The Prime 4 – Jake Gyllenhaal, Michael Fassbender, Tom Hardy, and Ryan Gosling

For this analysis, I’ve chosen four actors who have demographic similarities (white, male, aged 39-46), seem to be in a similar career place (legitimate dramatic/action lead), and all have distinctive particularities. They’re each weird both in their personalities and career choices. Our subjects are Michael Fassbender, Ryan Gosling, Jake Gyllenhaal, and Tom Hardy (Listed alphabetically, which is also how their score will be listed for each year). Others considered but ultimately left for another day include Cillian Murphy, Bradley Cooper, Heath Ledger (were he alive, he would almost certainly be in this group), Jason Clarke, Jeremy Renner, Ryan Reynolds, and Benedict Cumberbatch.

Gosling, Fassbender, and Hardy all debuted right around 2000. All of them had some TV work before their debut films, Fassbender the most which delayed his first appearance till 2006. Gyllenhaal debuted much younger in 1991 but in the end, only has a few more movies than the others. In totality, the four actors have appeared in 125 feature films. Amazingly, as a group, they’ve only garnered 28 individual award nominations from the major academies (Oscars, Golden Globes, BAFTAs, and Saturns). Gyllenhaal and Gosling have the only two wins, although Hardy and Fassbender both received “rising star” BAFTAs early in their careers. None of them have won an Oscar, yet.

So first, let’s look at the year-by-year:


Fassbender:  None.

Gosling: None.

Gyllenhaal: City Slickers

Hardy: None.

Gyllenhaal’s debut was in the Billy Crystal comedy. Worth a laugh or two, I suppose, little did audiences know they were watching the beginnings of an auteur. I’m only going to give “points” at my discretion, but I feel this role was significant enough to count. (0-0-1-0)




Fassbender:  None.

Gosling: None.

Gyllenhaal: A Dangerous Woman; Josh and S.A.M.

Hardy: None.

Jake’s dad, Stephen Gyllenhaal, gave his son his second look with a small role in a gritty female-led crime drama. Also, has an even smaller role in an indie film about runaways. Neither role earns a point. (0-0-1-0)




Fassbender:  None.

Gosling: None.

Gyllenhaal: Homegrown.

Hardy: None.

Gylly gets another minor role in a stoner comedy/crime drama directed by his Dad, also featuring an appearance from Jon Bon Jovi. No point. (0-0-1-0)


Fassbender:  None.

Gosling: None.

Gyllenhaal: October Sky

Hardy: None.

The breakthrough comes for Gyllenhaal in ’99. Joe Johnston’s October Sky is a heart-warming tale of dreams and family adapted from Homer Hickam’s novel. It stars Chris Cooper as the angry coal mining dad and Jake as his somewhat genius son with his head in stars. Gyllenhaal’s ability to be obsessive, odd, and yet endearing and compelling is clear from the start. (0-0-2-0)


Fassbender:  None.

Gosling: Remember the Titans

Gyllenhaal: None.

Hardy: None.

Gosling makes his debut in the stellar sports movie about race and community in 2000. Needless to say, nobody saw his performance and thought, “there’s the next great dramatic actor” as he put on a ridiculous accent and played the goof. He played it extremely well though and his subsequent career has only made the role funnier. (0-1-2-0)


Fassbender:  None.

Gosling: The Believer

Gyllenhaal: Donnie Darko; Bubble Boy; Lovely and Amazing

Hardy: Black Hawk Down

Hardy debuts and we finally have more than one to compare.

Gosling immediately pivots off of his comedic debut the year before and stars in The Believer as a young Jewish man who develops deep antisemitism and joins the KKK. Good reviews but a limited release, the film won 1st place at Sundance. Gosling’s talent is evident from the start.

The same is true of Gyllenhaal, who stars in three odd films. He’s a creepy employee at the one-hour photo in Lovely and Amazing but it’s a minor role. The title role in Bubble Boy, he uses his awkward charm and his trademark weird pretty effectively as a doomed lover risking life and limb to win his crush’s heart, and stop her wedding to another guy. Some hate it, some love it, but most agree Gyllenhaal is good. As strange as Bubble Boy is, very few movies are stranger than Donnie Darko. A trippy, foreboding story that makes the audience feel as crazy as the characters. Gyllenhaal is hauntingly off-kilter and keeps the viewer right on the edge of suspense and confusion as the events and images give vague glimpses of what’s going on. It’s a very hard experience to describe, but it’s mesmerizing and it’s all due to Gyllenhaal’s ability to be so incredibly strange in a compelling manner. 

Hardy is one of a large list of recognizable names who suits up in Ridley Scott’s loose adaptation of Mark Bowden’s book about the American Helicopters that went down in Somalia. A really awesome movie, but Hardy is not the focus despite being good in his limited scenes.

Gylly gets the point. (0-1-3-0)


Fassbender:  None.

Gosling: The Slaughter Rule; Murder by Numbers

Gyllenhaal: The Good Girl; Highway; Moonlight Mile

Hardy: Deserter; Star Trek: Nemesis; The Reckoning

Now we’re cooking. Fassbender is still working on TV, having been in Band of Brothers and key characters on NCS Manhunt and Hearts and Bones.

