Breaking Down Ethan Hawke's Creepiest Movie Moments

When thinking about the career of Academy Award nominee Ethan Hawke, "creepy" is likely not the first word that comes to mind. Known for his incredible collaborative efforts in Richard Linklater's "Before" trilogy and dramatic roles in films like "Gattaca" and "Training Day," Hawke intentionally spent years avoiding villainous or horrific roles, not wanting to wind up like Jack Nicholson after "The Shining," where people find it difficult to separate the actor from the memorable horror performance. But as he nears his fourth decade in Hollywood, Hawke's feelings about playing horror roles have evolved, with his undeniably unsettling role as The Grabber in the upcoming horror film "The Black Phone" proves. 

With "The Black Phone" due out in theaters on June 24, 2022, let's take a look back at some of Ethan Hawke's creepiest performances throughout his career, within the confines of horror and in some very unexpected places. 

The not-so creepy

In the wake of "Se7en," the late '90s and early '00s enjoyed a slew of provocative crime thrillers, with Hawke starring in the less-than-well-received flick "Taking Lives." Hawke himself has called the film "terrible," but it does offer audiences the first look at the possibility of viewing him as more than just a dramatic or romantic lead. When Hawke is revealed to be the killer, his demeanor immediately shifts into a menacing territory, showing that he's more than capable of playing dastardly and demented. The film may have been poorly received, but Hawke genuinely delivers a pretty perturbing performance.

Toward the end of the aughts, Hawke starred in the sci-fi/action vampire film "Daybreakers," which shows a world without resources as vampires have replaced humans and the blood supply is running dry. While Hawke's character is not one of the creepier aspects of the film, he feels right at home in this supernatural world surrounded by bloodsuckers. As his character lusts for blood with hunger, one can't help but imagine what could have happened if Hawke had been a "Blade" vampire instead.

Just a few years later, he would star in the franchise-starter "The Purge," as a father trying to protect his family from assailants hoping to kill the Black man seeking refuge in his home. Hawke isn't as creepy as the circumstances surrounding him, but seeing him willingly participate and profit off of an event that results in the mass extermination of mostly poor and non-white Americans surely paints his character in a much more conflicting light.

The mildly creepy

A sports drama is not the first place one would think to look for a creepy performance, but Hawke's role as the abusive father of an up-and-coming baseball wunderkind in "The Phenom" is sincerely difficult to watch. Hawke commits to the performance with all that he has, completely shedding the dreamy exterior many audience members were familiar with after falling in love with him in roles like "Reality Bites." 

In a similarly unexpected place to find horror, Hawke recently starred in the absolutely fantastic religious drama "First Reformed." Make no mistake, "First Reformed" is a drama through and through, but witnessing Hawke's Pastor Ernst Toller endure a crisis of faith shows the lengths of human desperation that he is capable of conveying. Creepy certainly isn't the correct word to describe Hawke's performance, but his tortured portrayal is one that will haunt you long after the credits have rolled. His pain is palpable and we as the audience can't help but feel his anguish as our own.

While Arthur Harrow may have been positioned as the villain of Marvel's "Moon Knight" series, Hawke's subdued portrayal was a welcome change to the usual Marvel formula. Rather than express his power or villainy through loud speeches or massive acts of violence, Harrow takes a far more calculated approach, not unlike a spider lulling an unsuspecting victim into its lair. Hawke cited cult leader David Koresh as his inspiration, and anyone who has seen footage of the understated, charming, manipulation of the former head of the Branch Davidians can attest Hawke completely nailed it.

The genuinely creepy

In 2012, Scott Derrickson and C. Robert Cargill crafted what scientists have determined is the scariest movie of all time. In "Sinister," Hawke stars as a true-crime writer named Ellison Oswald who moves his family into the site of a familial annihilation in the hopes that he'll be able to solve the mystery behind the snuff films of their deaths left behind. The more Ellison looks into the previous family's deaths, the more he realizes that there's something far more ... sinister afoot. Hawke is not the big baddie of "Sinister," but the film itself is so genuinely horrifying that every moment of Hawke on screen is creepier than 90% of his filmography. The scares are anchored by Hawke's performance, and if it wasn't for his effortless ability to pull in the audience, they wouldn't work. "Sinister" thrives with the perfect combination of Derrickson/Cargill's disturbing story, Derrickson's pitch perfect direction, and Hawke's phenomenal delivery.

"Sinister" marked a new trajectory for Hawke and helped solidify his professional relationship with Derrickson and Cargill, which would lead to his most creeptacular performance yet. While "The Black Phone" is due in theaters later this summer, /Film has seen the movie, and Hawke is performing on another level. When Derrickson approached him for the role, he left a voicemail to confirm his acceptance by quoting the script and leaving the ominous message of "I'm gonna murder the f*** out of you... It's gonna hurt really, really bad," in-character. We'll save any additional information as to not spoil the nightmare-inducing thrills, but prepare accordingly: "The Black Phone" is going to skyrocket Hawke into horror villain history.