7 Memorable And Scene-Stealing Movie Scenes From Joaquin Phoenix

Though he has only received one Academy Award throughout his decades-long career, Joaquin Phoenix is undoubtedly one of the greatest actors of his generation as well as one of the best of all time. Over the years, Phoenix has given one commanding performance after another for directors like Paul Thomas Anderson, Spike Jonze, and Ridley Scott, with whom he recently collaborated with for the upcoming historical epic, Napoleon.

As part of our partnership with AMC Theatres, where you can now purchase tickets to see Napoleon in IMAX during its first week of release, we’ve gone through Phoenix’s extraordinary career and come up with seven memorable and scene-stealing movie scenes from films like The Master, Joker, and Walk To Line, as well as numerous others. We had a lot of fun revisiting these classic and career-defining scenes, so please enjoy… 

Joaquin Phoenix in Gladiator

(Image credit: Universal Pictures)

Commodus Kills His Father (Gladiator)

Pretty much everything that happens in the final two-thirds of Ridley Scott’s Best Picture winner, Gladiator is set up in a pivotal scene early in the film where Commodus (Joaquin Phoenix) murders his father, Marcus Aurelius (Richard Harris) after the Roman Emperor informs him that Maximus Decimus Meridius (Russell Crowe) would be his successor and restore the Roman Republic. 

In an instant, Commodus goes from being a spoiled, narcissistic, and petulant son of an emperor, to a power-hungry, ruthless, and vindictive villain who’ll stop at nothing to rule what he thinks is his own. Sure, the “thumbs down” scene and final fight may get more recognition, but this memorable moment sets the stage for everything to come.

Joaquin Phoenix in Joker

(Image credit: Warner Bros.)

Dancing On The Stairs (Joker)

Picking just one memorable scene from Todd Phillips’ 2019 psychological thriller comic book movie, Joker, is a next-to-impossible task, but it has to be done. While we could discuss the significance of everything from the laughing on the bus scene, the bathroom breakdown, or the shocking death of Murray Franklin (Robert De Niro), there’s one that has become part of the pop culture more than the rest: Arthur Fleck (Joaquin Phoenix) dancing on a set of stairs.

Set to Gary Glitter’s “Rock & Roll Part 2,” the sequence of Arthur in full clown makeup kicking and thrusting down a set of rain-soaked stairs in Gotham City is something that is not only memorable, it’s iconic. Years from now, when some awards show is honoring Phoenix with a lifetime achievement award, this will for sure be one of the key scenes featured.

Joaquin Phoenix in Walk the Line

(Image credit: 20th Century Fox)

Cocaine Blues At Folsom Prison (Walk The Line)

It’s safe to say that James Mangold’s 2005 biographical drama, Walk the Line, took Joaquin Phoenix from being one of the most interesting and promising actors to a massive Hollywood start thanks to his unforgettable portrayal of Johnny Cash. With scenes ranging from those duets with June Carter Cash (Reese Witherspoon) to the “Man in Black” dealing with his demons, there’s so much to choose from, but one sequence sticks out more than the rest: “Cocaine Blues” at Folsom Prison.

There is this wild and devilish look in Phoenix’s eyes as he channels the spirit of Cash and introduces one of his most iconic songs during what might be the most consequential live album of all time (not just for country music), in this scene that has stuck with us the past 18 years. It’s impossible to not get carried away as he belts “Early one morning while I’m making the rounds…” before going into the rockabilly murder ballad.

Joaquin Phoenix in The Master

(Image credit: The Weinstein Company)

The Photography Fight Scene (The Master)

Paul Thomas Anderson’s 2012 psychological drama, The Master, is another Joaquin Phoenix that was more than deserving of an Academy Award for Best Actor, and it’s a shame he wasn’t given the honor more than a decade ago. There are some wonderfully written and acted interactions between Phoenix’s Freddie Quell and Philip Seymour Hoffman’s Lancaster Dodd later in the movie, but perhaps the best exploration of the World World II Navy veteran comes very early on.

This is referencing the scene in which Freddie, who’s working as a department story photographer, gets into a full-on fight with a customer. This explosive sequence starts off rather routine and awkwardly, but quickly morphs into this unsettling, chaotic, and enlightening scene that shows the animal-like nature of the character. It almost feels like a precursor to what Phoenix would achieve by the end of the decade in Joker.

Joaquin Phoenix in Her

(Image credit: Warner Bros.)

The Staircase Scene (Her)

A half-decade before Joaquin Phoenix gave the world one of the most iconic staircase scenes in all of cinema, he was involved in another sequence set in a public walkway that was just as key to its movie. This one comes in Spike Jonze’s 2013 sci-fi romantic drama, Her, in which Phoenix’s Theodore Twombly has an emotional conversation with his artificial intelligence virtual assistant, Samantha (Scarlett Johansson) in a fit of jealousy.

This memorable and scene-stealing performance is one of the major emotional moments in a movie diving into loneliness, jealousy, and love in the modern age. Watching the actor as he’s having this conversation with a voice in his ear is nothing short of amazing on so many levels. It’s just brilliant, to say the least.

Joaquin Phoenix in Inherent Vice

(Image credit: Warner Bros.)

Doc’s Escape (Inherent Vice)

Paul Thomas Anderson’s Inherent Vice often feels like a movie that slipped between the cracks upon its release and remains largely forgotten nearly a year after its release, which is a real shame. Based on Thomas Pynchon’s novel of the same name, this star-studded 2014 neo-noir mystery film has it all: action, comedy, drama, over-the-top characters, and one of the best Joaquin Phoenix roles with his portrayal of private eye Larry “Doc” Sportello.

There’s a scene near the end of the movie where Doc escapes from captivity after being abducted by Puck Beaverton (Keith Jardine), killing the neo-Nazi and his partner in the process. The moment that remains so iconic all these years later is the moment after a winded and confused Doc says, “Did I hit you?” in the stairwell filled with gunsmoke. 

Joaquin Phoenix in Signs

(Image credit: Disney / Touchstone)

The TV Scene (Signs)

M. Night Shyamalan’s Signs is one wild ride with all kinds of now-iconic scenes and moments we’re still quoting, or at least remembering, more than 20 years later. One of the best involves Merrill Hess (Joaquin Phoenix), in which the younger brother of Mel Gibson’s Graham Hess sits and watches a broadcast about aliens on the TV. 

Is there anything greater than watching Phoenix urging the children on the screen to move as he tries to catch a glimpse at the extraterrestrial? Okay, maybe moments later when he puts his hand over his mouth in complete and utter disbelief at the sight of the alien that steps into view

Each of these memorable and scene-stealing moments from Joaquin Phoenix help remind us that he is one of the best, and most talented actors working today and perhaps of all time. If you are interested in seeing what Phoenix has in store for audiences with his portrayal of the French general-turned-emperor in Napoleon, you can go ahead and purchase your tickets at AMC Theatres, where you’ll be able to watch it in IMAX for one week starting November 22, 2023.

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