In the Slaughter Rule, Gosling again plays a young man struggling to come to terms with his surroundings and in this case uses the kindness of another family and the game of Football to cope with tragedy. Low budget and limited release. His other role, in Murder by Numbers, is as one of the antagonists in a cat-and-mouse crime thriller starring Sandra Bullock. Grossing $31mm, the Warner Bros film is decently reviewed.

Gyllenhall’s film The Good Girl sees him as both a type of Holden Caulfield and a character that actually calls himself Holden Caulfield. Once again, his primary feature is oddness. Not my kind of movie, but its Metascore is strong. In Highway, Gyllenhaal and Jared Leto go cross country after Leto gets himself in trouble with a crime boss. A weak entry for his filmography. The true lead among giants, he stars in Moonlight Mile alongside Dustin Hoffman and Susan Sarandon. Searching for healing, Gyllenhaal shows off some range but ultimately the film is disappointing.

Hardy starred alongside Paul Fox in a B-side soldier movie based on a true story. Not too well received and anytime a film changes title (went from Legion of Honor to Deserter) it’s a sign of either originally being released in a foreign market or production issues. The Reckoning is a star-studded murder mystery with the always entertaining juxtaposition of actors playing actors. Hardy is one of a loaded acting troupe led by Paul Bettany that endeavors to solve a crime by reenacting it. I really want to watch this one now that I know about it. His biggest role to date, and the first award nomination for our group, a Saturn nomination, was Shinzon the antagonist in Star Trek: Nemesis. Unfortunately, Nemesis isn’t great and while Hardy is pretty good he didn’t have much to work with.

None of these performances jump off the screen, so I think Hardy’s Saturn nom gives him the point. (0-1-3-1)


Fassbender:  None.

Gosling: The United States of Leland

Gyllenhaal: None.

Hardy: Dot the I; LD 50 Lethal Dose

Gosling starred alongside Don Cheadle and Kevin Spacey in another brooding find-yourself story. His ability to express gravitas at a young age was well-established. The film was yet another limited release, limited exposure project and its somewhat morbid theme put off many viewers.

Both of Hardy’s films are generally regarded as poor and unsuccessful. In Dot the I, he’s a side character in a romantic drama and LD 50 is a bizarre psychological sci-fi.

Point to Gosling. (0-2-3-1)


Fassbender:  None.

Gosling: The Notebook

Gyllenhaal: The Day After Tomorrow; Jiminy Glick in Lalawood

Hardy: EMR; Layer Cake

Gyllenhaal had already reached the point in his career that he could appear as himself in the Martin Short’s Lalawood, maybe not the best career choice but it says something when he’s listed along with names like Kurt Russel, Steve Martin, Forest Whitaker, Sharon Stone, and the other A-listers who cameoed. In his other film, Roland Emmerich’s first go at the disaster genre (a favorite of his, apparently), Gyllenhaal stars next to Dennis Quaid and Emmy Rossum. For this viewer, the film was 2 hours of a slow painful death, but it is an opportunity to watch Gylly act circles around Quaid and sometimes it’s the little things in life that brighten your day.

Hardy had a small part in a wild thriller that made an estimated 90,000 pounds total (~$112,000) but also starred alongside Daniel Craig in Layer Cake, Matthew Vaughn’s directorial debut. The gangster flick borders on incoherent but is fast, exciting, and stylish, with a really nice performance from Hardy.

Gosling gets his big superstar break in the Nicholas Sparks adaptation, The Notebook. Solid reviews and a pretty significant Box Office showing put Gosling’s name in the headlines. His viability as a romantic lead was cemented.

Hardy fits Vaughn’s hectic style to a “T” but even viewers who haven’t seen The Notebook know Gosling was the guy in it. A significant cultural moment not equaled by any of the group to this point other than perhaps Gylly in Donnie Darko. Point to Gosling. (0-3-3-1)


Fassbender:  None.

Gosling: Stay

Gyllenhaal: Brokeback Mountain; Proof; Jarhead

Hardy: None.

Marc Forster’s fascinating career has seen him dabble in many genres successfully. In Stay, he pits Ryan Gosling against Ewen McGregor in a dark psychological thriller. The film ends up being less than its premise promises.

In Proof, an adaptation of David Auburn’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play,  Gyllenhaal is a student of a recently deceased, and insane, mathematician played by Anthony Hopkins. The film is more concerned with Hopkins’ daughter, played by Gwyneth Paltrow, and didn’t make much of an impact on the Box Office. Gyllenhaal also worked with Sam Mendes, one of the most effective directors in the business, on a well-received drama about the psychological effects of modern combat. In Brokeback, Gyllenhaal and equally as impressive rising star Heath Ledger play perhaps the most famous homosexual couple in American film history. Gyllenhaal received an Oscar nomination and won his only major award, a BAFTA for Best Supporting Actor. Plotting these three roles on a personality chart is an interesting exercise, and shows that Gyllenhaal has as large a range as any actor alive.

The cultural significance of Brokeback along with the extreme variety of his other roles is hard to overstate. Point to Gylly. (0-3-4-1)


Fassbender:  300

Gosling: Half Nelson

Gyllenhaal: None.

Hardy: Minotaur; Scenes of a Sexual Nature; Marie Antoinette

Fassbender debuts! Zack Snyder’s comic-book styled historical action flick launched Gerard Butler’s career, featured a lot of spray-on abs, and put Fassbender’s intense gaze on the big screen for the first time. Although far from perfect, this is a fun watch.

