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    Michael Shannon’s 12 Best Supporting Performances, Ranked

    If Michael Shannon has a supporting role in a movie or TV show, you better believe he's going to be the best part.

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    Nine Perfect Strangers debuted on Hulu Aug 18, and one of the reasons it has become so highly anticipated is the stacked cast, which includes Nicole Kidman, Melissa McCarthy, and Bobby Cannavale. It's a phenomenal collection of actors, but I'm most thrilled about Michael Shannon, who has quietly become the most consistently great actor working today. 

    Michael Shannon standing  with his arms raised and looking up in front of a group around a table
    Vince Valitutti / Hulu

    Through dozens of performances on television and in movies over the last two decades, Shannon has shown himself to be incapable of delivering a bad performance. His signature style is a slow-burning approach as you can sense the potent emotion that is boiling under the surface, until it eventually explodes in a way that is as thrilling as it is unnerving. Early on in his career, he worked mostly in indies, but as his stature in the film industry has grown, he's brought his steely, off-kilter intensity to blockbusters as well.

    While he has occasionally gotten to prove that he is more than capable of thriving as a leading man (most notably in Take Shelter), for the most part he's made a name for himself as a supporting actor. In fact, I would argue he has firmly established himself as Hollywood's best supporting actor. So to celebrate Shannon's long and distinguished career, here is a ranking of 12 of his best supporting performances in TV and film.

    12. Kangaroo Jack (2003)

    Michael Shannon staring down the camera
    Warner Bros. / Courtesy Everett Collection

    Kangaroo Jack was (rightly) panned by critics, but one of the few joys you'll find in rewatching this mostly underwhelming comedy is Shannon popping up as Frankie Lombardo, one of the henchmen of Sal (Christopher Walken), the mobster and primary antagonist of the movie. Shannon is not given much to work with, but he makes the most of it, selling the hell out of lines like "Zip the lip, Dundee," which shows why he's become such a celebrated actor. The fact that he plays Walken's protégé in the movie also feels like a bit of unintentional real-life meta commentary on their careers, as Walken similarly made a name for himself by becoming one of the best supporting actors in Hollywood for decades.

    Rent it on Amazon Prime.

    11. Man of Steel (2013)

    Michael Shannon looks angry while blood runs down his face
    Warner Bros. / Courtesy Everett Collection

    Man of Steel is a disappointing start to the beginning of Zack Snyder's takeover of the DC Extended Universe, receiving mixed reviews from critics and being downright disliked by a large number of Superman fans. However, even those who hated the movie praised Shannon's portrayal of General Zod, a former Kryptonian general who hopes to take over Earth and turn it into the new Krypton. Even though Zod is a homicidal maniac bent on world domination, Shannon brings a touch of tragedy to his acclaimed performance that had previously not been seen in Superman's longtime villain.

    Watch it on HBO Max.

    10. Shape of Water (2017)

    Michael Shannon speaking sternly to Michael Stuhlbarg
    Fox Searchlight / Courtesy Everett Collection

    Shape of Water is on the long list of movies that probably did not deserve to win Best Picture, since it's a fine but forgettable film that doesn't compare to the stacked list of nominees it beat out, including Get Out, Ladybird, and Call Me by Your Name. However, Shannon's performance as Richard Strickland, the villainous colonel who wants to vivisect the Amphibian Man to help the US gain an advantage in the space race, holds up well. The writing doesn't do Shannon a ton of favors, as Strickland is painted as more of a caricature than a real person, but Shannon manages to transcend the writing and delivers a genuinely frightening performance.

    Rent it on Amazon Prime.

    9. Knives Out (2019)

    Shannon yelling at Chris Evans while he is contemplating something
    Lionsgate / Courtesy Everett Collection

    The most entertaining part of Rian Johnson's murder mystery is getting to know the family of Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer). Every single member of the family is absolutely dreadful, consumed with self-interest in their own unique way. Shannon plays Walt, the youngest son of Harlan, who is bitter that he was fired from his father's publishing company. He's not given as much to do as some of the other actors in the ensemble, but Shannon does get to go full villain during his confrontation with Marta (Ana de Armas), when he threatens to reveal her mother's immigration status if she doesn't give the family Harlan's inheritance. The fact that this isn't higher on the list has nothing to do with the quality of Shannon's acting here and everything to do with just how many unforgettable performances he has given in his career.

    Watch it on Amazon Prime.

    8. Jesus' Son (1999)

    Michael Shannon looking concerned while John Ventimiglia is in pain
    Lionsgate

    This is one of Shannon's first film performances, and right out the gate you can see his talent for making the most out of a relatively small part. He plays Dundun, a friend that F.H. (Billy Crudup) visits when he wants some pharmaceutical opium. Once F.H. arrives, he discovers that Dundun has shot someone named McInnes (John Ventimiglia), who is slowly dying in the house. Despite the extremely dark subject material, Shannon gives one of the funniest performances of his career, playing Dundun with a casual indifference about having just committed a murder for no real reason.

