Total Recall

Benedict Cumberbatch's Best-Reviewed Movies

In this week's Total Recall, we look back at the Doctor Strange star's most acclaimed films.

by | November 2, 2016 | Comments

Benedict Cumberbatch shoulders the weight of a Marvel Cinematic Universe franchise with this weekend’s Doctor Strange — a critical winner whose box-office ascension seems all but certain to complete its leading man’s journey from arthouse dramas to full-fledged blockbusters. To celebrate Mr. Cumberbatch’s latest feat, we decided to dedicate this feature to a fond look back at some of the brightest critical highlights from a distinguished (and still growing) filmography. You know what that means: by the hoary hosts of Hoggoth, it’s time for Total Recall!


10. Amazing Grace (2007) 68%

Before he started taking roles in blockbusters like Star Trek Into Darkness, The Hobbit, and Doctor Strange, if you thought about Benedict Cumberbatch, you were probably thinking of a movie like 2007’s Amazing Grace. Directed by Michael Apted, this historical drama recounts the anti-slavery efforts of British parliament member William Wilberforce (Ioan Gruffudd), whose long campaign to introduce legislation outlawing human trafficking made him a political pariah — and an inspiration to friends and contemporaries like William Pitt the Younger (Cumberbatch). “As square as this movie is,” argued David Denby for the New Yorker, “it has been made with eloquence and jaunty high spirits, and it tells a good story that is virtually unknown here.”

Watch Trailer


9. The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (2013) 74%

Peter Jackson set a new standard for epic fantasies when he adapted The Lord of the Rings into a blockbuster trilogy, leaving himself some big shoes to fill when he set about turning The Hobbit into a three-film saga of its own. It stands to reason that critics and audiences weren’t quite as enchanted the second time around, but this saga — in which Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) joins the wizard Gandalf (Sir Ian McKellen) on a quest to help reclaim a mountain from a dragon named Smaug (a mo-capped Cumberbatch) — held up reasonably well in its own right, particularly the second installment that focused on Bilbo’s confrontation with Smaug himself. “For many,” warned the Arizona Republic’s Kerry Lengel, “Jackson’s Hobbit will look like an overly long amusement-park attraction. But for fantasy fans who have dreamed all their lives of spending time inside Tolkien’s dazzling alternative reality, it’s a ride well worth taking.”

Watch Trailer


8. Black Mass (2015) 73%

He was born in London, which wouldn’t seem to make him the most natural fit to play the brother of an infamous Boston gangster — but if you’ve watched Benedict Cumberbatch’s performance as Billy Bulger in Black Mass, you know he can pull it off. In fact, although there’s really no shortage of movies about or inspired by the criminal exploits of Whitey Bulger, this relatively late arrival managed to hold its own, thanks in no small part to the efforts of a starry ensemble cast led by Johnny Depp and rounded out by a roster that included Joel Edgerton, Kevin Bacon, and Dakota Johnson. “The acting here is much stronger and more soulful than I would have expected,” admitted Grantland’s Wesley Morris, “and not only from Depp.”

Watch Trailer


7. War Horse (2011) 74%

He wasn’t exactly a neophyte by 2011, but that’s the year his Hollywood star really started to rise, with appearances in front of American audiences courtesy of his roles in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and Steven Spielberg’s War Horse. As reflected by its name, the entire human cast essentially played second fiddle to its equine lead — but this adaptation of Michael Morpurgo’s 1982 children’s novel still lined up some pretty spectacular stars. Exactly the sort of beautifully filmed period drama you’d expect given its behind-the-scenes pedigree and Christmas Day release date, War Horse follows the astonishing WWI adventures of a Bay Thoroughbred named Joey (during which he serves under Cumberbatch’s command), as well as the equally stirring tale of his young trainer (Jeremy Irvine). While some critics dismissed the results as glossy awards bait, it proved sufficiently moving for the majority; as Steven Rea wrote for the Philadelphia Inquirer, “War Horse is sugary, to be sure — but it is sugar cut with cannon fire and barbed wire and the horrors of war.”

Watch Trailer


6. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011) 83%

Few novelists have ever been able to match the cerebral layers that John le Carré applied to his take on the spy thriller, and adapting his work for the screen has always been a daunting task, particularly given that he operated in a genre that’s tended to prize action over intelligence. But director Tomas Alfredson (working from an adaptation written by Bridget O’Connor and Peter Straughan) proved himself more than up to the task with this 2011 version of the author’s 1974 classic Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, starring Gary Oldman as a retired spy brought back into active duty to investigate some troubling claims made by a defected MI6 operative (Tom Hardy) with the aid of a trustworthy colleague (Cumberbatch). Cool-tempered and whip-smart, this Tailor brought the book satisfyingly to life for critics like NPR’s Ella Taylor, who wrote, “Alfredson offers no concessions to hindsight, no lessons for today. Instead, he’s kept faith with le Carré’s bleak, romantically elegiac vision of a moment in 20th century history at once glorious and doomed.”

