Michael Fassbender‘s latest film, Assassin’s Creed, is only a drop in the bucket of his already prolific career. The German-Irish actor has starred in films of almost every genre, including major tentpole superhero films (X-Men: First Class), Oscar darlings (12 Years a Slave), and now, video game movies. There’s no doubting Fassbender’s ability to act, and he hopefully has a long career ahead of him. To celebrate the release of Assassin’s Creed and his upcoming role in Alien: Covenant, here are our picks for Fassbender’s best roles to date.
Ryan Aday on 12 Years a Slave
Michael Fassbender’s most difficult role to date might be his hard-to-watch depiction of Edwin Epps, a vicious slave owner in 12 Years a Slave. The part calls for blatant racism and misogyny as well as a very graphic scene of sexual assault. As hard as it was to watch, I assume it was equally as hard to act.
This Oscar-nominated performance showcases Fassbender’s range of abilities. Even in a role like this, he attempts to communicate the humanity of the character. He discussed this in a 2013 interview with The Daily Beast:
“It was grueling to find the inner workings of a human being in the character of Epps. I wanted the audience to catch glimpses of themselves in Epps, even for a millisecond, and not have the luxury of keeping themselves at an arm’s distance from him.”
Two particularly cruel scenes symbolize the darkness in the character of Epps. The first is a graphic sexual assault scene of a slave girl, Patsy. Second is the whipping of the main character Solomon Northup. Fassbender immerses completely into the role in a way that makes him look ugly even to his most loyal admirers. This type of role stretches even the most trained actor to their limits, often offering one of two conclusions: the actor is a horrible person or a terrific thespian.
Drew Dietsch on Inglourious Basterds
Though he certainly had established himself in a professional sense by the time Quentin Tarantino’s sixth film came around, not many members of the movie-going public really knew who Michael Fassbender was. That all changed when he classed up the screen as Lt. Archie Hicox in a vicious bit of revisionist history called Inglourious Basterds. After that film, everyone knew that chap’s name.
The pivotal pub scene in the film displayed Fassbender’s ability to be one of the coolest movie stars ever. His grace-under-pressure demeanor as a fake Nazi was the epitome of badass. And even when his ruse was revealed, he still managed to be awesome. “Well, if this is it, old boy, I hope you don’t mind if I go out speaking the King’s.” It was in that moment that an icon was born. He’s done great – and even better – work since then, but nothing will ever be quite as special as that signature sequence.
Danielle Ryan on Prometheus
Portraying an android without getting hammy isn’t easy. Portraying an android responsible for all of the awfulness that occurs in the Alien films is even more difficult. Fassbender does this with grace and a surprising amount of charisma as David in Ridley Scott’s Prometheus.
David is the android pseudo-son of Weyland, whose wicked manipulations cause most of the bad things in Prometheus to happen. Of course, David’s curiosity and lack of concern for the repercussions are also the reason the xenomorphs are once again unleashed upon the galaxy, but heyyy….
Prometheus is a bit of a mess with regards to its writing, but David is its protagonist even more than Dr. Shaw. Just as Shaw searches for the origins of mankind, David seeks answers of his own. It’s a nuanced, genuine performance that requires multiple viewings to fully appreciate. Fassbender will reprise the role (and take on an additional one) in Prometheus‘ sequel, Alien: Covenant.
Bob Aquavia on Centurion
Centurion is an underappreciated gem of an action movie, one that has a deep bench of talent involved. Frankly, it’s a shame it didn’t do nearly as well as it should have. The story mixes the historical legend of the missing Ninth Legion with a “behind enemy lines” chase twist. Michael Fassbender is in the lead role as Quintus Dias, and in a sly nod to the in medias res story, he himself states this story is neither the beginning nor the end.
In Marshall’s version, the Picts of early Britain betray and massacre the Ninth Legion. Dias and a small group are able to escape but are continuously hunted down by Olga Kurylenko’s Etain, a vengeful hunter/tracker who wishes death on any and all Roman for what they did to her and her people. As is the norm for this type of movie, not everyone makes it to the end. The chase reveals the true nature of these soldiers: some fall as heroes, others as cowardly traitors.
