The 19 Best Ewan McGregor Movies, Ranked

Few movie stars maintain character actor quality throughout their careers. Perhaps Ewan McGregor's Scottish underdog background lends itself to his natural ability to embody nearly every type of character with winsome charm and wit. While he's arguably best known for portraying legendary Jedi knight Obi-Wan Kenobi in the Star Wars franchise, McGregor's career is far more than studio tentpole films. As an actor and producer from early in his career, McGregor has continually sought out countercultural roles that go against the traditional Hollywood story. 

In films such as "Shallow Grave" (1994), "Trainspotting" (1996), and "Miss Potter" (2006), McGregor portrays rockstars, drug addicts, queer icons, crooks, and romantic leads, all with equal doses of empathy and charisma. Unlike many movie stars of his caliber, McGregor has also embraced television throughout his career, receiving Emmy nominations and awards for his work on "Fargo" and "Halston." Yet, McGregor's film work remains some of his best and most beloved. We've gathered the greatest Ewan McGregor movies, ranked from least to best.

19. Guillermo del Toro's Pinocchio

"Guillermo del Toro's Pinocchio" is lightyears away from Walt Disney's 1940 animated classic and features Ewan McGregor (his voice, at least) inhabiting one of filmdom's most iconic sidekicks — Jiminy Cricket (identified here as Sebastian J. Cricket), who serves as the living, breathing conscience to the wooden boy as well as the film's narrator. Utilizing painstaking stop-motion animation, the film is set amid the grim backdrop of Italy during the rise of fascist dictator Benito Mussolini. Elderly woodworker Geppetto (David Bradley), overcome by grief when his son is killed by a bomb, creates a wooden boy who is magically brought to life. As told by director del Toro, the iconic morality tale is exceedingly darker than any versions brought to the screen before. That's clear in the final line of dialogue uttered by McGregor's insect: "What happens, happens. And then, we are gone."

Not only does McGregor voice the character, but he also gets to sing the title song, "Better Tomorrows," demonstrating vocal skills that wouldn't be out of place on a Broadway stage. McGregor's voice, del Toro explained in an interview with the Scottish Daily Express, came to be the director's touchstone when making the movie. "I thought that should be the main character of the film, the narrator character," he said. "We rewrote the scenes emphasizing the role of Sebastian J. Cricket. I think the sessions with Ewan have been the best character voice sessions I have had in my life."

18. Shallow Grave (1994)

Following a couple of roles on Scottish TV and a small part in the 1994 Robin Williams flop "Being Human," Ewan McGregor was cast in his first major role in "Shallow Grave." Marking the big-screen directorial debut of Danny Boyle, McGregor played Alex Law, one of a trio of upscale roommates (Kerry Fox and Christopher Eccleston play the other two) who are seeking a fourth. They finally settle on a fellow named Hugo (Keith Allen), who makes quite an impression by dying shortly after moving in. Along with Hugo's corpse, the three discover a substantial pile of cash and evidence that Hugo earned that money by dealing drugs. Pondering what steps to take, greed overpowers their collective moral compass, and they decide to surreptitiously dismember the body and dispose of the parts while keeping the money for themselves. That decision leads to even more morally compromising decisions as each attempts to hatch a plan to grab all the money and screw over the other two. Soon, their lives descend into paranoia, chaos, and madness. 

An auspicious debut for both Boyle and McGregor (no surprise they would reunite a few years later for "Trainspotting"), "Shallow Grave" is a slick and stylish slice of neo-noir black comedy, even if the final third of the film doesn't deliver on the promise of what came before. McGregor is the standout, delivering a confident performance that crackles with energy.

17. Velvet Goldmine (1998)

With a storytelling structure inspired by no less than Orson Welles' "Citizen Kane," "Velvet Goldmine" follows journalist Arthur Stewart's (Christian Bale) quest to uncover the truth behind what happened to legendary 1970s glam-rock superstar Brian Slade (Jonathan Rhys Meyers), who disappeared after "murdering" his musical alter ego Maxwell Demon. Slade is clearly modeled on David Bowie and became inspired to reinvent himself after seeing an incendiary performance by proto-punk musical anarchist Curt Wild, played by Ewan McGregor. As a glam-rock mystery, the finished product is definitely less than the sum of its parts (the fragmented storytelling style is far less effective than that of Welles' classic). Nevertheless, one of the main selling points is McGregor's performance as the brash and mercurial Wild, Slade's idol and later lover, with the pair's bisexual love scenes earning the film a fair degree of notoriety at the time of its release. 