Watch Trailer


5. Star Trek Into Darkness (2013) 84%

It’d take an awful lot of rich Corinthian leather for any actor to try and one-up Ricardo Montalban’s definitive performance as Khan Noonien Singh in the original Star Trek franchise. To his credit, Cumberbatch offered a decidedly different take on the role in J.J. Abrams’ rebooted series timeline, bringing the character back to life in 2013’s Star Trek Into Darkness in his own inimitably villainous way. Although not a few reviews openly lamented the loss of the O.G. Trek‘s cerebral sci-fi at the expense of a heavier focus on action, most critics were hard-pressed to argue against Abrams’ good old-fashioned popcorn fun — or the talented cast. “What this movie does with a not-unfamiliar-to-some story is pretty clever,” admitted MSN Movies’ Glenn Kenny, “and the incarnation of a classic villain by British cheekbone virtuoso Benedict Cumberbatch is vivid and engaging.”

Watch Trailer


4. Starter for 10 (2006) 90%

Cumberbatch’s first significant big-screen appearance came courtesy of Starter for 10, a dramedy about a college freshman (James McAvoy) who joins his campus quiz team and becomes embroiled in the squad’s interpersonal dynamics — including dealing with their snobby captain (Cumberbatch), who looks down on the new arrival despite not offering much in the way of value to the team. With a cast rounded out by Rebecca Hall, Dominic Cooper, and Alice Eve, Starter offered an early glimpse at a number of rising stars, as well as a fair bit of entertainment; as Claudia Puig wrote for USA Today, “The writing is nimble, the performances engaging and the story of a working-class boy who yearns to distinguish himself by acquiring knowledge is witty and intelligent.”

Watch Trailer


3. Doctor Strange (2016) 89%

Ten years ago, the idea of a guy from London playing Marvel’s favorite Greenwich Village sorcerer seemed about as likely as the studio ever managing to make a big-screen Doctor Strange feature in the first place, but times have definitely changed. Cumberbatch donned the good Doctor’s Cloak of Levitation for what ended up becoming Marvel’s 14th consecutive No. 1 release, bringing his dramatic chops to bear on an effects-fueled adventure that repaid the audience’s patience for yet another origin story with mind-bending visuals and a storyline that brought the magical multiverse to the MCU. Hewing faithfully to the studio’s blockbuster formula while still finding refreshing ways to scribble outside the lines, the results earned overwhelmingly positive reviews — and were even intoxicating enough to win over critics who’d long since grown numb to the superhero genre’s appeal, like the New York Times’ Manohla Dargis, who described the spectacle as “so visually transfixing, so beautiful and nimble that you may even briefly forget the brand.”

Watch Trailer


2. The Imitation Game (2014) 90%

Alan Turing was a brilliant man whose work laid the foundation for theoretical computer science — and helped shorten World War II, saving countless lives in the process. He was also prosecuted for homosexual behavior at a time when the U.K. criminal code classified it as gross indecency, sentenced to chemical castration, and died of cyanide poisoning just shy of his 42nd birthday. A fascinating, influential, and painful life, in other words, all brought brilliantly to life in the Oscar-winning The Imitation Game, starring Cumberbatch as Turing in a role that brought him fresh accolades during a busy year that also included The Penguins of Madagascar and the final Hobbit film. “Cumberbatch is moviedom’s man of the moment,” observed Joe Williams for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, “and with this painfully human performance, the actor who has specialized in difficult geniuses finally cracks the code of compassion.”

Watch Trailer


1. 12 Years a Slave (2013) 95%

Before they shared the screen as Doctor Strange and Baron Mordo in Doctor Strange, Cumberbatch and Chiwetel Ejiofor met under very different circumstances in 12 Years a Slave — Ejiofor as kidnapped free man-turned-slave Solomon Northup, and Cumberbatch as William Ford, the first plantation owner to purchase him. Northup’s journey to Ford was decidedly unpleasant, but it was unfortunately a mere prelude to more than a decade of brutal misery suffered at the hands of others after Ford felt forced to sell him — immortalized on the screen in a grueling yet searingly compelling Best Picture winner. “12 Years a Slave isn’t easy to watch, and it shouldn’t be,” wrote Moira MacDonald for the Seattle Times. “It’s one man’s tragedy, but it’s also the tragedy of countless thousands of souls beaten down, literally and metaphorically.”

