Ahead of the release of Crowe’s next film, inspired by the real-life experiences of Joshua John Miller and his father during the shoot of the 1973 horror film, a look at 10 of his best-remembered roles

Fresh off his haunting performance in The Pope’s Exorcist (2023), Academy Award-winning actor Russell Crowe is back on the big screen with another horror flick, The Exorcism, which will be released in India (PVR INOX) on June 21. Directed by Joshua John Miller, the film is a chilling exploration of a troubled actor’s dark experiences on a film set rumoured to be cursed. Crowe stars as Anthony Miller, whose life takes a sinister turn as he begins exhibiting increasingly disturbing behaviours. Could it be a relapse into old addictions, or is there something more sinister at play? This unsettling question lies at the heart of the movie, inspired by the real-life experiences of director John Miller and his father, Jason Miller, who famously played Father Damien Karras in the iconic 1973 horror film, The Exorcist, starring Linda Blair as a demonically possessed child.

When Jason Miller was working on The Exorcist, he was approached by a priest who, unaware of the film’s subject matter, warned him about the dangers of the devil and urged him to be cautious. This eerie encounter left a lasting impression on the actor. The production of The Exorcist, directed by William Friedkin, and adapted by William Peter Blatty from his 1971 novel of the same name, was plagued by accidents and injuries, which fuelled the belief that the film was cursed. The actor’s young son was nearly killed by a motorcyclist, and other cast and crew members, too, suffered various misfortunes. Jason Miller, a devout Catholic, reportedly questioned the spiritual implications of his involvement in a project that dealt with demonic possession.

According to producer Kevin Williamson, the film is a “beautiful emotional tale wrapped up in a very terrifying possession movie.” Crowe’s recent film, Sleeping Dogs (2024), a crime thriller in which he plays Roy Freeman, an ex-homicide detective struggling with Alzheimer’s, was a damp squib, but one hopes The Exorcism is a worthy addition to the horror genre. As we wait for the film, here is a look at 10 films with mind-blowing performance by Crowe:

1. L.A. Confidential (1997): A neo-noir crime thriller, directed by Curtis Hanson, it features Crowe as Bud White, a tough and morally ambiguous police officer investigating a series of murders in the glamorous yet seedy underbelly of 1950s Los Angeles. Based on James Ellroy’s novel (the third of his LA quartet series) of the same name, the film delves into the intertwined lives of three LAPD officers — Ed Exley (Guy Pearce), White (Crowe), and Jack Vincennes (Kevin Spacey) — as they investigate the murders that expose a web of deceit, betrayal, and hidden agendas. Exley, an ambitious and by-the-book detective, is driven by a desire to uphold the law and clear his father’s name. White is a hot-headed and violent cop, who seeks revenge for the murder of his former partner. Vincennes, a smooth-talking detective who moonlights as a technical advisor for a popular crime show, is caught between his celebrity aspirations and his moral compass.

In The Insider, Crowe plays Jeffrey Wigand, the real-life former executive of Brown & Williamson Tobacco Company, who blows the whistle on the industry’s harmful practices.

2. The Insider (1999): In Michael Mann’s film, which received seven Academy Award nominations, Crowe plays Jeffrey Wigand, the real-life former executive of Brown & Williamson Tobacco Company, who blows the whistle on the industry’s harmful practices. He delivers a powerful performance as Wigand, a conflicted scientist torn between his conscience and his loyalty to his former employer. Al Pacino, too, is terrific as Lowell Bergman, a 60 Minutes producer determined to bring Wigand’s story to light. Their collaboration becomes a battle against corporate intimidation, legal threats, and the complicity of the media in protecting powerful interests. The film unfolds with a slow-burning intensity, building tension as Wigand’s revelations about the tobacco industry’s deliberate manipulation of nicotine levels and its knowledge of the addictive and harmful nature of cigarettes become public. The Insider also explores the ethical dilemmas faced by journalists as they navigate corporate influence and the pressure to maintain ratings.

