15 Best James Spader Movies, Ranked (According To Rotten Tomatoes)

Everyone knows and loves James Spader today for his roles in TV series like The Office, Boston Legal, and, of course, his leading role on The Blacklist. James Spader movies and TV shows run the gamut from dramas to comedies, quirky and eccentric to thrilling.

But Spader has been acting since the '80s and has appeared in some of the most notable movies of the '80s and '90s. Known for portraying eccentric characters who don't quite fit the mold just like Raymond Reddington in The Blacklist, Spader is sought after for his ability to captivate audiences and fully immerse himself in a role. Here are his best movie performances, according to RottenTomatoes.

Updated on September 11th, 2022 by Christine Persaud: James Spader is one of the most prolific actors of this generation, appearing in a long list of movies but also some of the best TV shows. He fully immerses himself in every career, and has done so since he began acting back in the 1970s. While he reached the peak of his career in the '80s and '90s, Spader achieved a resurgence in the aughts with some memorable roles. He continues to take the acting world by storm, with many movies from then and now that rank among his best.


15 Wolf (1994) - 63%

James Spader with glossy eyes looking at a woman in a scene from Wolf.

This werewolf movie follows Will Randall (Jack Nicholson) who is bitten by a wolf and finds that he feels younger and has more energy after the incident. Randall is fired from his position as a book editor and has been replaced by a younger more aggressive editor (Spader) while falling for his former boss's daughter (Michelle Pfeiffer) and trying to figure out how to reckon with the possibility that he's a werewolf.

RELATED: 10 Best TV Shows And Movies Featuring Werewolves

Spader is known for his ability to tackle villainous roles, but also very multi-layered characters, and he achieves both in spades in this film.

14 Bad Influence (1990) - 63%

james spader and rob lowe in a black and white photo from the movie bad influence

Bad Influence follows Alex (Rob Lowe) and Michael (Spader) who are completely different people but they cross paths when Alex saves Michael from a bar fight. Both actors were considered members of the Brat Pack, and were in some of the best Brat Pack movies from the '80s.

The wild and hedonistic Alex teaches the mild-mannered Michael how to let loose, but everything quickly gets out of hand as Michael's life starts to fall apart from his job to his engagement to his relationship with his brother. Michael turns on Alex and tries to rebuild his life and the two have to face off against each other.

13 Crash (1996) - 64%

A man and woman look on in Crash

Crash has a unique and original premise as it has a cast of characters who are obsessed with the danger they feel being involved in or seeing car crashes. The movie delves into the fascination behind danger and that some people eroticize it, including the characters in this movie like James Ballard (Spader).

The movie is more about the feeling and plot instead of the characters. There was plenty of controversy surrounding its strange premise, but it was largely thanks to performances from the talented cast, including the lead role by Spader, that sold it. The film developed a cult following.

12 Storyville (1992) - 67%

James Spader sitting in court, a woman behind him in a scene from the movie Storyville.

Featuring a young James Spader, he stars in this movie as a lawyer in New Orleans who takes on a case and quickly unravels an entire conspiracy centering around himself and his family. It's not the only time Spader has played a lawyer: he did so in the TV show Boston Legal as well and his ability to pull off smug and pompous shone in both.

RELATED: 10 Best Portrayals Of Lawyers In Film

Cray Fowler (Spader) is a young lawyer who is blackmailed when someone secretly films him soliciting a prostitute. A conspiracy involving his father, his family fortune, and various political figures in New Orleans is revealed throughout the movie.

11 Baby Boom (1987) - 70%

James Spader in Bbay Boom

This romantic comedy from 1987 ranks as one of Spader's best movies to date despite being largely forgotten. Released during the 9-to-5 female empowerment era, it starred Diane Keaton as J.C. Wiatt, a career woman who thrives on her demanding job but leaves no room for romance or relaxation. That is until she ends up responsible for the young child of a deceased cousin.

Spader plays Wiatt's power-hungry young apprentice in the advertising business, who starts to take over a big account, and leave her out of decisions when she becomes too busy caring for her child. Once again, he beautifully captures the young, ambitious go-getter who believes he's better than others and wants to take charge.

10 Jack's Back (1988) - 71%

James Spader in Jack's Back, looking down and smoking a cigarette.

Jack's Back is about a string of killings that mimic the Jack the Ripper killings. The police suspect a doctor (Spader) is responsible for the copycat murders. All suspicions are put aside when the doctor himself is killed and his twin brother (also Spader) claims that he is having visions of the murders and tries to help solve the cases to clear his brother's name and find justice.

Only an actor like Spader could pull off a complex, dual role like this one. While the concept of actors playing two distinct characters has been done again and again by now, back in the '80s, it wasn't so common. But Spader made it look easy.

9 Pretty in Pink (1986) - 73%

James Spader in a scene from Pretty in Pink, wearing a robe and no shirt, blonde hair long and swept.

One of the most iconic teen rom-coms of the '80s, Pretty in Pink starred Brat Pack actors like Molly Ringwald and Andrew McCarthy, along with Spader in a supporting role. He played Steff McKee in this coming-of-age film, the wealthy and arrogant kid who liked to bully and harass others.

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Like many bullies in real life, McKee was secretly insecure and had a crush on Andie (Ringwald's main character), angry that she had rejected his advances. Spader was perfect for the role, a convincingly insecure young man who used arrogance and feigned disinterest to mask his self-doubt.

