Gerard Butler is an actor with a career more multi-faceted than one may think. In recent years, he has carved out a specific niche in Hollywood as an action star, with some films becoming franchises. While these movies have a general cohesive tone, they still allow Butler to showcase some nuances in his performances. This niche has proved so successful for him that the general public has come primarily to associate him with these types of films.
However, Butler's filmography is far from one note. While, as of late, he has focused on these action films, overall, Butler has proven adept at romantic comedies, tender dramas, and rousing adventures. His career is truthfully superb. My ranking of his 23 best films may surprise some, but it showcases Butler's range, immense talent, and keen eye for choosing terrific films. Indeed, any Gerard Butler movie marathon would be quite the ride.
1. The Phantom of The Opera (2004)
The movie adaptation of Andrew Lloyd Webber's Broadway musical is a stunning, transcendent piece of artistry that is the finest of his career. In the film, Butler plays the title role of the Phantom, a man whose reign of terror over a French opera house contrasts with his passionate love for the ingenue Christine (Emmy Rossum). But the line between his love and obsession is blurred as Christine grapples with her awakening passion and genuine fear while also falling in love with her childhood sweetheart, Raoul (Patrick Wilson).
The Phantom of the Opera is gorgeous, from the sumptuous costumes and exquisite production design to the incandescent cinematography. The performances are superb collectively. And although Butler was the only untrained singer, he holds his own remarkably and makes the character his own. The Phantom is a role Butler believes no one enjoys from him. But this could not be further from the truth for so many people. He beautifully balances the Phantom's imposing dominance and gentle vulnerability, helping to make the film stunning. The film co-stars Minnie Driver, Miranda Richardson, and Ciarán Hinds. (Available on DVD and to rent VOD).
2. P.S. I Love You (2007)
P.S. I Love You is a bittersweet romantic film that feels hopeful amid significant loss. The film begins with a young couple, Holly and Gerry (Hilary Swank and Butler), who get into a big fight only to make up moments later. It's an authentic emotional scene that sets up the journey ahead.
Gerry passes away before his time but writes and sets up a delivery of letters that will be delivered to her to help her grieve his loss. Consequently, the film flashes back and forth between moments with the couple in the past with the present. It becomes a moving love story in reverse that showcases the profound power of love and the devastation of loss.
This film is not only a heartfelt one but ideal for Butler as an actor. It allows him to showcase charm, vulnerability, humor, and musical talent. I can feel his chemistry with Swank in my pores as the two shine together on screen. This movie is poignant, funny, and one that so many remember the most fondly from Butler. P.S. I Love You co-stars Harry Connick Jr., Kathy Bates, Lisa Kudrow, Gina Gershon, James Marsters, and Jeffrey Dean Morgan. (Available on DVD and to rent VOD).
3. Plane (2023)
This film follows Butler's character, Brodie Torrance, an airline pilot forced to make an emergency landing after lightning strikes the plane and they lose power. Unfortunately for Brodie, his co-pilot, and this small flight of passengers, they've landed on a lawless island where the inhabitants quickly capture them for ransom. It's up to Brodie, Louis, a prisoner on the flight, and a team of mercenaries, to find a way to escape and get everybody safely home.
Do not let the title of this film deter you from watching Plane. While the simplistic name is humorous, it also suggests a lack of pretension on Butler's part (who insisted on the title), which essentially acknowledges that he doesn't take himself too seriously. The film, however, is not silly in the least. It may be an entertaining, popcorn kind of flick, but Plane also has subtle commentaries about human nature and global issues, heart-pounding moments, authentic combat and action sequences, and emotional moments.
At 107 minutes, its fast pace should be a blueprint for all of the movies of the genre, as the tension never waivers. For all these reasons, Plane is placed high in my ranking. (Available on DVD and to rent VOD).
4. Hunter Killer (2018)
Hunter Killer is a lesser-known film from Butler and one of his finest action dramas. In the movie, he plays a submarine captain sent to investigate the sinking of another sub near the Russian coast. But the situation proves more dire than they initially expected, as the submarine and a team of Navy Seals on land discover an attempt to overthrow the country and a threat to the Russian President's life.