Crowe as Maximus Decimus Meridius in Gladiator

3. Gladiator (2000): In Ridley Scott’s epic historical drama follows the journey of Maximus Decimus Meridius (Crowe), a revered Roman general who is betrayed and enslaved after the murder of Emperor Marcus Aurelius (Richard Harris) by his power-hungry son, Commodus (Joaquin Phoenix). Crowe’s portrayal of Maximus earned him an Academy Award for Best Actor. Stripped of his rank and family, Maximus is forced into the life of a gladiator, fighting for his survival in the Colosseum’s bloody arena. Fuelled by a burning desire for revenge against the Commodus, he rises through the ranks of gladiators, becoming a symbol of hope for the oppressed masses and a threat to the corrupt emperor. A visually stunning film, with breathtaking cinematography that captures the grandeur of ancient Rome and the visceral intensity of gladiatorial combat, the film’s action sequences are meticulously choreographed. Crowe plays a hardened gladiator with raw emotion. Phoenix is equally compelling as the villainous Commodus, displaying the character’s cruelty, narcissism, and lust for power.

Crowe delivers a powerful performance as John Nash in A Beautiful Mind

4. A Beautiful Mind (2001): In this Ron Howard-directorial, Crowe delivers a powerful performance as John Nash, a brilliant mathematician who made groundbreaking contributions to game theory while battling schizophrenia. The film won four Academy Awards, including Best Picture. The film, based on the book of the same name by Sylvia Nasar, is a moving and insightful portrayal of Nash's struggles with mental illness, his enduring love for his wife Alicia, and his eventual triumph. Jennifer Connelly impresses as Alicia Nash, who becomes her husband’s anchor in the face of his debilitating delusions. The film’s supporting cast, including Ed Harris and Paul Bettany, also deliver compelling performances. The film chronicles Nash’s rise to prominence at Princeton University, his work on game theory, and his descent into schizophrenia. The love story between Nash and Alicia amid the darkness of his illness provides a powerful emotional anchor for the film.

Crowe captains the British Royal Navy ship HMS Surprise as Captain Jack Aubrey in Master and Commander

5. Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World (2003): Crowe captains the British Royal Navy ship HMS Surprise as Captain Jack Aubrey in this epic historical adventure set during the Napoleonic Wars. Based on the novel by Patrick O’Brian, the film follows Captain Aubrey, a charismatic and resourceful commander, and his close friend, the ship’s surgeon and naturalist Dr. Stephen Maturin (Paul Bettany). The film opens in 1805, with Captain Aubrey receiving orders to pursue and capture the Acheron, a powerful French privateer vessel that poses a threat to British shipping lanes. The Surprise embarks on a perilous journey across the vast Atlantic Ocean and around Cape Horn to the treacherous waters of the Pacific, facing storms, battles, and internal conflicts along the way. The film’s narrative is driven by the dynamic relationship between Aubrey and Maturin, whose contrasting personalities and perspectives create a compelling tension. Aubrey is a man of action, a skilled seaman and a fearless leader, while Maturin is a man of science and intellect, with a passion for natural history and a pacifist outlook. Their friendship is tested as they deal with the challenges of war and the demands of their respective roles.

Crowe plays James J. Braddock, a struggling boxer during the Great Depression who makes an unexpected comeback, in Cinderella Man

6. Cinderella Man (2005): In Ron Howard’s powerful and emotionally resonant biographical sports drama, Crowe plays James J. Braddock, a struggling boxer during the Great Depression who makes an unexpected comeback. The film tells the story of a man who refused to be defeated by circumstance, fighting his way back to the top of the boxing world to provide for his family and become a symbol of hope for a struggling nation. Renée Zellweger as Mae Braddock, James’s devoted wife, stands by him through thick and thin. Paul Giamatti is unforgettable as Joe Gould, Braddock’s loyal manager and friend, who never loses faith in his fighter’s abilities. During the Great Depression, a time of widespread poverty and despair, Braddock is forced to take on menial labour to support his family. His boxing license is revoked due to a string of losses, and he struggles to make ends meet. However, a twist of fate offers him a chance to return to the ring, and he seizes the opportunity with renewed vigour.

