Total Recall

Total Recall: James McAvoy's Best Movies

We count down the best-reviewed work of the X-Men: First Class star.

by | June 1, 2011 | Comments

James McAvoy

Since breaking into the film business in the mid-1990s, James McAvoy has collected a pile of positive reviews and award nominations, and he’s done it while dividing his time between thoughtful independent fare (like The Last King of Scotland) and big-budget blockbusters (such as Wanted). But all that was merely a prelude for this weekend, when McAvoy suits up as the mighty (and decidedly wheelchair-free) Charles Xavier in X-Men: First Class. With a starring role in one of the summer’s most highly anticipated films under his belt, we thought it was about time to take a look at some of the brightest spots in McAvoy’s filmography, Total Recall style. Let’s get started!


56%

10. Gnomeo and Juliet

In early 2011, McAvoy entered the world of family-friendly 3D CGI with Gnomeo & Juliet, in which squabbling clans of garden gnomes re-enact the classic Shakespeare tragedy to the strains of Elton John’s greatest hits. An odd blend, right down to a voice cast that included McAvoy, Michael Caine, Jason Statham, Ozzy Osbourne, and Hulk Hogan — but it got a smile out of critics like Film School Rejects’ Robert Levin, who called it “The greatest film ever made about living, breathing garden gnomes.”


58%

9. Becoming Jane

Nobody did star-crossed love like Jane Austen, so it’s only fitting that, with 2007’s Becoming Jane, the endlessly screen-friendly author got to have a forbidden love affair of her own. The movie’s casual relationship with historical fact — not to mention Anne Hathaway’s unsteady accent in the starring role — was a source of consternation for some, but whatever its flaws, Jane gave audiences a peek at the unconsummated love that might have existed between Austen and the young lawyer Thomas Lefroy. Duane Dudek of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel was one of its supporters, calling it “An evocative portrait of an artistic temperament in defiance of propriety and of how, when such things are repressed, passion and personality are revealed in acts of private ritual and public performance.”


61%

8. Wimbledon

Wimbledon really belonged to Paul Bettany and Kirsten Dunst, but McAvoy notched a scene-stealing supporting turn in this 2004 romantic comedy, playing Bettany’s obnoxiously funny brother (and getting some of the movie’s best lines in the process). Although filmgoers weren’t particularly interested in watching a love story blossom on the tennis court, most critics thought Wimbledon was a pretty good match — including Rick Kisonak of Film Threat, who wrote, “You aren’t likely to see a film with more warmth and good humor anytime soon, or one that does more to give feel good filmmaking a good name.”


65%

7. Bright Young Things

Multi-hyphenate talent Stephen Fry made his directorial debut with this ensemble period drama, which adapts Evelyn Waugh’s novel Vile Bodies, about the exploits of well-to-do young Londoners during the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s. Overstuffed to a fault, Bright Young Things alternately delighted and confounded critics who found it difficult to draw a common thread between its chaotic jumble of plots and an eclectic, unwieldy cast that included McAvoy, Michael Sheen, Jim Broadbent, Peter O’Toole, and Dan Aykroyd. “The episodic structure gets more unwieldy as the story progresses,” observed Steve Schneider of the Orlando Weekly, “but there’s still room for some rewarding dalliances.”


71%

6. The Last Station

The last days of Leo Tolstoy may not seem like the most obvious inspiration for a movie, but what The Last Station lacks in marquee sparkle, it makes up in opportunities for its talented cast to showcase their prodigious gifts. McAvoy co-stars here as part of an impressive ensemble that includes Paul Giamatti, Helen Mirren, and Christopher Plummer, as the dying author whose legacy sparks the battle at the heart of the plot. Even for a low-budget independent feature, Station underperformed at the box office, failing to recoup its budget, but most critics thought it was worth a look. “If you come to this expecting the philosophical depth and psychological detail of Tolstoy’s work you’re sure to be disappointed,” wrote J.R. Jones of the Chicago Reader, “but as an actors’ romp it’s delectable.”

