Ever since he came onto the scene in the ‘80s, Mickey Rourke has been one of my favorite entertainers. Back then, he was poised to be one of the great performers of his generation, combining soulful acting ability with movie star good looks. But personal problems, addictions, and a stab at a boxing career left his career in the gutter, one that he’s been climbing out of ever since.
These days, his voice is filled with gravel and his good looks are gone (thanks to a botched plastic surgery), but Mickey Rourke movies are just as entertaining as ever. In fact, they may be even more powerful than before, because Rourke has the age and experience to pull off characters who’ve been to hell and back.
While movies such as The Wrestler, Diner, and Angel Heart remain must-see Mickey Rourke movies, I also wanted to highlight a few roles that might otherwise be passed over by the casual viewer. Most of the films listed feature Rourke in a standout performance, while others are notable for their sheer weirdness. In either case, fans of Mickey Rourke movies should get a real kick out of them.
On an interesting side note, here are few roles that Mickey Rourke turned down over the years:
- Jack Cates (Nick Nolte) from 48 Hrs.
- Axel Foley (Eddie Murphy) from Beverly Hills Cop
- Butch Coolidge (Bruce Willis) from Pulp Fiction
- Charlie Babbit (Tom Cruise) from Rain Man
- Elliott Ness (Kevin Costner) from The Untouchables
- Johnny Ringo (Michael Biehn) from Tombstone
While all of the above would’ve made for some interesting Mickey Rourke movies, it’s hard to imagine anyone but the listed actors playing the parts. Still, I imagine Rourke has been kicking himself for years for turning them down.
- John Sedley from Johnny Handsome (1989) – In sort of a reversal of real life, Rourke plays a career criminal who goes from strange-looking to handsome thanks to a doctor played by Forest Whitaker. Once he’s supposedly reformed and released from prison, John wastes no time in plotting his revenge against the man who put him inside in the first place. Lance Henriksen plays the heavy, while Morgan Freeman and Ellen Barkin co-star. Rourke gets to show off his intense side as a man looking for payback, but his scenes as a deformed crook are also filled with the expected levels of pathos.
- Captain Stanley White from Year of the Dragon (1985) – Despite having to play a character 15 years older than his actual age, Rourke delivers a riveting performance as a dedicated and casually racist cop obsessed with bringing down the Chinese underworld in New York City. His relationships with the women in his life are especially interesting, including a middle-aged wife (Caroline Kava) and a Chinese-American mistress (Ariane Koizumi). But there’s also plenty of action to be had, including a climactic shootout that’s especially thrilling.
- Armand “The Blackbird” Degas from Killshot (2009) – The film itself is nothing to write home about, but Rourke does deliver an interesting performance in this big-screen adaptation of the Elmore Leonard novel about a married couple (Thomas Jane and Diane Lane) on the run from a pair of mob hitmen (Rourke and Joseph Gordon-Levitt). Rourke excels as the part-Indian assassin saddled with a psychotic partner, and his scenes with Lane and Rosario Dawson (playing his sometime-girlfriend) are especially strong. Too bad the film is such a mess, but that’s what three years of post-production will get you.
- Jan the Actress from Animal Factory (2000) – Directed by Steve Buscemi and based on the novel by Edward Bunker (Mr. Blue from Reservoir Dogs), Animal Factory revolves around a young man (Edward Furlong) who’s sent to San Quentin and winds up being mentored by a fellow inmate (Willem Dafoe). While his role is only a supporting one, Rourke turns heads as a well-muscled drag queen who loves the arts. Without a doubt, one of the more unusual and well-received roles for the actor.
- The Cook from Spun (2002) – When he’s not arguing with his girlfriend (Brittany Murphy), going down to the porn shop to “buy some fuck flicks,” or hanging out with a bizarre-looking Eric Roberts, The Cook is making another batch of his famous meth. Rourke talks with a slight speech impediment, wears cowboy boots with his jeans tucked inside, and rants about the value of pornography. But the role isn’t strictly comedic, as a soul-baring scene with star Jason Schwartzman will leave more sensitive viewers fighting back tears.
- Henry Chinaski from Barfly (1987) – Years before his life fell apart for real, Rourke starred in this gin-soaked tale from writer Charles Bukowski. As a skid-row poet and author, Henry Chinaski spends most of his time drinking his life away or banging barflies such as Wanda Wilcox (Faye Dunaway) or Tully Sorenson (Alice Krige). There’s a catfight between the ladies, not to mention several showdowns between Henry and his local bartender (Frank Stallone). Rourke does an admirable job of playing a man who’s lost himself in booze and self-pity, and he navigates the tricky emotional waters with rare ability. It’s one long bender from start to finish, so recovering alcoholics should avoid the film entirely.
- Stavros from Double Team (1997) – Rourke plays the bad guy, an international terrorist who vows revenge after Jean-Claude Van Damme’s secret agent accidentally kills his kid. Rourke is muscled up beyond belief, and his interaction with co-star Dennis Rodman is worth the price of admission alone. And let’s not forget the climactic fight sequence that includes Rourke, Van Damme, Rodman; a tiger; a minefield; and a baby.
- Marv from Sin City (2005) – Rourke is perfectly cast in this Robert Rodriguez adaptation of Frank Miller’s hard-boiled graphic novel. Playing a massive ex-con named Marv, Rourke shrugs off bullets and fists in his quest to punish whoever killed Goldie (Jaime King), a prostitute he shared a one-night stand with. As he tears the city apart (not to mention cops, gangsters, and religious leaders), Marv demonstrates that even the most hardened man isn’t immune to a little compassion. And you’ll absolutely love his interaction with his lesbian parole officer (Carla Gugino) and a creepy-quiet serial killer (Elijah Wood) with a thing for eating women. Mickey Rourke at his grizzled best.
- The Motorcycle Boy from Rumble Fish (1983) – Rourke gets to brood a lot in this Francis Ford Coppola film based on the novel by S.E. Hinton. As a legendary former gang leader, Motorcycle Boy tries to steer his younger brother (Matt Dillon) down a more peaceful path, all while contending with his reputation as a badass and a contentious relationship with his alcoholic father (Dennis Hopper). Besides, any self-respecting fan of Mickey Rourke movies will be drawn to a role where he’s partially deaf, colorblind, and somewhat off-kilter.
- Graff from The Last Outlaw (1994) – During the filming of this TV movie, Rourke displayed strange behavior to rival that of Marlon Brando. Playing a former Confederate officer who becomes an outlaw after the conclusion of the war, Rourke wears a Fu-Manchu moustache and reportedly turned to kabuki theatre for inspiration. As the manipulative Graff, he winds up switching sides and hunting down his own men. But despite his odd behavior, the TV project has gained a passionate following among Western movie fans. Co-starring Dermot Mulroney, Ted Levine, Steve Buscemi, John C. McGinley, and Keith David.
That concludes my list of Mickey Rourke movies you might not be aware of. From the well-acted to the downright bizarre, each and every one of the roles above showcase Rourke’s abilities in a different way. If you’ve only recently discovered this talented performer, dive right in and have yourself a ball.