At the age of 40, Michael Fassbender already has an acting career that most of his peers can only dream of.
Sensitive little indie hits? Check. Powerful, critically-acclaimed dramas with visionary directors? Check, times three. Giant, ball-swinging Hollywood blockbusters in which he gets to fly and fight monsters? Triple check and add two.
And so, with the release of the surprisingly good Alien: Covenant, we thought it both timely and responsible to reflect on the German-Irishman's greatest films. Remember, he still might be the next James Bond. Puts your last roundly positive staff appraisal into perspective, doesn't it?
12 Years a Slave (2013)
Lupita Nyong'o's breakout performance as Patsey will rightly be remembered as the highlight of this 2013 multiple Oscar winner, but Fassbender delivered a nuanced turn of his own as Edwin Epps, the slave owner with a queasy mix of contempt and desire for her. A film full of scenes that are almost impossible to watch, perhaps the bravest moment for Fass was in offering a slither of unlikely humor when he slips in pig shit while chasing Patsey around his plantation. It's not his film, but 12 Years A Slave was another tremendous show of faith in Fassbender from director Steve McQueen and one that paid off—resulting in one of the finest films of the past ten years.
Fassbender's second collaboration with Steven McQueen after Hunger was an equally brutal examination of flesh and appetite, this time centered around sex addiction. While Shame proved critically divisive, Fassbender's performance as Brandon, a charming but emotionally stunted New York executive addicted to porn, prostitutes, and masturbation was unanimously praised. While outshone somewhat by Carey Mulligan's troubling turn as his unstable sister Sissy, Shame nevertheless reminded the world post X-Men that Fassbender can act with the best of them.
Alien: Covenant (2017)
Interestingly, Fassbender told Esquire he based his performance as android 'space butler' David (and his descendant Walter) on legendary high diver Greg Louganis, proving the Fass is nothing if not eclectic in his approach to getting into character. This much-needed rehabilitation of Ridley Scott's franchise relies on his ability to elicit sympathy and wrong-foot the audience almost as much as it does the big, black, scary things with tentacles and sharp teeth. He is now absolutely essential to the franchise.
For a man as annoyingly handsome as Fass, it is perhaps a little ironic that one of his best performances–certainly the most underrated–came from the inside of a giant papier-mâché head, but so it is. In this indie comedy he plays the eccentric titular front man of a band of tortured musos who enlist a new recruit, whose influence causes them to slowly unravel. Funny, warm, and wise, Frank–based on real life oddball Frank Sidebottom–is the heart of the film. Fassbender even claimed to enjoy wearing the giant head, presumably because he didn't have to do any of that tiring 'face acting.'
Look–if you're going to do Shakespeare, you might as well do Macbeth with Fassbender as the mad Scottish king in full-on Braveheart ass-kicking mode suffering from PTSD from all those wars and Marion Cotillard as the malevolent Lady whispering in his ear. Director Justin Kurzel's stayed faithful to the text of the Bard's original, but infused it with stunning visuals and a blood-thirst that no amount of stage actors with wooden swords, understandably, can match. Did Fassbender kill it as one of the greatest tragic anti-heroes in literary history? Of course he did.
Inglourious Basterds (2009)
Fassbender really hams it up to play Bond-esque British army officer Archibald "Archie" Hicox in Quentin Tarantino's historically dubious WWII epic. At once ridiculously over-the-top and yet strangely convincing, Hicox's British stiff-upper lip attitude is almost as impressive as the dashing mustache that adorns it. We can't help but wonder if he's the smoothest man in cinema history.
X-Men: First Class (2011)
Inheriting a role from Sir Ian McKellen is a pant-cacking prospect in its own right, but a reverently-adored villain in one of the most celebrated comic book series of all-time? That takes balls. But this was a prequel, meaning Fassbender could reinvent war-mongering super villain Magneto in any way he saw fit–and with the help of a politically prescient backstory and an impressive script, Fass manages to bring sympathy and humanity to a man who will become increasingly incapable of either.
Steve Jobs (2015)
Despite being a box office flop and not without its critics (Aaron Sorkin films tend to have a certain polarising quality), Fassbender's portrayal of Apple mastermind Steve Jobs is one of his most potent works, even if he looks absolutely nothing like him. Focused on the hype and hazard of three key product launches in Apple's history, there is scarcely a scene that does not feature Fassbender–skittish, antagonistic, and captivating–as the center of the camera's attention. That he, pretty much alone, could carry a 120-minute film about old computers and iPods is a true testament to the man.
Slow West (2015)
At times slow (and definitely set in the West), what could be a dreary, navel-gazing, critic-cloying pastiche of the Wild West is instead a funny and absorbing buddy road movie with stand-out acting, particularly from yer man Fass (Irish accent optional).
He dials his usual furious, blue-eyed intensity down several thousand notches for his portrayal of a charming bounty hunter with questionable morals, who chooses to escort a naïve Scotsman through the American badlands. Fassbender's deadpan delivery and steady unlayering of character make this role one of his finest and funniest.
If you see Steve McQueen and Michael Fassbender on the credits then you know that you're in for an emotional ride–the film kicked off a beautifully wretched artist-and-muse partnership that now includes Shame and 12 Years a Slave.
Deftly charting the true-life story of Bobby Sands, an IRA prisoner who, in 1981, chose to go on hunger strike after being refused status as a political prisoner, Fassbender's is a searing, skin-crawling turn that features one of the most intense single-shots you're ever likely to see in the unbroken 17-minute frame of a priest imploring Sands to not go on hunger strike. Hunger is Intense Fassbender™ at the peak of his mad-eyed powers.
This story originally appeared on Esquire.com.
* Minor edits have been made by the Esquiremag.ph editors.