When I naively boasted to Collider’s senior editorial staff that I could absolutely rank the shit out of Gerard Butler’s movies, I made one very important miscalculation – Gerard Butler has made no less than 78,000 films in the past fifteen years. And while nothing would more enrich my soul than hunkering down to watch several hundred hours of the Swole Scotsman, it’s simply not possible for me to do that and also meet my deadline. So what I’ve done is ranked all of Gerard Butler’s biggest movies, with the intention of adding more of his films to the list every so often. Think of this as a living document, the Constitution of the United Abdominal Muscles of Gerard Butler’s Filmography.
Directors/Writers: Mark Neveldine, Brian Taylor
Cast: Gerard Butler, Michael C. Hall,
This is not a good movie.
Director: Richard Donner
Writers: Jeff Maguire, George Nolfi
Cast: Paul Walker, Gerard Butler, Frances O’Conner
Timeline is an interesting film, because it is an example of several talented forces coming together to make a thunderously mediocre turdsplash of an adventure tale. Directed by Hollywood mainstay Richard Donner and based on a novel by modern sci-fi icon Michael Crichton, this movie about a team of graduate students time-traveling back to medieval Europe to rescue their stranded professor is as boring as it is disappointing. However, Gerard Butler’s performance as André Marek, an archaeologist so obsessed with the time period that he practices swordfighting and archery like he’s preparing for a heist at a Renaissance Faire, is a genuine bright spot. Marek has such an open-faced enthusiasm for history that he’s almost like a kid running circles around the dinosaur bones in a natural history museum, and Butler plays him with a careful balance of naivety and pensiveness. He’s the polar opposite of the film’s other bright spot, Michael Sheen as the scenery-chewing villain Lord Oliver. Timeline is a difficult movie to recommend, because while its time-travel twists are kind of neat, you can also see them lurching towards you from a mile away.
14. Gods of Egypt
Director: Alex Proyas
Writers: Matt Sazama, Burk Sharpless
Cast: Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Gerard Butler, Brenton Thwaites
I had to pause Gods of Egypt after the first hour, during the scene in which Geoffrey Rush was standing on the bridge of his space barge shooting lasers at a giant snake, because my living room was spinning and I was about to collapse from sheer delirium. The 2016 fantasy action-adventure film from Dark City director Alex Proyas stars Nicholaj Coster-Waldau as the Egyptian god Horus, who must defeat his villainous uncle Set (Gerard Butler) and reclaim the throne of the world. Without hyperbole, this movie is out of its fucking mind. It’s a movie that is as huge as it is dumb, and Butler is having a whale of a time playing the villain. Meanwhile, Jaime Lannister has some fun bits escorting some nerd who is supposed to be our main character, a twerpy thief named Bek. In one of the film’s greatest achievements, the gods are all super tall and all the humans are hobbit-sized, which means there’s more than one scene in which Horus has to scoop Bek up and carry him like a fussy toddler. That said, it is impossible to ignore the whitewashing in this film. There is not a single Arab actor in sight, and it only becomes more glaring and frustrating as the movie plays on. Gods of Egypt could’ve been a thoroughly watchable popcorn flick, but as it is, it’s merely embarrassing for all the worst reasons.
13. Machine Gun Preacher
Director: Marc Foster
Writers: Jason Keller
Cast: Gerard Butler, Michelle Monaghan, Michael Shannon
Machine Gun Preacher, the 2011 drama about reformed biker gang member Sam Childers devoting his life to saving orphaned children in South Sudan, is a very uneven film. Butler’s performance as Childers is undeniably compelling – he’s not a terribly likeable character, prone to bouts of terrifying rage at his family even after he’s changed his criminal ways. It’s easy to empathize with his cause, as we’re shown time and again the brutality inflicted upon South Sudanese children by Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army, but at the same time the movie seems to be (accidentally?) making the argument that Sam’s crusade is rooted in selfishness. He’s a man doing the right thing for the wrong reasons, and while that’s probably not the point of view adopted by Machine Gun Preacher’s source material (it’s based on Childers’ self-aggrandizing autobiography), it has the potential to make a by-the-numbers drama infinitely more interesting. The problem is, the movie doesn’t seem to realize it’s making this point. We’re given flashes of it, as Sam continues to neglect his family to the point of cruelty (he blows up at his daughter for asking if she can have money for her school’s formal dance in one of the film’s better scenes) and drives them into poverty by selling everything they own to support his quest without discussing the decision with his wife. Machine Gun Preacher ultimately stumbles to an extremely unsatisfying conclusion in spite of Butler’s strong performance, becoming another slightly embarrassing “white savior” movie with noble intent but exploitative execution.