8 Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015) - 76%

Ultron from the movie Avengers: Age of Ultron, looking angry, fist in the air with red eyes.

Some might not even have realized that an MCU film ranks among James Spader movies, but Spader played Ultron in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) film Avengers: Age of Ultron. Not only did he provide the voice for the character, he also acted out the movements using motion capture technology.

Despite his face never being seen on camera, this role ranks among Spader's best. He proved that even with the voice and mannerisms of a scary AI robot, he was able to show his tremendous talents. It's the type of movie fans watch again and again, with subtle details you might have missed in Avengers: Age of Ultron the first time around.

7 Secretary (2002) - 78%

A young woman spitting into James Spader's hand in the movie Secretary, him unaffected and deep in conversation with someone else.

This erotic romantic comedy-drama is totally weird yet also wonderful. It stars Maggie Gyllenhaal as the submissive secretary to a dominant lawyer, played by Spader. While working together they also engage in various BDSM activities.

Naturally, Spader's character, E. Edward Grey, is pretty eccentric and begins to get aroused by how obedient she is. It's the type of movie that would never fly today, but clearly, viewers loved Spader's nuanced performance. He tackled it with a passion and dedication that only actors like Spader could achieve.

6 Wall Street (1987) - 78%

James Spader wearing glasses, button shirt and tie, foot up on his desk, pencil in hand in a scene from Wall Street.

Another widely popular film from the '80s, which saw a remake in 2010, this Academy Award-winning movie about the busy stock market and trading world starred Michael Douglas, Charlie Sheen, and Daryl Hannah.

RELATED: Wall Street & 9 Other Great Movies About Money

Spader had a small role as Roger Barnes, who was related to one of the senior partners at a corporate law firm and was integral in influencing some of the bad decisions stockbroker Bud Fox (Sheen) made in the film. Fox eventually joined forces with a wealthy and ruthless corporate raider named Gordon Gekko (Douglas). Spader's role was only a supporting one, but his scenes stood out thanks to his always convincing performances.

5 The Homesman (2014) - 80%

James Spader in period clothing, red hair with his fingers to his breast pockets in a scene from The Homesman.

One of the newer films on Spader's resume, this historical drama from 2014 was set in the 1850s Midwest and had a star-studded cast that included Hilary Swank, Meryl Streep, Grace Gummer, John Lithgow, and Hailee Steinfeld along with Spader.

Directed by Tommy Lee Jones and based on the 1988 novel by Glendon Swarthout, Spader's character was Aloysius Duffy, a hotel owner who ends up getting shot. It was a small yet impactful role in the film that proved even when he isn't a leading man, Spader still manages to stand out.

4 Lincoln (2012) - 89%

James Spader in Lincoln with curly hair and a twirled moustache.

Nominated for 12 Academy Awards, including one for Daniel Day-Lewis for playing President Abraham Lincoln (which he won), this 2012 biographical historical drama is another that saw Spader in a supporting role.

RELATED: Top 10 Movies About U.S. Presidents

He played Republican Party operative William N. Bilbo who was sent to prison, freed by Lincoln, and lobbied for the Thirteenth Amendment to abolish slavery. In this role, Spader proved that he could not only play fictional characters and bring them to life, he could also embody real people from history, and play them with ease, too.

3 Bob Roberts (1992) - 95%

Tim Robbins from the movie Bob Roberts, shaking hands with people during a political event.

Tim Robbins headed up the cast of this 1992 satirical mockumentary film, which he also wrote and directed. Bob Roberts also ranks among Tim Robbins' best movies, according to Rotten Tomatoes. Marking Spader's second-best film performance ever, according to RottenTomatoes, he plays Chuck Marlin, a local news reporter for a fictional radio station WLNO.

The film itself is based on a character that Robbins originated on Saturday Night Live, a right-wing politician who pursues his conservative agenda with an intense passion. Spader showed some comedic chops in this role, a departure from his usually more serious roles.

2 Sex, Lies, and Videotape (1989) - 96%

James Spader in a scene from Sex, Lies & Videotape, standing by a world map on the floor, hand beside it looking at someone longingly.

One of Spader's quirkiest roles, this independent drama saw Spader in a leading role as a man who videotaped women talking about their lives and sexuality. Credited with helping revolutionize the independent film movement in the '90s, this 1989 film remains one of Spader's best performances to date. It's also one of Steven Soderbergh's best movies to date, according to Letterboxd.

The movie itself has been deemed culturally significant, added to the Library of Congress' National Film Registry in 2006. Spader was a big part of its success, fully taking on his character and all his idiosyncracies.

1 The Music of Chance (1993) - 100%

James Spader in The Music of Chance, unrecognizable in a dark wig and dark goatee.

It isn't the most well-known movie on this list nor is it a typical type of movie, yet this one ranks as Spader's best performance ever in a movie with a perfect 100% rating. The drama, based on the absurdist novel of the same name by Paul Auster, is about a man who, while traveling the country and looking to spend a big inheritance, meets a professional gambler who piques his interest in playing against some old millionaires to win back lost money.

Mandy Patinkin plays Jim Nashe, the newly divorced man looking to spend his inheritance, and Spader plays Jack Pozzi, the mysterious gambling hitchhiker.

NEXT: 10 Best '90s Law Movies, Ranked