Gosling drew the attention of the academy with a sensitive and complicated portrayal of an inner-city teacher with as many demons as the students he cares for. Gosling lost out on the Best Actor Oscar to Forest Whitaker but had taken another step in his career.

Hardy was busy, but it’s not a particularly impressive set of films. Minotaur is a low effort fantasy flick. Scenes failed spectacularly ($430,00 worldwide) as a sort of multi-threaded romance. Hardy’s role in Marie Antoinette is very minor, even though the film was quite successful.

Fassbender’s debut is memorable but Gosling’s Oscar nomination secures the point. (0-4-4-1)


Fassbender:  Angel

Gosling: Fracture; Lars and the Real Girl

Gyllenhaal: Zodiac; Rendition

Hardy: The Killing Game; The Inheritance; Flood

All cylinders firing.

Fassbender’s classical look scores him a role in the Elizabeth Taylor novel adaptation. The film doesn’t move the needle for many viewers.

Gosling chases Anthony Hopkins in the crime thriller Fracture. I have a soft spot for this one, I like the twist, but it scored well with critics and audiences and made a decent chunk of change as well ($92mm worldwide to date). In Lars, Gosling goes full crazy but is endearing enough to win over the characters in the film and the audience as well. The Oscar-nominated screenplay is appreciated critically despite not making much money.

Gyllenhaal, now a full-fledged superstar, is a key character in a pair of blockbuster-style films. In Rendition, he’s the conflicted CIA agent struggling with the morality of torture. While topical for its time, it didn’t have the cohesion audiences were hoping for and got a middling response. Zodiac, on the other hand, is a masterpiece by brilliant director David Fincher. Gyllenhaal still conveys his calling-card quirks but ends up being the subtlest of the 3 lead characters, the others also excellently played by Robert Downey Jr and Mark Ruffalo. While Ruffalo righteously obsesses and Downey arrogantly pontificates, Gyllenhaal quietly follows the threads of the famous unsolved murders and is fantastic.

Hardy is a key character in a failed slasher murder mystery with Stellan Skarsgård. He also has a somewhat larger role in the low budget disaster flick Flood. He also serves as an important character in the micro-budget experiment The Inheritance. Perhaps he enjoyed it because similar projects are yet to come in his career.

Gosling’s year is good, but Gyllenhaal’s is awesome. The two of them continue their separation from the pack. (0-4-5-1)


Fassbender:  Hunger; Eden Lake

Gosling: None.

Gyllenhaal: None.

Hardy: Sucker Punch; Bronson

For the first time, neither Gyllenhaal and Gosling can win it as they take a year off.

Fassbender had two credits to his name prior to 2008, and he’s already getting lead roles. He played Bobby Sands in the biopic Hunger about an Irish Republican hunger strike. Although a limited release, the film, director Steve McQueen (his debut!), and Fassbender, received considerable critical acclaim. He also starred in Eden Lake, a less successful slasher flick.

Capitalizing on his impressive physique, Hardy was tabbed to be one of the many fighters in Sucker Punch, a B-level revenge film set in the world of street fighting. Hardy’s first true starring role came in Bronson. From auteur Nicolas Winding Refn (who will make several appearances in this article), the film is an unbelievable true story and has very strong reviews for both Refn’s direction and Hardy’s performance.

Bobby Sands or Bronson? Both biopics of intense individuals, both from auteur directors. In the end, the praise and impact Hardy’s character had on audiences eclipses Fassbender. Point to Hardy. (0-4-5-2)


Fassbender: Fish Tank; Inglourious Basterds; Blood Creek

Gosling: None.

Gyllenhaal: Brothers

Hardy: Thick as Thieves

Fassbender has his most active year yet. In Fish Tank, he serves as inspiration for a struggling young dancer. A limited release but positively reviewed BBC film. Then, in Blood Creek, he is a chilling Nazi in the less positively reviewed horror film also known as Town Creek. Then, in perhaps his finest moments on screen, he is the oh so cool British attache to Tarantino’s Basterds. [LINK to “at least I’ll go out speaking the Queen’s”]

Gyllenhaal starred opposite Tobey Maguire in Brothers, a twisty family drama with a Natalie Portman love triangle in the middle. It managed to make back its budget but divided critics and fans alike.

Hardy had a minor role in the unsuccessful Morgan Freeman crime drama Thick as Thieves. A fairly spectacular bust actually losing approximately $20mm.

Inglourious alone would be worth the point for Fassbender, and 2009 sees him finally get on the board. (1-4-5-2)


Fassbender: Centurion; Jonah Hex

Gosling: Blue Valentine; All Good Things

Gyllenhaal: Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time; Love & Other Drugs

Hardy: Inception

Now we’re starting into a 5-year run in which all of them will do at least one movie a year.

Fassbender starred in a pair of pulpy blockbuster type films in ’10. First, in Centurion, he is the titular character as he leads a Roman army into battle in Scotland. Like The Eagle but without Channing Tatum. Mixed but generally solid reviews and a difficult Box Office performance reveals its shortcomings. He dons a face tattoo and goes full wild man in the really poor comic book adaptation of the anti-hero Jonah Hex. This is a dumb film, but sometimes dumb films are enjoyable.

