Jeremy Renner has been plying his trade in the film industry for almost 30 years and has fashioned somewhat of a formidable reputation for himself. Having starred in films like The Town, where he earned himself an Academy Award nomination, Arrival, and the MCU’s The Avengers, it becomes quickly apparent why his talents are so in demand.
Featured in some of the biggest films of the last few decades, Renner has established himself as one of the very best actors of his time. While it’s the blockbusters he is most known for, some of his best performances lie in some of his more underrated movies. Here are 10 you may not have seen.
9 12 and Holding (2005)
The coming-of-age low-budget indie thriller, 12 and Holding, details the story of Jacob Barges, a 12-year-old boy who is on the hunt for revenge following the murder of his twin brother after their treehouse was set alight. This is a deeply affecting film and one that exposes Jack and his friends to a cruel world of violence, death, and familial issues.
The Beginning of a Great Partnership Between Renner and Michael Cuesta
The first of a burgeoning collaboration with director Michael Cuesta, Jeremy Renner linked up with the auteur for the first time in 2005 for 12 and Holding. Renner’s outing as one of the principal characters, Gus, a troubled and complex character, is delivered in a brilliantly multi-layered manner by the Wind River actor.
8 Kill the Messenger (2014)
Based on Nick Shou’s 2006 novel of the same name, the 2014 adaptation brings this compelling tale of mystery to the screen. Kill the Messenger tells the story of Gary Webb, a journalist from the San Jose Mercury News, who uncovers shocking revelations about the CIA and their involvement in a drug racket.
A Gritty, Intense Thriller
Renner stars as the protagonist, Gary, a man conflicted by his startling discovery. Despite wanting to uphold his journalistic integrity, Gary finds himself stuck between a rock and a hard place as high-ranking officials at the CIA seek to block him publishing his report. The American Hustle star’s offering as the film’s chief character is captivating, driven by a dogged determination to protect his duty as a journalist. This is Renner at his grittiest and most intense.
7 The Immigrant (2013)
Joaquin Phoenix and Marion Cotillard take the reins in James Gray’s 2013 period piece, The Immigrant. Narrowly missing out on the Palme d’Or, this drama follows the account of Ewa Cybulski, a Polish immigrant, who leaves her native home in Eastern Europe in search of a better life. Unfortunately, upon her arrival in New York City, Ewa and her sister, Magda, are conned, with Magda being coerced into a life of prostitution.
An Important Supporting Role for Jeremy Renner
Despite only being handed a supporting role, Renner turns in a thoroughly emphatic performance as Orlando, an illusionist and magician. An empathetic soul, Orlando witnesses first-hand the barefaced immorality of those around him on Ellis Island, taking pity on the sisters and endeavoring to help them escape this exploitative entrapment. Renner brings a radiance and real finesse to this display that certainly elevates this picture alongside Cotillard and Phoenix, with the latter delivering another underrated display.
6 North Country (2005)
- Release Date
- February 12, 2005
Niki Caro’s deeply sensitive screen adaptation of author Clara Bingham’s novel Class Action: The Story of Lois Jenson and the Landmark Case That Changed Sexual Harassment Law, pitches mother, Josey (Charlize Theron), at the center of this thriller drama as she flees her domestically abusive relationship and takes up work at a mine. After she is sexually assaulted by one of her male colleagues, Josey decides to take legal action with the help of her friend and confidant, Glory.
Renner Plays a Spellbinding, Immoral Character
Jeremy Renner assumes the role of Bobby Sharp, a conniving, vindictive, and immoral character, inexplicably linked to Josey due to their previously tumultuous relationship and the unconfirmed father of her child, Sammy. Renner is spellbinding and utterly convincing in his performance as Bobby, immersing himself in the mind of this force of evil, manufacturing this truly detestable antagonist.
5 Dahmer (2002)
The harrowing story of Jeffrey Dahmer hit screens back in 2022 with a Netflix dramatization as well as a docuseries, revisiting the story of one of America’s most prolific murderers and sex offenders. Yet, the first film that documented the rise and subsequent crimes of Dahmer was 2002’s Dahmer, starring Renner in the chief role.
