom-or-bust player. Some nights, he would shoot one of t10 from the field. On other nights, he would make four three-pointers in less than 5 minutes.
To relate that in acting terms, a Waiters’ heat-check performance would be an actor who only appears in a few scenes, but steals the show whenever he’s on the screen. That is Gosling in The Big Short, Adam McKay’s satire about the 2007–2008 financial crisis. Channeling his inner finance bro, Gosling excels as the douchey salesman with an ego larger than the size of Manhattan. His magnum opus is the pitch he makes using Jenga blocks, where he manages to outshine Steve Carrell and Jeremy Strong.
Stream The Big Short on YouTube.
5. Blade Runner 2049 (2017)
Before Gosling did Blade Runner 2049, I never viewed him as a big-budget action star. I always believed in his talent and knew Gosling could do it. However, he seemed to gravitate more toward independent roles or mid-budget films at this point of his career. That changed with Blade Runner 2049, the sequel to 1982’s groundbreaking sci-fi noir Blade Runner. Gosling plays K, a lonely replicant police officer programmed to be a blade runner. While working on a case, K discovers the remains of a female replicant that died during a C-section, signaling that replicants can reproduce biologically.
If that knowledge became public, it would lead to a war between humans and replicants. K’s investigation leads him to the first film’s protagonist, Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford), who may have the answers to save society. On the outside, Gosling’s K is unemotional and quiet, which makes his freak-outs even more powerful. It’s a similar performance to Drive as K’s blank stares convey a feeling of emptiness as he questions his place in the world. It’s this type of emotional depth that makes Gosling such an appealing action star.
4. First Man (2018)
The public owes Gosling and Damien Chazelle an apology for their indifferent reaction to First Man, the 2018 biopic about Neil Armstrong. This should have been a smash-hit following the duo’s success in La La Land. Though it found itself on many critics’ top 10 lists at the end of the year, the film significantly underperformed at the box office. The only discussion it garnered was the unnecessary debate about the American flag.
Five years later, First Man has aged with much elegance and grace. Gosling’s performance is quiet, yet haunting as an American hero struggling with anxiety and grief. It’s the furthest thing from a showy performance, which is probably why the Academy didn’t nominate Gosling for Best Actor. The moon landing scene remains a spectacular piece of filmmaking, and the eerie score remains fantastic. I’d imagine in the next decade, some will call it a borderline masterpiece. To that, I might agree.
Stream First Man on Hulu.
3. La La Land (2016)
Part of Gosling’s strength is the on-screen chemistry he displays with co-stars. To this day, his best film partner is Emma Stone. After starring in Crazy, Stupid, Love and Gangster Squad, the Gosling-Stone collaboration peaked in La La Land. In Chazelle’s Oscar-winning musical set in Los Angeles, Gosling plays Seb, a jazz pianist with dreams of opening his own club. Mia (Emma Stone) is a struggling actress trying to make it big in the business. Seb and Mia fall in love, inspiring each other to chase their dreams.
However, doubt and failure in their careers threaten to tear them apart. From his silky smooth moves on the piano to his slick dance skills at sunset, Gosling is having the time of his life in La La Land. His final moment with Mia is equally heartbreaking and uplifting as the signature Gosling stare leaves the audience in awe of his greatness.
Stream La La Land on Netflix.
2. The Nice Guys (2016)
“10 most underrated movies of the 2010s.” “8 movies that deserve a sequel.” “Acting duos with great chemistry.” Type those three phrases into Google, and I guarantee The Nice Guys will fall somewhere on all those lists. In 2016, Shane Black paired Gosling alongside Russell Crowe in the buddy action comedy The Nice Guys. Essentially, Black made a funnier version of Lethal Weapon.
Gosling plays Holland March, a hapless private investigator in 1970s Los Angeles who teams up with an unlikely partner, enforcer Jackson Healy (Crowe), to investigate the disappearance of a teenage girl (Margaret Qualley). Gosling and Crowe are a match made in heaven, with impeccable comedic timing and natural chemistry. The media tour to promote the movie was downright hilarious, highlighted by a laugh-out-loud interaction at the Oscars. The Nice Guys remains the best use of Gosling’s comedic talents.
Stream The Nice Guys on Netflix.
1. Drive (2011)
In Drive, Gosling has never looked cooler. With a scorpion jacket on his back, leather gloves tightly covering his hands, and a toothpick in his mouth, Gosling’s look has inspired countless Halloween costumes as men walk around with a hammer saying, “I drive.” All jokes aside, Drive showcases Gosling’s physicality as his stoic character relies on facial movements to convey love, happiness, and anger.
In his first collaboration with Nicolas Winding Refn, Gosling plays The Driver, a stuntman and mechanic who also serves as a getaway driver for criminals. The emotionless Driver surprisingly forms a close relationship with his neighbor, Irene (Carey Mulligan), and her young son, Benicio (Kaden Leos). After a botched heist goes wrong with Irene’s husband, the Driver must protect Irene and Benicio from the criminals who threaten their lives. With a haunting score and striking visuals, Drive is the perfect mix of violence and romance, with a terrific Gosling at the center of the action.
Rent Drive on Apple.