Rutger Hauer has had an odd career. He’s the best part of one of the greatest sci-fi movies of all time, but that bombed on its first release. He made his name in arty European cinema, yet is best known for his genre work. He’s a guy everyone knows, yet he’s only been in a handful of theatrical releases in the last two decades. He’s been in a hell of a lot of crap, yet he’s never less than incredibly watchable. He’s stereotyped for playing bad guys, yet but he has done so much more than just that.
Rutger Hauer has also made a lot of movies. A lot. Some of them are amazing. Some of them are terrible, but worth watching because he’s in them. Some of them are big movies that he’s only in for a little bit, but you’re always glad to see him. Here are 25 films, some great, some not, that demonstrate the genius of Hauer.
25. Buffy The Vampire Slayer
So yeah, it’s the film version that no one talks about. And compared to one of the most acclaimed TV shows of all time, it’s pretty laughable. But if you can ignore the spectres of Whedon and Gellar and Head, it’s pretty good, cheesy fun. And Hauer is clearly having a ball as the campy head vampire.
24. Cold Blood
’70s German thriller Cold Blood, featuring Hauer and a schoolteacher on the run from smugglers, isn’t very good. But I saw it on a VHS with the most terrible dubbing imaginable – Hauer was given a voice more suited to The Vicar Of Dibley that a cool Euro action hero. Yet he still managed to seem like a badass, and if you can look like a badass even with the laziest dubbing in the world, you must be doing something right.
Hauer has sadly been in a lot of awful straight to video crap since the early 90s. But his performance in trashy monsters-on-an-island horror Bleeders stands out. He’s not the lead in this loose HP Lovecraft adaptation, but he gets a fun if small part as an alcoholic doctor.
22. The Call Of The Wild
This might be nostalgia on my part, but this faithful TV adaptation of Jack London’s classic dog novel is rather lovely. And it’s nice to see Hauer give a gruff, dependable performance, short on quirks but big on heart. Even if it does get out-acted by a dog.
21. Confessions Of A Dangerous Mind
George Clooney’s directorial debut- written by Charlie Kaufman – is a strange little film. Sam Rockwell plays Chuck Barris, best known as the host of ’70s game show The Gong Show. But according to Barris’ autobiography, he was also a CIA assassin. As you expect, the movie has an odd tone, lurching from farce to cold war thriller (in a good way).
And who better to pop up as a German-American agent in East Berlin than Rutger Hauer? In a lot of ways, it’s the quintessential great later-day Rutger Hauer performance. He might slum it in low-budget schlock most of the time, but once in a while he’ll get a small part in a big film and knock it out of the park.
20. Bloodhounds Of Broadway
A 1920s set farce with a big name cast (including Madonna, Matt Dillon and Randy Quaid), Bloodhounds Of Broadway is generally regarded as a bit of a flop. It does however feature Rutger Hauer as womanising mobster with a pencil moustache. As you might expect, he’s pretty great, even if the film isn’t.
19. Sin City
In Frank Miller’s comics, the Roark family (including Cardinal Roark and Senator Roark) rule the city with an iron fist. For the film adaptation, Robert Rodriguez needed two actors who you could really imagine running things behind the scenes. Hauer had the smaller role as the cannibal Cardinal, and he doesn’t disappoint. At least until he gets offed by Marv (Powers Boothe played the Senator).
18. Wanted: Dead Or Alive
Wanted: Dead Or Alive is not a great movie. But it is a glimpse into an alternate ’80s where Rutger Hauer was a major action star like Stallone or Arnie. It’s a rote bounty hunter thriller that’s actually rather boring to watch, but damn, if Hauer doesn’t make an amazing straight-up badass. Hauer rarely got to do straight heroic leading roles, even in his heyday, and this film will just make you wish he got to star in a Die Hard or First Blood of his own.
17. Batman Begins
Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy secretly casts a lot of heroes of the straight-to-DVD world. Michael Jai White, Tommy ‘Tiny’ Lister, Eric Roberts, William Fichtner and Mathew Modine all get a rare 21st century big screen outing in them. But it’s Hauer, in Batman Begins, who makes the biggest impression. As the CEO of Wayne Enterprises who takes control while Bruce is off doing ninja-business, it’s not a massive part, but one that requires an actor of real gravitas, that can strike fear into the businessmen of Gotham.
