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The Best Ethan Hawke Movies And How To Watch Them

Ethan Hawke on Moon Knight
(Image credit: Marvel)

I am really excited to see Ethan Hawke as the villain of Moon Knight, which will not only mark his debut in the Marvel Cinematic Universe but his first-ever role in a comic book adaptation. That fact is actually a bit surprising, considering what a versatile career the Academy Award-nominated actor and filmmaker has had since his youth, which includes a number of horror movies and some intriguing sci-fi dramas, too. 

We will certainly be sure to draw attention to those esteemed genre pictures, as well as some of the actor’s even more grounded work, in the following rundown of our picks for the best Ethan Hawke movies, with a tip on how you can stream them, digitally rent them, or purchase them on physical media. What better way to start things off than with his feature-length acting debut? 

The Explorers cast

(Image credit: Paramount)

Explorers (1985)

Using a blueprint that came to him in a recurring dream, a young B-movie fan (Ethan Hawke), his brainy friend (River Phoenix), and a third misfit teen they befriend (Jason Presson) construct a working space ship that takes them on the journey of a lifetime.

Why it’s one of the best Ethan Hawke movies: A then 15-year-old Ethan Hawke gives an inspired, star-making performance for his very first gig as the lead of director Joe Dante’s Explorers - a young sci-fi fans’ greatest fantasy come to life in thrilling and thought-provoking ways.

Stream Explorers on Starz.
Buy/rent Explorers digitally on Amazon.
Buy Explorers on Blu-ray/DVD on Amazon.

Ethan Hawke in Dead Poets Society

(Image credit: Disney)

Dead Poets Society (1989)

The lives of a close-knit group of high school students are changed dramatically by the eccentric personality and unorthodox teachings of their strict Catholic boarding school’s new literature teacher (Robin Williams) in the late 1950s.

Why it’s one of the best Ethan Hawke movies: Fun fact: Ethan Hawke was convinced Robin Williams hated him for his stark reactions to the comedian's on-set jokes while making director Peter Weir’s inspiring, heartbreaking coming-of-age classic Dead Poets Society, but one might say Hawke's earnest approach resulted in one of the all-time best performances of his career, let alone his teen years.

Stream Dead Poets Society on Amazon Prime.
Buy/rent Dead Poets Society digitally on Amazon.
Buy Dead Poets Society on DVD on Amazon.

Ethan Hawke in Gattaca

(Image credit: Sony)

Gattaca (1997)

In a future in which social class is determined and strictly enforced by one’s genetics, a man deemed inferior (Ethan Hawke) assumes the identity of a “perfect” specimen in the hope of achieving his dream of leaving Earth.

Why it’s one of the best Ethan Hawke movies: Another fun fact: Bill Clinton is apparently a fan of Gattaca (as he told Ethan Hawke while using the urinal next to him), which is likely due to the actor's engaging performance in director Andrew Niccol's inventive dystopian social commentary,

Buy/rent Gattaca digitally on Amazon.
Buy Gattaca on Blu-ray/DVD on Amazon.

Ethan Hawke in Sinister

(Image credit: Lionsgate)

Sinister (2012)

A true crime writer (Ethan Hawke), hoping to score his next bestseller, moves his family into a house infamous for a grisly murder that he discovers, upon closer examination, is connected to several other even more disturbing crimes which lead him to wonder if his family is next.

Why it’s one of the best Ethan Hawke movies: Despite kicking off his career with sci-fi thrillers, it would take a while for Ethan Hawke to reach “Scream King” status, which was cemented by his role in Sinister - a terrifying hybrid of mystery crime thrillers with haunted house movies, co-written and directed by future Marvel movie helmer Scott Derrickson.

Stream Sinister on Hulu.
Stream Sinister on Amazon Prime.
Stream Sinister on Tubi.

Buy/rent Sinister digitally on Amazon.

Buy Sinister on Blu-ray/DVD on Amazon.

Ethan Hawke in The Purge

(Image credit: Universal)

The Purge (2013)

In a future in which all crime is legal for one night a year, a security system salesman (Ethan Hawke) and his family become taunted by a maniacal group after his son offers refuge to a man they targeted for murder as the annual event began.

Why it’s one of the best Ethan Hawke movies: Ethan Hawke further cemented his reign as one of the top horror movie actors of this generation when he gave a commanding performance as the lead of the first of the Purge movies, which is, arguably, also the best installment of the enduring franchise of socially conscious thrillers it spawned.

Stream The Purge on HBO Max.
Buy/rent The Purge digitally on Amazon.
Buy The Purge on Blu-ray/DVD on Amazon.

Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy in Before Sunset

(Image credit: Warner Independent Pictures)

The Before Trilogy (1995-2013)

An American man (Ethan Hawke) and a French woman (Julie Delpy) spend an evening together in Vienna, spend an unexpected afternoon together while he promotes his novel in France, and then spend a day pondering the last several years of their relationship in Greece.

Why they are some of the best Ethan Hawke movies: Speaking of franchises, Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy first played Jesse and Celine in 1995’s Before Sunrise, reprised the roles nine years later for Before Sunset, and reunited after another nine years for Before Midnight to complete one of director Richard Linklater’s most ambitious experiments with time and one of the most romantic, amazingly authentic, and exquisitely acted movie trilogies ever.

