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Bryan Cranston’s 10 Best Roles, Ranked


Summary

  • Cranston’s versatility shines in roles like Dr. Tim Whatley in Seinfeld, showcasing his comedic talent and paving the way for future successes.
  • His portrayal of Jack O’Donnell in Argo proves Cranston’s ability to excel in serious roles, adding depth and nuance to his characters.
  • From Walter White in Breaking Bad to Hal Wilkerson in Malcolm in the Middle, Cranston’s performances set a new standard for acting in both TV and film.



Bryan Cranston is undoubtedly an actor who has mastered his craft, and these roles are perfect examples of his undeniable talent. From his breakout role as the iconic character Walter White in Breaking Bad to his comedic brilliance as Hal Wilkerson in Malcolm in the Middle, Cranston has consistently delivered performances that showcase his incredible range and versatility. His work in films like Trumbo and Argo further demonstrates his ability to tackle complex, real-life characters with depth and authenticity.

Cranston’s dedication to his craft and his commitment to fully immersing himself in each role have earned him critical acclaim and numerous accolades throughout his career. Whether he’s portraying a ruthless drug kingpin, a quirky father figure, or a blacklisted Hollywood screenwriter, Cranston brings a level of nuance and authenticity to every character he embodies. His performances have not only entertained audiences, but have also set a new standard for acting in both television and film.



10 Patrick Clump

The X-Files (1993-2018)

Bryan Cranston’s portrayal of Patrick Clump in The X-Files showcases his exceptional acting abilities, foreshadowing his future iconic roles. In season 6, episode 2 “Drive,” Cranston skillfully embodies a man plagued by an inexplicable auditory affliction, conveying the character’s desperation and anguish through his physical performance. His portrayal of Clump’s mental and physical torment is a clear precursor to his later work, particularly his groundbreaking role as Walter White in Breaking Bad.


Cranston’s performance in this X-Files episode is a pivotal moment in his career, as it caught the attention of Vince Gilligan, the creator of Breaking Bad, who was working on The X-Files at the time. Gilligan’s recognition of Cranston’s talent and the impact of this specific role in his casting decision for Breaking Bad underscore the significance of this performance. While this episode may not be the absolute pinnacle of Cranston’s career, it serves as a crucial stepping stone, demonstrating his versatility and ability to fully immerse himself in complex, emotionally charged characters.

9 Chief

Isle of Dogs (2018)


Bryan Cranston’s voice acting in Wes Anderson’s stop-motion animated movie, Isle of Dogs, elevates the character of Chief, a stray canine, to new heights. Cranston’s performance imbues Chief with depth and authenticity, bringing life to the quirky and imaginative world created by Anderson. His vocal portrayal seamlessly blends with the film’s eccentric narrative, which follows a young boy’s search for his lost dog on an island populated by abandoned canines.

Cranston’s voice work in Isle of Dogs stands out among an already impressive ensemble cast, which includes notable Anderson collaborators like Edward Norton, Jeff Goldblum, and Bill Murray. His delivery of memorable lines showcases his ability to convey emotion and humor through voice acting alone. This role demonstrates Cranston’s capacity to excel in various mediums, further solidifying his position as a skilled performer.


8 Vince Lonigan

Sneaky Pete (2015-2019)

sneaky pete

sneaky pete

Sneaky Pete was created by Bryan Cranston and David Shore and stars Giovanni Ribisi, Shane McRae, Marin Ireland, and Libe Barer. The Drama and Crime series ran for three seasons between 2015 and 2019 and revolved around a convicted con man that now finds himself being hunted by a gangster now that’s he out of prison.

Cast
Giovanni Ribisi

Release Date
August 7, 2015

Seasons
3

In the Amazon original series Sneaky Pete, Bryan Cranston takes on the role of Vince Lonigan, a menacing gangster who poses a significant threat to the show’s protagonist, Marius. Drawing from his experience portraying complex characters, Cranston leads the role with a commanding presence, creating a formidable adversary for Marius. Cranston’s performance as Vince is a masterclass in subtle intimidation and calculated menace, adding depth and tension to the series.


