Total Recall

Bryan Cranston's Best Roles

We look back at the best-known work of the star of The Infiltrator.

by | July 13, 2016 | Comments

Bryan Cranston brings a true story to the screen with this weekend’s The Infiltrator, and in appreciation for his efforts, we decided to dig into his extensive filmography and select some of our favorite roles. Sure, you’ll find a nod to Walter White in here, but Mr. Cranston’s career is a heck of a lot more than Breaking Bad; from comedy to award-winning drama, there’s truly something for everyone in here. Make room in your queues, ’cause it’s time for Total Recall!

Titanium Rex (SuperMansion)

As Cranston’s profile has grown in recent years, he’s plowed some of that newfound clout back into his own production efforts — such as Sneaky Pete, recently ordered to series at Amazon, and the animated SuperMansion, which will debut its second season on Crackle in 2017. Working alongside a roster of voice talent that includes Keegan-Michael Key and Seth Green, Cranston stars as Titanium Rex, the aging leader of a past-its-prime group of heroes; although the results have thus far been neither universally acclaimed nor particularly widely seen, it’s worth checking out for Cranston fans and stop-motion enthusiasts with an off-kilter sense of humor. After all, how many cartoons give a guy the chance to play a character with a titanium hand and a prostate problem?

Lance (Last Chance)

In a 2009 interview, Cranston pointed to this little-seen 1999 drama — which he produced, directed, wrote, and starred in — as the one project from his filmography that he didn’t think had gotten the attention it deserved. “I think Last Chance was an interesting tale,” he mused. “It’s the story of someone who doesn’t believe that they have any hope left in their life, and when an opportunity presents itself, will you even recognize it? Do you take advantage of it? Do you ignore it? So it was all about that, and about hope, and taking your last chance if it’s offered.”

Tim Whatley (Seinfeld)

Seinfeld‘s comedy largely derived from the sturdy dynamics between the show’s central foursome, which meant there wasn’t much need for a lot of recurring characters — and as a result, the ones who did manage to return more than a time or two were generally pretty memorable. Case in point: Jerry’s dentist Tim Whatley, played by Cranston over a handful of episodes throughout the show’s run — some of which were among its most memorable. Aside from giving him a chance to show off his comedic chops, Cranston’s Seinfeld spots put him down in sitcom history as one of the people who helped bring the world “re-gifter” and “anti-dentite.”

Shannon (Drive)

After a few seasons of Breaking Bad, Cranston’s Hollywood stock had risen to the point where he was being actively sought out for movie roles — for example, Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive. Cranston was Refn’s first choice for Shannon, the body shop owner whose lucrative side business involves hiring out his star employee (Ryan Gosling) as a no-questions-asked getaway driver, and even though Cranston’s plate was already pretty full — and the part was far from the movie’s showiest — he was sufficiently intrigued to sign on. The result? Screen time in one of the year’s most critically adored movies. “This,” wrote Deadspin’s Will Leitch, “is pop art of the highest degree.”

Jack O’Donnell (Argo)

Like a lot of characters in Argo, Cranston’s character was an amalgam of actual individuals involved in the movie’s real-life story — and like many of the incredible actors assembled for the Oscar-winning drama, he didn’t have an overwhelming amount of screentime. But as Jack O’Donnell, the boss of CIA exfiltrator Tony Mendez (Ben Affleck) during the Iranian hostage crisis in 1979, Cranston plays a crucial role — both for Mendez, who relies on O’Donnell as his lifeline back to the States during his mission in Iran, and for the audience, who feel the tension and urgency of the situation back home through his increasingly strained efforts to pull the whole thing off. “Is it me,” wondered the San Diego Reader’s Scott Marks, “or should Bryan Cranston be in every film released?”

Joe Brody (Godzilla)

Okay, so Bryan Cranston isn’t in Godzilla for anywhere near the length of time he deserved — but that doesn’t take anything away from the fact that his character is the emotional centerpiece of the first act. As Joe Brody, the nuclear plant supervisor who’s among the first to suspect that the human race might be staring down the barrel of an enormous catastrophe, Cranston carried the burden of setting up a hugely over-the-top story in an easily relatable way, and he pulled it off with aplomb. The movie would have been a lot better if Joe stuck around a little longer, but the results are still pretty entertaining, and they offered Cranston a too-rare opportunity to display dramatic range in a blockbuster action thriller. “This is exactly what big summer movies ought to aspire to,” wrote NPR’s Ian Buckwalter. “Never short on dazzle, but unafraid to let us catch our breath once it’s been taken away.”

