I love Michael J. Fox, I think he's a truly exceptional Hollywood talent and today I wish him the happiest of birthdays. Although I do think that Back to the Future, undoubtedly a cinematic masterpiece, overshadows the rest of this actor's other remarkable roles. As such it won't be on this list. So, without further ado let's get started!
1. The Hard Way (1991)
The Hard Way is a massively underrated buddy cop classic. I have no clue why this isn't talked about as much as the Jump Street movies or 48 Hours or even other lesser known buddy movies, like Running Scared or Silver Streak, it's so awesome. The Hard Way is about Detective John Moss (played by James Woods), trying to track an illusive killer known as the Party Crasher, while having to chaperon Nick Lang (played by Michael J. Fox), a pretty boy actor who wants to study the grit of the streets for his new movie, that he hopes will give his career an edge.
The film's biggest strength is definitely the relationship between the dark and gritty Woods and the pretty boy wanting to be dark but can't pull it off, Fox. I love that juxtaposition and it really works to both actors' talents as James Woods really shines in this role — John Moss is basically an amalgamation of stoic tough guy roles he's built up over the years. I think this is a great examination of those roles, as his character is a great self aware examination of that character type that has permeated throughout the sub genre and the action genre as a whole.
I also think that Michael J. Fox's character Nick Lang is brilliant, as the role is so meta as to where Fox was in his career. He had only dipped into more serious dramas in films like the underrated De Palma film Casualties of War. However, he never took off as a dramatic actor to the level I wish he had or thought he could. This film really lets him showcase his dramatic side as well in a believable manner, as a twist happens that his character is really torn up about.
However, the leads aren't the movie's only strength, the supporting cast is outstanding as well. That cast includes Stephen Lang (from Avatar, The Men Who Stare At Goats and Manhunter) as the eerie villain the Party Crasher bringing great chills and menace. The other cops are great as well, portrayed by LL Cool J (from Deep Blue Sea, Mindhunters and Halloween H20), Luis Guzman (from Boogie Nights, McBain and Keanu) and Delroy Lindo (from Get Shorty, Congo and Gone in 60 Seconds) playing a relaxed non angry police chief excellently — again how the movie subverts the norm in a self-aware way. James Woods' relationship with his girlfriend Susan, played by Annabella Sciorra (from Cop Land, Jungle Fever and What Dreams May Come) is great too and ultimately they bond, as Fox helps Woods open up to her.
Overall, as I've said this is a really amazing buddy cop film and I highly recommend it.
2. The Secret of My Success (1987)
This is kind of a... not even guilty pleasure because it's just a kind of OK movie, but more a lazy Sunday movie that I keep going back to. I don't know what it is about this movie that keeps me coming back to it, maybe it's my love for the Always Sunny parody? Or that my parents had the soundtrack since the '80s, which built up the mystery of the movie? Or Michael J. Fox's charisma?
Or maybe none or all of the above? So, after all this preamble what's it all about? Michael J. Fox plays a mail room worker at a large corporation named Brantley Foster who decides to live a double life as an executive named Carlton Whitfield. He also becomes involved with two different women in each of his lives, Christy Willis played by Helen Slater (from Supergirl the movie and show as well as City Slickers) and Vera Prescott played by Margaret Whitton (from The Man Without a Face and Major League) which lead to plenty of comedic high jinks. The movie is also very '80s, including big hair and a very dated but fun soundtrack (including artists like Night Ranger, Pat Benatar, Bananarama and more) which make it endearing.
Overall, this is the film on this list that i frankly have the least to say about. I rank it with Cocktail as one of those forgotten movies that I love and while I wouldn't consider it a guilty pleasure, I can't think of much to recommend about it, just that it has that IT factor. If that makes sense? Do y'all like it? Comment below and tell me because I'm curious if I'm alone on this. Hell do y'all like Cocktail too?
