I’m going to be honest with you. I don’t really watch a lot of TV. I’m more of a movie kind of guy myself. But if I do watch TV, then there’s a good chance that John Cho is on the show, since he’s one of my favorite actors. And here’s the thing. He’s the best of both worlds! Yes, I’m sure you’ve seen a few John Cho movies here or there, and some of them make this list. But when it comes to the actor, I really can’t decide what I prefer to see him as more—A movie star or a TV star. Either way, you’re guaranteed to get a quality performance.
I first saw John Cho as the guy licking the picture of Stifler’s mom in American Pie, and I thought, who is this guy? But from those humble (and horny) beginnings to being Spike Spiegel in the upcoming live-action Cowboy Bebop, John Cho has consistently been surprising and engaging as an actor all throughout his career. I’m super looking forward to whatever John Cho is going to do next, but for now, here are his best performances in TV and movies, ranked.
10. Sleepy Hollow (Andy Brooks)
Sleepy Hollow was on for four seasons, but I stopped watching midway through Season 2. And do you know why? It’s because John Cho’s character, police officer, Andy Brooks, was no longer on the show in the second season. Well, that and because I kind of lost interest in the premise of Ichabod Crane solving mysteries in modern day times.
But I really did like John Cho’s character. He was haunted by the demon, Moloch, and it was fun watching him becoming one of Moloch’s accomplices. And while it wasn’t a groundbreaking performance, it sure was a very fun one. I would actually love to see John Cho do more “horror”. He’s good at it.
9. Mirai (Mr. Ota)
John Cho doesn’t have a huge role in the English dubbed version of Mirai, which is a trippy film where a young boy runs away from home and meets his baby sister as a teenager, but it’s a vital one. In this film, John Cho voices a stay-at-home father, and he sounds like a dad, as he is one in real life, which comes through in this vocal performance.
Mr. Ota is a great performance because you can hear that he’s really trying to be a good father to both of his kids, but it may not sound apparent to his eldest child. John Cho is the kind of actor who can just naturally sound like he’s trying (and failing) to keep everything under control, and it’s a real pleasure to hear him. I wish he’d do more voice work.
8. FlashForward (Demetri Noh)
Everybody talks about Firefly and Pushing Daisies—you know, shows that were cancelled way too soon—but how come I never hear anybody talking about FlashForward? The premise was about a global event where almost everybody lost consciousness and saw into the future, and the ramifications of said event. John Cho played FBI special agent, Demetri Noh, and he saw… nothing.
This haunts his character throughout the entire short-lived series (Does he die?), and we see him wrestle with this idea while still trying to uncover whether another event like this will ever happen again. His character arc is riveting, but somber, throughout. A great performance that is often overlooked.
7. Harold And Kumar Go To White Castle (Harold Lee)
Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle is the funniest movie I’ve ever seen in my entire life, and that’s no exaggeration. Starring alongside Kal Penn as the eponymous Harold, John Cho plays the straight man like no other. But here’s the great thing about his performance. It takes Asian stereotypes—like Harold being the investment banker who people take advantage of—and brings that man home to show us his real life—as the pot smoking dude who has the hots for his neighbor. What’s shocking is that even though it’s the year 2021, we still don’t have nearly enough movies that show Asian-Americans as just being regular people. At least not in the movie theaters anyway.
Harold and Kumar eventually became a trilogy, and this first movie set the groundwork for modern day stoner comedies. Some people may claim that Pineapple Express is the best stoner comedy of the past 20 years, but those people are wrong, and mostly because John Cho isn’t in that one.
6. The Exorcist (Andrew Kim)
The year is 2017, and unless it’s Better Call Saul, I’m not watching network TV. So why is it that in 2017, I was tuned into FOX? Well, the answer is simple. I heard John Cho was going to be on a TV version of The Exorcist, so I watched it. I didn’t watch the first season, which I heard was a direct follow-up to the original movie. But I did watch Season 2, where John Cho played a former child psychologist who ran a foster home.