Hunter Killer is a fantastic ensemble film co-starring Gary Oldman, Common, and Linda Cardellini. Butler gives a solid lead performance that supplies the film with its steadfast and strong core. And the movie is tense, thrilling, and thoughtful. It may be because submarines are meant to be undetectable that it's much less known. All jokes aside, Hunter Killer showcases how quality films sometimes go unnoticed. (Available on DVD, to stream on MAX and Spectrum, and rent VOD).
5. Dear Frankie (2005)
Dear Frankie is one of Butler's earliest films. While it's a supporting role, it demonstrates his charisma and gentleness. The latter characteristic sounds vastly different than his recent fare, but it's ever present on screen. The movie follows a single mom of a sweet, deaf boy who writes to his absent father, longing to meet him. Wanting to give her son something tangible, she hires a man to pose as her son's father.
Dear Frankie is sweet-natured and the true definition of an underrated gem. Butler perfectly plays the handsome stranger's role perfectly, giving one of his most understated but lovely performances. (Available on DVD, to stream on PlutoTV, and rent VOD).
6. Chasing Mavericks (2012)
In Chasing Mavericks, Butler steps into the sports drama genre with grace and ease. The film follows the true story of surfer Jay Moriarty and his friend and mentor Frosty Hesson. The two meet when Frosty rescues Jay from drowning when he's just a boy. Cut to 15-year-old Jay, and we see him longing to surf with the best on the infamous Maverick waves.
With the guidance of Frosty and the strong bond they develop, both learn a lot about life, determination, and faith. It's an undeniably uplifting and bittersweet film about chasing your dreams. Butler has not made many family-friendly dramatic films. But he should make a hundred if they could all be as wonderful as Chasing Mavericks. (Available on DVD, to stream on Disney+, and rent VOD).
7. Law Abiding Citizen (2009)
Law Abiding Citizen is a provocative film that will make any fan of Butler sit up and take notice. If one is used to his heroic, good-guy efforts, this film is a refreshing, albeit dramatic, change of pace. In the movie, Butler's character Clyde Shelton is playing a long game that is well-crafted and devastating. After a home invasion, his wife and daughter are brutally murdered. Without enough evidence to convict both intruders, one killer is set free after a brief sentence thanks to a plea deal.
Frustrated with the lack of justice for his family, Clyde takes things to extreme vigilantism. He sets out to punish those who killed his family and make examples of the justice system, including the assistant district attorney (Jamie Foxx).
The line between what is morally justified is exceptionally blurred in Law Abiding Citizen, making it not only an entertaining thriller but a thought-provoking one. The back-and-forth between Butler and Foxx is fantastic, and the tension is wound so tightly when it finally snaps it makes for an ambiguously moral but satisfying conclusion. (Available on DVD, to stream on MAX and Spectrum, and rent VOD).
8. Playing for Keeps (2012)
Playing For Keeps is a pristine example of the type of film that I want to see more of from Butler. His charms and ability to be very tender and sweet are on full display in this romantic comedy. Butler plays George, a former soccer star who wants to connect with his young son (Noah Lima) and win back the heart of his ex-wife (Jessica Biel). Determined to be a better man, George becomes his son's soccer coach. Still, temptations towards unsavory behavior abound and, humorously, are challenging to resist.
What I love about Playing for Keeps is that it's a film about second chances. It's always possible to correct your mistakes and be someone a family deserves. His chemistry with Biel is lovely, and the scenes with Lima tug at the heartstrings. Butler's current string of films is worthy, but more light-hearted movies would be most welcome. This movie co-stars Catherine Zeta-Jones, Judy Greer, Dennis Quaid, and Uma Thurman. (Available on DVD and to rent VOD).
9. Timeline (2003)
Underrated and thoroughly engaging, Timeline follows a group of archaeologists and scientists who discover a wormhole at another time. After the father of Chris becomes trapped in the past, he and a team travel back to 1357 France to retrieve him. But their journey proves dangerous, and they must survive a famed and deadly impending battle between France and the British and a ticking clock to return home safely.