Dalton Trumbo (Trumbo)

Cranston’s piled up a lot of screen credits over the years, but relatively few have been leading roles. One notable exception is 2015’s Trumbo, in which he portrays the legendary screenwriter during and after his politically motivated fall from professional grace. Delivering a full-bodied performance that neither lionized nor demonized Trumbo, Cranston proved he was more than capable of carrying a movie — even one that, as critics reluctantly pointed out, wasn’t necessarily up to its subject’s impeccable standards. “Cranston’s performance is the motor that runs Trumbo,” wrote Ty Burr for the Boston Globe. “And that motor never idles, never flags in momentum or magnetism or idealistic scorn.”

Lyndon B. Johnson (All the Way)

It takes a special kind of actor to disappear so far inside a character that the audience forgets it’s watching someone go to work, and that goes at least double when the character in question was a real-life individual. All of which is to say that Cranston deserves every bit of the voluminous praise he picked up for his work in All the Way, which dramatizes Lyndon B. Johnson’s actions during the period leading up to the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. After winning a Tony for his portrayal of Johnson on the stage, Cranston reprised the role for HBO’s film adaptation, and earned another round of critical applause. “All the Way should be admired for going the distance,” wrote Ben Travers for IndieWIRE, “and Cranston rewarded for holding it all together.”

Hal Wilkerson (Malcolm in the Middle)

Long before he stripped down to his briefs for Breaking Bad, Cranston made a habit of it on Malcolm in the Middle, the long-running Fox sitcom about a quirky suburban family rounded out by a brood of boys and led by a no-nonsense mom. As the father, Cranston was often just as much of a kid as his onscreen sons — and twice as afraid of their mother (Jane Kaczmarek) — adding yet another sweetly clueless sitcom dad to an already lengthy list. Yet while Malcolm didn’t exactly reinvent the TV comedy wheel, it did what it set out to do consistently well, and earned Cranston a passel of Emmy nominations along the way.

Walter White (Breaking Bad)

Cranston’s done a lot of fine work throughout his career, but he’ll probably always be most closely identified with Breaking Bad. It makes sense, really — how often does an actor get the chance to star in a hit series about a high school chemistry teacher who turns to manufacturing and selling his own meth in order to shore up funds for his family after learning he’s dying of cancer? Critically acclaimed and consistently successful in the ratings, Breaking Bad was also an awards magnet — not least for Cranston, whose depiction of Walter White’s descent into the criminal underworld netted him four Lead Actor Emmys during the show’s run. “One way or another, you’ve got to figure Walt is going down,” wrote the Cleveland Plain Dealer’s Mark Dawidziak during the final season. “And, thanks to Cranston, he’s going down in TV history as one of the medium’s most fascinating, memorable and grandly tragic characters.”