Unlike Sleepy Hollow, which was meant to be fun, The Exorcist was meant to be scary. And while it wasn’t, I did love John Cho’s haunted performance as a foster parent trying to keep his family together, and struggling through a nightmare. John Cho is a definitive leading man, and it was a joy to see him in yet another horror TV show. Seriously, put this man in everything.
5. Star Trek (Hikaru Sulu)
Reboots are tricky things. Obviously, you have your set-in-place fans who will only love the original cast. But 2009’s Star Trek is that rare exception that both reveres the original series, but also does its own thing. And John Cho’s Hikaru Sulu is a great example of that.
Star Trek was always a show that was more interested in exploration than action, but 2009’s Star Trek had amazing action set pieces. John Cho played helmsman, Sulu, as the kind of man who could both pilot the Starship Enterprise, but also whip out a badass sword and save his captain in the same day. Look, I don’t even really like Star Trek (sorry!), but I loved this movie, and John Cho was a really big reason why.
4. A Very Harold and Kumar 3D Christmas (Harold Lee)
The first Harold and Kumar is still my favorite in the trilogy, but I especially love this third entry in the series since it shows such growth in Harold’s character. At the start of the film, Harold has become responsible, as he’s given up pot, has a successful job on Wall Street, and is trying to start a family with his wife. But since this is the Harold and Kumar series, the rest of the events turn into a fever dream that involves a search for a Christmas tree, the Russian mob, and Neil Patrick Harris returning as the perpetual horndog.
And Harold, once again, grounds it all. I think John Cho’s performance is especially impressive in this sequel since we’ve seen the way he’s grown as a character, but also that he’s still the same old Harold at heart, which is a tough balancing act to walk on. Yes, Kal Penn still gets all the best lines, but the film wouldn’t even work if John Cho’s Harold wasn’t in it.
3. Selfie (Henry Higgs)
Before Searching, there was Selfie, which is actually a modern-day retelling of My Fair Lady. John Cho plays Henry Higgs (Like Henry Higgins. Get it?), and his job is to take the social media obsessed Eliza Dooley (Played by Karen Gillan), and get her off the phone and talking to actual people.
I really can’t stand romantic comedies, but I found this short-lived series super endearing. John Cho’s character was equal parts bemused by Gillan’s character as he was charmed. For somebody who detests romantic comedies as much as I do to be hoping for their characters to get together is no small feat, but John Cho pulled it off. What can’t he do?
2. Columbus (Jin Lee)
Columbus is almost meditative in nature. It’s the story of two people—Jin Lee and Casey, played by John Cho and Haley Lu Richardson, respectively—who strike up a friendship in Columbus, Indiana, where they are both stuck in town because of their ailing parents. But for a movie that is mostly just people walking around and admiring architecture, there’s so much to be said about both pursuing dreams, and what holds people back from doing such things.
John Cho delivers a quiet performance in Columbus, but it’s impossible to look away. It’s the kind of film that you want to recommend to people, but you’re afraid they might find it boring. But then they actually watch it and they thank you for it later, and John Cho’s performance is at the center of why it’s so good.
1. Searching (David Kim)
I honestly don’t think Searching would have been as good as it was if not for John Cho. The concept of locating your daughter through online searches doesn’t really feel all that novel after a movie like Unfriended, which took place almost entirely on a series of screens. But there’s something about John Cho being the single dad to a grieving daughter—while also not allowing himself to grieve—that just elevates this movie to new levels.
John Cho represents every father dealing with a child living in the tech age, but there’s also just something about John Cho being an Asian father that lends itself to a different perspective that we rarely see in Hollywood cinema today. Plus, John Cho just goes through so many different emotions that you feel his frustration and fear in every scene. I love Searching, and I don’t think I even want to watch a sequel if he’s not going to be in it.
John Cho is that rare actor who I could watch in anything. Hell, I’m still dream casting him in movies like The Shining. I doubt that will ever come to be, but if it does, then you heard it here first. As for movies not featuring my main man John Cho, make sure to check out our 2021 new movie releases.