The Delirious Imaginarium of Daniel Radcliffe

The daring performer's robust dramatic finesse accompanies an enthusiasm for eccentricity. Somewhere in between, magic happens.
Daniel Radcliffe In Swiss Army Man

Welcome to Filmographiesa column for completists. Every edition brings a working actor’s resumé into focus as we learn about what makes them so compelling. In this entry, we spotlight the filmography of Daniel Radcliffe.

One could be forgiven for thinking that an entertainer peaks upon starring in one of the most renowned film franchises in history. To then go from that to show off triple-threat status in acclaimed stage productions as well as satirical and searing cinematic endeavors alike… Let the record show that Daniel Radcliffe can do just about anything.

The erstwhile child star, who got his start in minuscule roles in David Copperfield (1999) and The Tailor of Panama (2001), virtually grew up before our eyes thanks to the earth-shattering impact of Harry Potter. Radcliffe has since made a startlingly smooth transition from categorically cute chubby-cheeked charmer to fearless, sought-after leading man.

The radically distinctive entries in Radcliffe’s screen oeuvre demand the Filmographies treatment. Read on for our definitive list of the actor’s best.

Harry Potter (2001-2011)

Daniel Radcliffe did not merely spend his formative years in the skin of any old character. To this day, under the guise of the enormously influential titular protagonist in the Harry Potter franchise (starting with 2001’s Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone) the actor continues carrying swathes of kids through the trials of coming of age.

By and large, the impact of Harry Potter is a two-fold experience. Throwing a fresh-faced and (at the time) unknown performer like Radcliffe into the richly escapist possibilities of a magical parallel world provides audiences with the ultimate conduit to latch on.

But Harry Potter’s story itself is incredibly resonant due to its overarching theme of identity. Radcliffe fully embodies the heart and soul of the eight-film saga. Whimsy and phantasm notwithstanding, he is the focal point that shoulders the brunt of the series’ profundity and vulnerability.

Radcliffe truly solidified his craft in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (2007), as evidenced through his heartbreakingly agitated depiction of trauma and teen angst. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (2009) showcases more easygoing sensibilities with comedy — a skill that surprisingly complements that movie’s general grimness.

Ultimately, the two-part Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows gives Harry closure in his hero moments, beckoning an especially world-weary but admirably determined Radcliffe to emerge and flourish.

The Woman in Black (2012)

Daniel Radcliffe’s initial non-Potter work presented him with the opportunity to examine more grounded variations of the assiduous brooding teenager. The heady summer drama December Boys (2007) and historical war biopic My Boy Jack (2007) could not be more dissimilar in nearly all respects. Nevertheless, Radcliffe ties them together through his scrutiny of a young man’s unrelenting, ruinous longing for self-discovery.

The Woman in Black then marked a definitive transition into adult roles for the actor. Radcliffe leads the spooky supernatural drama as a grief-stricken widowed solicitor drawn to a ghostly assignment in a remote English village.

Notably, Radcliffe consistently maintains the feverish emotional pitch of the film with a ruminating performance scored by weighty somberness. Despite generic plot trappings and vanilla scares, he makes The Woman in Black worth watching as its gripping melancholic centerpiece.

A Young Doctor’s Notebook (2012)

By comparison, Daniel Radcliffe found his first substantial television offering in his filmography in a considerably more imaginative period piece. A Young Doctor’s Notebook adapts Mikhail Bulgakov’s short story collection of the same name. The two-season miniseries follows the darkly comedic travails of a morphine-addicted physician haphazardly running a small rural hospital during the Russian Revolution.

With striking fervor, Radcliffe develops protagonist Dr. Vladimir “Nika” Bomgard from an unworldly, inexperienced med school graduate to an overwhelmed, self-serving shell. What feels like hilariously misplaced sincerity at the start of the series feels sorely missed the deeper he descends into depravity and hopelessness.