While the protagonist role belongs to Meyers, McGregor handily steals every scene he's in, channeling Iggy Pop, Lou Reed, and even a bit of Kurt Cobain to portray a brilliant but self-destructive rock star. As McGregor told Interview, he studied video of those and other rockers and approached his onstage performance scenes with utter abandon as if possessed by the rock gods he was emulating. "Oh, I completely lost it," he admitted. "I didn't have a clue what was going on until they said cut, and then I was going, 'Whoa!' I'll never, ever forget what it felt like."

16. Down with Love (2003)

Long before "Mad Men" put its deliciously dark stamp on the era, "Down with Love" presented a spoof/homage of the glossy technicolor rom-coms of the early 1960s, typified by the Doris Day-Rock Hudson vehicle "Pillow Talk." Ewan McGregor stars as lothario journalist Catcher Block, while Renée Zellweger plays Barbara Novak, the bestselling author of a proto-feminist tome advising women to eschew marriage for independence and self-reliance. The proudly chauvinist Catcher thinks it's all a crock and hatches a scheme to expose Barbara as a fraud by seducing her. Naturally, that plan doesn't unfold as he expects. Boasting an impressive supporting cast that includes Sarah Paulson, David Hyde Pierce, and Tony Randall (who actually did star in a bunch of the movies "Down with Love" emulates), the film hits its intended mark.

As dashing as he is duplicitous, McGregor makes for a suitably charming cad and strikes just the right tone for this cotton-candy confection that strives to recreate a 1960s sex comedy bursting with naughty innuendoes. As McGregor explained in an interview with Blackfilm, he's a big fan of those early 1960s sex comedies. "It was funny because when I read the script for the first time, I knew exactly what it was about," he said. "I was very familiar with the style."

15. Brassed Off (1996)

The year 1996 was a particularly prolific one for Ewan McGregor that included the release of "Trainspotting," "The Pillow Book," "Emma," and "Brassed Off," a film that is about as diametrically opposite from "Trainspotting" as it gets. "Brassed Off" is a feel-good British comedy with more than a passing resemblance to "The Full Monty," which arrived the following year. The story is set in the Yorkshire village of Grimley, known for its coal mine and a popular brass band comprised of miners who work in the pit. Former local Gloria Mullins (Tara Fitzgerald), now working for British Coal, is sent to her hometown to assess the future profitability of the mine. A skilled flugelhorn player, she joins the band and sparks a romance with her former boyfriend, Andy Barrow (played by McGregor), who's also a member of the band. What neither Andy nor the band's conductor, Danny Ormondroyd (Pete Postlethwaite), realize is that Gloria controls the fate of the mine — and by extension, their livelihoods and the future of the town.

Based on the true story of the Grimethorpe Colliery Band, the film won rave reviews and showcased McGregor as a romantic lead in a feature film. And while his performance may seem muted compared to some of the showier roles that would follow, "Brassed Off" demonstrated McGregor's ability to anchor a film and may well be the movie that cemented his future as a star. 

14. Trainspotting (1996)

"Trainspotting" was only Ewan McGregor's fourth feature, his second film with frequent collaborator Danny Boyle, and was considered his breakout role. Based on the novel by Irvine Welsh, the film follows a group of rough-and-tumble friends in Scotland, with McGregor's Mark Renton at the center. Since he is a heroin addict who only cares about getting his next hit, the film can be a difficult watch. Boyle takes viewers right into Renton's psyche as he literally dives into toilet bowls for drugs and steals whatever he can to get drug money. While many addiction stories can be saccharine tearjerkers, "Trainspotting" treats Renton and his friends as whole people who understand the choices they are making. 

Further, McGregor's charismatic performance is the epitome of an unreliable narrator who earns the audience's trust just in time to betray them in turn. The film is also a tribute to McGregor's native Scotland and features distinct — and hilariously incomprehensible — dialogue and accents as a trademark. Despite the film's unflinching depiction of addiction, it was critically acclaimed and nominated for best adapted screenplay at the Oscars as well as best foreign film at the Film Independent Spirit Awards, a testament to the power of McGregor's central performance.