Fassbender is awesome as the unofficial leader of this wayward group. He brings a weary gravitas to the simple soldier that just wants to return home. It’s also very surprising to see so many other actors of his group that are now part of some of the biggest movies and tv shows; I won’t spoil them but there will be plenty of “hey, I know that person!” as you watch.
Eric Fuchs on Magneto
Ian McKellen’s turn at the supervillain Magneto in the original X-Men trilogy was one of the best parts of this franchise. So Michael Fassbender had very big boots to fill when it was his turn to play the younger Erik Lehnsherr in X-Men: First Class. Fassbender ended up being the best part of First Class and its sequels. Where McKellen was cold and reserved, Fassbender’s Magneto was intense and angry but magnetically charismatic. This performance managed to elevate weak screenwriting and cheesy films into something memorable. Magneto is never the star in the new retro trilogy of X-Men films, but he is definitely carrying these movies.
The scene that instantly comes to mind with the Fassbender Magneto is his confrontation with the Nazis in First Class. Fassbender comes across sarcastically jolly while speaking German to mock his targets. But then he cuts to English, now with a steel resolve and a flat tone. “I’m Frankenstein’s monster” is not the best one-liner, but Fassbender sells it perfectly. It’s a shame we have not gotten a movie devoted to just Magneto hunting German war criminals yet because this man could make that epic.
Drew Dietsch on Frank
You want proof that Michael Fassbender is one of our most talented and treasured actors? Look no further than Frank. Fassbender plays a deranged musical genius who gets sucked into the world of success. Doesn’t sound very special, does it? That probably because I forgot to mention that Fassbender plays the role while constantly wearing a gigantic cartoon head. You heard me right.
It’s awe-inspiring how Fassbender can communicate a plethora of emotions while never having the use of his actual face. The character of Frank is lovable, kooky, driven, tortured, manic, sad, and primarily hidden from the world thanks to his unique mask (based on Chris Sievey’s character Frank Sidebottom). And when the mask finally does come off, we’re treated to one of the most heartbreaking and impassioned musical finales in recent film history. It must be seen.
Not many actors would be willing to forego their ego and challenge themselves by never showing their face, but Fassbender does in Frank and it’s one of his absolute best performances. If you don’t get a bit weepy at the ending, you have no beauty left in your heart.
Danielle Ryan on Shame
Shame is not an easy film. Like his other films with director Steve McQueen, 12 Years a Slave, and Hunger, Fassbender really gives it his all portraying a truly complex character. In Shame, he portrays a man with a desperate sexual addiction. He doesn’t just need to have sex, he needs to have it almost constantly. It ruins what few personal relationships he has, leaves him feeling lonesome and empty, and nearly breaks him completely.
The NC-17 rated role required Fassbender to be completely bare, in more ways than one. He lays everything on the table in a scene where he has a nervous breakdown while jogging and reveals his emotional vulnerability. He also appears completely naked and has some very graphic sex scenes.
While drug addiction or alcoholism are regularly portrayed onscreen, sex addiction as shown in Shame is much rarer. Fassbender does some of his best work portraying a man obsessed so entirely with orgasms that he lets everything else in his life rot away.
Ryan Aday on Steve Jobs
When your performance is compared with Ashton Kutcher, the bar usually sits very low. Even so, Michael Fassbender exceeded all expectations with his portrayal of the controversial Apple founder and arguable genius, Steve Jobs. As a result, Fassbender earned Academy Award, Golden Globe, SAG, and Critics Choice nominations for best supporting actor.
His portrayal of the man behind the iPhone reflected the depth that made Jobs such a complex person. The honesty of the role led to many people close to Jobs expressing concern that it would damage his legacy. However, Jobs’ partner Steve Wozniak thought the film portrayal was accurate:
“These are well-known traits and there are stories we’ve heard about Steve Jobs. But when you see it portrayed dramatically, not the way it really happened but in a way that is emotionally graphic, it really conveys what Steve Jobs was really like inside… and what it was like to be around him.”
In fairness, Fassbender worked with a script from the best in the business in Aaron Sorkin. Sorkin teamed with Academy Award-winning director Danny Boyle to give this film an advantage most films do not receive. It appears unlikely that the Assassins Creed crew will be as talented.