Watch Trailer

Tag Cloud

mockumentary Certified Fresh stand-up comedy Teen DC Comics TV Discovery Channel natural history Mary poppins DC Universe Netflix American Society of Cinematographers Marathons USA Box Office reboot revenge The CW spider-man Summer Cannes Pride Month Tarantino zombies National Geographic Awards Tour SundanceTV Esquire IFC slashers Shudder scary movies Quiz Musical USA Network hispanic Star Wars NYCC Creative Arts Emmys Rock war green book thriller miniseries 2018 Emmy Nominations Pixar Brie Larson directors spain Disney streaming service Arrowverse Spring TV rotten movies we love BBC Nominations CNN werewolf golden globes finale documentary boxoffice period drama sequel spy thriller YouTube Premium GoT El Rey Disney Plus First Look Disney FXX Reality Competition zero dark thirty Schedule The Purge Drama Funimation Horror south america TCM Binge Guide cooking ITV Britbox Holiday award winner harry potter latino TCA Winter 2020 Best and Worst cinemax diversity casting Martial Arts based on movie unscripted Western animated Captain marvel Emmys Elton John Oscars MSNBC Pop TV RT History Television Academy Amazon Prime movies cancelled TV series Photos Crunchyroll TLC witnail Lifetime Christmas movies TV Land jamie lee curtis Kids & Family CBS Podcast dogs richard e. Grant Election comic Comedy Reality vampires composers adaptation canceled dc Walt Disney Pictures Lucasfilm series festivals Mary Tyler Moore cancelled A24 VH1 Watching Series game show anthology Ovation Marvel Television RT21 History biography crime Fox News dragons doctor who Comedy Central Sony Pictures Classic Film Chernobyl 2015 psychological thriller blockbuster Biopics discovery hist psycho cults dramedy Pop New York Comic Con Music YouTube Red zombie crime drama LGBT versus free movies Film Sundance TV Logo foreign Cartoon Network Apple TV+ ABC Family Amazon aliens 2020 Cosplay CW Seed TruTV crossover christmas movies Lionsgate universal monsters television Sci-Fi franchise singing competition PaleyFest BBC America Video Games Trailer Calendar joker Holidays Rocky 2016 DirecTV Hallmark Christmas movies 21st Century Fox Christmas mutant Super Bowl NBC Starz Winners CMT supernatural YouTube DC streaming service indie PBS kids HBO binge Writers Guild of America comics sag awards toy story screenings game of thrones Nickelodeon Universal name the review GIFs Masterpiece CBS All Access Pet Sematary Grammys Black History Month Ellie Kemper SXSW sports science fiction strong female leads VICE The Arrangement Opinion blaxploitation IFC Films Food Network book WarnerMedia romance DGA 24 frames Mindy Kaling Spectrum Originals Marvel politics Superheroe Spike Endgame FOX Trophy Talk GLAAD Hallmark AMC sitcom 007 Dark Horse Comics Apple TV Plus Year in Review screen actors guild Sneak Peek Mystery Showtime tv talk Heroines Set visit Character Guide batman talk show OWN BET police drama 2017 canceled TV shows cancelled television Premiere Dates Film Festival disaster breaking bad TV renewals X-Men LGBTQ Peacock Paramount quibi Comic Book cars Paramount Network theme song technology 2019 Chilling Adventures of Sabrina Red Carpet ghosts cartoon travel OneApp Black Mirror cops Superheroes Thanksgiving serial killer space See It Skip It Toys justice league Tubi crime thriller Song of Ice and Fire dceu Musicals Vudu Hulu transformers Sundance Now Mary Poppins Returns streaming Interview Women's History Month Columbia Pictures 45 children's TV Shondaland Valentine's Day elevated horror Comics on TV The Walking Dead Baby Yoda spanish language FX cats Warner Bros. Academy Awards A&E WGN Country Bravo reviews Lifetime Turner MTV Infographic TBS Action 71st Emmy Awards Pirates E! Star Trek 20th Century Fox Acorn TV Awards Winter TV San Diego Comic-Con First Reviews Disney Channel President Turner Classic Movies Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt Amazon Prime Video The Witch Trivia FX on Hulu Adult Swim Stephen King ESPN ABC renewed TV shows historical drama APB teaser YA Animation TCA E3 ratings Netflix Christmas movies Anna Paquin movie Countdown social media Fall TV Nat Geo Tomatazos Travel Channel Apple TCA 2017 Disney+ Disney Plus Crackle MCU Tumblr medical drama adventure HBO Max TNT independent SDCC Syfy comiccon Extras spinoff TIFF Epix Sundance docudrama facebook Rom-Com Rocketman Marvel Studios romantic comedy nature cancelled TV shows anime Mudbound Freeform Amazon Studios what to watch Family robots Ghostbusters political drama Polls and Games true crime video Avengers Fantasy halloween