Steven Yeun was formerly best-known for playing fan-favorite character Glenn Rhee in AMC’s The Walking Dead, who saved Rick Grimes in the series’ first episode. But the talented American actor has played other great television roles, including Mark Grayson in Invincible, Keith in Voltron: Legendary Defender, and Speckle in Tuca & Bertie. Outside the world of television, Yeun has appeared in a number of great films over the past few years. Yeun was the first Asian-American actor to be nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actor as well as the Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Leading Role for his work in Lee Isaac Chung’s Minari. More recently, Yeun played Ricky “Jupe” Park in in Jordan Peele’s Nope, in what might be the director’s most disturbing film.
Great actors can have questionable choices in the projects they choose to star in. Fortunately, Steven Yeun hasn’t been one of them. His body of work has included a wide range of different genres and character types, having successfully moved on from The Walking Dead to become one of the most acclaimed actors working today. Fans were disappointed when he dropped out of Marvel Studios Thunderbolts, but it appears he might return sometime to the franchise in the future.
Yeun’s latest film, Love Me, just premiered at the Sundance Film Festival. He will also reunite with Okja director Bong Joon-ho for his latest movie, Mickey 17, due out in 2024. While waiting for those movies, here are Steven Yeun’s best performances across film and television.
Update January 22, 2024. We’ve updated this piece with even more great Steven Yeun performances after he won a Golden Globe, an Emmy, and a Critics Choice Award for his role in Beef and following Love Me’s premiere at the Sundance Film Festival. You can also find where to watch his films and TV shows.
10 Tuca & Bertie (2019 – 2022)
From the same team and creator that made BoJack Horseman, and as such, with a unique animation happening in a world where humans and animals talk and interact. Tuca & Bertie (voiced by Tiffany Haddish and Ali Wong) tells the story of these birds who are best friends and have adventures in Bird Town. Yeun plays Speckle, an anthropomorphic Robin bird who dates Bertie and is just trying to be the best boyfriend possible and protect his more shy girlfriend.
Yeun Conveys All His Character’s Feelings Through His Voice
Even if the actor only uses his voice, he can transmit the whole character’s personality. Every feeling, doubt, and thought goes through his brain while also showing all the love Speckle has for Bertie. Yeun has become a strong voice actor (one of his most famous ones will appear later on this list), and he was one of the many aspects that made Tuca and Bertie great. Netflix canceled the series after one season, but it had such a passionate following that Adult Swim picked it up and where it ran for an additional two seasons. Stream season one on Netflix, and seasons two and three on Max.
9 Mayhem (2017)
- Release Date
- November 10, 2017
In 2017’s Mayhem, Derek Cho (Yeun) is a lawyer who has lost his job after wrongly being held responsible for a failed legal case. He meets Melanie Cross (Samara Weaving), who had her request for an extension for a bank loan rejected. When the “Red Eye” virus infects everyone inside a corporate building and drives everyone crazy, Derek and Melanie unite to exact revenge on the people who have done them wrong.
Revenge Is a Dish Best Served with Mayhem
After Glenn Rhee was killed off The Walking Dead in late 2016, Steven Yeun appeared in another bloody live-action production. Mayhem lived up to its name as it was high-energy, violent, and full of the angst one might feel after an awful day at work. It’s also interesting this was one of Yeun’s first roles after fighting zombies, as here he’s as violent but having much more fun, as it looks like the actor is having the time of his life. The role might not have been the biggest acting challenge, but Yeun still gives his all in what looks like a deranged performance. Stream on AMC+ Amazon Channel, Hoopla and Shudder
8 Sorry to Bother You (2018)
Sorry to Bother You assembled an all-star cast with actors including Lakeith Stanfield, Tessa Thompson, Terry Crews, and Jermaine Fowler. The film was a bizarre black comedy with Cassius Green (Stanfield) as its protagonist, a Black telemarketer who used a “white voice” whenever he talked to customers and got rich doing it. However, he uncovered a strange conspiracy that forced him to decide where his loyalties were: making money for himself or standing against oppression with his friends.