Director: Dean Devlin
Writers: Dean Devlin, Paul Guyot
Cast: Gerard Butler, Jim Sturgess, Abbie Cornish, Ed Harris
Once you accept the sentence “Gerard Butler is a scientist,” all bets are off. Butler stars as a man who designed a network of satellites that can literally control the weather, but the satellites get hijacked by a madman who wants to take over the world. This film is pure Roland Emmerich 90s disaster trash (it was co-written and directed by Emmerich’s longtime producing partner Dean Devlin), complete with an ensemble cast that includes Ed Harris, Jim Sturgess, Richard Schiff, Andy Garcia, Zazie Beetz, Abbie Cornish, Robert Sheehan, and Eugenio Derbez, several of whom will be dead by the end credits. Butler is thunderously unbelievable as a scientist, and the movie feels incredibly dated even though it was released in 2017. That said, it isn’t hurting anybody, and if you love dopey Emmerich films, you could do worse than Geostorm. And honestly, when else are you going to see Gerard Butler go to space to repair a rogue satellite?
11. Dracula 2000
Director: Patrick Lussier
Writer: Joel Soisson
Cast: Jonny Lee Miller, Gerard Butler, Justine Waddell, Christopher Plummer
American audiences got their first real taste of Gerard Butler when he played Dracula in the imaginatively titled 2000 horror film Dracula 2000. Let me be the first to tell you that this movie is both A) dumb as shit, and B) extremely fun to watch. Butler’s performance is little more than smoldering, open-mouthed looks (he doesn’t speak his first line until over 30 minutes into the film), but the script manages to craft an interesting backstory for the famous vampire that pays off with an unexpectedly emotional climax. The best parts of Dracula 2000 are when it updates Brahm Stoker’s story for the modern world – the scene aboard the Demeter now takes place in an airplane, and they pull some genuinely clever tricks with the idea that Dracula’s image doesn’t appear in mirrors or on videotape. However, it is intensely stupid and loaded with generally terrible acting, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing depending on what kind of mood you’re in. And Butler is supremely watchable, even though he has about as many lines as Boba Fett.
10. Olympus Has Fallen
Director: Antoine Fuqua
Writers: Creighton Rothenberger, Katrin Benedikt
Cast: Gerard Butler, Morgan Freeman, Aaron Eckhart
Olympus Has Fallen is like the angry stepbrother of Roland Emmerich’s White House Down. Both movies were released the same year, but Olympus Has Fallen eschews all the shlocky fun of Emmerich’s movie in favor of an overserious action thriller. Gerard Butler plays a Secret Service agent Die Harding his way through the White House after it is taken over by North Korean terrorists, and he does his fair share of hateful killing before the end credits roll. There’s a few embarrassing moments of melodramatic patriotism, such as when President Aaron Eckhart loudly declares “We don’t negotiate with terrorists!” right before the terrorists shoot a woman to death in front of him, and Melissa Leo defiantly growls out the Pledge of Allegiance while the bad guys drag her away. Despite those moments, it’s a reasonably solid action movie, albeit a bit grim (the film begins by dropping Ashley Judd off of a bridge). Butler is totally believable as an emotionally wounded but determined hero who will still rise to the occasion and stab as many people in the brain as necessary to rescue the president. Plus, he has an improbable but tense knife fight with Dylan McDermott, and that’s something.