3. The Frighteners (1996)
I love The Frighteners! Not only do I consider it tied with Return of The King for my favorite Peter Jackson film, I also think that this is not only my favorite Michael J. Fox performance but also his best. A bold claim for someone who hasn't seen Casualties of War in years I know. However I think that this film plays to Michael J. Fox's strength in a way that very few other have.
What do I mean by that? Well, I think that Fox has a comedic ability and charismatic charm that let him be very animated and larger then life, yet still very humble and humanly vulnerable. This film really brings out both of them to make his character of Frank Bannister a very charismatic person able to sell people on his skills as a psychic, yet a very broken man haunted by tragedy and a power that's a blessing and a curse. So, Lawrence you've been giving this movie SO much praise, but what the hell is it about?
The Frighteners is a 1996 supernatural thriller about Frank Bannister, a psychic detective haunted by his wife's death who's able to see the dead and when his town (of New Zealand USA) is plagued by supernatural deaths, he may be the only one that can stop them and discover the secret of the killer. As I said before, I LOVE this movie and consider it one of Jackson's best. It's able to take some of the best elements from ghost and detective/noir stories and blend them both into a beautiful package. It's also able to blend the elements of his more comedic early works like Dead Alive (another favorite of mine) with the more humanistic elements he started using in Heavenly creatures and would use in his later films like Lord of The Rings, The Lovely Bones though here I feel he perfected the balance.
I think that is in large part due to Fox who I've said really displays his talents and blending elements of both as an amazing protagonist. However, this film boasts some exceptional supporting roles as well such as the hilarious Chi McBride (from Pushing Daisies, The Terminal and Gone in 60 Seconds), Jim Fyfe (from Moonlight Mile) and John Astin (from The Adam's Family) as Bannister's ghost friends. It also has Trini Alvarado (from Little Children and Paulie), the legendary scream queen Dee Wallace (from Cujo, The Howling, ET and more) as a mysterious character, Peter Dobson (from Forrest Gump) as a cartoonishly stereotypical bully/jock character and the legendary Jeffrey Combs (from Re-Animator, From Beyond and more) as the cartoonish yet frightening FBI agent Milton Dammers hired to investigate the case, who begins to suspect Bannister. The mystery elements of this movie work very well keeping you fascinated and glued to the screen throughout with many plot twists and turns I dare not ruin. You may find fault with the special effects as there are a lot of CGI effects that look kind of dated now, but I can't help but ignore them and treat them as a piece of endearing '90s nostalgia.
Although, while the CGI isn't the best I do love the design of a lot of the ghosts especially the villainous killer ghost and how it moves and flies. Overall however, I consider The Frighteners to be an under-appreciated gem of cinema. It is film that I'd consider a forgotten classic that I would HIGHLY recommend to anyone who's a fan of great mystery and/or horror films or even character dramas as it balances all three exceptionally. More then any other film on this list I can't recommend The Frighteners enough and think anyone who loves good original cinema should see it.
So, what do y'all think? What are your favorite Michael J. Fox Movies? What do you think of him as an actor? I know I didn't cover some highly loved Michael J. Fox films like Teen Wolf, The American President and Casualties of War. Truth be told while I LOVE Teen Wolf I do think it's a bit too well known and with this list I wanted to spotlight some of Fox's lesser seen gems. As for Casualties of War and The American President, I haven't seen them in years and while I should include them on this list I don't remember them enough to feel credible enough to review them and I wanted to be damn sure I got this article and tribute out on Fox's birthday.
That said I fully intend to review Casualties of War soon on a Brian De Palma series I'll be doing as I'm currently watching a lot of De Palma like Blow Out and Dressed to Kill for film class. I also haven't seen that much of his sitcoms as I loathe laugh tracks though what I did see of Family Ties and Spin City I liked and I loved him on Curb and Rescue Me. So comment below with whatever your favorite Michael J. Fox film is and as always share the love! Prosit!