Radcliffe shares this chaotic lead role with Jon Hamm — a fact amplified by the show’s unorthodox treatment of flashback and flash-forward sequences. The younger and older versions of Nika traverse a conjunct consciousness, inviting both performers into violently captivating portrayals of inner conflict.

With his malleable personifications of idealism and realism alike, Radcliffe cuts us to the bone in A Young Doctor’s Notebook. Nika’s dubious morality undoubtedly signified his promising start to a more diverse slate of projects.

Kill Your Darlings (2013)

Kill Your Darlings is less of a traditional biographical drama and more of a free-form poetic manifestation. That, of course, mirrors its subject matter perfectly. The film follows the college years of famed Beat poet Allen Ginsburg (Radcliffe), prominently dramatizing his heady, passionate association with his hedonistic classmate and friend Lucien Carr (Dane DeHaan).

Ginsburg had grown up repressing his desires and aspirations alike. He tastes freedom for the first time at university, protesting rigid standards by indulging in debauchery with his fellow creatives. Accordingly, we witness Radcliffe present himself as a tightly wound coil, bursting at the seams with anxiety and affection.

The actor vitally fosters indescribable chemistry with DeHaan. For Ginsburg, Carr represents an abstract, romantic fantasy. Radcliffe and DeHaan sell the dynamic in spades, hungrily depicting multitudes with each pregnant glance. They excel in characterizing fragility, too, delicately underscoring many of their scenes with softness and yearning.

Radcliffe is at the eye of a whirlwind coming-of-age story in Kill Your Darlings — something far more sensual, ardent, and irresistible than anything he had done previously.

The F Word (2013)

Daniel Radcliffe does not often play a stock-standard romantic lead, which makes me treasure The F Word for its novelty in his filmography.

The Michael Dowse rom-com dons a premise with which we are all too acquainted. Downtrodden, disillusioned Wallace (Radcliffe) and awkward, indecisive Chantry (Zoe Kazan) immediately hit it off after a chance meeting. They then proceed to ignore or outright oppose that fact for the next 100 minutes.

The movie puts Radcliffe and Kazan through the trope-filled paces of a classic friends-to-lovers story. Thankfully, they eagerly immerse themselves in this narrative familiarity.

Across the board, Radcliffe and his co-stars (including Adam Driver) patiently and insightfully tackle their assigned archetypes. The actor ensures that Wallace’s cynical, obstinate ways are more relatable than irritating. Moreover, the chemistry between him and Kazan keeps the film afloat. Their on-screen bond is so powerful and intoxicating that their improvised dialogue feels entirely natural.

Radcliffe mines for a worthy dramatic exercise from The F Word’s feel-good accouterments, giving this conventionally plotted matchmaking tale a fighting chance.

Horns (2013)

Daniel Radcliffe started embracing more physically transformative roles at this point in his filmography, starting light with supernatural body modification in the horror-comedy Horns.

Ig Perrish (Radcliffe) is a rebellious young man falsely accused of murder by his entire hometown. When he wakes up one morning with devil horns sprouting from his forehead, he discovers an array of newfangled paranormal powers that could feasibly clear his name.

Radcliffe excels at being the sympathetic outcasted black sheep, deftly unearthing minute splinters in the hardened exterior of this prickly young man. Furthermore, he just as readily revels in Ig’s unabashed acceptance of the dark side as righteous rage consumes the character.

Horns is by far the most cohesive of Radcliffe’s body-horror-adjacent efforts down the line. Others, namely Paul McGuigan’s Victor Frankenstein (2015) and Jason Lei Howden’s Guns Akimbo (2019), are messy, inconsistent, and emotionally empty, falling short of the actor’s keen sensibilities.

Radcliffe holds Horns together with his keen grasp of Ig’s feral purpose, rooting it in recognizably tragic underpinnings.

1 of 2 Next

Sheryl Oh: Sheryl Oh often finds herself fascinated (and let's be real, a little obsessed) with actors and their onscreen accomplishments, developing Film School Rejects' Filmographies column as a passion project. She's not very good at Twitter but find her at @sherhorowitz anyway. (She/Her)