Cranston’s impact on Sneaky Pete, despite his limited appearance, is undeniable. His portrayal of Vince Lonigan elevates the series, demonstrating his ability to create compelling characters even in supporting roles. This performance may not have the same cultural impact as his work in Breaking Bad or Malcolm in the Middle, but it is evidence of Cranston’s proficiency as an actor, further establishing his position as one of the most gifted performers of his generation.

7 Dr. Tim Whatley

Seinfeld (1989-1998)


In the iconic sitcom Seinfeld, Bryan Cranston’s recurring role as Dr. Tim Whatley, Jerry’s eccentric dentist, displays the comedic talent that Cranston is known for. His portrayal of Dr. Whatley is consistently hilarious, with the character displaying a complex and often ambiguous personality that adds an extra layer of humor to the already hilarious series. This role serves as a significant milestone in Cranston’s comedy career, foreshadowing his future success as Hal in Malcolm in the Middle.

Cranston’s performance as Dr. Tim Whatley demonstrates his skill at seamlessly blending into his roles, exhibiting impeccable comedic timing that allows him to shine even when sharing the screen with comedy icon Jerry Seinfeld. This role is a clear indication of Cranston’s perfection at excelling in both comedic and dramatic roles, setting the stage for his future career-defining performances.


6 Jack O’Donnell

Argo (2012)

Argo Movie Poster

Argo

Argo is a historical thriller adapted from the memoir of CIA operative Tony Mendez. The film follows Mendez as he infiltrates Tehran, Iran, by pretending to be filming a sci-fi movie during the Iran hostage crisis at the beginning of the 1980s. Ben Affleck stars as Mendez as he infiltrates to save the six escaped embassy staff members.

Release Date
March 22, 2012

Runtime
120minutes

Argo is Ben Affleck’s directorial triumph that recounts the incredible true story of a daring rescue mission during the Iran hostage crisis in 1979, with Bryan Cranston delivering a compelling performance as Jack O’Donnell, a crucial CIA officer orchestrating the operation behind the scenes. Cranston portrays O’Donnell as a resolute and authoritative figure working tirelessly to ensure the success of the mission. His performance is marked by a sobering honesty, effortlessly navigating between moments of anger and comedy, adding depth and nuance to the character.


There is a keen understanding of when to intensify the emotional tone and when to allow the material to breathe, which is particularly evident in the film’s suspenseful climax. Cranston’s performance in Argo surpasses his previous work in terms of dramatic weight and contribution to the overall narrative, showcasing his growth as an actor and his ability to excel in more serious roles. While not the central focus of the film, Cranston’s portrayal of Jack O’Donnell is a crucial component in the success of Argo.

5 Dalton Trumbo

Trumbo (2015)


In the biographical drama Trumbo, Bryan Cranston delivers a captivating performance as Dalton Trumbo, the blacklisted Hollywood screenwriter, earning him a well-deserved Academy Award nomination for Best Actor. Cranston’s portrayal of Trumbo speaks to his ability to bring depth and humanity to a historical figure, despite the scarcity of reference material available. He masterfully captures Trumbo’s essence, embodying the screenwriter’s wit, resilience, and commitment to his craft in the face of adversity.

With his performance in Trumbo, Cranston showcased his growth and expertise in tackling complex, real-life characters with nuance and authenticity. His portrayal of Trumbo is a perfect blend of humor and drama, as he navigates the character’s personal and professional struggles during the Hollywood blacklist era. Cranston’s physicality and mannerisms bring Trumbo to life, making him a fully realized and compelling figure on screen.


4 Shannon

Drive (2011)

Drive

Starring Ryan Gosling as an unnamed Hollywood stunt driver (identified only as “the Driver”) who moonlights as a criminal getaway driver, Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive follows the enigmatic Driver as he finds himself hunted by a gang of violent criminals. After becoming close with his neighbors, the Driver offers to help Standard (Oscar Isaac), who was recently released from prison, settle a debt with a robbery. But the job is far more complicated than it seems, and the Driver is forced to use everything at his disposal to survive. 

Director
Nicolas Winding Refn

Release Date
September 16, 2011

Writers
Hossein Amini

Runtime
100 minutes

In Nicholas Winding Refn’s independent thriller Drive, Bryan Cranston takes on the supporting role of Shannon, a mechanic and loyal friend to Ryan Gosling’s mysterious protagonist. Cranston’s portrayal of Shannon is a departure from his more prominent roles. However, he approaches the character with the same level of dedication and skill that he brings to his leading performances. His commitment to the role is evident in the way he embodies Shannon’s honest and steadfast nature, providing a grounding presence in the film’s intense and dangerous world.


