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Jackie Earle Haley’s Finest Performances in Movies and Television

There are several character actors out there who never truly receive their due as one of the finest actors working in Hollywood today. That is because the finest of these actors disappear so completely into their characters that often people don’t realize who the actor was underneath the Oscar or Emmy-worthy performance. One of the finest examples of this is the criminally underrated Jackie Earle Haley who has never won an Oscar, been featured in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, or led his own film franchise.

Fans of his work are well aware of his unrestrained genius. While actors like Jared Leto and Daniel Day-Lewis often make headlines for the over-the-top manner in which they drop into character, Haley proves to be just as chameleonic of a performer without the troubling reputation that follows certain other actors. He is able to be hilarious, disturbing, violent, creepy, and sympathetic, often all at the same time. So, without further ado, here are the top ten Jackie Earle Haley performances, ranked!


10 The Terror – The Tick

Jackie Earle Haley The Tick

Not many people watched Amazon Prime’s The Tick and that’s a shame. It was a brilliant parody of the superhero genre that featured colorful characters, great action sequences, and some truly terrific villains. Unfortunately, the show was completely overshadowed by the other superhero shows on the streaming service like Invincible and ESPECIALLY The Boys which both admittedly did a better job of deconstructing modern superhero media.

Still, one of the best performances in the show was Haley’s performance as one of the show’s most fearsome villains, The Terror. He is basically the ultimate evil in the world of The Tick, whose reappearance jump starts the entire plot of the show. It is a fine showcase of Haley’s chameleonic talent. Chances are most people had no idea it was him under all of that makeup.

9 Grewishka – Alita: Battle Angel

Jackie Earle Haley Alita
Troublemaker Studios

One of the most slept on movies of 2019 was without a doubt Alita: Battle Angel. The Robert Rodriguez directed cult classic is one of the few anime adaptations that is actually (mostly) beloved by the fanbase of the original source material. Despite the fact that it received surprisingly favorable reviews and plenty of positive word of mouth, the film failed to truly take off, making any sequels seem unlikely.

The film featured several terrifying cybernetic villains for Alita to battle against in high-flying action sequences. The most frightening and physically imposing of these enemies is Grewishka, the antithesis of everything Alita becomes over the course of the film. This is another role that few probably even realized it was Jackie Earle Haley. Part of that has to do with the fact that the typically small actor was digitally imposed upon an enormous robot, but it also had quite a lot to do with the performance.

Related: James Cameron & Robert Rodriguez Swear Blood Oath to Make Alita: Battle Angel 2

8 Freddy Krueger – A Nightmare On Elm Street

Jackie Earle Haley A Nightmare On Elm Street
New Line Cinema

It’s incredibly difficult to compete with a truly iconic performance or film. That’s how Jackie Earle Haley, and the rest of the cast, struggled to make his version of the dream monster known as Freddy Krueger in the remake of A Nightmare On Elm Street compete with the original version played by Robert Englund. While no one would ever claim that his take on the character is better than Englund’s, he is plenty formidable as he tortures a group of teenagers through their dreams and into the real world.

What truly makes his performance stand out are his chilling scenes as the human Freddy who interacted with the teenagers with they were children, largely in deleted scenes. For whatever reason, Haley is very talented at playing this type of creep and the alternate ending is sure to stay with anyone who watches it long after its chilling finale.

7 Guerrero – Human Target

Jackie Earle Haley Human Target

One of Haley’s lesser known roles really shows just how charismatic he can be when given the chance. The Fox television series Human Target may not have had a huge fanbase, but it made a big impression on those who did watch it, particularly Haley’s performance as Guerrero. Like the main character, Christopher Chance, he went rogue after being asked to carry out a mission that went too far. Unlike the other characters in the series, he was depicted as a shady, dangerous character who often used his underworld contacts to help the team.

He was the ultimate example of that supporting character in a network television show that really outshines the lead. His charisma, humor, complicated nature, and constant usage of the word “dude” made every scene that featured him one you didn’t want to take your eyes off of.

6 Odin Quincannon – Preacher

Jackie Earle Haley Preacher

Preacher is one of the most gleefully unhinged shows that has ever been on television. It features assassins, vampires, violent angelic beings, and all sorts of colorful characters who tend to possess a special talent for extraordinary violence. Few of these characters are quite as disturbing as Haley’s Odin Quincannon. He is one of the most powerful men in the show’s small Texan community. Aside from his ruthless acquisition of everything in his path, he also has a brutal philosophy. He believes that all people are simply meat that is no different from a cow or any other animal. This leads him to all sorts of disgusting, disturbing acts that are stomach-churning even by Preacher standards.