16. Blind Side
This sleazy little TV movie has a couple (Rebecca De Mornay and Ron Silver) accidentally hit a cop car in Mexico, and cover it up. But then a drifter played by Hauer comes to their house, claiming he saw what happened, and starts extorting them. It’s no classic, but it has Hauer in full-on stalker-creep mode, and that’s more than enough to make it worth watching.
15. Turkish Delight
Hauer broke through at the same time as Holland’s other great pop cinema export of the ’80s, Paul Verhoeven, so it’s no surprise they made several films together (the third greatest Dutch pop cinema figure of the era, cinematographer and Speed director Jan de Bont, would also work with the duo on several films).
Their first collaboration came on the Dutch TV series Floris, but they teamed up again for Hauer’s first major cinematic role in Turkish Delight. Though not the greatest ever work of either, it’s still a powerful love story anchored by Hauer as an artist who at first appears to be a total jerk, but slowly reveals himself to be a multi-layered character.
14. The Salute Of The Jugger
There’s always something ever so slightly weird about Hauer. Something otherworldly. And that’s something that can elevate weird little b-movies to something memorable. Like this odd future-sports/Mad Max hybrid. He plays a grizzled bastard training a plucky young upstart in the ways of the Jugger, and he just exudes a sense of being through the wars that makes the whole ludicrous premise somehow believable (if still utterly crazy).
A lot of this list is trying to show Hauer’s variety as an actor. He’s not just always just the bad guy. But of course, he does play a hell of a villain, and in early Sly Stallone thriller Nighthawks as good a bad guy as he ever played. Hauer is one of the freelance terrorist types that were so beloved by 70s and 80s movies, and he’s just got that cocky Euro-sleeze dripping from that makes you want Stallone to get him right from the very first frame.
Despite being Dutch, Hauer seems to play Nazis quite a lot. This adaptation of Robert Harris’ best-selling alternate history novel is set in a 1960s where Germany won the war, and Hauer is an SS detective investigating the murder of a German official – only to discover that the rabbit hole goes much, much deeper. Made by HBO, it’s a great set up, and Hauer is in his element as a conflicted European struggling with morals. Sadly the film is only available on VHS.
11. Split Second
Split Second is a buddy cop/serial killer/monster movie set in a future London of 2008 where the Underground has been flooded and Rutger Hauer chases a strange creature round with a massive gun. It’s pretty amazing. Hauer has been in a lot of cheap crap in the last 25 years or so, but he’s in amazing form here, gnawing at the scenery, screaming as his nerdy new partner, and looking awesome carrying his massive gun.
10. Flesh And Blood
The middle ages-set adventure epic was Paul Verhoeven’s first American film; it was kind of ignored on its first release. Which is a shame, because it’s another straight heroic role for Hauer. When you think of Rutger Hauer, you tend to think of playing bad guys and weirdos. But here he’s a proper action hero. Verhoeven always gave Hauer great parts, and it’s a shame they haven’t made a film together since.
Richard Donner’s ’80s fantasy flick might be pretty damn cheesy – especially to modern eyes – but it’s a hell of a lot of fun. Apparently Donner originally wanted Hauer as the bad guy, but he ended up replacing Kurt Russell as the main lead. And it worked out well, as the dignified Hauer makes a great comic foil for Matthew Broderick’s clumsy young thief protagonist.
8. The Hitcher
Hauer can be a hammy actor. And you’d think that a film where he plays a crazy hitchhiker would give ample opportunity to go full-ham. But he plays it cool. The film is based on such a simple, relatable terror (a random psycho choosing to attack you for no reason), that he doesn’t need to go OTT. He smiles, he smirks, he drips with swag. He is totally unstoppable, and he’s utterly terrifying.
7. Surviving The Game
You want a great Rutger Hauer villain role? Get this brilliant, forgotten early ’90s riff on The Most Dangerous Game in your life. Ice-T plays a homeless guy, offered a job leading a hunting party of rich businessmen on a dangerous forest trek. Only when he gets there, it turns out the rich guys are actually going to be hunting him for sport.