Timeline is another movie demonstrating that being little known doesn't mean it is unworthy. On the contrary, Timeline is one the greatest time travel films out there, thanks to the outstanding ensemble cast and emotional heartbeat. Butler's engaging character is someone who has a reverence for history. He's dashing, funny, and solid in that grand romantic tradition of classic adventures. Directed by Richard Donner, Timeline also stars Paul Walker, Frances O'Connor, Billy Connolly, Ethan Embry, Michael Sheen, Anna Friel, David Thewlis, and Neal McDonough. (Available on DVD, to stream on STARZ, and rent VOD).
10. Last Seen Alive (2022)
Last Seen Alive grounds itself firmly within Butler's current niche of roles, with its intense tone and subject matter. The story follows a couple going through some marital troubles who have agreed to separate for a while. As he's driving her to her parent's house to stay, they stop at a gas station. She goes inside to buy water, but as he awaits her return, he soon realizes she has seemingly vanished. And the search is on to discover where his wife has gone.
Last Seen Alive works well because it captures that frantic energy and utter terror if a loved one disappeared in a flash. Moreover, as he tirelessly searches, the frustration and willingness to move Heaven and Earth to find her feel entirely authentic. Butler imbues his performance with all the emotions one would experience in this situation, combined with a hefty dose of testosterone. On-screen for most of the film's runtime, the film is incredibly affecting because it rests on Butler's capable shoulders. (Available on DVD, to stream on Netflix, and rent VOD).
11. Olympus Has Fallen (2013)
The first in the franchise where Butler portrays secret service agent Mike Banning, Olympus Has Fallen, is a roller coaster action film of the popcorn variety. As Butler describes, these films are morality tales of good versus evil. In the movie, the White House is attacked, and the President is kidnapped. Banning is trapped inside and must find a way to save the commander-in-chief and possibly the U.S.
This film is a worst-case scenario, akin to Independence Day, without the other-worldly element. While the action is extreme and the plausibility (hopefully) somewhat far-fetched, the film grounds itself on the emotions it elicits, the sense of patriotism, and the performances. Butler is understandably the backbone of the movie, with a magnetism that makes it easy to understand why this became a franchise. Olympus Has Fallen also stars Aaron Eckhart, Morgan Freeman, Angela Bassett, Dylan McDermott, and Melissa Leo. Available on DVD, to stream on Sling, Spectrum, USA, SyFy, and NBC, and to rent VOD).
12. Angel Has Fallen (2019)
The third in the Mike Banning franchise, Angel Has Fallen finds the intrepid former secret service agent in his most personal dilemma yet. After an assassination attempt on the President, Banning is accused. Forced to go on the run to prove his innocence and find the real culprit, he must contend with the FBI, who thinks he's guilty and seeks his estranged father for help.
Angel is Fallen is the most subdued of the franchise, which is part of the appeal. It allows Butler to give his most grounded performance of the character without sacrificing any of the action audiences expect. (Available on DVD, to stream on Sling, Spectrum, USA, SyFy, and NBC, and to rent VOD).
13. How To Train Your Dragon Series (2010-2019)
The How to Train Your Dragon films are much beloved, and understandably so. These beautifully animated films tell the story of the hapless young Viking, Hiccup, who wants to join the battle against the dragons that attack their village. His father refuses, but Hiccup defies him and comes to find and befriend a dragon that he can't bear to hurt.
These films are gorgeous and heartfelt, with Butler tackling the role of Hiccup's father, Stoik the Vast. He's gregarious and gruff but good-hearted. And Butler is allowed to let his full Scottish accent and demonstrative qualities out in full force in the role. It's an incredible combination of voice work and animation. (All three films are available on DVD and to rent VOD. How to Train Your Dragon is available to stream on Netflix; How to Train Your Dragon 2 is available to stream on Hulu and FreeVee, and How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World is available to stream on Sling and Spectrum).