Buy/rent Before Sunrise digitally on Amazon.
Buy/rent Before Sunset digitally on Amazon.

Stream Before Midnight on IMDb TV.
Buy/rent Before Midnight digitally on Amazon.

Buy The Before Trilogy on Blu-ray/DVD on Amazon.

Ellar Coltrane and Ethan Hawke in Boyhood

(Image credit: IFC Films)

Boyhood (2014)

A young man (Ellar Coltrane) endures various life-changing circumstances and some common issues involved with growing up from age 7 to 18. 

Why it’s one of the best Ethan Hawke movies: Perhaps writer and director Richard Linklater’s most ambitious experiment with time is Boyhood - a collection of chronologically assembled, astonishingly grounded vignettes our own Sean O'Connell called "a stunning work of art." It filmed over the course of 12 years with the same cast members, including Ethan Hawke in the Academy Award nominated role of the central character’s father.

Stream Boyhood on The Criterion Channel.
Buy/rent Boyhood digitally on Amazon.
Buy Boyhood on Blu-ray/DVD on Amazon.

Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke in Waking Life

(Image credit: Disney / Fox)

Waking Life (2001)

A man encounters various interesting people engaging in deep, philosophical dialogues while trying determine the distinct difference between what is his dream and what is his reality.

Why it’s one of the best Ethan Hawke movies: Writer and director Richard Linklater introduced an ambitious experiment in visual storytelling with Waking Life - the first feature-length film to use digital rotoscope animation, in which Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy shine together in their first official reprisal as Jesse and Celine.

Buy/rent Waking Life digitally on Amazon.
Buy Waking Life on Blu-ray/DVD on Amazon.

Ethan Hawke and Winona Ryder in Reality Bites

(Image credit: Universal)

Reality Bites (1994)

A valedictorian college graduate (Winona Ryder) begins to question what she wants for her future after meeting a video executive (Ben Stiller) who helps get her documentary about her friends on TV.

Why it’s one of the best Ethan Hawke movies: Speaking of deep, philosophical dialogues, Ethan Hawke’s slacker character, Troy, is a master of such in Reality Bites - the directorial debut of Ben Stiller that just might be the ultimate examination of Generation X-era identity crises.

Stream Reality Bites on Starz.
Buy/rent Reality Bites digitally on Amazon.
Buy Reality Bites on Blu-ray/DVD on Amazon.

Ethan Hawke and Gwyneth Paltrow in Great Expectations

(Image credit: Disney / Fox)

Great Expectations (1998)

An impoverished painter (Ethan Hawke) strives to achieve success, but all for the sake of winning the heart of the rich woman (Academy Award winner Gwyneth Paltrow) whom he fell in love with when he was a boy.

Why it’s one of the best Ethan Hawke movies: Another Ethan Hawke film that offers a thoughtful reflection of ‘90s counterculture, but through the subversive guise of a literary classic from the previous century, is Great Expectations - an inspiring, passionately performed, modernized reinterpretation of Charles Dickens’ epic romance directed by future Academy Award-winning filmmaker Alfonso Cuarón. 

Stream Great Expectations on Starz.
Buy/rent Great Expectations digitally on Amazon.
Buy Great Expectations on Blu-ray/DVD on Amazon.

Denzel Washington and Ethan Hawke in Training Day

(Image credit: Warner Bros.)

Training Day (2001)

On his first day as a narcotics officer for the Los Angeles police department, an idealistic rookie (Ethan Hawke) is shown the ropes by a veteran detective (Academy Award winner Denzel Washington) who proves to be the opposite of what he hoped for in a mentor.

Why it’s one of the best Ethan Hawke movies: Ethan Hawke received his first Academy Award nomination for his breath-taking performance in director Antoine Fuqua’s Training Day - an intense anti-thesis to the buddy cop drama dynamic from screenwriter David Ayer.

Stream Training Day on HBO Max.
Buy/rent Training Day digitally on Amazon.
Buy Training Day on Blu-ray/DVD on Amazon.

First Reformed

(Image credit: A24)

First Reformed (2017)

Years after suffering a devastating tragedy, a reverend from a sparsely attended church in upstate New York begins to have a crisis of faith and identity. 

Why it’s one of the best Ethan Hawke movies: While he did not receive an Academy Award nomination, many believe he gave the performance of his career in First Reformed - a stark, emotionally brutal psychological thriller from writer and director Paul Schrader, who is also known as the writer of 1976's Taxi Driver.

Stream First Reformed on Showtime.
Buy/rent First Reformed digitally on Amazon.
Buy First Reformed on Blu-ray/DVD on Amazon.

There is plenty to look forward to from Ethan Hawke beyond Moon Knight, such as his reunion with Scott Derrickson for The Black Phone. You can see the quick things we know about The Northman from Robert Eggers’, and what we know about the Knives Out sequel from Rian Johnson, because Hawke is in both of those, as well. He and Ewan McGregor will play half brothers in Rodrigo Garcia’s Ray and Raymond, and his family drama, Leave the World Behind (also starring Mahershala Ali and Julia Roberts), is now in pre-production. 

Jason Wiese
Jason Wiese

Jason has been writing since he was able to pick up a washable marker, with which he wrote his debut illustrated children's story, later transitioning to a short-lived comic book series and (very) amateur filmmaking before finally settling on pursuing a career in writing about movies in lieu of making them. Look for his name in just about any article related to Batman.