Crowe plays Ben Wade, a notorious outlaw who is captured and must be transported to a train for trial in 3: 10 to Yuma

7. 3:10 to Yuma (2007): In this Western remake by James Mangold, Crowe plays Ben Wade, a notorious outlaw who is captured and must be transported to a train for trial. Set in the harsh landscapes of the American Southwest, the film follows Dan Evans (Christian Bale), a struggling rancher who volunteers to escort Wade (Crowe) to the 3:10 train to Yuma, where he will face justice. The film unravels as a cat-and-mouse game between Evans and Wade; each man grapples with his own demons and motivations. Evans, burdened by debt and desperate to provide for his family, sees the reward for delivering Wade as a chance to regain his dignity and save his ranch. A charismatic and cunning Wade initially sees Evans as a pawn in his escape plan but gradually develops a grudging respect for his captor. An exploration of honour, morality, and the choices we make under pressure, the film boasts of a mesmerizing performance by Crowe. Bale is equally amazing as Evans. The supporting cast in this tale of survival and redemption includes Ben Foster as Wade’s ruthless henchman Charlie Prince and Peter Fonda (best known for his role in the cult-classic road movie Easy Rider) as Byron McElroy, a ragged, hard-nosed bounty hunter.

Crowe as Richie Roberts, a principled but unconventional detective, in American Gangster

8. American Gangster (2007): Ridley Scott’s sprawling and gripping crime drama takes us to the underbelly of 1970s Harlem, where Frank Lucas (Denzel Washington), a drug kingpin, rises to power by establishing a direct heroin pipeline from Southeast Asia. The film explores the intertwined stories of Lucas and Richie Roberts (Crowe), a principled but unconventional detective tasked with bringing down Lucas’s empire. The film opens with the death of Lucas’s mentor, Harlem crime boss Ellsworth ‘Bumpy’ Johnson. Lucas seizes the opportunity to take control of the heroin trade, exploiting the chaos of the Vietnam War to smuggle pure heroin into the United States. He establishes a vast and profitable network, flooding the streets with his ‘Blue Magic’ brand, which becomes a symbol of both success and destruction. Meanwhile, Roberts is a detective whose integrity and dedication to justice makes him an outsider in a department rife with corruption. He is assigned to lead a task force to investigate the source of the high-quality heroin flooding the streets. Roberts’s relentless pursuit of the truth leads him to uncover Lucas's operation and the deep-rooted corruption that protects it. The film also explores the racial and social tensions of the time, as Lucas, a black man, rises to power in a predominantly white criminal underworld.

Crowe as police inspector Javert in Les Misérables

9. Les Misérables (2012): In Tom Hooper’s cinematic adaptation of the beloved stage musical, itself based on Victor Hugo’s novel, a sweeping historical epic drama set in early 19th-century France, we meet Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman), an ex-convict seeking redemption after serving a brutal sentence for stealing a loaf of bread. Valjean is relentlessly pursued by the police inspector Javert (Crowe), who embodies the law’s rigid adherence to punishment. Valjean’s life takes a dramatic turn when he encounters Fantine (Anne Hathaway; her rendition of I Dreamed a Dream, earned her an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress), a destitute factory worker forced into prostitution to support her young daughter, Cosette (Amanda Seyfried). Valjean vows to care for Cosette, setting in motion a series of events that will change their lives forever. We witness the heartbreaking plight of Fantine, the unrequited love of Marius (Eddie Redmayne) for Cosette, and the revolutionary fervour of the young students fighting for a better future.

Crowe as Jackson Healy, a tough-as-nails enforcer, in The Nice Guys

10. The Nice Guys (2016): In Shane Black’s neo-noir action comedy, which revels in the seedy underbelly of 1970s Los Angeles, Ryan Gosling stars as Holland March, a down-on-his-luck private investigator, and Crowe as Jackson Healy, a tough-as-nails enforcer. This unlikely duo team up to investigate the disappearance of a young woman and the death of a porn star, only to stumble upon a far-reaching conspiracy that reaches the highest levels of power. The film is a delightful blend of genres, combining elements of neo-noir, buddy comedy, and action thriller. Black, known for his witty dialogue and sharp characterizations, infuses the film with a sardonic humour that perfectly complements the gritty setting and the absurd situations the characters find themselves in. Gosling and Crowe’s chemistry crackles with both comedic timing and genuine affection. Gosling’s bumbling yet well-meaning March is a perfect foil to Crowe’s gruff and pragmatic Healy. The supporting cast includes Angourie Rice as March’s precocious daughter Holly and Kim Basinger as a powerful government official.

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