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The Top 10 Jake Gyllenhaal Films

By Julius Barbosa · February 2, 2015

Son of film director Stephen Gyllenhaal and screenwriter Naomi Foner, this 34-year-old actor has shown he is not just another pretty face on the big screen.

His parents may have helped jump-start his career, but Jake dropped out of Columbia University after two years to concentrate on his acting. With 32 wins and 50 nominations, the list of different characters he has played is vast with films, TV shows, plays, commercials and music video appearances, illustrating how versatile he is.


10. October Sky (1999)

Considered his “breakout performance,” Jake plays Homer, the son of a coal miner in a small town in 1950. He realizes his future is also to work as a miner just like his father until… 1957, when Sputnik (the first artificial satellite) goes into orbit and that changes everything.

He and his high school friends now face the challenge of building a rocket to show that “This one is gonna go for miles.”



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9. Donnie Darko (2001)

Jake steps into the role of a troubled and confused teenager who starts to receive unexpected visits from Frank (a figure in a rabbit costume), and begins having visions of the end of the world.

Donnie Darko wasn’t too successful on the big screen, but became a cult movie classic (known for its bold, intricate writing). Jake received critical acclaim for playing such a disturbing and yet serene high school boy.


8. The Day After Tomorrow (2004)

In this popcorn loaded blockbuster, Jake plays Sam (the son of a paleoclimatologist who predicts massive snowstorm destructions), who is with friends visiting New York City at the same time a massive, Michael Bay style storm hits the city. His father goes on a journey to save his son while his son is on a journey of survival and love.

Although an utterly absurd movie, Gyllenhaal does display his own (yes, saying this in a singular tone) set of acting chops we’ll see down the road.


7. Brokeback Mountain (2005)

It may sound premature to say that playing the role of Jack Twist is the biggest performance of his career, but this is certainly one of the roles Jake will always be remembered for. In this critically acclaimed raw and powerful story, Jake wrangled in a slew of awards and also a nomination for best supporting actor at the 78th Academy Awards (2006).

A married man and a sheepherder, Jack finds himself entrapped in a romantic and sexual relationship with another man in the American West from 1963 to 1983. It is the type of story that almost anyone can relate to, especially when Jack yells at Ennis Del Mar (Heath Ledger), “I wish I knew how to quit you.”


6. Jarhead (2007)

Jake plays a violent U.S. Marine, Swofford, soon turned into a sniper during the first Gulf War. Justifying that he joined the military because “he got lost on the way to college” forces him to face a journey of self-discovery; he deals with a mental breakdown to the point where he threatens a comrade with a rifle and then orders this comrade to shoot him, instead.

A film that lets Gylenhaal flex his dramatic muscles, Jarhead is a blistering portrait of what it means to commit to the Marines.


5. Zodiac (2007)

Political cartoonist Robert Graysmith, Jake’s character, shows interest in the mysterious murders happening in the San Francisco Bay Area in 1969, early 1970’s, after the San Francisco Chronicle receives letters from a killer, identifying himself as the “Zodiac.”

Robert is excluded from the case, but runs the investigation on his own, getting closer to the killer than he ever thought. His only problem is that the circumstantial evidence doesn’t seem to match with the physical evidence.


4. Brothers (2009)

This time, Jake plays another troublemaker, Tommy, who is released from jail for an armed robbery at the time his brother is being sent to Afghanistan. When news comes that his brother goes missing, Tommy tries to redeem himself to his family. He helps his brother’s family and, as a result, gets emotionally involved with his brother’s wife.

This is another powerful story and meaty role that enables Gyllenhaal to get in the driver’s seat of his dramatic acting.



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3. Love & Other Drugs (2010)

Jake plays Jamie Randall, a womanizing pharmaceutical drugs rep in the 1990’s, selling a drug commonly known as Viagra. The irony of his story is when he meets a beautiful young woman with stage one Parkinson’s, a condition for which there are no remedies.

“You meet thousands of people and none of them really touch you. And, then, you meet one person and your life is changed forever.” In the end, Jamie is right.


2. End of Watch (2012)

We follow LAPD officer Brian Taylor (Jake Gyllenhaal) and his partner on their daily police work in the streets of Los Angeles. Jake undertook five months of intensive training with hand-to-hand combat, police tactics and weapons.

The movie is another raw and powerful story with an emotional and almost unexpected ending.


1. Nightcrawler (2014)

Jake plays “Lou,” a man who is desperate for freelance work. When desperate times call for desperate measures, he steals, alters crime scenes, sabotages his Van, causing an accident (which he also films and sells the footage to a local TV station) and manipulates the news director of the local TV station to have sex with him.

In Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time (2010), Jake had to prepare himself physically, getting buff to perform all the juggling that role required. For this role, the 180 pound actor lost 30 pounds in three months to look lean and gaunt.