Which Movies Is Viggo Mortensen Most Famous For?

Viggo Mortensen
Viggo Mortensen | Mike Coppola/Getty Images for Turner

Some actors are first discovered based on a specific look they have over acting ability. Viggo Mortensen’s first movie role was based on his unique appearance, even though he soon proved he had the acting chops to pull off that distinctive vi

It was for the movie Witness where Mortensen was hired by director Peter Weir based strictly on his face. Jump ahead 34 years, and Mortensen is now up for a Best Actor Oscar based on performance rather than a mysterious aura.

He’s had many great performances in years prior. Let’s look at some of the movies likely to shape his movie legacy.

‘Salvation!’

One of Mortensen’s first movies with a more substantial part is a black comedy called Salvation!, which came out in 1987. The plot involved a crooked televangelist who bilks his followers of money. Mortensen plays the husband of one of these followers who realizes the televangelist is a phony, yet still gets sucked in.

This was a dark and depraved role for Mortensen, though set the bar for him doing many daring roles in his later career, including working with David Cronenberg.

Give this one a try if you’ve never seen. You could say it was a little bit ahead of its time, though Mortensen was instantly memorable.

‘Crimson Tide’

If you want to see how Mortensen acted alongside a group of legendary actors long before his Lord of the Rings days, give Crimson Tide a watch. As a military thriller, you also get a chance to see Mortensen spout some dialogue reportedly written by Quentin Tarantino before he was known.

Plus, you have a chance to see Viggo act with the likes of Gene Hackman, Denzel Washington, and James Gandolfini. Some serious drama ensues, but we all know Mortensen can do sobering drama better than anybody.

You’re also convinced he’s completely true blue American here, despite having Dutch roots and living in Denmark for a time.

‘Hidalgo’

We won’t mention the Lord of the Rings films here and his iconic Aragorn role since they’re so obvious. What isn’t so obvious is Mortensen managed to play completely polar opposite characters immediately after shooting the Rings trilogy. Typecasting wasn’t in the cards, thankfully.

In Hidalgo, Mortensen’s character was based on a real person (distance rider Frank Hopkins) who happened to find success with his trusted mustang with the title name.

As an old-fashioned action movie, Mortensen carved a compelling portrayal of Hopkins. After this, though, he’d start to focus on deeper, dramatic character portraits.

‘Everybody Has a Plan’

Mortensen has made deliberate moves to indie film produced in other countries. Everybody Has a Plan is one of his most daring from 2012, even if you’ve perhaps never heard of it.

Made in Argentina, the reason this film is such an important one in Mortensen’s acting oeuvre is he plays twins. While we’ve seen other great actors portray twins, it’s a rare case when it’s done well.

Take some time to marvel at how convincing Mortensen is in playing twin criminals, one of whom dies and the other takes his place.

‘Green Book’

Don’t miss the film Mortensen is nominated for this year at the Academy Awards. You could argue it’s one of his most essential films ever next to the Rings trilogy.

No doubt he feels the same since he’s nurtured a strong bond with the cast and his much award-winning co-star, Mahershala Ali. Playing Tony Vallelonga (who works as a bodyguard and driver to Ali’s Don Shirley), Mortensen once again creates a compelling American character when he’s really been an actor of international origins.

His nomination at the Oscars may place him on the A-list for more great American films, proving you don’t need to live in America your whole life to fully understand American characters.