Gosling acts in the critically acclaimed romantic drama Blue Valentine and his co-star Michelle Williams earned an Oscar nomination. A financial success due to its low budget, the bleak view of a collapsing marriage sees Gosling return to the “worn down by life” characters he’s so effective at. While his marriage is crumbling in one film, in the other, All Good Things, he’s killing his wife. Or so he’s accused of anyway. The retelling, with a Hollywood slant, of a famous unsolved murder, has Gosling as more of a rich young brat either caught up in circumstances or hiding a deadly secret. Gosling is to the point now in his career that subpar films and stories are elevated to the point of watchability by his involvement.

Gyllenhaal made his first really curious career choice. In what looked like an attempt to establish an action hero career, he starred in Mike Newell’s video game movie as the Prince of Persia. For several reasons the casting is just bizarre, not the least being Gyllenhaal is not remotely Persian. In any case, he pulls it off as much as anyone could, but the movie is ultimately quite dumb and lost a significant amount of money. In his other role, Love & Other Drugs, he had moderate success in a fairly straightforward romance opposite Anne Hathaway.

Christopher Nolan and Tom Hardy began a beautiful relationship in 2010. One wonders if Nolan watched Bronson and decided he needed to work with him. In Inception, Hardy became a star and exudes confidence, craftiness, and coolness. Our 4 have been in some great movies, but this is the best of the bunch.

Fassbender’s year was pretty subpar, Prince of Persia really hurt Gylly, and Gosling wasn’t quite able to elevate his material to the level of Inception. Point to Hardy. (1-4-5-3)


Fassbender: Jane Eyre; X-Men: First Class; A Dangerous Method; Shame; Haywire

Gosling: Drive; Crazy, Stupid, Love; The Ides of March

Gyllenhaal: Source Code

Hardy: Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy; Warrior

This is gonna be tough.

Fassbender was busy. He is Rochester in the Brontë adaptation which received critical approval and some recognition from the academy. His co-star Viggo Mortensen as Freud, in the psychological drama A Dangerous Method, won a Golden Globe. Opposite him, Fassbenders’ portrayal of Carl Jung shows both his ability to exude unnatural intelligence and his ability to take on most European personalities convincingly. He’s a killer in Soderbergh’s Haywire, admittedly not one of the director’s best. Following the trend of the day, he jumped on board of a franchise, taking the mantle of Erik Lansherr, Magneto, in the reboot of the X-Men franchise. The X-Men movies are not great, but some of the individual performances are and none of them are more impressive in terms of doing much with little than Fassbender’s turn as the metal morphing mutant. He reunites with Steve McQueen for Shame and earns both a BAFTA and a Globe nomination.

Gosling also has a big year. In Ides of March, he co-stars with George Clooney who also wrote and directed the political drama. Gosling is riveting as he navigates the cutthroat world of politics and slowly transforms from idealist to jaded realist. He also helps Steve Carell rediscover what dating is like in the rom-com Crazy, Stupid, Love which was a solid financial hit and is critically respected. Earlier I mentioned Nicolas Winding Refn would make repeat appearances. He and Gosling combined to make one of the most surprisingly stellar movies I’ve ever seen with Drive. Gosling is virtually mute in the film but manages to communicate with style, glances, and stares. His character oscillates between serene and strikingly violent with measured grace and skill. A true tour de force and Gosling’s finest performance.

Gyllenhaal teamed up with young up-and-coming sci-fi director Duncan Jones in a time-bending mystery that is flawed but entertaining.

Hardy joins one of the most loaded casts in recent memory in the remake of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. While I thought it was a fantastic movie, and his part was well done, the focus is on Oldman, Firth, Hurt, Toby Jones, Cumberbatch, Hinds, and so many others which dilutes Hardy’s impact a great deal. In Warrior, he teams up with Joel Edgerton to give a really soulful performance as an angry MMA fighter looking for forgiveness or punishment or both. See my full review [LINK to my review of Warrior].

While Hardy is super cool in Warrior, the movie is pretty niche and his role in Tinker Tailor is overshadowed so he’s not getting the point. Gylly’s one movie is ok but doesn’t stand up to the body of work from the other two. While Fassbender’s year cannot be discounted, the variety is breathtaking in and of itself, Gosling’s turn in Drive is just too good. (1-5-5-3)


Fassbender: Prometheus

Gosling: The Place Beyond the Pines

Gyllenhaal: End of Watch

Hardy: This Means War; Lawless; The Dark Knight Rises

Ridley Scott returned to his sci-fi epic roots with the Alien prequel Prometheus. An absolutely homerun of a film that Fassbender dominates. The curiosity and fearlessness of his character is perfection. A strong entry in the discussion of his best moments on screen.

Gosling is one of many fascinating pieces of the ranging drama The Place Beyond the Pines. Spanning a couple generations, the story deals with themes of fatherhood, consequences, and fate. His character is similar to that in Drive or Ides of March, calm and focused with a deep introspective nature. Really an underappreciated film.

Divisive director David Ayer cast Gyllenhaal as an LA cop alongside Michael Peña in End of Watch. The film did well relative to its budget and Gyllenhaal adapts well to an unfamiliar setting for him, raw realism.

