There is no denying the fact that J.K. Simmons is one of the greatest actors alive today and there’s a case to made for him being one of the best of all time (as well as the busiest). With iconic performances in movies like Whiplash, Being the Ricardos, and the best Spider-Man movies, it’s safe to say his face (like his voice) is instantly recognizable and has the ability to draw you in. And then there are shows like Oz, where he managed to make one of the most detestable characters of all time into one of the most interesting.
But, deciding on a definitive list of the best J.K. Simmons movies and TV shows is no easy task — not because there are a lack of appropriate titles, but instead because there are just so many. So many, in fact, including them all here just wasn’t possible. Fear not, though, because I’ve put together a rundown of 10 of his great performances on streaming that you just have to check out.
After being bitten by a radioactive spider, Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire) is transformed into a web-slinging superhero protecting the streets and citizens of New York City. While most are supportive of the Web-Head, one particular daily newspaper editor sees him as nothing more than a menace, as well as an easy way to increase his daily circulation, in Spider-Man.
J.K. Simmons was born to play Daily Bugle chief J. Jonah Jameson in the live-action Spider-Man movies, and it’s impossible to imagine anyone else taking on the role of the high-strung newsman with a grudge against the friendly neighborhood superhero. The hair, the attitude, the boisterous voice, it’s all there. And his sudden appearance in the Spider-Man: Far From Home end credits scene was one of the biggest pops in a theater in a very long time.
Young and talented jazz drummer Andrew Neiman (Miles Teller) thinks he’s one of the best when enrolls at the prestigious Shaffer Conservatory in New York City, but he’s in for a reality check after falling under the direction of the intimidating Terence Fletcher (J.K. Simmons), a ruthless perfectionist who pushes his new student to their breaking point — physically, mentally, and emotionally.
Damien Chazelle’s masterful Whiplash features one of the most interesting performances of J.K. Simmons career, one that is both passionate and cruel throughout the movie about how far someone will go in order to be great. The psychological games his character plays with his students are borderline abusive, but it’s still hard to dislike the charismatic and diabolical instructor. Oh, and he won a slew of awards, including an Oscar and Golden Globe for this daunting performance.
Being The Ricardos (2021)
Aaron Sorkin’s 2021 biographical drama, Being the Ricardos, follows the cast of the legendary sitcom I l Love Lucy as they deal with the stresses of an intense production schedule, in-fighting on set, and a myriad of issues in their personal lives, all while still having to put on a happy face in front of millions of viewers every week.
J.K. Simmons received an Academy Award nomination for his portrayal of William Frawley, one of the co-leads of the beloved TV classic, and brings with him his uncanny ability to lose himself to the role. Sometimes it’s easy to forget it is Simmons playing the legendary TV actor and not some kind of reincarnation of the former Broadway star.
Oz (1997 - 2003)
One of the shows your parents warned you about in the ’90s, the HBO drama Oz spent six seasons following the lives of the various inmates and prison staff at the Oswald State Penitentiary (later changed to Oswald State Correctional Facility), with a major focus on those living in “Emerald City,” an experimental unit that has an opposite effect than its creator’s intentions.
Let me get this out of the way — J.K. Simmons’ character, Vernon Schillinger, is an irredeemable white supremacist who is undoubtedly one of the show’s most ruthless characters and one that makes his fellow inmates’ lives hell, especially Lee Tergesen’s Tobias Beecher. That being said, he is also one of the best-written characters in the history of TV and Simmons manages to add multiple dimensions to the Aryan Brotherhood leader in all six seasons.
Thank You For Smoking (2005)
Jason Reitman’s satirical comedy, Thank You for Smoking, which was based on Christopher Buckley’s novel of the same name, follows Nick Naylor (Aaron Eckhart), a charismatic and morally bankrupt lobbyist for Big Tobacco who tries defeat a massive anti-smoking campaign while also proving to his young son that he is not a bad person.