The Most Decent Character in the Whole Film
Steven Yeun played Squeeze, an activist who wanted to help exploited workers unionize and receive better treatment. His character is also an alternative for Detroit (Tessa Thompson), Cassius’ girlfriend, as the lead gets more embroiled in the corporate world. Yeun’s character might be the most decent and has the most integrity in the whole film. This, along with Okja, marked a major turning point in his career, where Yeun began to work with some of the most exciting new directors. Stream on The Roku Channel
7 The Walking Dead (2010 – 2022)
The Walking Dead became a phenomenon almost from the get-go, as in the story of Rick (Andrew Lincoln), who wakes up after a coma and discovers that zombies have infested the world and he needs to try to survive. One of the first people he encounters and helps him is a delivery guy named Glen (Yeun), who will become one of his most trusted friends.
Yeun’s Breakout Role
For many, this was the first time they saw Yeun, and it became his breakout role. Glen becomes the heart of the show by being unassuming and smart, always trying to be positive, and not letting their circumstances destroy his soul. His love story with Maggie (Lauren Cohan) is still the best in the show’s long history. So much so that his character’s demise was the moment many stopped watching. His character was so important that he’s still felt and talked about by Maggie all these years (and spinoffs) later. Stream on Netflix
6 Invincible (2021 – Present)
Mark Grayson (Yeun) is a teenager who discovers he has powers and decides to become a superhero like his father, Omni-Man (J.K. Simmons). That’s how Invincible started. The animated series is as bloody and sci-fi as they come and makes use of the fact that it’s animated to create some of the best, most thrilling, and violent superhero fight sequences ever made.
Yeun Nails the Character’s Emotional Depth
Even if the show is mostly action, Yeun has been able to infuse Mark with a sense of decency and wonderment, showing how much of a good heart the character has. Since the show started, the character has shown all the emotions in the spectrum, from having fun with his new powers to being scared, sad, happy, in love, and many, many more, and Yeun has nailed every one of those feelings, showing the emotional depth of the character and his voicing talent. Invincible season two is set to return from it’s hiatus on March 14, 2024 and given how great the previous episodes have been the series will likely continue to be one of the best superhero shows of all time and Yeun’s Mark Grayson will be seen as one of the best superheroes ever. Stream on Amazon Prime Video
5 Burning (2018)
- Release Date
- May 17, 2018
- Chang-dong Lee
The 2018 South Korean film Burning was featured in many “Best Films of the Decade” lists including a list from Rolling Stone. Burning cast Steven Yeun in his most mysterious role to date. The film reunited its protagonist, Jong-su, with a childhood friend named Hae-mi who he had a romantic interest in. Throughout the film, Jong-su was deeply disturbed by the mysterious nature of Hae-mi’s friend, Ben (played by Steven Yeun). Ben was very friendly and polite, but came across as unusual and creepy, who had a dark, strange hobby.
A Charismatic Yet Enigmatic Performance
Based on Haruki Murakami’s work, Burning was an excellent psychological thriller, making audiences question the nature of its characters. But the film works because of Yeun’s fantastic performance. He’s charismatic and with an easy demeanor, but also an enigma that draws audiences closer, even if every new thing they learn about the character should make them hate it. It’s understandable why Hae-mi would be interested in his Ben, making a love triangle much different than those movies usually create, and that only works because of the performances by all involved. Indeed, it was definitely a highlight in Yeun’s film career. Stream on Netflix
4 Nope (2022)
Jordan Peele returns to direct a film about the residents of a lonely gulch in inland California bearing witness to an uncanny and chilling discovery. Daniel Kaluuya, Barbie Ferreira, and Steven Yeun star.
- Release Date
- July 22, 2022
Jordan Peele’s latest movie, Nope, tells the story of Emerald (Keke Palmer) and OJ (Daniel Kaluuya) as the siblings discover some kind of UFO living in a cloud over their ranch. Yeun plays a supporting character named Ricky “Jupe” Park, who has demons of his own and might be able to help them, or exploit them to profit of them.