And who is in this hunting party? Only a B-movie dream team of Hauer, Charles S Dutton, John C McGinley, Gary Busey, and F. Murray Abraham. It’s a blistering little chase movie, directed by the underrated Ernest R Dickinson, who made Juice with 2pac, helmed several episodes of The Wire, and was Spike Lee’s go-to cinematographer in the late ’80s and early ’90s.
Based on that CV, it’s not surprising that there’s an undercurrent of race and class going on. And while that could easily fall flat, it’s Rutger Hauer as the evil bastard running the whole thing that gives the subtext real gravitas.
6. The Legend Of The Holy Drinker
This 1988 Italian art movie is about as far from Blade Runner as you can get. Hauer plays a homeless drunk in Paris trying to repay a debt to a local church, after being helped out on the whim of a stranger. It’s a slow, bleak, low-key story, but Hauer is tremendous in it as a broken, desperate man.
5. Blind Fury
Blind Fury has an odd set-up. Essentially, it’s a contemporary US remake of the Japanese Zatoichi movies, about the titular blind samurai. But it updates it to ’80s America, with Hauer as a blinded Vietnam vet, trying to rescue his old army buddy (Terry O’Quinn, aka Locke from Lost), with his whiney son in tow. The film constantly flips between badass and ridiculous, but all the time Hauer is effortlessly cool, somehow making it believable that a blind sword-wielding dude could take down both B-movie all-star Randall ‘Tex’ Cobb and ’80s Cannon VHS legend Sho Kosugi. This is the movie that should have made Rutger Hauer a true action star.
4. Hobo With A Shotgun
A film that started life as a spoof trailer (entered into a competition to be tagged onto the Canadian release of Grindhouse) isn’t really likely to include any career-best performances. But Hauer’s central role is what elevates Hobo With A Shotgun from the Sharknados and Machetes of the world. Instead of being a cheap joke, the hobo becomes a guy with genuine emotions and hopes and dreams, and it’s a testament to how good a screen presence Hauer is (even if everything around him is batshit insane). It’s easily his greatest late-period role.
3. Escape From Sobibor
For an actor so synonymous with sci-fi and genre stuff, a British-made TV movie about World War II isn’t really like to be the first Rutger Hauer film anyone thinks of. But this true-life story about an uprising at the Sobibor concentration camp has one of his most acclaimed performances as Alexander Pechersky, the Soviet soldier behind the escape. Hauer would receive a Golden Globe for his efforts.
2. Soldier Of Orange
It was Hauer and Paul Verhoeven’s follow-up to Turkish Delight that would be both their breakthroughs to Hollywood. Based on the autobiographical novel by RAF pilot and Dutch spy Erik Hazelhoff Roelfzema, it follows a group of students in German-occupied Holland during WWII. A sprawling, freewheeling film about how war affects real people, it again has Hauer at its centre, playing Roelfzema. It’s the quintessential Hauer performance—charismatic, attention-grabbing, slightly creepy, never quite 100% honest, and impossible to look away from.
1. Blade Runner
Was number one going to be anything else? Rutger Hauer’s reputation for playing bad guys probably comes from Blade Runner, but to call Roy Batty just a bad guy is extremely reductive. He’s both at once the mastermind of the rebel replicants, but also the muscle, the Bond villain and his henchman rolled into one. In a film full of people that you can’t take your eyes off, he still might be the most charismatic person in there. Probably more charismatic than even Harrison Ford (and that’s kind of the point).
And there’s far much more too him than just an evil plan. He is a person (well, not a human) who just wants to live. Nowhere is this more evident than in his famous ‘Tears in the rain’ monologue, which Hauer supposedly wrote himself. The way he implies previous, unseen adventures, images that are just enough to inspire visions in the viewer of cool episodes they missed, yet vague enough to be universal. We might not have seen attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion, but we all have adventures we remember, that summer holiday, that party, that kiss. And when we die, they die. And in a film about what it means to be human and alive, Hauer seems the most alive.