Throughout his career, Alfred Molina has played historical figures like Diego Rivera and iconic comic book characters like Dr. Otto Octavius. With those characters and dozens of others, Molina is able to get the most out of each of his roles and make them feel human, even with those who are detestable, to say the very least. We see it all the time, and chances are we’ll continue to see as he career marches on.
If you watched Spider-Man: No Way Home and want to revisit some of Alfred Molina’s best movies, or perhaps take a journey through his catalogue of work for the first time, you have come to the right place. Below are 10 of his best film offerings plus a little bonus item at the end.
Spider-Man 2 (2004)
The second installment in Sam Raimi’s trilogy, Spider-Man 2 follows Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire) as he comes face-to-face with one of his deadliest enemies, Doc Ock (Alfred Molina), after a failed experiment turns the ambitious Dr. Otto Octavius into man driven mad by his own shortcomings and trapped in his own machine.
The strength of the movie lies in Molina’s portrayal of a man tortured by failure and guilt when his attempt to make the world a better place blows up in his face and takes everything he’s ever loved. Molina didn’t need to be this good in order for Spider-Man 2 to work, but we’re all better off because of his dedication to the role.
Julie Taymor’s 2002 Academy Award-winning biopic Frida focuses on the life of famed Mexican artist Frida Kahlo (Salma Hayek) from the accident that left her with lifelong injuries up to the opening of her first solo exhibition in her home country. Along the way, Kahlo meets and falls in love with Diego Rivera (Alfred Molina), a talented artist with problematic political affiliations.
Objectively, Diego Rivera is not a great person throughout Frida. He is stubborn, unfaithful to his wife, and difficult. Despite that, Alfred Molina finds the humanity in the man and his art and in turn creates a transfixing portrayal of the complicated artist.
Boogie Nights (1997)
Paul Thomas Anderson's Boogie Nights centers on the seedy world that was the San Fernando Valley in 1977 largely told through the eyes of busboy-turned-pornstar Eddie Adams (Mark Wahlberg), aka Dirk Diggler. This movie, like most of PTA’s work, has a large ensemble cast that tells a cautionary tale of fame, excess, and infamy with some of his best characters.
Alfred Molina shows up near the end of the movie as Rahad Jackson, a drug dealer Todd Parker (Thomas Jane) attempts to rip off much to the chagrin of Dirk Diggler and Reed Rothchild (John C. Reilly). Molina’s appearance, demeanor, and manic behavior make it to where you can’t stop watching even though something bad is waiting right around the corner.
Paul Thomas Anderson’s epic psychological drama Magnolia follows an assortment of characters whose lives are connected in one way or another. One of the main focuses of the movie is on Donnie Smith (William H. Macy), who won a quiz show as a kid but never amounted to anything in adulthood. Just before reaching his breaking point, Donnie is fired from his job during a comical yet intense scene with his employer Solomon Solomon (Alfred Molina).
This is another Alfred Molina performance where he gets so much out of so little and provides one of the best scenes of the movie. When you watch or rewatch this scene, just focus on Molina’s facial expressions (specifically his eyebrows) and pick up the story they tell. You could even watch it on mute and still pick up exactly what he’s thinking and feeling.
Prick Up Your Ears (1987)
Directed by Stephen Frears, the 1987 biographical drama Prick Up Your Ears tells the story of British playwright Joe Orton (Gary Oldman) and his companion Kenneth Halliwell (Alfred Molina) as they go from drama school classmates to friends and eventually lovers. But all is not well with the relationship and the pair begin to drift in two different directions when Orton finds professional successes, triggering something in his lover.
This is not to take anything away from Gary Oldman’s performance in Prick Up Your Ears, but Alfred Molina steals the show whenever he’s on screen here. The way in which he captures the fear, hurt, and disgust of his character is truly something to behold and takes the movie to a higher level.