One of the things that makes Thank You for Smoking such a great (yet often forgotten) movie is its talented cast, which also includes Katie Holmes, William H. Macy, Robert Duvall, and none other than J.K. Simmons, who plays Nick’s over-the-top boss, B.R. Although he’s only in the movie for a few scenes, Simmons squeezes every second out of that time to give a commanding, and hilarious, take on a Big Tobacco executive who’ll do anything to sell smokes.
The 2007 Academy Award-winning coming-of-age comedy, Juno, follows a teenage girl (Elliot Page) who decides to give her unborn baby up for adoption after becoming pregnant during high school. This beautiful, funny, and at times heartbreaking movie touches on a number of issues, including love, commitment, and the fleeting nature of adolescence.
J.K. Simmons portrays Juno’s caring and compassionate father, Mac MacGuff, who stands by his daughter and her decisions throughout the movie with nothing but love and devotion to her, no matter what she decides to do with the baby. This is one of those roles that helps you remember that Simmons is more than an angry man who yells about Spider-Man, but also a gentle soul.
Up In The Air (2009)
Nominated for six Academy Awards, Jason Reitman’s 2009 comedy-drama, Up in the Air, centers on Ryan Bingham (George Clooney), a man whose job is to travel across the country and terminate people from various companies, agencies, and firms. But in the process of training a new hire, played by Anna Kendrick, the once sure-of-himself professional downsizer begins to see the world, and his job, a bit differently.
J.K. Simmons only appears briefly in Up in the Air as Bob, a man on the receiving end of one of Ryan’s firings, but like a lot of other Jason Reitman movies, Simmons makes the most of what little time he gets here. In a scene no longer than a few minutes, Simmons goes through an entire range of emotions from fear to anger and then finally to hope as he contemplates his future.
Sergio Pablos’ enchanting animated Christmas movie, Klaus, centers on a postman named Jesper Johansen (Jason Schwartzman) as he befriends a reclusive toymaker (J.K. Simmons) in hopes that they can bring much-needed happiness to his quiet yet melancholic village.
One of the best animated movies on Netflix, and one that was nominated for an Oscar following its release, this beautiful origin story of Santa Claus is made all the better with J.K. Simmons’ take on the character. His transformation from an imposing, closed-off giant of a man into a symbol of hope and joy is something else.
Palm Springs (2020)
The 2020 Hulu romantic comedy, Palm Springs, follows Nyles (Andy Samberg) and Sarah (Cristin Milioti), two wedding guests who find themselves stuck in a time loop at Sarah’s sister’s wedding. Similar to other great time loop movies, the pair are forced to get to the bottom of the mystery and escape the trap, even if it means costing them everything.
J.K. Simmons shows up as Roy Schlieffen, a man who comes up with inventive ways to torture and kill Nyles for getting him trapped in the endless time loop. Simmons’ character’s journey in Palm Springs is honestly one of the best of the movie and shows off the actor’s versatility, especially near the end.
The Closer (2005 - 2010)
For seven seasons, the critically-acclaimed crime procedural, The Closer, centered on LAPD Deputy Chief Brenda Leigh Johnson (Kyra Sedgwick) as she used her CIA training and unique set of skills to solve dozens of cases no one else could solve.
J.K. Simmons portrayed LAPD Assistant Police Chief Will Pope for the entire run of The Closer and gave one of the best, and most complicated, performances of the series. Having previously been in a relationship with Brenda Leigh Johnson, Simmons’ character was often still hung up on their past and wouldn’t let certain aspects of it go, making for an intense performance on his part.
This is just barely scratching the surface of what J.K. Simmons has given audiences over the years, as the veteran actor has taken on roles in movies like La La Land, Zack Snyder's Justice League, and For Love of the Game, to name only a few. And, with more movies coming out, like Batgirl, on the 2022 new movies schedule, expect to see much more of Simmons for years to come.
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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