Ethan Hawke is a celebrated actor, writer, and director, and also father to Maya Hawke. He has been nominated for four Academy Awards, both for acting and writing. Working in genres including drama, romantic comedy, and horror, he has had an incredibly diverse career that spans indie movies on a small budget to major studio productions. Hawke’s first movie was Explorers, in which he starred alongside River Phoenix. A couple of years later, his big break came from his role as Todd Anderson in Dead Poets Society, which also featured Robin Williams and Robert Sean Leonard.
More recently, Hawke has starred in projects like Boyhood, which earned him an Oscar nomination, Marvel’s Moon Knight, and The Black Phone, which was based on a story by Stephen King’s son Joe Hill. Lately, Hawke has discussed how he feels he is approaching the end of his career. In conversation with the Independent, he said “I only have so many movies left.” With the possibility of his deciding to retire approaching, now is the perfect time to reminisce on his back catalog. So, here are the nine best movies Ethan Hawke made in the 90s.
9/9 Search and Destroy
In ninth place, we have Search and Destroy, a movie about middle-aged Martin Mirkhein, a businessman down on his luck. With a failed business and failed marriage, he decides his way out is to adapt a successful self-help book into a movie. Hawke plays Roger, a smaller role, alongside other cast members Griffin Dunne, Rosanna Arquette, Christopher Walken, and Martin Scorsese. The movie is a satire that doesn’t seem to achieve much of what it sets out to do, ending up aimless from its poor direction.
Waterland depicts the story of an English teacher in Pittsburgh recounting his experiences of World War II to a class of students. It is directed by Stephen Gyllenhaal — yes, the father of Jake and Maggie — and stars Jeremy Irons, Lena Headey, and Hawke. We are provided with an unflinching view into a troubled past, and though it may not be entirely successful, the ambition of this adaptation is commendable in itself. The performances in this movie are excellent and worthy of viewing even if it’s not a perfect movie.
7/9 Mystery Date
One of Hawke’s first 90s movies, Mystery Date follows his character Tom while he takes his neighbor’s house sitter, played by Teri Polo, out on a date. Tom’s plans go very awry when he is mistaken for his brother, and harassed because of it. Things quickly begin to get out of control with this case of mistaken identity. The plot is messy, and the movie is somewhat all over the place, but that doesn’t stop it from being incredibly fun. If you’re looking for a wild, campy ride, this is the movie for you.
6/9 The Newton Boys
Directed by Richard Linklater, this movie marks his and Hawke’s second collaboration. The Newton Boys is the story of a group of brothers who became bank robbers in the 1920s in order to rise out of the poverty they grew up in. The plot seems to promise action and violence, but this movie is more focused on the sibling relationships and period details, as you might expect from a Linklater production. There is a really nice attention to detail on display here that invites you into the world of the movie.
5/9 Reality Bites
One of Hawke’s most famous 90s roles, Reality Bites centers around a group of young college graduates, with Winona Ryder playing a documentary filmmaker. The film’s lofty promise to be a definitive statement on the experiences of Gen X got in the way of audiences enjoying its charm. As Ben Stiller’s first directorial effort, it’s confidently made and well put together. Really, the movie is more enduring and relatable to anyone lost in life, whatever generation they might be from, than its claim declared it.
4/9 Great Expectations
This version of Great Expectations is a modernized and Americanized adaptation directed by Alfonso Cuarón. Here, we have Hawke as Finn and Gwyneth Paltrow as Estella, with Robert De Niro, Hank Azaria, and Anne Bancroft rounding out the cast. Charles Dickens’ original story is endlessly adaptable, and this take is a fresh variation. With stunning visuals and a solid cast that creates a tangible world for these characters to exist in, the film delivers a timely update to a timeless story.
In a rare sci-fi turn from Hawke, Gattaca tells the story of a man deemed genetically inferior, who tricks his way into the Gattaca space program. The film is a compelling discussion of genetic engineering and eugenics driven by excellent performances. Speaking to Newsweek, Hawke said the movie was right about “our overwhelming desire as a community and society to place people in labels.” The characters are well drawn and not forced into the backseat in favor of action or plot as can happen in spectacle-driven action or sci-fi movies.
Floundering is a playful, low-budget movie about an unemployed man who is quite literally floundering. It’s relatively unstructured and chatty, giving the sense that it could have been improvised despite being quite the opposite. There are conversations about spirituality, morality, and romance that ring true and stay with you after watching. Although it couldn’t be less polished, the film has such a strong charm that any “mistakes” can be easily forgiven. If you’re into wandering, thoughtful, and funny movies, you can’t go wrong with this.
1/9 Before Sunrise
In first place comes Hawke’s first collaboration with Linklater: the undeniable classic, Before Sunrise. Julie Delpy stars alongside Hawke as we follow the two of them around Vienna while they talk. The simplicity of the premise makes for an elegant and poignant story. It manages to be deeply engaging without having any real plot besides conversation. Hawke and Delpy have such charming screen presences that the audience falls for the pair of them as they fall for each other. Before Sunrise is one of the most romantic movies of all time, and is unbeatable as Hawke’s best 90s movie.