An Underrated Performance as Jeffrey Dahmer
A film that ultimately lacked that big-budget presence and preeminent supporting cast to really make it a critical and commercial success, yet Renner’s display as this grotesque serial killer elevates Dahmer considerably. Playing this homicidal, floppy-haired sadist, young Renner’s display is so utterly chilling and vividly captures this evil figure in all his barbarous blood-thirst. There is a disassociating lack of empathy to this rendition of the remorseless murderer that makes him instantly intriguing.
4 The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007)
The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford is a dramatization of true events in late 19th-century Missouri. Documenting the notoriety of the James Gang and their various criminal endeavors, an infatuated Robert Ford (Casey Affleck) becomes glued to this living legend, Jesse James (Brad Pitt), as he attempts to become a member of his gang.
A Memorable Bit Role
Jeremy Renner portrays Wood Hite, a key member of the James gang and Jesse’s cousin. A fiercely loyal servant to this criminal enterprise, Renner is exceptional in his rendition of this infamous outlaw, even if this is only a bit-part role. Though the film doesn’t have a huge fan following, it was nominated for two Academy Awards, including Best Cinematography and Best Actor in a Supporting Role (Casey Affleck).
3 American Hustle (2013)
One of David O. Russell’s best movies, 2013’s heavily stylized American Hustle is a visual delight, with its 1970s aesthetic, ozone layer-destroying overabundance of hairspray, and its orange-tinted sunglasses. This crime-comedy movie follows two swindlers forced to cooperate with the FBI and bring down their partners in crime in return for free passage. Each of these swindlers has a certain pizzazz that makes this film so irresistible.
Renner Plays a Sleazy Mayor a Little too Well
Jeremy Renner turns in a buoyant performance as Carmine Polito, the Mayor of Atlantic City, who is on a mission to improve the economy of his constituency by opening a local casino, only to be made the target of a sting operation. His display as this slightly crooked, eye-on-the-dollar businessman-turned-corrupt governor is brilliantly funny, and the sleazy guise in which he adopts is equally fitting to his dishonest character.
2 The Bourne Legacy (2012)
With Matt Damon and franchise director Paul Greengrass stepping away from the production of The Bourne Legacy, Jeremy Renner was left to assume the mantle of the franchise lead, albeit not in the capacity of Bourne, but rather as agent Aaron Cross, attempting to evade the US government in this vigilante-esque approach as he attempts to help a whistleblowing doctor.
A Suitable Replacement for Matt Damon
Despite being one of the worst films of the franchise, Renner was tasked with filling a monumental pair of boots, with Damon having reprized the role of the spy in every film prior. Renner adapts perfectly to the physical demands of the role, delivering his best all-out, action man-inspired display. There is a coolness to Renner’s portrayal of Cross, and while he was always naturally going to be compared to Damon’s Bourne, he proved emphatically that he was a worthy replacement.
1 Wind River (2017)
- Release Date
- August 3, 2017
- Kelsey Chow , Jeremy Renner , Julia Jones , Teo Briones , Apesanahkwat , Graham Greene
Directed by the screenwriter for both Sicario and Hell or High Water, Taylor Sheridan, 2017’s Wind River was, understandably, a film that was received with open arms by both critics and those who enjoyed the riveting storytelling of his previous works. Placing Jeremy Renner in the titular role as Cory Lambert, a partially traumatized National Parks wildlife officer, Wind River follows the tale of Lambert, who teams up with a daring FBI Agent, Jane Banner (Elizabeth Olsen), to investigate the mysterious death of a young woman on a Wyoming Native American Reservation.
A Certified Oscar Snub
As one of the most underrated thrillers of the 2010s, Wind River is an exquisitely shot film with a killer plot line at its very heart, yet, it’s Renner who truly steals the show as this fearless ranger forever sporting a pair of trusty snow boots as he traverses the perilous wintertime terrain. In what is arguably the actor’s best display of his career so far, he is the perfect distillation of a man deeply troubled by his haunted, grief-stricken past while concurrently seeking some form of redemption in an increasingly cruel, frosty world. The film sailed mightily under the radar upon release, banking just $45 million at the box office, but nevertheless, this is a picture that allows Jeremy Renner to exercise his acting dexterity, making Wind River one of his best and most underrated movies to date.