Given that this show was created by many of the same people as The Boys, it seems like it’s only a matter of time before he brings these same terrifying talents to that series as well. He wouldn’t be the only famous character actor to do so…

5 Alexander Stephens – Lincoln

Jackie Earle Haley Lincoln
Touchstone Pictures

Lincoln really is a film full of brilliant actors all working in tandem to bring forth one of the most important films of a generation. Daniel Day-Lewis, Sally Field, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, James Spader, David Starthairn, Tommy Lee Jones, John Hawkes, Lee Pace, Jared Harris, Tim Blake Nelson, Jeremy Strong, and Hal Holbrook all round out this cast along with Jackie Earle Haley. It tells the story of how Abraham Lincoln managed to end both the Civil War and slavery in the United States against incredible odds.

He plays Alexander Stephens, the Vice President of the Confederacy and thus one of Lincoln’s primary antagonists. It’s hard to stand up against an actor as powerful as Daniel Day-Lewis, but Haley does so with ease. He does have a long career of truly heinous performances to draw on that likely helped him pull this off.

4 Kelly Leak – The Bad News Bears

Jackie Earle Haley Bad News Bears
Paramount Pictures

There would be no other roles for Jackie Earle Haley if he hadn’t landed the role of Kelly Leak in the original sports classic The Bad News Bears. Even though he’s a kid, this is one of his most outrageous characters. Leak is a true troublemaker who smokes, drinks, does drugs, and drives a motorcycle with skill. He is the opposite of everything a wholesome kid’s sports movie is supposed to represent. He’s also the best player on the titular team, one that you can’t help but to root for.

Haley portrayed Leak several more times but what this really proved to be was a jumping-off point for his entire career. Sure, it would take a long time for him to land another role this great, but it’s undeniable that his career wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for this big break. It’s a true child-actor dream come true.

Related: The Bad News Bears to Get Rebooted at CBS with Female Lead

3 George Noyce – Shutter Island

Jackie Earle Haley Shutter Island
Paramount Pictures

The talent of a true character actor is judged by how memorable they are despite a limited amount of screen time in a movie. Anthony Hopkins famously won an Oscar for his performance as Hannibal Lecter in The Silence of the Lambs despite the fact that he only appeared in sixteen minutes of the film. Alan Rickman was only in around forty-three minutes of the entire Harry Potter series and wound up becoming one of the most memorable actors from the films.

For Jackie Earle Haley, he truly showed off this talent for Shutter Islandwhen he managed to terrify audiences for only about one scene in the entire film. His performance as the prisoner George Noyce who delivers a chilling monologue to Leonardo DiCaprio’s character is one of the most frightening moments of the entire film. That is saying something too.

2 Ronnie J. McGorvey – Little Children

Jackie Earle Haley Little Children
New Line Cinema

Strangely enough, Jackie Earle Haley has only been nominated for one Oscar over the course of his incredible career. That is for his creepy but somehow sympathetic performance as the pariah ex-con Ronnie J. McGorvey in Little Children. This character attempts to return to his old neighborhood after being jailed for heinous crimes against children. The film shines a light on this incredibly uncomfortable subject and Haley proves himself to be a fearless actor who has no issue making audiences squirm with discomfort.

Unfortunately, his Oscar nomination was completely overshadowed by the Supporting Actor drama that surrounded the awards show that year. While Eddie Murphy was famously the favorite for his performance in Dreamgirls, Alan Arkin took home a statue for Little Miss Sunshine after Murphy suffered a few big P.R. setbacks. It’s a shame that this took over what should’ve been a celebration of Haley’s most lauded performance.

1 Walter Kovacs/Rorschach – Watchmen

Jackie Earle Haley Watchmen
Warner Bros.

Was there any doubt about what would be number one on this list? There is NO DOUBT that Jackie Earle Haley’s finest performance to date, and likely his finest performance of all time, is that of the dark superhero Rorschach and his somehow even more twisted alter-ego Walter Kovacs in Watchmen. Despite the fact that he spends most of the film behind a constantly-changing mask, he infuses the troubled Rorschach with rage, loneliness, and complete single-minded obsession with the central mystery of the film. Things get even wilder when his mask is ripped off, revealing an animalistic man underneath who is somehow more terrifying than he was when he was a masked vigilante.

While this film is controversial, as any adaptation of an Alan Moore work or film by Zack Snyder is, it seems like every fan or detractor of the film is in complete agreement that Haley was pitch perfect in his performance of the comic’s most infamous character. It would be nice to know Alan Moore’s opinion, but it seems highly unlikely that he’ll ever see it to form any kind of opinion, positive or negative.

Related: Watchmen Creator Alan Moore Says He’s ‘Definitely’ Done with Comics

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