    7. 8 Mile (2002)

    Michael Shannon bending over to talking to Eminem
    Universal Pictures

    While Shannon has limitless range as an actor, he's arguably at his best when he is playing an irredeemable scumbag. And he's never been more irredeemable or reveled in scumbaggery better than in 8 Mile, where he plays Greg, the abusive live-in boyfriend of Rabbit's (Eminem) mom, Stephanie (Kim Basinger). From their first interaction, it's clear that Rabbit and Greg are destined to battle. And that lingering tension finally explodes when Rabbit snaps after Greg shoves Stephanie during an argument. It's one of the best scenes in the film, and gave viewers a preview of the incredible career that was still ahead for Shannon.

    Watch it on HBO Max.

    6. Nine Perfect Strangers (2021)

    Michael Shannon and Grace Van Patten standing looking aimless
    Hulu / Courtesy Everett Collection

    Shannon is once again flexing his supporting character talents in this highly anticipated limited series that was adapted by legendary showrunner David E. Kelley. He plays against type here, putting away his trademark intensity in favor of a more subdued, almost goofy energy for his performance as Napoleon Marconi. The show has received somewhat mixed reviews so far, but per usual, Shannon's performance has been celebrated. Time's Judy Berman said that his "uniquely intense presence elevates [Napoleon] from milquetoast to psychological enigma," while the Atlantic's Sophie Gilbert wrote that Shannon's portrayal of "the Ned Flanders–esque patriarch" was "uniquely irritating" (that may not sound like a compliment, but you'll realize it is once you watch the show).

    Watch it on Hulu.

    5. They Came Together (2014)

    Michael Shannon pointing a sword at Paul Rudd
    Lionsgate

    As we learn about the storybook romance between Joel (Paul Rudd) and Molly (Amy Poehler) in this hysterical spoof of corny rom-coms, Molly's ex-husband, Spike, is occasionally mentioned but never seen. Toward the very end of the movie, just as Joel is delivering the cliché-filled speech to win Molly back, Spike finally appears. And he is played by none other than Shannon, who comes running onscreen with a sword, determined to take Joel down. Shannon is only in the movie for about a minute, but he makes the most of it, dialing up his iconic rage all the way to 11 as he tries (and fails) to kick Joel's ass.

    Watch it on Hulu.

    4. Boardwalk Empire (2010–2014)

    Michael Shannon staring intensely
    Warner Bros.

    Before Nine Perfect Strangers, Shannon made a name for himself in television as Nelson Van Alden in this critically acclaimed HBO show. At the start of the series, Van Alden was the primary antagonist to Nucky Thompson (Steve Buscemi) as a puritanical, deeply repressed Prohibition agent who was determined to take down the corrupt politician by exposing his double life as a mobster. But over the course of the show, Van Alden ends up on the wrong side of the law and eventually ends up working for Al Capone (Stephen Graham). Shannon handled this complex arc magnificently, making Van Alden a fan favorite and earning him three nominations for a Screen Actors Guild Award.

    Watch it on HBO Max.

    3. Revolutionary Road (2008)

    Michael Shannon thinking carefully while sitting
    Dreamworks / Courtesy Everett Collection

    Before its release, most of the hype surrounding Revolutionary Road was due to the onscreen reunion of Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet. Both are great in the lead roles, but the movie is stolen right out from under them by Shannon, who plays John Givings, the son of Frank and April's neighbor. John is dismissed by most because of his time in a psychiatric institution, but there's more to him than meets the eye, as he seems to be the only person who sees the dark surface hiding beneath the bright and sunny facade of suburban bliss. Shannon earned his first Oscar nomination for his performance, and upon rewatch, it's baffling that he didn't win. Every time John shows up to speak uncomfortable truths in the form of slightly unhinged monologues, the movie is elevated from pretty good to undeniably great.

    Watch it on Hulu.

    2. 99 Homes (2014)

    Andrew Garfield and Michael Shannon sitting in a car and looking out the side window
    Broad Green Pictures / Courtesy Everett Collection

    The hidden gem of Shannon's filmography is 99 Homes, where he plays Rick, a shady real estate operator who takes Dennis (Andrew Garfield) under his wing to teach him everything he knows about exploiting homeowners for profit. It's clear that Shannon is having a blast in the role, and watching him slowly corrupt Dennis is a thrill. The film flopped at the box office, earning less than $2 million against a $9 million budget, but it received universal acclaim from critics, with many speculating that Shannon would receive an Oscar nomination for his performance (he tragically did not).

    Watch it on Tubi.

    1. Nocturnal Animals (2016)

    Michael Shannon and Aaron Taylor-Johnson sitting in a car together
    Focus Features / Courtesy Everett Collect

    Nocturnal Animals has become divisive in the years since its release, with some praising it as a brilliant, visually stunning film, while others have dismissed it as a gratuitously bleak mess. But the one thing that everyone seems to agree on is that Shannon is absolutely amazing in it. He plays Bobby Andes, a principled but hard-nosed detective who is determined to avenge the brutal deaths of Laura (Isla Fisher) and India (Ellie Bamber). It's an incredibly difficult role that would have fallen short in lesser hands, but Shannon proved once and for all that he is one of the best living actors by knocking it out of the park. The result is the best performance of Shannon's accomplished career, earning him his second Oscar nomination, of which there will surely be at least a few more.

    Watch it on Netflix.

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