13. Beginners (2010)

Mike Mills' spare and intimate romantic comedy "Beginners" stars Ewan McGregor as Oliver, a quiet man who grew up believing his parents didn't love each other and suffering his own commitment issues as a result. After his mother's death, his father comes out as gay at 75 and proudly lives his truth for his remaining years. "Beginners" picks up in the aftermath of Hal's (Christopher Plummer) death, with Oliver figuring out how to move on in his own life. When he meets Anna (Melanie Laurent) at a party, the two form a connection that will test Oliver's ability to form bonds. 

As he reflects on his own life and his father's, he realizes that there is more to learn from his old man than he thought. "Beginners" is a beautiful story with a simple message: it's never too late. McGregor's portrayal discreetly signals the film's thesis, in comparison to Plummer's deserved but slightly more classic Oscar-winning performance. As Oliver, McGregor is reserved and restrained in a painfully real portrait of a man grieving in countless ways, easily one of his best and most underrated performances.

12. Big Fish (2003)

While Tim Burton may be better known for his flashier genre films, "Big Fish" is a more grounded fairytale that may just be the director's masterpiece. The film is a story of father named Ed (Albert Finney) and his son named Will Bloom (Billy Crudup). Ed is a master storyteller beloved for his tall tales, but Will doesn't appreciate his father's shaky relationship with facts. When Ed gets sick, Will comes home to take care of him so his father can retell the story of his life once again. Ewan McGregor plays a young Ed whose early adventures include giants, magic, and a circus. 

While Ed recounts increasingly fantastical and surreal stories of his youth, Will becomes more determined to find the truth in his father's life before he dies. However, the film ultimately plays with the tension between perception and reality in heartfelt ways. McGregor's performance as the younger Ed is one of the most charming of his career, sold with a charismatic smile and hearty Southern accent. Additionally, he carries the burden of weaving two narratives together and selling a fairy tale version of Ed's youth that is still grounded, a portrayal that feels effortless in his hands.

11. I Love You Phillip Morris (2009)

Another unconventional romantic comedy, "I Love You Phillip Morris" is based on the true story of one-time police officer Steven Russell (Jim Carrey), who turned to a life of crime after coming out as gay. While Steven unabashedly lives as himself, he decides that fraud is necessary to afford his new lifestyle and soon winds up in prison where he meets Phillip (Ewan McGregor). The two begin a passionate affair that leads Steven to even more desperate measures to make Phillip happy. 

Phillip is blissfully unaware of the levels of Steven's lies, believing he's an attorney, while Steven behaves almost like an addict who sees no other choice than to lie and defraud to support Phillip. "I Love You Phillip Morris" is a heartfelt and witty testament to what resourceful people will do for love. Coming across as naive, but never unintelligent, McGregor's Phillip provides a vulnerable emotional anchor to Carrey's slightly more manic Steven. The two have strangely relatable and sweet chemistry that grounds the film and will leave audiences wondering why they haven't made countless more films together.

10. Star Wars: Episode III — Revenge of the Sith (2005)

Perhaps the most iconic character of Ewan McGregor's career comes from one of Hollywood's biggest franchises. Tasked with playing the iconic Obi-Wan Kenobi in his younger years, McGregor brought the Jedi knight to life in the prequel trilogy. The final film in that trio, "Revenge of the Sith," sees Obi-Wan's padawan and best friend Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen) turn to the dark side of the force due to fear of losing Padme (Natalie Portman). As Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid) persuades Anakin to give into his fears and tap into the dark side, Anakin commits unspeakable crimes, especially for a one-time Jedi. 

Outside of Padme's own pain, much of the film centers on Obi-Wan's grief at discovering Anakin's betrayal and processing what he must do. The prequel films may not be the best Star Wars has to offer, but McGregor's performance in the final sequence of "Revenge of the Sith" is among the greatest in the franchise. On top of that, McGregor was tasked with filling the shoes of one of the original trilogy's most mythologized characters, originally portrayed by Sir Alec Guinness. Impressively, McGregor managed to honor Guinnesses' take on the character while making it entirely his own.

9. Doctor Sleep (2019)

Mike Flanagan's sequel to 1980's "The Shining" sees Ewan McGregor as an adult Danny Torrance trying and failing to outrun his demons from the Overlook Hotel. Danny has turned to alcohol to forget his past, but after a series of misadventures — and visits from his ghostly mentor Dick Halloran (Carl Lumbly) — he eventually realizes he can't ignore his gift. Danny finally finds peace in rural New England after joining AA and using his shine to unique ends in a hospice home. Earning the nickname Doctor Sleep, he provides comfort to the dying elderly in their final moments. 

