The Gray Man: Ryan Gosling's 7 Most Badass Action Roles

Following a four-year absence from the big screen, Ryan Gosling is poised to mount a big bad comeback with Netflix's pricey action-thriller The Gray Man when it debuts on the streamer on July 22, 2022. With Barbie and The Wolfman on the brink as well, Gosling appears to be leaning into more physically demanding action roles, the kind he began his career with as Young Hercules in the late 1990s.

To prepare viewers for Gosling's anticipated return in The Gray Man, it's high time to look back on the celebrated actor's most kickass action roles that required intense physical performance.

Gangster Squad (2013)

Wooters holds a gun and wears a tan fedora at an outdoor gun range in Gangster Squad

A handsome hardboiled throwback film noir, Ruben Fleischer's Gangster Squad follows the attempt of several hardened LAPD agents who conspired to bring down mob boss Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn) in 1949. Gosling plays Detective Jerry Wooters, a laidback lothario who changes his tune dramatically upon witnessing Cohen's brutality. Afterward, Wooters uses his experience as a WWII veteran to help bring Cohen down in violently vicious ways.


One Wooters makes the decision to go ballistic in pursuit of vigilante justice, Gosling absolutely nails the role of a renegade lawman who is unwilling to sit idly by and watch the lethal corruption of Cohen ensue. In easily one of the best sequences in the film, Wooters single-handedly takes down an entire street block of baddies. The best part comes when a gangster tells Wooters he can't kill him because he's a cop, Gosling delivers one of the most awesome one-liners of his career, saying "not anymore" before blasting the criminal point-blank with a shotgun. Cool, calm, confident, and fully in control, Gosling proves he can go toe to toe with the likes of Penn, Josh Brolin, Nick Nolte, and others.

First Man (2018)

Neil sits in the shuttle in a blue glow in First Man

With the added pressure of playing a real-life aeronautical hero, Gosling reunited with his La La Land movie director Damien Chazelle to take on the role of Neil Armstrong in First Man. Far from a shoot-em-up type of actioner, the story follows the intense physical exigence Armstrong experiences in the three-year training period leading to the first successful manned moon landing. With grace, guile, and intense focus, Armstrong contends with lethal fires, rates of speed that cause blackouts, Zero-G environments, near-death ejections, and more.

What makes the physical action of Gosling's performance resonate so strong is the way he balances the heartfelt domestic drama relating to his terminally ill daughter, as well as pressing on in the face of danger after his closest colleagues die for the cause. It's the heroic bravery and intrepid will to succeed at whatever cost that makes Gosling's ultimate triumph as Armstrong so uplifting in the end.

The Nice Guys (2016)

March holds a gun on the toilet in The Nice Guys

With pitch-perfect chemistry opposite Russell Crowe, Gosling gives one of his funniest physical comedic performances in The Nice Guys, a '70s buddy-cop picture that ultimately becomes a ferociously entertaining slam-bang action-thriller as only the best Shane Black movies can conceive and execute. Gosling plays the bumbling Holland March, a private eye who teams with the irascible Jackson Healy (Crowe) to solve the death of a murdered adult film star.

Whether he's falling off of roofs, rolling down hills, sinking into swimming pools, or trading blistering gunfire with a horde of unsavory criminals, Gosling somehow manages to bring genuine physical humor to the role of March while still plumbing heartfelt pathos in relation to raising his daughter Holly (Angourie Rice) as a single father. The great thing about March is how he grows to improve as a detective thanks to the waggish bond that he forms with Healy, proving his worth by risking life and limb to solve the case and keep his daughter safe.

The Place Beyond The Pines (2012)

Luke sits on a dirtbike with a hoodie on in The Place Beyond The Pines

While The Place Beyond The Pines is billed as a crime drama, those who've seen it know how badass and action-packed Gosling's performance is as Luke Glanton, a daring motorcycle stuntman who works at a carnival before becoming a petty thief. Upon learning that he has a child with his former flame, Romina (Eva Mendes), Luke decides to rob a series of banks at gunpoint using his motorcycle to flee from authorities, leading to a tragic series of harrowingly intense criminal actions that have lasting ramifications.