14. Greenland (2020)
End-of-the-world films can go two ways. They can be incredibly cheesy if thoroughly entertaining, action films. Or, in the case of Greenland, they can be a somber, genuinely frightening look at humanity in its darkest and most desperate hour. This movie has a simple premise: a deadly comet is falling to the earth, and the government has set up a fail-safe for the scenario. Random people and families are texted where to go for safety and have little time to get there. And the rest are left without hope.
This is a grim film but a thought-provoking one. It shares many similarities with War of the Worlds, where the most frightening element isn't the outside forces but the limited timeline and the violent desperation of humans. While I applaud Greenland's fine qualities, especially the performances and direction, it's also an extremely anxiety-inducing film that left me uneasy. However, that is the point and what makes this film memorable and profoundly affecting. (Available on DVD, to stream on MAX and Spectrum, and to rent VOD).
15. 300 (2006)
300 is one of Butler's most famous roles, marking a turning point in his career. In the film, he plays King Leonidas of Sparta, who leads 300 men on a quest of epic battles against the Persians in Thermopylae circa 480 B.C. The battles are brutal but spurned by a sense of honor and defense against tyranny.
300 is a film with a unique look and hyper-stylized direction by Zack Snyder. The use of slow motion is dramatic and impressive if overused. It's an over-the-top, hyper-masculine film that takes itself very seriously. However, while I may not be the target audience, the style the film is going for is done supremely well, and Butler gives a commanding performance. And it remains one of his most unique and definitive films. 300 also stars Lena Headey, David Wenham, Dominic West, and Michael Fassbender. (Available on DVD and to rent VOD).
16. Den of Thieves (2018)
Den of Thieves is a gritty police drama that centers on a group of brutal thieves partaking in a string of heists and officers trying to stop them. Butler plays a brash detective leading an elite team while his personal life hangs by a thread.
Den of Thieves is a film that explores the lengths people will go on both sides of the law and the devastating consequences that can occur. The greatest moment is when their humanity emerges, particularly from Butler. While the shootout climax lacks believability, it's an impressive crime thriller with a fantastic twist you won't see coming. (Available on DVD and to rent VOD).
17. Machine Gun Preacher (2011)
Machine Gun Preacher is based on the true story of Sam Childers, a man who reaches the lowest of lows, leading him to find faith. After finding God, he completely turns his life around. He becomes a preacher, philanthropist, and crusader for the children of Sudan who are kidnapped and forced to become soldiers. But when this crusade consumes him, he must find a way to help others without losing himself and his family.
This is a compelling film that is both inspiring and heart-wrenching. Butler is superb as Childers, a man whose addictive struggles seep into everything he does, good and bad. The pacing could be faster, the plot could be more cohesive at times, and the subject matter is very difficult to watch. But it's also an important film as it sheds light on the tragic events that still occur today. The film also stars Michelle Monaghan, Michael Shannon, and Kathy Baker. (Available on DVD, to stream on Amazon Prime Video, Hulu, PlutoTV, and Tubi, and to rent VOD).
18. Nim's Island (2008)
Nim's Island is an anomaly in Butler's filmography, which makes it all the more appealing. In the movie, Butler plays the adventurous scientist and single father, Jack Ruscoe, who has an equally adventurous, creative, and inquisitive daughter, Nim (Abigail Breslin). On a tropical island, he studies the local animals and marine life. Nim makes friends with the animals, reads books, and corresponds with her favorite author, Alex Rover (Jodie Foster). When her father doesn't return home from a sailing trip, she writes Rover for help, unknowing that the author has agoraphobia.
The movie primarily focuses on Breslin and Foster, who are both charming and give the film its fun and humor. While Butler is a supporting player in Nim's Island, he fits into the role of both the loving father and the image of Rover's intrepid adventurer from her novels perfectly. It's sweet-natured, silly, and cute family entertainment. (Available on DVD and to rent VOD).