Hardy showed off his comedic talents opposite Chris Pine in This Means War. Not a great movie for sure, but worth a laugh or two. Lawless saw him put on spurs and try his hand in the western genre. A promising cast and story that ultimately fell flat and failed to give Hardy much to work with. His biggest role of the year, and one of the best of his career, came when he reunited with Nolan in the conclusion of his Batman trilogy. Hardy is a big dude, but he bulked up even more, presenting a staggering physique as Bane. His line delivery, albeit through a mask and with an accent, is superb.

Had Lawless or This Means War been more successful this was Hardy’s year with Bane. But Fassbender’s David in Prometheus is an absolute masterclass of acting and this is my list so I get to decide who gets a point. (2-5-5-3)


Fassbender: 12 Years a Slave; The Counselor

Gosling: Gangster Squad; Only God Forgives

Gyllenhaal: Prisoners; Enemy

Hardy: Locke

The Counselor is an example of a movie having almost too much going for it. A stellar cast with Sir Ridley Scott at the helm, it seems like a can’t miss opportunity. Instead, it confused and underwhelmed audiences and is one of the worst missteps of Scott’s career. Fassbender individually gets mostly positive reviews but is wasted in the mess of a film. In 12 Years a Slave, Fassbender is back working with McQueen and the brutal historical drama sees him earn his first Oscar nomination, as well as a BAFTA nom and a Globe nom. This stretch, which will culminate in another triple nomination in 2015, is the peak of Fassbender’s career to date.

Gosling joins Josh Brolin’s team of gangster hunters in the underwhelming Ruben Fleischer crime thriller Gangster Squad. Despite its low reviews, I will still watch this at some point. Refn is back yet again, with another original screenplay featuring Gosling as a quiet, reserved, but ultimately dangerous man. Only God Forgives is a strikingly beautiful film to look at, but a horrifyingly ugly film to think about. I think Refn would be pleased with the effect.

Gyllenhaal takes roles on opposite sides of the Hollywood spectrum in ’13. Interestingly, both films are directed by French-Canadian auteur Denis Villeneuve. On the independent film side, he plays the two male characters in a bizarre “immorality play” which honestly is the strangest movie I’ve ever seen. Gyllenhaal is incredible in it. On the more mainstream side of things, he plays opposite Hugh Jackman in the twisty mystery drama Prisoners. A really magnificent movie, Gyllenhaal toes the line between everyman and quirky savant effortlessly against Jackman’s more frantic performance.

Hardy stars in a micro budget experiment which is astoundingly good. Locke is filmed in real-time and essentially features Hardy making phone calls while he drives his car for an hour and a half. If that doesn’t sound exciting, let me repeat Tom Hardy is followed with a camera for an hour and a half demonstrating he has more acting talent than one-tenth of one percent of the planet’s population. In the hyper-realistic story setting, Hardy’s range and intensity are incredible. I contend that Locke is his finest performance to date.

Another brutal year to assign. Gosling’s year was significantly less successful than the others, so he’s out. Hardy only had one movie, so although it may be his best, it was a micro budget Indie film. Fassbender’s award nominations barely give him an edge over Gyllenhaal. (3-5-5-3)


Fassbender: Frank; X-Men: Days of Future Past

Gosling: Lost River

Gyllenhaal: Nightcrawler

Hardy: The Drop

Fassbender decided to pull the same trick as Gyllenhaal and appeared on both ends of the spectrum in ’14. In Frank, he’s a singer-songwriter who wears a giant paper mache head. While bizarre and off-putting, the film is actually quite endearing and features some really great work from another up-and-comer, Domnhall Gleason. Turns out Fassbender has some musical talent as well. On the blockbuster side, he reprised Magneto in a real mess of a film, Days of Future Past. Once again, while most of the movie is a smorgasbord of cheese and poor storytelling, Fassbender comes across impressive, complicated, and entertaining.

Gosling took the year off to write and direct the Cannes nominated film Lost River.

We’ve seen Gosling’s best: Drive, Hardy’s best: Locke, and Fassbender’s best: Inglourious Basterds. Now, in ’14, Gyllenhaal reaches his zenith in Nightcrawler. The gaunt, horrifyingly obsessive Louis Bloom is the strangest character in Gyllenhaal’s portfolio and easily his most compelling. Dan Gilroy crafts a suspenseful and insightful story about ambition, detachment, and control. A triple nomination (Oscar, BAFTA, Globe) along with solid success at the Box Office solidifies Nightcrawler as Gyllenhaal’s greatest achievement to date.

Hardy stars in a crime drama with good critical reviews but that was largely ignored by audiences. It looks like an interesting film and it’s now on my list. But I can’t be alone in not knowing about it due to it’s $10mm in receipts total at the Box Office.

Gyllenhaal by a country mile. (3-5-6-3)


Fassbender: Slow West; Macbeth; Steve Jobs

Gosling: The Big Short

Gyllenhaal: Accidental Love; Southpaw; Everest; Demolition

Hardy: Child 44; Mad Max: Fury Road; London Road; Legend; The Revenant

While not the star, Fassbender is the key storyteller in the John Maclean western Slow West. It has good reviews but garnered a very limited Box Office response. The only one of our four to do Shakespear, Fassbender’s turn as Macbeth is highly respected as well. The career peak, although I’ll still defend his appearance in IB as his best moment, was certainly in the Danny Boyle-Aaron Sorkin adaptation of the Walter Isaacson biography of Steve Jobs. So much talent, but the central piece, the thing that made it all work was Fassbender’s flawless performance. A must-watch film for fans of biographical work, Steve Jobs earned Fassbender his second triple nomination in a row (12 Years in ’14) though he lost out on the Oscar to Leo.