He finds renewed purpose when he meets teenager Abra (Kyliegh Curran) through a psychic link they share. Abra's abilities with the shine are even stronger than Danny's, which draws the attention of a supernatural cult that sucks the life force out of children to gain power. Abra becomes the ultimate target of the cult, leading Danny to both protect and work with her to take them down. It's a difficult task to make a sequel to a film as iconic and beloved as "The Shining," yet Flanagan's relaxed style lends itself to a character study that McGregor takes full advantage of as he seamlessly bridges the two films with a believable and lived-in adult Danny Torrance.

8. Birds of Prey (2020)

DC Comics antihero Harley Quinn's (Margot Robbie) tour de force standalone movie "Birds of Prey" sees the violent acrobat alone after her split with the Joker and outrunning her enemies. After teenager Cassandra Cain (Ella Jay Basco) pickpockets a diamond and becomes the target of Gotham crime lord Roman (a deranged Ewan McGregor), Harley teams up with other powerful women in Gotham to protect her, even as she works through her breakup. 

Though McGregor is far better known for his heroic performances, he happily leans into the villain role here with an unrestrained glee that fans will appreciate. Roman is one of the few characters he imbues with no vulnerability or empathy, playing him as a villain through and through. It's a choice that lends itself to the comic book genre while also flexing new muscles for McGregor in a fun departure. "Birds of Prey" is a peculiar mix of bubblegum gore and campy comedy that perfectly captures the Harley Quinn aesthetic while also providing a fresh entry in the growing female superhero film canon.

7. Little Voice (1998)

"Little Voice" is a quirky British comedy that tells the charming story of a woman who learns to use her voice after a lifetime of being unheard and undervalued. After her father's death, Little Voice (Jane Horrocks) becomes reclusive, withdrawn, and silent living in the shadow of her outgoing and promiscuous mother, Mari (Brenda Blethyn). When Mari brings home a new boyfriend named Ray (Michael Caine), he overhears LV singing to herself and becomes more interested in her than her mother. Ray persuades a reluctant Little Voice to perform, convinced she's his golden ticket, but she has a long road ahead to learn to speak for herself. 

Ewan McGregor costars as Billy, a telephone repairman who is also the first to see Little Voice for the whole person she is. As a supporting character with his own eccentric tendencies, it would be easy to make Billy into a stereotype or joke, but McGregor lends him the same pathos he does with every performance. Furthermore, the film largely avoids using Billy to turn Little Voice into a damsel in distress, instead using their relationship to show how two people can bring out the best in each other.

6. Salmon Fishing in the Yemen (2011)

Another romantic comedy in Ewan McGregor's filmography, "Salmon Fishing in the Yemen" is a heartfelt and unusual story. Based on the novel by Paul Torday, McGregor stars as fisheries expert Alfred, who reluctantly begins working on a project to farm salmon in Yemen alongside project consultant Harriet (Emily Blunt). The two are dedicated to the project despite their differing opinions on how to approach the work, but they each face their own personal problems. Harriet's boyfriend is deployed and ends up missing in action, leaving her in a state of existential grief, while Alfred comes to realize he's in a loveless marriage. 

Though Alfred initially believes the project is pointless and impossible, he grows more confident and invested in it the more connected he becomes with Harriet. The premise is highly silly, and the idea of a foreign species growing where it shouldn't against all odds is painfully on the nose, but McGregor and Blunt manage to bring deeply felt emotions to a sweet and relatable love story. Their performances each earned them a Golden Globe nomination, McGregor's second nod.

5. Moulin Rouge! (2001)

Ewan McGregor has made many classic and iconic films, and "Moulin Rouge!" is among the most beloved. Baz Luhrmann's second directorial feature is a musical fever dream that follows McGregor's dreamy-eyed romantic poet Christian, who believes anything can be accomplished through the power of love. He doubles down on this when he meets the star courtesan at the Moulin Rouge, Satine (Nicole Kidman). She has many better-positioned suitors and is determined not to fall for Christian because he's poor, but Christian's charm wins out. 