Tag Cloud

children's TV Star Trek series twilight strong female leads Amazon 20th Century Fox period drama Best and Worst New York Comic Con Britbox Pride Month Pet Sematary Infographic Summer zombies Fantasy Fall TV dceu Pop Cannes E3 space Disney FXX Christmas worst HBO Max blockbuster news Rocky reviews what to watch GIFs indiana jones Holiday The Witch cars TCM YouTube Red child's play ESPN Ovation dc harry potter criterion Epix 4/20 First Reviews Quiz Walt Disney Pictures theme song Comic Book SDCC Ellie Kemper breaking bad Set visit PlayStation OneApp Tumblr 45 Reality Super Bowl hist Reality Competition reboot kids a nightmare on elm street golden globes Pop TV MCU cooking screenings LGBT cancelled TV shows Amazon Prime 007 BAFTA doctor who Emmys discovery batman Marvel Television AMC Dark Horse Comics richard e. Grant Emmy Nominations supernatural TLC historical drama disaster Television Critics Association OWN LGBTQ independent DirecTV Captain marvel Comics on TV politics Disney+ Disney Plus emmy awards superhero Pirates VOD crime thriller sports Sneak Peek 2020 toy story Countdown Heroines nbcuniversal science fiction spy thriller A24 transformers Extras TIFF medical drama biography joker Freeform quibi dragons robots dramedy DC streaming service 2018 Box Office travel Action Drama adaptation green book obituary Family mission: impossible indie Fox News YouTube Premium jamie lee curtis NBC Country documentary chucky war The Arrangement FX on Hulu Crunchyroll Paramount Network vampires Holidays E! TCA 2017 casting Hulu crime drama Film zombie Amazon Studios GoT Esquire Acorn TV unscripted Disney Plus USA Network Stephen King rotten movies we love A&E Netflix Christmas movies stand-up comedy Trivia Tomatazos Academy Awards Masterpiece Apple video on demand dark DC Universe SundanceTV Sundance Now Star Wars spinoff RT21 Comedy Central hollywood blaxploitation cops stop motion Black History Month rotten Turner spider-man TCA Awards composers Food Network name the review movie TruTV renewed TV shows die hard book Elton John TCA Winter 2020 TV renewals Bravo TNT TV Land spain sequel docudrama BBC Tarantino cancelled television dogs stoner documentaries Musicals Marvel social media critics The CW Binge Guide comiccon Awards Tour Certified Fresh Women's History Month versus Thanksgiving nature Animation Adult Swim San Diego Comic-Con BBC One 2019 Video Games free movies TCA Crackle Paramount binge Netflix scary movies Disney Channel Martial Arts Watching Series ITV Song of Ice and Fire Mary poppins boxoffice RT History fast and furious miniseries mutant true crime cancelled TV series Photos X-Men cartoon 24 frames Film Festival talk show Creative Arts Emmys TBS Marathons BBC America NYCC Hallmark Christmas movies Rocketman psycho movies satire 72 Emmy Awards singing competition video best mockumentary Endgame First Look Valentine's Day Sci-Fi Apple TV Plus Awards Writers Guild of America TV Podcast Oscars Polls and Games Columbia Pictures Western MTV witnail sag awards comics technology CW Seed 2016 SXSW Amazon Prime Video Avengers finale Sundance aliens Rom-Com natural history DGA YouTube Discovery Channel Mudbound Winter TV adventure See It Skip It Chernobyl Hallmark tv talk Character Guide National Geographic cats Ghostbusters Teen 2015 Mary Tyler Moore Spike Black Mirror Nickelodeon psychological thriller romantic comedy MSNBC concert GLAAD game show Arrowverse anime crime 2017 Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt Warner Bros. Horror USA cinemax directors Sony Pictures 21st Century Fox BET YA HBO Go Shondaland FX President Spring TV 71st Emmy Awards justice league DC Comics werewolf Vudu foreign Universal Marvel Studios Classic Film screen actors guild IFC Turner Classic Movies Toys ABC Family FOX parents franchise WGN Apple TV+ Chilling Adventures of Sabrina BET Awards Trophy Talk ghosts Syfy ratings Superheroes hispanic Premiere Dates game of thrones Logo Pixar Grammys based on movie El Rey Shudder revenge Disney streaming service facebook VH1 Opinion elevated horror Lionsgate IFC Films festivals serial killer Television Academy Baby Yoda Rock south america Red Carpet sequels award winner Spectrum Originals cancelled police drama CMT Lucasfilm WarnerMedia Lifetime Christmas movies Election Nat Geo HBO Showtime Winners Tubi all-time films teaser Musical latino laika Starz Funimation television Peacock comic Interview VICE ABC thriller Comedy Brie Larson The Purge Cosplay Lifetime streaming universal monsters Mindy Kaling History Superheroe canceled TV shows Mystery Nominations Schedule Trailer PBS classics romance Cartoon Network animated crossover spanish language The Walking Dead American Society of Cinematographers diversity cults CBS zero dark thirty Anna Paquin Music halloween PaleyFest canceled asian-american APB Calendar Hear Us Out political drama CBS All Access Mary Poppins Returns Travel Channel slashers sitcom Year in Review anthology Sundance TV christmas movies Kids & Family Biopics CNN comedies