71%

5. Wanted

McAvoy’s Everyman appeal came in handy for this adaptation of the Mark Millar comic book series, which follows the evolution of an office drone (McAvoy) who finds himself unexpectedly recruited by a shadowy network of assassins called The Fraternity (whose members include Angelina Jolie and Morgan Freeman). Thoroughly unhinged from reality, but bursting at the seams with eyebrow-raising action sequences, Wanted lived up to its title at the box office, where it raked in more than $340 million — and it didn’t do too badly with critics, either. Cole Smithey joined the chorus of applause for the film, writing, “You’ll come for the action; you’ll enjoy it more because of James McAvoy.”


76%

4. The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

McAvoy took a role among the star-studded supporting cast of this big-budget, family-friendly adaptation of the C.S. Lewis classic, appearing as Mr. Tumnus, a faun who leaves the court of the White Witch to fight with the friends of Aslan (voiced by Liam Neeson). It may not have afforded McAvoy the most screen time he’d ever seen, but it did give him an opportunity to be part of a $745 million blockbuster that brought a beloved book to the screen — and earned the approval of critics like the Atlantic City Weekly’s Lori Hoffman, who wrote, “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is a fable that captures a fully realized landscape of honor, love, sacrifice, betrayal and forgiveness.”


83%

3. Atonement

Director Joe Wright turned Ian McEwen’s bestselling novel into an Academy Award-winning film with this 2007 adaptation, starring Saoirse Ronan and Keira Knightley as Briony and Cecilia Tallis, a pair of sisters living in 1930s England whose relationship is forever altered after Briony makes an impetuous (and false) allegation against Cecilia’s boyfriend (McAvoy). Offering war, teary-eyed romance, and period sweep, Atonement instantly marked Ronan as one to watch, and although a substantial number of critics felt it didn’t match the power of the book, most thought it came close enough, and the Orlando Sentinel’s Roger Moore went so far as to call it “A film that instantly joins the ranks of the great screen romances.”


87%

2. The Last King of Scotland

It’s often said that the greatest trick the devil ever played was convincing the world he didn’t exist, but sometimes we can convince ourselves even if we can see the devil staring right at us. That’s the moral of The Last King of Scotland, the story of a Scottish doctor (McAvoy) who finds himself seduced by the charisma and opulent wealth of Ugandan dictator Idi Amin (Forest Whitaker), rationalizing the regime’s horrific brutality until it’s impossible to ignore — and almost impossible to escape. McAvoy took home a Best Supporting Actor BAFTA nomination for his work, Whitaker netted the Best Actor Oscar, and the film earned unqualified praise from critics like Heather Huntington of ReelzChannel, who wrote, “This isn’t just a moral cause movie for New Yorker-reading smartypants to brag to their friends that they saw to show how in-the-know they are. The Last King of Scotland deserves every good thing that has been said about it, and then some.”


90%

1. Starter for 10

Screenwriter David Nicholls adapted his own novel for this low-key 2006 coming-of-age dramedy, which follows a British university student (McAvoy) as he struggles to reconcile his college life with his working-class roots — and tries to choose between a pair of impossibly beautiful love interests (Alice Eve and Rebecca Hall). While certainly built with familiar ingredients, Starter for 10 earned critical praise for its sweetly sentimental tone, funny script, and likable cast; as Michael Szymanski wrote for Hollywood.com, it’s “Pure feel-good romantic nostalgia, whether you lived in 1980’s London or not.”


In case you were wondering, here are McAvoy’s top 10 movies according RT users’ scores:

1. Rory O’Shea Was Here — 88%
2. The Last King of Scotland — 87%
3. Atonement — 79%
4. Becoming Jane — 75%
5. Penelope — 74%
6. Wanted — 72%
7. The Conspirator — 69%
8. The Last Station — 65%
9. Starter for 10 — 64%
10. Bright Young Things — 63%


Take a look through McAvoy’s complete filmography, as well as the rest of our Total Recall archives. And don’t forget to check out the reviews for X-Men: First Class.

Finally, here’s McAvoy in his movie debut — 1995’s The Near Room (NSFW — language):

Tag Cloud

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