A Tour de Force Performance
Yeun’s character is a difficult one to play. His character has to be charismatic yet hunted. Fun yet broken, and look normal yet absolutely traumatized. During the movie, he tells the sibling how he’s still hunted for something that happened when he was a kid actor in a sitcom with a chimpanzee. The actor pulls it off in a tour de force performance, creating a unique supporting character with a layered psychology. Jupe is so interesting that he could’ve led his own movie or had a prequel spinoff about his life before he met the Haywood siblings. Yeun’s role in Nope is so great that many were hoping he could land a Best Supporting Acting Oscar nomination for his role. Rent on Apple TV, Amazon Video, and Google Play Movies
3 Okja (2017)
- Release Date
- June 28, 2017
- Tilda Swinton , Sheena Kamal , Michael Mitton , Colm Hill , Kathryn Kirkpatrick , Jose Carias
Before the groundbreaking cinematic masterpiece Parasite was released, director Bong Joon-ho directed Okja for Netflix. Like Bong Joon-ho’s Snowpiercer, Okja featured both English-speaking and Korean-speaking characters. Okja was the name of a genetically modified super pig with a special bond to a young farm girl named Mija. After Okja was taken, Mija started a brave mission to save her animal friend. During the adventure, she crossed paths with the ALF (the Animal Liberation Front). Steven Yeun played K, one of the members of the Animal Liberation Front.
He Plays a Small but Important Character
Since Mija couldn’t speak English, K became a translator between Mija and the ALF. Okja was the perfect watch for viewers who wanted to see a unique adventure movie exploring our relationship with animals and the food industry. Although Yeun’s role is not the biggest, it’s essential to the film, as he proves he believes in the cause and will do anything for it. The actor shows how good he can be with not that much material. His K has one of the better arcs in the movie, redeeming himself and being one of the heroes and making audiences see him as more than just Glen from The Walking Dead. Stream on Netflix
2 Beef (2003)
- Release Date
- April 6, 2023
- Lee Sung Jin
- Ione Skye , Joseph Lee , Patti Yasutake , Young Mazino , Andrew Santino
After a road rage incident, Danny (Yeun) and Amy (Ali Wong) start a Beef with each other that begins with small things and keeps getting bigger and bigger as they obsess over each other and how to destroy this unknown’s life as this might be the only thing that brings happiness to these two broken people.
He’s Winning All the Awards for His Performance
Yeun and Wang (in a Tuca & Bertie reunion) get great characters to imbue, and the ten episodes allow them to show their many layers and how they evolve. Yeun has to be both comic and dramatic, relatable and hateable, an average person who becomes obsessed and will do anything to destroy Wong’s character, creating a tragicomic character through all those emotions. Critics loved Yeun’s performance so much that he won an Emmy, a Golden Globe, and a Critics’ Choice Award for it, (same as Wong). Here, the actor proved this might be one of the most complete, disturbing, and beautiful performances in Yeun’s career, as he shows new depths to his talent. Stream on Netflix
1 Minari (2020)
- Release Date
- Lee Isaac Chung
- 1hr 55min
Minari has become Steven Yeun’s highest-rated movie. The film, directed by Lee Isaac Chung, was inspired by the director’s own upbringing. Set on a farm in Arkansas during the 1980s, the film tells the story of a South Korean immigrant family creating a life for themselves in the United States. Yeun played Jacob, a father who aspires to a better life for his family, even if that places a major strain on Jacob’s marriage with his wife, Monica.
Yeun Earned His First Academy Award for the Performance
Minari explores important family dynamics, struggles, culture, and identity in a way that few movies do today, as it tells an honest human story and is a compelling family drama for everyone. Yeun’s performance as Jacob is the film’s center, as the character will do anything for his family. Yeun plays it understated, yet you can see in his eyes and in how he moves that he feels all the weight of the world on his shoulders while trying to create the best experience possible for his family. It’s a very internal performance, and yet audiences understand everything Jacob is thinking and feeling, something not many actors can do. The actor earned his first, and for the moment, only Academy Award nomination thanks to his portrayal of Jacob. Stream on Netflix