With some of the most riveting motorcycle action that includes daring hyperkinetic getaway escapes, off-road dirt-biking, and viscerally suspenseful bank robberies, Gosling manages to never lose sight of the fact that Luke does everything for his baby son. The saddest part, despite how his heart was in the right place, is a perpetual cycle of violence that Luke's son inevitably becomes trapped in.

Only God Forgives (2013)

Julian puts his dukes up in Only God Forgives

Drenched in the neon colors of Thailand's nightlife, Gosling delivers a near-silent performance that completely relies on his physical instrument in Only God Forgives, a stylishly perverse and graphically disturbing revenge tale from the daring film director, Nicolas Winding Refn. Gosling owns the role of Julian, a drug runner in Bangkok who becomes entangled in the seedy criminal underworld after his brother is murdered and his mother orders him to serve revenge on his mysterious killers.

Gosling underwent extensive Muay Thai training for his role in the film, which helped him execute the dazzling fight sequences, including a protracted hand-t0-hand fight that serves as a major centerpiece of the story. By the end, Julian is bruised, battered, and bloodied but also revealed to have killed a man with his bare hands, proving him to be one of Gosling's most memorably grueling action roles.

Blade Runner 2049 (2017)

K points a gun in Blade Runner 2049

With the thankless pressure of facing and following Harrison Ford's iconic turn, Gosling managed to breathe new life into Blade Runner 2049, a sprawling sci-fi action-thriller in which his character must find Blade Runner Rick Deckard after being missing for 30 years. Gosling plays K, a Blade Runner ordered to find Deckard and his replicant child, leading him to engage with a throng of violent baddies working for the wicked Wallace Corporation.

Aside from adequately carrying the mantle passed to him by Ford in the film, Gosling takes the torch and keeps it ablaze with his strong physical frame, brute force, and his take no-BS attitude that really elevates in the final act of the movie. The fight between K and replicant Luv is one of the best in recent memory, proving once more that Gosling can carry a big-scale action blockbuster on his back with the best of them. Due to his commanding performance, many believe Blade Runner 2049 is arguably Gosling's best movie to date.

Drive (2010)

The Driver chews on a toothpick in his car in Drive

Gosling's coolest action role comes via Nicolas Winding Refn's Drive, in which he plays a Hollywood stuntman who earns extra cash as a getaway driver for bank robbers in Los Angeles. The mysterious man of few words meets and falls for his neighbor Irene (Carey Mulligan), vowing to protect her from her criminal boyfriend Standard (Oscar Isaac) and the mobsters he's indebted.

In another near-silent performance, Gosling absolutely sears the screen as a mysteriously dangerous yet compassionate man who single-handedly waylays an entire consort of criminal enemies in some of the most brutally violent action sequences on record. Beyond the awesome car-driving work Gosling does in the film, the way his character takes on the criminal establishment by himself and dishes relentless physical assaults on them, including an unforgettably gory elevator scene, smacks of Lee Marvin or Charles Bronson in their heyday.

NEXT: 10 Best Modern Film Noir Movies Ranked According To IMDb

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About The Author Jake Dee (1274 Articles Published)

A Senior List Writer covering a wide array of topics who has been with Screen Rant since September of 2019, Jake Dee has written movie news and reviews since 2008, working primarily with OMG Horror (IGN),, and Arrow in the Head as a freelance reporter based in Los Angeles. A hopeless cinephile, social media Luddite, certified Nic Cage doppelganger, and a big Weekend At Bernie's fan, Jake can often be found tucked away in a dark corner watching an old horror movie.Born and raised in California, Jake has a Bachelor's Degree in Film & Digital Media from the University of California Santa Cruz with an emphasis on theory and criticism, is the author of several "WTF Happened To This Movie" and "WTF Really Happened To This Movie" videos on YouTube, and has covered everything in the entertainment industry from set visits, studio luncheons, and red carpet interviews to wrap parties, movie premieres, private screenings, talent interviews, and more.

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