Harry Dean Stanton was a lot of things – a child of the Depression, a WWII vet, a beatnik, a bit player in TV and movies, a troubadour, a hipster icon. Most of all, though, people referred to him as “a character actor,” a term that he always hated and considered reductive at best and an insult at worst. But Stanton was part of an elite canon of screen performers who not only brought an edge or a sense of lived-in authenticity to a supporting turn, but could often lift a film out of the rut of a rote narrative. When news of the 91-year-old’s passing started making the rounds late last night, the one quote that keep circulating was Roger Ebert stating that “no movie featuring either Harry Dean Stanton or M. Emmet Walsh in a supporting role can be altogether bad.” Even a less-than-stellar flick got better whenever Stanton’s hangdog mug showed up.
Here are our picks for the 10 essential Harry Dean Stanton movies – a quick-and-dirty lineup of his movies that stand out from a long, varied career. Some of them are funny, some of them are devastating, and a lot of them are intense. But a character actor’s life is always intense.