Adam McKay made his name making comedies with Will Farrell, in ’15 his career took a twist that few could’ve pulled off, he decided to try his hand at historical drama with The Big Short. A film which started a new trend of off-the-wall, fourth-wall-breaking, zany yet smart depictions of modern history, The Big Short benefited from an all-star cast and witty, creative storytelling. Gosling was one of the all-stars and plays his part well. While there are no heroes in this story, Gosling probably portrays the most villainous and does so with a convincing smirk.

Accidental Love is an astoundingly poorly received film bombing to the tune of a more than $20mm loss. The cumulative gross is currently less than $25k. It was so bad, David O. Russell is credited under a pseudonym. Demolition was also an unsuccessful character study looking to capitalize on Gyllenhaal’s emotional range. In Everest, Gyllenhaal is one of many likable characters who ultimately met tragedy in one of the most disastrous climbing expeditions in recent memory. His most successful role of the year was in Southpaw. While divisive critically, the film was a financial success and Gyllenhaal’s physical change was the most striking of his career. Normally extremely skinny, he bulked up and believably portrayed a ferocious boxer.

2015 features the most movies by our subjects and is Hardy’s busiest year to date. Child 44 is a thriller set in the early post-war Soviet Union, but the film is disjointed and Hardy isn’t given much to work with. London Road is a musical about murdered prostitutes, and I thought Gyllenhaal was in the weirdest movies. George Miller, in 1979, wrote and directed an odd little Australian action film featuring a young Mel Gibson and giving birth to the dystopian action hero Mad Max. 36 years and three sequels later, the world was ready for a reboot. While Charlize Theron steals the show, Hardy takes up the mantle with all the tough, gritty style Gibson had. Similar to the way Fassbender breathed life into the Alien franchise with Prometheus, the Mad Max franchise got perhaps its best entry in Hardy’s modern sequel. Other than a pair of Saturn nominations and a “rising star” BAFTA, Hardy had been ignored by the major award academies before his turn as the antagonist in Alejandro G. Iñárritu’s breathtakingly beautiful The Revenant. He and DiCaprio got Oscar nominations with Leo finally bringing home a trophy. It’s a great movie but it’s hard for me to decide if I think he should’ve been nominated for Max or for Fitzgerald. I think I liked Max a little more.

This is the hardest year to sort out. Gyllenhaal’s work in Southpaw would’ve earned him points many years, but it’s likely 4th in ’15. Gosling is fantastic in The Big Short, but of the 4 main actors, I think Carrell and Bale outshone the others. So it’s down to the two Oscar nominations. Fassbender’s nomination is for his work as the lead, while Hardy’s is a supporting nom but Hardy has both Mad Max and The Revenant. Point to Hardy. (3-5-6-4)


Fassbender: X-Men: Apocalypse; The Light Between Oceans; Trespass Against Us; Assassin’s Creed

Gosling: The Nice Guys; La La Land

Gyllenhaal: Nocturnal Animals

Hardy: None.

Fassbender has the busiest year in ’16. He returns as Magneto again, but as with the other 3rd X-Men installment, this is a very poor movie. In Trespass Against Us, he’s a very believable gypsy in a gritty tale about family, tradition, fatherhood, and the burden of legacy. He stars alongside Alicia Vikander in the adaptation of M.L. Stedman’s novel The Light Between Oceans. The love story has mostly negative reviews for its melodrama and made no money. The strangest choice of Fassbender’s career is, mirroring Gyllenhaal, his video game movie. Assassin’s Creed was a fairly spectacular financial bust and has few defenders.

Gosling’s star was soaring. He stars next to Russell Crowe in a throwback buddy-cop comedy with 70’s flair in The Nice Guys. His comedic timing is as polished as his dramatic chops. Then, as if there weren’t enough things he is amazing at, he shows off a pianist’s touch and a dancing skill in the Oscar-nominated La La Land. Chazelle’s homage to old Hollywood sees Gosling earn a triple nomination (BAFTA, Globe, Oscar) and come away with a Golden Globe, his only major win so far.

Gyllenhaal stars in a novel adaptation that earns Michael Shannon an Oscar nomination and is critically acclaimed. The dark suspense drama is more of an Amy Adams vehicle than Gyllenhaal and didn’t fare extremely well in the Box Office.

Hardy finally takes a year off, his first since ’05.

Fassbender is all over the place but the collective success of his four films fades in comparison to La La Land. Point to Gosling. (3-6-6-4)


Fassbender: Song to Song; Alien: Covenant; The Snowman

Gosling: Song to Song; Blade Runner 2049

Gyllenhaal: Life; Okja; Stronger

Hardy: Dunkirk

Ridley Scott’s most recent Alien movie took a step back from the heights of Prometheus, but not for Fassbender. His reprisal of the pivotal artificial lifeform is chilling. In The Snowman, he chases a killer but few movies failed both critically and financially as spectacularly as this mess.

Song to Song is the only film to feature more than one of our subjects so far. The star-studded romance is a rare black mark on director Terrence Malik’s career. A few critics bought in but most were unimpressed and the film has been generally ignored.