Cranston’s performance in Drive is particularly notable for his involvement in shaping a pivotal scene involving his character’s demise. His creative input and attention to detail demonstrate his deep understanding of storytelling and his ability to elevate a supporting role to new heights. Cranston’s portrayal of Shannon is a critical component of the film’s success, adding depth and authenticity to the narrative. This role serves as a prime example of Cranston’s talent and his ability to make a significant impact, even in smaller, supporting roles.


3 Michael Desiato

Your Honor (2020-2023)

As Michael Desiato, a conflicted judge faced with an impossible decision in the series Your Honor, Bryan Cranston delivers a performance that draws upon the depth and intensity of his iconic role as Walter White in Breaking Bad. Cranston’s character in Your Honor of a father willing to compromise his principles to protect his son is a testament to his ability to bring complexity to his characters. He elevates the series beyond its script, infusing Michael Desiato with a rich inner life and a palpable sense of desperation as he navigates the consequences of his choices.


Cranston’s commanding screen presence and subtle facial expressions in Your Honor convey the character’s inner turmoil, making his gradual unraveling all the more compelling to watch. His performance surpasses many of his previous roles, showcasing his unparalleled skill in portraying characters grappling with moral dilemmas and personal crises. Cranston’s ability to seamlessly transition between moments of intense emotion and quiet introspection adds depth and authenticity to Michael Desiato’s journey. Cranston’s performance alone makes Your Honor a must-watch.

2 Hal Wilkerson

Malcolm in the Middle (2000-2006)


In the beloved sitcom Malcolm in the Middle, Bryan Cranston’s portrayal of Hal Wilkerson is a comedic tour de force, showcasing the actor’s incredible range and ability to fully immerse himself in a character. Throughout the series, Cranston brings Hal to life with an infectious enthusiasm and a willingness to push the boundaries of his performance, creating a character that is both relatable and hilariously absurd. His portrayal of the well-meaning but often misguided father figure is a perfect blend of physical comedy, witty dialogue, and genuine heart, making Hal one of the best characters of Malcolm in the Middle.

The depth and authenticity Cranston brings to the role of Hal Wilkerson elevates it beyond a mere caricature, creating a character that is both laughable and deeply human. His performance in Malcolm in the Middle adds to the impact on the series and its enduring legacy in the world of television sitcoms. While Cranston has not taken on a fully comedic role since the conclusion of the show in 2006, his portrayal of Hal remains a highlight of his career and a beloved character in the hearts of fans.


1 Walter White

Breaking Bad (2008-2013)

Breaking Bad TV Poster

Breaking Bad

Breaking Bad, created by Vince Gilligan, follows a chemistry teacher turned drug kingpin named Walter White (Bryan Cranston) as he attempts to provide for his family following a fatal diagnosis. With nothing left to fear, White ascends to power in the world of drugs and crime, transforming the simple family man into someone known only as Heisenberg.

Release Date
January 20, 2008

Seasons
5

Writers
Peter Gould , Gennifer Hutchison , Vince Gilligan , George Mastras , Moira Walley-Beckett , Sam Catlin , Thomas Schnauz

In Breaking Bad, Bryan Cranston plays one of television’s most iconic characters, Walter White, delivering a performance that is unparalleled in its depth, complexity, and cultural impact. As the series progresses, Cranston skillfully navigates the character’s transformation from a mild-mannered chemistry teacher to a ruthless drug kingpin, capturing every nuance of Walter’s psychological journey. His ability to convey the character’s moral descent and the toll his choices take on his family and loved ones is nothing short of remarkable.


Walter White stands as the pinnacle of Bryan Cranston’s career, showcasing his extraordinary talent and dedication to his craft. The impact of his performance extends beyond the series itself, with many praising Cranston’s work as the best acting they have ever seen. Bryan Cranston’s portrayal of Walter White will undoubtedly be remembered as a landmark achievement in television history, setting a new standard for dramatic performances in the medium.



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