Director: Ric Roman Waugh
Writer: Chris Sparling
Cast: Gerard Butler, Morena Baccarin
Director Ric Roman Waugh’s brutal apocalypse movie stars Butler as John Garrity, a structural engineer whose family is selected to report to a top-secret bunker after a world-ending comet begins to break up and pummel the Earth’s surface. However, Garrity’s diabetic son is denied access, and he and his wife Allison (Morena Baccarin) are separated in the confusion. The movie follows them struggling to reunite and get to some kind of safety as the world literally comes to an end around them. Greenland is an incredibly bleak film about the breakup of society and the horrible things people will do to each other in the name of survival. I came into this movie expecting a level of Roland Emmerich disaster flick seriousness (like in Butler’s other apocalyptic film Geostorm), but that is very much not what this movie is. It’s an incredibly serious, sobering look at the end of the world, with very little hope to be found. Greenland is a better-than-average disaster drama that suffered from its release date – I can think of very few people who would enjoy sitting through such a dark, humorless film about societal collapse in the year of our lord 2020.
8. The Bounty Hunter
Director: Andy Tennant
Writer: Sarah Thorp
Cast: Jennifer Anniston, Gerard Butler, Jason Sudeikis
After Hollywood (correctly) identified that Gerard Butler excels as a drunken, cantankerous scumbag, they decided to try and insert this persona into a handful of romantic comedies with varying results. The Bounty Hunter is an action romcom that stars Butler as a hard luck bail enforcement agent tasked with bringing his ex-wife Jennifer Anniston to jail after she inadvertently jumps bond in a relatively minor traffic case. Butler is sufficiently charming, and he and Anniston have good chemistry, but unfortunately the material they’re given doesn’t do either one of them any favors. They stumble upon a mystery that is neither interesting nor makes a ton of sense, and the movie makes a few inexplicable detours (they randomly stop at a bed and breakfast for about 20 minutes, bringing the action to an abrupt halt for some cutesy romcom antics). Also, Jason Sudeikis has a truly embarrassing role as a coworker of Anniston’s who is hopelessly in love with her, which results in a B plot that I couldn’t give two shits about. But all in all, it’s a pleasant enough movie, and both lead actors seem to be having a good time. Also, The Bounty Hunter features a gratuitous shirtless scene in which a glistening towel-clad Butler strides out of the shower only to be electrocuted in the neck by Anniston, which elevates the rating of this movie by an entire letter grade.
7. Den of Thieves
Director: Christian Gudegast
Writers: Christian Gudegast, Paul Scheuring
Cast: Gerard Butler, Pablo Schrieber, O’Shea Jackson Jr.
Den of Thieves is a little too long and a little too devoted to Gerard Butler as its star, but if you stick with it, it turns into a rewarding heist film with a shootout climax that echoes Michael Mann’s Heat in terms of stakes and intensity. Butler plays a perpetually drunk scumbag detective hot on the trail of a team of criminal masterminds, attempting to crack their master plan of robbing the Federal Reserve in Los Angeles. The movie is a bit of a slog in parts, and I couldn’t give less of a fig about the B plot concerning Butler’s dissolving marriage, but once we get to the heist in the second half, the whole thing takes off like the Rocketeer. Den of Thieves suddenly transforms into a surprisingly tense crime flick, as we watch the thieves’ genuinely impressive plan unfold with the cops struggling to keep up. Unfortunately, Butler is the weakest link here. He plays the part of a belligerently unlikeable shitheel well enough, but the character is such a tired trope at this point that I could not bring myself to care about him in the slightest and was actually thankful for the spans in which he isn’t onscreen. This conundrum makes Den of Thieves a curious entry on this list – it’s a good Gerard Butler movie, but Gerard Butler isn’t particularly good in it.