Gosling’s other role earned him a Saturn nomination. Like Hardy with Mad Max, Gosling was tabbed to appear in Villeneuve’s sequel to the 70’s sci-fi epic Blade Runner. Harrison Ford is a difficult act to follow, but Gosling was up to the task and then some.

Despite a good critical response, no one saw Gyllenhaal’s Boston Marathon movie Stronger. On the other hand, lots of people saw Life, in which Gyllenhaal stars alongside Ryan Reynolds and Hiroyuki Sanada in a horror sci-fi film that critics were less than impressed by. The fascinating foreign film Okja features a truly bizarre performance from Gyllenhaal where he perhaps takes it a little bit too far. However, it is a pretty good movie from 2019’s Oscar-winning Korean director Bong Joon Ho.

Christopher Nolan brings Hardy back for his sprawling WWII epic Dunkirk. A film unlike any other, this is a must-see. Hardy has very few lines but is simply phenomenal. I have described his performance before as “making you cry with his eyebrows” and I stand by it.

It’s between Hardy and Gosling. Dunkirk was one of best movies in recent memory, the best of 2017 by a long shot, and Hardy was amazing in it – but Blade Runner 2049 only worked because of how good Gosling was. Point to Gos. (3-7-6-4)


Fassbender: None.

Gosling: First Man

Gyllenhaal: Wildlife; The Sisters Brothers

Hardy: Venom

Fassbender ended his streak of 13 straight years with at least one film dating back to his debut.

Chazelle and Gosling got back together for the hyped Oscar-bait biography of Neil Armstrong. For various reasons the academies were only impressed with its technical achievements and ignored Gosling. Critically, however, the film is a darling despite not making the Box Office impact those involved had hoped. Gosling’s Armstrong is perhaps his most mature role, demonstrating a compelling understanding of grief and duty.

Versatile character actor Paul Dano tabbed Gyllenhaal to star in his directorial debut. Wildlife has extremely positive reviews but had a very limited release. In The Sisters Brothers, he joined a quartet including Riz Ahmed, Joaquin Phoenix, and John C. Reilly in a western brimming with potential. The acting is superb all around but the story feels incomplete and the film suffered some from it. Not for everyone, it had a minimal Box Office hit and then was quickly moved to streaming.

Hardy took the lead role in one of the many films based around side characters in the comic books that have spawned multi-billion dollar franchises. Venom is typically a villain in the Spider-Man stories, but with a little creativity, Hardy and his symbiote are reasonably protagonistic in this by-the-numbers superhero flick. Nothing too exciting or special about it, but it’s good for some cheap thrills.

First Man was a sort of pinnacle role for Gosling, or perhaps his anointing from oddball teen/young adult to bonafide leading man. Point to Gosling (3-8-6-4)


Fassbender: X-Men: Dark Phoenix

Gosling: None.

Gyllenhaal: Velvet Buzzsaw; Spider-Man: Far from Home

Hardy: None.

Fassbender didn’t stay out of the biz for long. He reprised Magneto yet again in Dark Phoenix, perhaps the worst superhero/comic book movie I have ever seen. What a disastrously bad movie. Despite its mess of a story and characters, I still like Magneto.

Gyllenhaal kept on working, his last off-year back in 2008. He played the villain (spoilers? C’mon it’s Mysterio, of course, he’s the villain) in the sequel to Tom Holland’s Spider-Man. Plenty of reasons this movie isn’t good, but Gyllenhaal brings some weight to the proceedings and has a monologue which very few could pull off respectably, but he nails it. His other film was a straight-to-streaming murder mystery set in the art world.  Reuniting with Dan Gilroy (Nightcrawler), Gyllenhaal turns the weird up to 10 and is the most styling and compelling character in a twisty, suspenseful story.

2019 was a bit of a down year for our bunch, but Gyllenhaal stayed busy earning the final point. (3-8-7-4)


Fassbender: None

Gosling: None

Gyllenhaal: None

Hardy: Capone

Due to COVID it’s likely Hardy’s Al Capone bio will be the only release from the group. It has met mixed reviews. 



Fassbender: None

Gosling: None

Gyllenhaal: Spirit Untamed, The Guilty

Hardy: Venom: Let There Be Carnage, Spider-Man: No Way Home (uncredited)



Fassbender: None

Gosling: The Gray Man

Gyllenhaal: Ambulance, Strange World

Hardy: None



Fassbender: Next Goal Wins; Kung Fury 2; The Wild Bunch, Night Boat to Tangier, The Killer, Paris Paramount, Kneecap, Hope

Gosling: Barbie, The Fall Guy, Project Hail Mary, Wolfman, Robbie’s Ocean’s Eleven Film

Gyllenhaal: The Covenant, Snow Blind, Road House, Francis and the Godfather, The Division, The Anarchists vs ISIS, Prophet

Hardy: War Party, Mad Max: The Wasteland, Havoc, The Bikeriders, Venom 3

According to their IMBD page, the titles above are what we might see from these guys going forward.

The final tally comes down to this:

Ryan Gosling – 8

Jake Gyllenhaal – 8

Tom Hardy – 6

Michael Fassbender – 3

So, in terms of career, Ryan Gosling and Jake Gyllenhaal on top thus far, with Hardy and Fassbender trailing.

