The news of Anton Yelchin’s death has been heartbreaking. The twenty-seven-year-old actor died in a tragic accident that robbed us of a truly talented individual. We’ve decided to take a look at some of our favorites roles of Yelchin’s in order to find some catharsis as well as let others know what a great performer he was.
Hearts in Atlantis (2001)
Yelchin’s first notable role would be in this loose adaptation of a Stephen King novella. The twelve-year-old actor proved he would be a performer worth watching when he could share the screen with the legendary Anthony Hopkins. From the outset, Yelchin captured youthful innocence with his role as Bobby Garfield, cementing himself as someone who could always tap into his inner child for future roles. The movie itself is a little uneven and saccharine but Yelchin came out the gate swinging with such a strong role. [Drew Dietsch]
Anton Yelchin, for an actor who died so young, pulled off an impressively long career. The performance that first put him on many people’s radars as a talented young man was Jason Clarke in the SciFi Channel miniseries Taken. This was also the very first performance I ever saw him in, making it particularly special to me. Even as a preteen, Yelchin showed a surprising amount of maturity and subtlety in his acting. This was necessary as Jason Clarke is a special young man, an alien hybrid with extraordinary powers. Not an easy role for child actors. Yelchin appears for only a few episodes, but his presence is one of the most memorable in a series that is full of great acting. The character largely launches the story. He shows the potential power of the aliens, and he dominates the life of the main villain, Owen Crawford.
Jason is an odd child, withdrawn from the world without knowing why, but also quietly aware that he is full of many great gifts. Yelchin pulled off a very sophisticated performance for one so young; vulnerable and sad in a way that was very reserved. His expressiveness would help him throughout his career. Here he creates an unspoken mood of incompleteness; the character is longing for something he cannot understand. I also picked Jason Clarke for another reason. This character is one who passes away at a very young age, despite his many great talents. It seems symbolic therefore that Anton Yelchin himself died so young, just as the first major character he played, when both had so much more to offer the world. [Eric Fuchs]
Alpha Dog (2006)
Nick Cassavetes’ true crime drama about the murder of Nicholas Markowitz is filled with tough whiteboy gangsters. At the center of these criminals is Zack (Anton Yelchin), a willing hostage who finds his captivity to be one of the best things to ever happened to him. Yelchin’s inherent sweetness infuses Zack with immediately likable traits, and following him on his adventure is as enjoyable as it is ultimately tragic.
Every scene with Yelchin makes you love this sheltered kid who just wants to party and have friends. The whole endeavor is made doubly emotional thanks to the opening credits which feature actual home footage of Yelchin as a young child set to a version of “Over the Rainbow.” I watched this for the first time after hearing about Yelchin’s death and seeing him as a smiling kid broke me. A tough watch but one that further solidified Yelchin as an actor you loved to love. [Drew Dietsch]
Star Trek (2009)
I have more than a few issues with the newly rebooted Star Trek films, but there’s one aspect that shines brighter than anything else in this series and that’s Yelchin’s performance as Ensign Pavel Chekov. While the original version of Chekov’s character could never get too far past his Russian heritage, Yelchin brought an energetic flair to the navigator of the USS Enterprise. His mad dash to save Kirk and Sulu from falling to their deaths is my favorite Chekov moment in all of Star Trek lore, and it showcases the enthusiasm and fun Yelchin brought to a character that was often remembered as something of a joke. Seeing him one last time in his Starfleet uniform when Star Trek Beyond comes out is going to be a painful experience since Yelchin will forever be my Chekov. [Drew Dietsch]
Terminator Salvation (2009)
Terminator Salvation is a film with a lot of flaws and missed opportunities but Anton Yelchin was not counted among them. Yelchin managed to play a pitch perfect Kyle Reese, weirdly managing to make himself seem like actor Michael Biehn had de-aged to reprise the role. Arguably the film’s biggest mistake was sidelining Yelchin at the end of the first act to pay attention to Christian Bale’s dull John Connor and Sam Worthington’s slightly less dull protagonist. It’s not a great film but like so many other of Anton Yelchin’s films, he was great in it. [Ryan Covey]
Fright Night (2011)
The 2011 remake of Tom Holland’s 1985 horror-comedy Fright Night was going to be difficult to pull off, but stellar casting and the right sense of humor made it work. The most important piece of the casting puzzle was that of the central character, Charley Brewster, a teen whose new next-door neighbor happens to be a vampire. Enter Anton Yelchin, riding high off of his role as Chekov in J.J. Abrams’ remake of Star Trek, a rising young star with puppy-dog eyes and an infectious smile.
Yelchin is believable in every way and is the kind of hero you want to root for. He plays the everyman with credibility and heart. His love for his mother and girlfriend are tangible, his guilt over abandoning his nerdy friendships for high school popularity feels genuine.
Almost every scene has Yelchin interacting with seasoned actors playing larger-than-life roles. He manages to hold his own with Colin Farrell’s sex-blood-and-rock-n-roll Jerry, Toni Collette’s overworked real-estate mom character, and even David Tennant riffing on Criss Angel in tight leather pants and a goth wig. Yelchin makes the ludicrous concepts in Fright Night feel possible, if not probable, and he does it with such intensity that it’s easy to get sucked right in. He brings humor, charisma, and overall an abounding sense of empathy to Charley. Charley would do anything for his mom and girlfriend, and he exhibits this time and again in the film. Even more than his roles as Chekov in Star Trek or even Charlie Bartlett in the film of the same name, Fright Night feels like Yelchin put a lot of himself into the role. He brought it to life and gave the movie its heart and soul. [Danielle Ryan]
Green Room (2015)
In the bloody horrorshow that is Green Room, Anton Yelchin’s Pat is our only true hero. He’s just the bass player of The Ain’t Rights, a D.C. area punk band, but by the end of the film he is reborn as a hardened survivor. When The Ain’t Rights book a gig in a remote punk venue, they find out that the place is owned by neo-nazi skinheads. But hey, they’re willing to pay the band a fair cut, and all The Ain’t Rights have to do is play a decent set.
Their set goes well enough, but Pat witnesses a murder when he stumbles into the venue’s green room. Soon, they’re locked in and surrounded by skinheads. And Pat, who just so happens to be Jewish, is the one tasked with negotiating with them.
By year’s end, Green Room will likely be remembered as one of 2016’s best thrillers. It’s full of twisted, gruesome violence and steely tension, and through all of it, Anton Yelchin shines through. He delivers an intensely focused performance dotted with small moments of levity. The vulnerability, fear, and courage Yelchin emotes on the screen make you identify with Pat, the reserved bass player who Jeremy Saulnier decided should be the hero because he seemed the most expendable.
Performances like the one in Green Room are the ones I’ll miss the most from Anton Yelchin. [Travis Newton]