An Education (2009)
Lone Scherfig’s 2009 coming-of-age drama An Education follows Jenny Mellor (Carey Mulligan), a teenager with dreams of attending Oxford University who is swept off her feet by an older sophisticated man named David Goldman (Peter Sarsgaard). The fast and furious romance seems like the real deal and even Jenny’s parents Jack (Alfred Molina) and Marjorie (Cara Seymour) are impressed by the dashing man, but all is not as it appears.
There are a few standout moments by Alfred Molina throughout An Education with the most heartbreaking of the bunch coming in a pivotal scene in which Jack attempts to apologize to his daughter after a terrible revelation. Though the apology is far from perfect, Molina is able to capture the pain and misgivings of a father who thought he was doing the right thing.
Lasse Hallström’s 2002 drama Chocolat tells the story of Vianne Rocher (Juliette Binoche), a free-flowing chocolatier who arrives in a modest and rather strict French village and impacts the lives of the townspeople by opening their eyes to new experiences. Vianne finds success with with a chocolate shop and with strong relationships with several people in town, but finds resistance with its mayor Comte de Reynaud (Alfred Molina), which leads to a series of complications.
The character of Comte de Reynaud could have been just your standard authority figure who resists change, but Alfred Molina’s portrayal makes the town leader seem all the more complicated and realistic. This isn’t to say he’s a great person, but he is far from evil or immune to redemption.
Love Is Strange (2014)
Love is Strange, a 2014 romantic drama film directed by Ira Sachs, follows Ben Hull (John Lithgow) and George Garea (Alfred Molina), a same-sex couple who decide to tie the knot after nearly 40 years a couple. But when this news is discovered by George’s employer, the Archdiocese of New York, he is fired and the couple is forced to live in separate apartments with friends and family until they can find a home they can afford together.
No surprise here but Alfred Molina and John Lithgow are astonishing in Love is Strange and have this chemistry that makes them seem like much more than characters on the screen. Both are at the top of their game here and make it a movie that you have to watch.
The Front Runner (2018)
Jason Reitman’s 2018 political drama The Front Runner explores how Gary Hart (Hugh Jackman) went from Democratic presidential nominee in 1988 to another political figure haunted by past relationships. Over the course of the hectic episode, multiple people enter the fray looking for blood, including journalists at The Washington Post, including edited Ben Bradlee (Alfred Molina) who is facing crises of his own with the changing media landscape.
Alfred Molina’s Ben Bradlee is neither hero nor villain in The Front Runner, but instead a complicated man somewhere in the middle. His decisions in covering of the Gary Hart scandal weigh heavily on him throughout the movie and that wear and tear of his psyche is portrayed beautifully by the actor.
The Normal Heart (2014)
Ryan Murphy’s 2014 HBO original film The Normal Heart follows Alexander “Ned” Weeks (Mark Ruffalo) as he leads a crusade alongside other gay men across the country to expose the truth behind the AIDS crisis and to raise awareness for treatment before it’s too late. In addition to convincing the public of the grave situation, Ned must also win over his older and more conservative brother Ben Weeks (Alfred Molina).
One of the biggest threads throughout The Normal Heart is the brotherly relationship shared by Ned and Ben Weeks, which is made all the better by Mark Ruffalo and Alfred Molina. The way they play off one another looks and feels less like two actors on a soundstage and more like two brothers trying to understand one another.
BONUS: Raiders Of The Lost Ark (1981)
Before he was sitting atop the box office with one of the biggest Marvel Phase 4 movies, Alfred Molina made his feature film debut as the double-crossing guide Satipo who betrayed Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) in Raiders of the Lost Ark. Molina is only in the movie for a few minutes at best, but you have to start somewhere…
Hopefully this helps you figure out which of Alfred Molina’s best movies you would like to explore. There’s a lot to choose from, but it’s hard to go wrong with such a talented and prolific actor.
Philip grew up in Louisiana (not New Orleans) before moving to St. Louis after graduating from Louisiana State University-Shreveport. When he's not writing about movies or television, Philip can be found being chased by his three kids, telling his dogs to stop yelling at the mailman, or yelling about professional wrestling to his wife. If the stars properly align, he will talk about For Love Of The Game being the best baseball movie of all time.
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