The two begin a star-crossed affair in secret while Satine woos the wealthy Duke (Richard Roxburgh) in public. As they work on a show for the Duke, he becomes increasingly jealous and suspicious of their relationship, all while Satine's health worsens. "Moulin Rouge!" is a film that many will either love or hate, largely due to Lurhmann's singular lush and hectic style. However, McGregor anchors the film musically and as a romantic lead. Because Christian is optimistic to a fault, the final moments of the film are all the more heartbreaking, brought into focus through McGregor's emotional performance, which earned him a Golden Globe nomination for best actor in a musical or comedy.

4. Miles Ahead (2015)

Don Cheadle's directorial debut "Miles Ahead" is the kind of musical biopic that provides impressions of its central character rather than beat-by-beat life moments. This narrative choice works to excellent effect with Cheadle starring as legendary jazz icon Miles Davis in the later parts of his career. Miles crosses paths with intrepid Rolling Stone journalist Dave Braden (Ewan McGregor) who is determined to write about Davis no matter what it takes. If it's up to Miles, that means a fair amount of drugs and partying. 

The film largely centers on their shaky friendship and partnership: Dave tries to earn Miles's trust despite not having his permission to write a story, while Miles works his way through recording a new album. As a two-hander, McGregor and Cheadle play excellently off each other in the film's comedic and more serious moments, with McGregor lending humanity to Dave's somewhat greasy character in a way that only he can. Though the film and Cheadle's performance are somewhat abstract in style, McGregor lends a more steady performance while still blending into the film's milieu.

3. Black Hawk Down (2001)

Ridley Scott's ensemble war drama details the true events of a group of U.S. Army Rangers who were deployed to Mogadishu to depose a Somali warlord. The film is largely focused on the lengthy one-day mission that resulted in two downed helicopters and multiple deaths on both sides. Ewan McGregor has a smaller role in the larger ensemble as a rookie soldier named Grimes who has largely been tasked with making coffee for higher-ranked Rangers. While Grimes has never seen real action prior to the mission, his boyish innocence leads to some wins throughout the day. 

"Black Hawk Down" is a fairly typical war film, yet Scott brings immaculate attention to detail in every scene. This trickles down to McGregor's acting as Grimes cheerfully makes coffee, even in the midst of battle. McGregor lends Grimes a mix of earnest good intentions and naivety while never making him seem stupid. As a result, Grimes manages to stand out in the sea of characters, a testament to McGregor's ability to dig in and bring a character to life, even with a supporting role.

2. The Impossible (2012)

The Indian Ocean tsunami in 2004 was one of the deadliest modern disasters, killing over 225,000 people. "The Impossible" recounts the true story of one family who survived the aftermath of the storm against all odds. Henry (Ewan McGregor) and Maria (Naomi Watts) are hit literally unawares while swimming in a pool with their children at a resort in Thailand. After the tsunami, Maria and her son Lucas (Tom Holland) soon find each other in the water but are separated from Henry and the rest of their family. Maria sustains life-threatening injuries, leaving young Lucas to protect her and fend for himself. 

Henry's determination to reunite with his family means they somehow manage to survive and come back together in the midst of devastation and destruction. McGregor provides one of the most heartbreaking and human portrayals of his career. Though the film is a bit trite in terms of the natural disaster story genre, the central performances of McGregor, Watts, and Holland in particular are nothing less than spectacular in translating an epic story into relatable moments.

1. August: Osage County (2013)

Adapted from Tracy Letts' play of the same name, "August: Osage County" is an ensemble comedy-drama that follows the Weston family in rural Oklahoma. Most of the daughters are scattered and gone, but after their father dies they all gather back home where their alcoholic mother Violet (Meryl Streep) seeks to ruin their lives and spill their secrets. Each daughter has her own set of issues: the youngest named Karen (Juliette Lewis) is newly engaged to a man who is perfect on the surface but has his own skeletons in the closet, middle daughter Ivy (Julianne Nicholson) is finally happy and in love with her cousin, and eldest daughter Barbara (Julia Roberts) is separated from her husband Bill (Ewan McGregor). 

Violet is the epitome of schadenfreude, exploiting her family's unhappiness and shame at every turn. Though they all try to hide the truth about their lives from her and each other, revelations spill at every twist and turn. McGregor has a smaller role within the larger ensemble cast but manages to paint Bill as a whole and empathetic person, despite his many flaws. It's an extraordinary and understated bit of acting, especially in a film where so many of the characters are unredeemable and unlikeable.