Let’s look at the awards, shall we?

I mentioned before that the group had a total of 28 major award nominations with only two wins.

Michael Fassbender has 9 major award nominations. He was nominated for Oscars twice, in Steve Jobs and in 12 Years a Slave. Both of those roles also earned nominations from the Globes and BAFTAs. His work in Shame got nominations from both of those Academies too and he has a single Saturn nomination for Prometheus.

Jake Gyllenhaal won the 2006 Supporting Actor BAFTA for his role in Brokeback Mountain. He was nominated for a grand total of 7 major awards. His lone Oscar nomination was also for Brokeback. He has Globe nominations for Nightcrawler and Love & Other Drugs. The BAFTAs also nominated him for Nightcrawler and Nocturnal Animals, and he got a Saturn nomination for Nightcrawler.

Ryan Gosling won the 2016 Golden Globe for Best Actor in a Musical or Comedy for La La Land. He has received 9 total major award nominations. He was nominated for an Oscar twice, in La La Land and Half Nelson. He has 4 additional Globe nominations in Ides of March, Crazy Stupid Love, Lars and the Real Girl, and Blue Valentine. The BAFTAs recognized his work in La La Land and he has a Saturn nomination for Blade Runner 2049.

Tom Hardy has been nominated for 3 major awards. In The Revenant, he earned an Oscar nomination. He also has two Saturn nominations for Star Trek: Nemesis and Inception.

While Gosling and Fassbender are tied with 9 total award nominations and 2 Oscar nominations each, Gosling actually won a Globe so he takes the category.

Gosling has a commanding lead, how about the money?

Fassbender has accrued $1.35b over his 30 credits. His top-earning role was in X-Men: Days of Future Past to the tune of $233mm. In fact, three of his top 4 are the X-Men trilogy. 6 of his films exceeded $100mm while 9 of them failed to make a million dollars. More specifically, in 22 roles classified as “Lead” or “Lead Ensemble” his average Box Office draw is $41.7mm. His most recent net worth calculation estimates $30mm. Not too shabby.

Gyllenhaal is personally worth approximately $64mm at last check. His 38 credits accumulated $1.45b total. Only 4 failed to reach the $1million threshold while 3 crossed $100mm. Spider-Man: Far from Home was his most successful, pulling in over $390mm. He also was featured in 22 “Lead” or “Lead Ensemble” roles, averaging $50.2mm each.  That last number doesn’t include his 2nd most financially successful film, The Day After Tomorrow, because he’s classified as a “Supporting” role in it, this could be debated.

Ryan Gosling’s 25 roles have made $914mm so far. 6 of them did not make a million dollars while 2 managed to make over $100mm. La La Land is tops with $151mm Domestic Gross. In 18 “Lead” roles, he’s averaging $42.3mm per. He loses some due to his role in Remember the Titans being classified as “Supporting” and accurately so. Gosling’s net worth has most recently been estimated at $70mm.

Tom Hardy’s 32 films have made $1.80b total. The Dark Knight Rises at the top with an astounding $448mm and 7 total over the $100mm mark. Only 5 failed to make at least a million. In the 14 roles he is classified as the “Lead,” his films have made an average of $58mm. That strong average does not include Inception, The Dark Knight Rises, or Dunkirk, all financial successes. Hardy’s net worth is approximately the same as Fassbender’s around $30mm.

So Gosling’s brand is the biggest, and since he won the most years, that makes sense. However, Hardy has been involved in the biggest projects and his films have pulled down the most money in total and on average. So this category will go to him.

Finally, and most importantly, which one is the best actor?

Without discussing it for too long, because if you’re still with me, bravo! But the discussion breaks into a few tangents.

On the one hand, if you’re looking to cast a chameleon to play a famous historical character or to vaguely pull off a foreign national, you’ve got to call Fassbender. The other three, mainly Hardy, are perfectly capable but Fassbender is a notch above.

If you need an action star, someone to be physically impressive, high energy, and intense you choose Hardy. Gyllenhaal is surprisingly adept in this setting and Gosling has had his moments, but none of the other three would pull off Bane.

If it’s a leading man, personality-driven role, if Tom Cruise wasn’t answering the phone, you go with Gosling. His effortless humor, energy, and gravitas command the screen. He’s the next great leading man, in the tradition of DiCaprio, Hanks, Denzel, and others.

What about Gyllenhaal? Well, he doesn’t neatly fit any categories. He’s been an action star (Southpaw, Prince of Persia, Spider-Man), a romantic lead (Moonlight Mile, Love & Other Drugs), a chameleon (Everest, The Sisters Brothers), and a personality lead (Demolition, Velvet Buzzsaw). He’s also reached heights the other 3 have not. Of the roles the other actors have played, Gyllenhaal could’ve played most if not all of them, but not a single one of them (or anyone else…Joaquin Phoenix? Johnny Depp? Alec Guinness? Jimmy Stewart? Only the greatest auteurs) could’ve pulled off Nightcrawler.

This is easily the most subjective category, so there’s no right answer here, but for all the factors I’ve presented above, this category goes to Jake Gyllenhaal.

The final scoring comes to Gosling 2, Hardy 1, Gyllenhaal 1, and Fassbender 0.

But, this is just, like, my opinion, man, so let us know what you think and thanks for reading.


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