6. Reign of Fire
Director: Rob Bowman
Writers: Matt Greenberg, Gregg Chabot, Kevin Peterka
Cast: Matthew McConaughey, Christian Bale, Gerard Butler
Reign of Fire is one of the most gloriously stupid movies I have ever experienced, and while it is by no means “good,” it is undeniably “a movie featuring bald Matthew McConaughey rocketing through the air and swinging an ax into a dragon’s face” by every possible definition of that very specific phrase. Gerard Butler plays Creedy, Christian Bale’s best friend and second-in-command of a community of survivors living in a post-apocalyptic wasteland plagued by angry dragons. This is pre-yoked Butler, so he’s more of a gangly, warm-hearted presence who undercuts Bale’s dour scowling with some much-needed humor. It’s one of the biggest swings of the early 2000s, essentially a Roland Emmerich disaster film with mythical creatures, and while Reign of Fire never quite has as much fun as its premise promises, Butler’s performance serves as one of the only grounded elements of this pulpy, over-the-top fantasy yarn.
5. The Ugly Truth
Director: Robert Luketic
Writers: Nicole Eastman, Karen McCullah Lutz, Kirsten Smith
Cast: Katherine Heigl, Gerard Butler, John Michael Higgins
I am ashamed to admit I found The Ugly Truth more charming than I expected. It’s a brisk 90-minute R-rated romcom starring two unfairly attractive people (Gerard Butler and Katherine Heigl) who share some genuine chemistry in-between scenes of John Michael Higgins ranting about a bird in his dressing room and women wrestling in Jello. Heigl is a TV producer forced to hire the aggressively misogynistic Butler to host a relationship advice segment in her failing morning show to boost ratings. But he turns out not to be quite as big a scumbag as he portrays on his show, and surprise! They fall for each other. “It’s not as problematic as I expected” is bizarre praise to shower on a movie, but The Ugly Truth earns it by actually having some insight into Butler and Heigl’s characters and being thoughtful about how it addresses misogyny. (The film blessedly reveals most of Butler’s show is an act based on a history of being wounded by bad relationships, and Heigl calls him out on his bullshit in a scene that is both well-written and expertly performed.) There’s also a relatively fun Cyrano-esque subplot in which Heigl tries to use Butler’s advice to form a relationship with her hot doctor neighbor. It is by no means a perfect film, but The Ugly Truth is strangely adorable.
4. The Phantom of the Opera
Director: Joel Schumacher
Writers: Joel Schumacher, Andrew Lloyd Webber
Cast: Emmy Rossum, Gerard Butler, Patrick Wilson
Gerard Butler, a man who is very much not a singer, does a surprisingly good job in Joel Schumacher’s film adaptation of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s iconic musical The Phantom of the Opera. The Phantom is a notoriously difficult part to sing (the production originally wanted Hugh Jackman, but he was busy filming Van Helsing because the universe is frequently hilarious), and Webber personally worked with Butler to adapt the songs to Butler’s vocal range. The end result might be somewhat disappointing for purists, but he pulls it off admirably. Also, he’s kind of perfectly cast as the dark, tragic maniac skulking through the opera house and drooling over Christine (Emmy Rossum) from the shadows. Butler does well with brooding pathology (he might have been a good Batman in another timeline), and he manages to convey sympathy and menace frequently within the same scene. He plays perfectly alongside the slightly over-the-top visual spectacle of Schumacher’s adaptation. That said, absolutely nothing can prepare you for a profusely wigged Patrick Wilson bursting into the film singing “Can it be CHRIStine?” Wilson is a fine actor and singer and this moment is in no way meant to be funny, but I laugh my ass off every time.