19. Coriolanus (2011)
In Coriolanus, Butler enters the modern Shakespearean world for the first time and holds his own with legendary Bard thespians Ralph Fiennes (who directed the film) and Brian Cox. The film follows the soldier Coriolanus (Fiennes), a man with tremendous bravery but a great disdain for the people of Rome. Dissatisfied with his proclamations and attitudes, the people banish him from the city. This leads him toward his sworn enemy (Butler), to whom he offers his allegiance to seek revenge.
Coriolanus is slow-moving and not the most inspired Shakespeare adaptation. It's a grim look at how low one man's obsession and vanity can drag him down. This is a showcase for Fiennes, and it's apparent this was his passion project. Butler's role is small, but he manages to make it memorable. This movie co-stars Vanessa Redgrave and Jessica Chastain. (Available on DVD, to stream on Amazon Prime Video, FreeVee, PlutoTV, Tubi, and The Roku Channel, and to rent VOD).
20. The Ugly Truth (2009)
The Ugly Truth is a raunchy romantic comedy with a heart deep down. In the film, a kind but rigid television producer (Katherine Heigl) starts producing a show with a brash misogynistic man (Butler) who offers shocking and unfiltered dating advice to women. As the two get to know each other, he offers her his “expertise” to help her with the handsome doctor she likes. And inevitably, sparks fly.
The Ugly Truth has some outdated and problematic notions from Butler's character. While this can be off-putting, in truth, they are a mask for his heartbreak. The two leads have great, natural chemistry, which is the film's greatest attribute, as is the idea that one must let their guard down and be completely themselves to have an honest relationship. (Available on DVD, to stream on STARZ, and rent VOD).
21. London Has Fallen (2016)
The second in the trilogy of Mike Banning movies, London is Fallen, is entertaining but one of the most over-the-top worst-case scenario movies I've ever watched. In this entry, Banning travels with London as security for the President while he attends the funeral of the Prime Minister. The sad event becomes catastrophic as all the World's leaders are threatened.
Like its predecessor, the plausibility of London Has Fallen is, again, hopefully unlikely. The best approach is to sit back and enjoy the ride. This one is non-stop action and thrills with moments that grip you, aided by the great chemistry between Butler and Aaron Eckhart. (Available on DVD, to stream on Netflix, and rent VOD).
22. Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life (2003)
In this sequel to the original 2001 film, we again follow archaeologist Lara Croft (Angelina Jolie), who discovers a mystical orb leading to Pandora's Box's location. After it's stolen, and with unscrupulous people after the orb, Lara enlists her former flame Terry (Butler), to track down the orb.
The Cradle of Life is a fun adventure film that feels sorely missing from today's movie world. It may not reach the heights of others, but it's a harmless film with incredible set pieces, solid action, and great chemistry between Butler and Jolie. (Available on DVD, to stream on MAX and Cinemax, and rent VOD).
23. Shattered, A.K.A. Butterfly on a Wheel (2007)
Shattered (sometimes referred to as Butterfly on a Wheel) explores how far someone is willing to go to save their child's life. In the movie, a couple is terrorized by a man who has them perform a series of outlandish tasks with their daughter's life on the line. As the question arises as to his motivations, the tension builds tremendously well.
The cast is excellent, as the three become unhinged with each passing moment. The ending should not be spoiled, but it's immensely affecting in an unexpected way. Shattered also stars Maria Bello and Pierce Brosnan. (Available on DVD, to stream on FreeVee, Plex, Tubi, and The Roku Channel, and to rent VOD).
Marianne Paluso is a freelance writer and artist and holds a Masters Degree in English and Children’s Literature from San Diego State University. Inspired by her favorite films, television, theme parks and all things pop culture and geek related, she especially loves Disney, classic films, fairy tales, period dramas, musicals, adventures, mysteries, and a good rom-com. She joined Wealth of Geeks in 2021, and has also contributed to The Nerd Machine, Catholic News Agency, Christianity Today, and The La Jolla Light. She writes on her own website TheGirlyNerd.com, creates art that is sold on Redbubble and Etsy, and also partakes in the occasional Disneybound, cosplay, and YouTube video. She resides in San Diego, California.