River Phoenix remains a beloved actor for moviegoers, even nearly three decades after the actor’s untimely passing at the age of 23. Phoenix has accomplished a lot in his young career, big movies like IndianaJones to smaller businesses like Support me. Many viewers continue to consult the credits of his film to appreciate his talent.
IMDb is a good reflection on which Phoenix movies are the best in terms of audience reception, as the average rating is based on thousands of voters. Phoenix’s filmography spans his child star work through to his adult roles, with the scores showing which of Phoenix’s films continue to stand the test of time.
ten I Love You To Death (1990) – 64 – Stream on iTunes
In this black comedy, River Phoenix embodies the young man Devo Nod, in love with Rosalie (Tracey Ullman). Rosalie discovers that her husband, Joey (Kevin Kline), has repeatedly been unfaithful and enlists Devo’s help in trying to kill him out of revenge. In a hilarious twist, Joey turns out to be unkillable due to a number of bizarre coincidences.
Phoenix was known for his work on much more serious materials before I love you to death, so his fans generally appreciate this film to put him in the comic spotlight. It received mixed reviews from critics, but fan reception was more positive, with I love you to death good for his silly on-screen fun.
9 The Thing Called Love (1993) – 6.4 – Stream on Paramount +
River Phoenix was one of the actors vying to play the role of Jack in Titanic before his death, but The thing called love became his last released film. The story is about Miranda (Samantha Mathis), who moves to New York to become a singer. She falls in love with James of Phoenix, with the film then detailing their struggles to rise to fame and keep their relationship intact.
The thing called loveCritical reviews for were mixed because it doesn’t talk show business as much, but viewers appreciate the heartfelt story of young love. It also has nostalgic value due to the fact that it was Phoenix’s last credit before his passing, with the actor still in top form performance-wise.
8 Explorers (1985) – 6.4 – Stream on Starz
In what is one of the best kid-directed movies worth watching, Explorers stars Ethan Hawke and River Phoenix as a pair of genius friends who venture into space through a makeshift spaceship. The boys’ interactions with the aliens reveal the truth about the vastness of the universe, but they learn they must return home to be safe.
Explorers was the directorial debut of Phoenix and Hawke, who both managed to become a hit in the industry. The film carries an innocent tone that makes it appealing to viewers of all ages, and Phoenix’s shy yet intelligent persona showcases the charisma he would forever be associated with.
7 The Mosquito Coast (1986) – 6.6 – Stream on iTunes
The Mosquito Coast is an adventure drama about Allie Fox (Harrison Ford), a deceived inventor who forces his family to venture into the jungles of South America as they subsequently attempt to survive the environment in the middle of the Allie’s increasing erratic behavior. River Phoenix appears as Allie’s son, Charlie, who begins to doubt his father’s sanity.
It’s an interesting movie that carries a tense atmosphere since the family has no idea what Allie will have them do next. Phoenix shines as a troubled youth who wants to rebel against his father, with that aspect coming into full play at the film’s climax.
6 My Own Private Idaho (1991) – 7.0 – Stream on Hoopla
One of River Phoenix’s best-known films, My own private Idaho cast him as street hustler Mikey Waters, who embarks on a journey with his best friend Scott Favor (Keanu Reeves) to find his mother. The story chronicles Mikey’s struggles with his love for Scott and his severe abandonment issues.
There’s probably no better movie to affirm the acting talent that River Phoenix possessed, like My own private Idaho rests firmly on his shoulders. His pairing with Keanu Reeves brings a chemistry-filled performance from both actors, as viewers are encouraged to root for them, but also feel the harsh conditions they live in as street hustlers.
5 Sneakers (1992) – 7.1 – Stream on iTunes
Sneakers is a thriller that details the story of a group of specialized hackers, with Robert Redford’s Martin at the helm. River Phoenix as Technician Carl and is part of the ensemble cast. The main conflict of Sneakers comes from the team accused of murdering the inventor of a decoder they stole under false pretences.
The film gave Phoenix the chance to star alongside Redford, Sidney Poitier and Ben Kingsley, with the young actor showing great on-screen staying power alongside the Oscar-winning heavyweights. Sneakers‘ relevance has increased in recent years where heist thrillers are much more common.
4 Dogfight (1991) – 7.4 – Stream on Kanopy
Although he doesn’t usually appear in the top films involving the Phoenix Brothers, aerial combat is highly rated as part of River Phoenix’s solo efforts. Here, young Marine Eddie falls in love with Rose (Lili Taylor) the day before his deployment to Vietnam.
The first half of aerial combat establishes the characters’ newfound love, following their quick relationship and why they become so enamored with each other. The second half is about preparing for their reunion, showing how they’ve changed over the years. Phoenix’s contrasting performances in the two acts still hold up, as the actor details Eddie’s character development.
3 Running On Empty (1988) – 7.6 – Stream on Criterion Channel
River Phoenix was nominated for an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor with Runs empty, which details the struggles of a talented teenager. His character, Danny, is on the run with his family because of his parents’ fugitive past, but he wants to pursue his own dreams in music.
Runs empty is a coming-of-age drama that puts Danny in a sympathetic light, as viewers can relate to his feelings of isolation and confusion about how he can further harness his talents. Fans continue to praise the film’s theme, helping it land at the top of Phoenix’s filmography.
2 Stand By Me (1986) – 8.1 – Stream on Netflix
River Phoenix established himself as one of the greatest child actors of all time with support me, a coming-of-age story centered on four young boys. It sees the characters embark on a trek to find the body of a missing boy, learning more about each other along the way to form a real bond.
The film received huge praise for the direction of Rob Reiner and the writing of Stephen King, whom the novel is based on. It’s also arguably Phoenix’s best-known film to date, as it captured the attention of moviegoers and people in the film industry with its standout performance.
1 Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989) – 8.3 – Stream on Paramount+
River Phoenix was widely known for its independent films, so its appearance in big budget films IndianaJones franchise served as a new path in his career. Here, Phoenix appeared as a young Indiana Jones in the film’s opening, showing how the titular character developed his love for adventure and treasure hunting.
Although only appearing in the first quarter of the film, Phoenix’s portrayal is remembered as it mimicked the style and mannerisms of Harrison Ford. The film is considered the best of the whole IndianaJones series by many fans and its IMDb score shows how well it has aged as well.
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