Director: Zack Snyder
Writers: Zack Snyder, Kurt Johnstad, Michael B. Gordon
Cast: Gerard Butler, Lena Headey, David Wenham
The film that made household names out of Zack Snyder and Gerard Butler’s abs remains just as stylized and weird as it ever was. It’s hard not to stumble backwards in awe when watching some of the truly gonzo moments of 300 – the visuals are striking and unforgettable, the action is gorgeously over-the-top, and the sheer meat factory of mostly-nude Butler and Michael Fassbender chopping their way through hordes of literal monsters is enough to crack the axis of even the most stubborn cishet male. (Indeed, it is the Predator of the 21st century.) However, what made Butler come out of this movie a star wasn’t just his physique, but his charisma as a leading man, and the humanity of his performance as a devoted leader who knows from the outset of his mission that he is doomed. He turns Leonidas into a compelling, relatable character, which is no simple task when you’re playing a king of antiquity. That said, there are plenty of aspects of 300 that have not aged particularly well since 2006. The film is pretty racist in its depiction of the Persians as inhuman mutant wizards, and the slow-mo / speed-up style of action that Snyder made famous has been overplayed to the degree of Creed in the late 90s. Also, I love David Wenham, but his narration is overwrought to the point of self-parody. On the other hand, it is the only movie to date in which Cersei Lannister stabs Jimmy McNulty to death at a toga party. 300 is fuckin’ wild, man.
2. Law Abiding Citizen
Director: F. Gary Gray
Writer: Kurt Wimmer
Cast: Jamie Foxx, Gerard Butler, Bruce McGill
F. Gary Gray’s 2009 thriller Law Abiding Citizen might be one of Gerard Butler’s best performances, and it’s absolutely one of the strongest movies in his filmography. Butler plays Clyde, an engineer whose wife and daughter are killed in a home invasion. When the killers are caught, Clyde’s hotshot lawyer Nick (Jamie Foxx) accepts a sweetheart plea deal that lets one of the men go free in order to preserve his conviction record rather than take the case to trial and risk losing. Clyde then unleashes an elaborate revenge not only on the two guilty men, but on Nick and everyone involved with the case who was more concerned with their career than with making sure justice was served. It’s a compelling film, as it’s difficult to entirely side with either Nick or Clyde, and both actors are crushing it so hard that it’s easy to overlook some of the more unbelievable elements of the script. Butler in particular gives such a believably raw performance that you’re almost rooting for his body count to rise. It’s an extremely post-9/11 film in that its message of a broken justice system gets muddled to the point of Foxx delivering the line “Fuck his civil rights” in a moment that’s supposed to make the audience cheer. But as a sum of its parts, Law Abiding Citizen is a strong, emotionally gripping thriller featuring Butler as one of the better movie villains in recent memory. Also, there is an inexplicable and gratuitous Nude Butler scene that will have you saying, “More like Gerard Buttler.” And you will be right. It is more like Gerard Buttler.
1. How to Train Your Dragon
Directors: Chris Sanders, Dean DeBlois
Writers: Will Davies, Dean DeBlois, Chris Sanders
Cast: Jay Baruchel, Gerard Butler, Craig Ferguson
How to Train Your Dragon is delightful, you guys. One of the better films to come out of DreamWorks Animation, the movie follows Hiccup (Jay Baruchel)), a young Viking who is a nerdy disappointment to his gruff father, the village chieftain Stoick the Vast (Gerard Butler). Hiccup is too skinny and soft-hearted to join the other Vikings in their dragon hunts, so he builds inventions instead, and ends up capturing an incredibly rare dragon he befriends and names Toothless. Hiccup realizes that dragons aren’t the evil monsters the Vikings believe them to be, which puts him in direct conflict with his overbearing father. Butler already exudes gruff dad energy in real life, so his casting in How to Train Your Dragon is spot-on. It’s also quite a good performance, as Stoick’s conflict with Hiccup is the emotional backbone of the film, and Butler mixes a good amount of compassion in with his character’s constant disapproval. It’s a sweet, funny adventure movie with gorgeous visuals (the filmmakers consulted with none other than Roger Deakins to help give the action a “live-action feel”), and it’s easily one of the best entries in Butler’s filmography.
So many shows, so little time.
About The Author