5 Brilliant Ray Liotta Movies And Where You Can Watch Them

It came as quite a surprise when the news broke of the death of actor Ray Liotta. He was only 67 years old and was in the middle of something of a career resurgence as an elder statesman character actor. Just last year, he turned two tremendous performances in "No Sudden Move" and "The Many Saints of Newark." His career had been thriving in the last few years, both in showcasing the livewire energy that made him a star in his younger years and occasionally eschewing that for some lovely, controlled performances. Nobody else on screen had a face like his, and he was always such a compelling figure to watch, even if the movie surrounding him wasn't up to the level of his performance. 

In the wake of his passing, let's celebrate some of the man's finest work. While he certainly had a career valley there for a little while, he made so many great films over the course of his decades-long career that deserve first, second, fifth, and twentieth watches. While there could be a dozen films to put on this list, let's just start with five you absolutely have to watch. This evening, throw on one of these great films starring Ray Liotta and marvel at what a lightning bolt of an actor he was.

Something Wild (1986)

Jonathan Demme's 1986 comedy "Something Wild" was just Ray Liotta's second film, and in it, you can truly see the birth of a movie star. The film follows a hapless Manhattan yuppie (Jeff Daniels) who winds up in a spur of the moment road trip with a woman he just met named Lulu (Melanie Griffith) to New Jersey for her high school reunion. About 50 minutes into the movie, Ray Liotta shows up and completely transforms the entire tenor of the picture. What had been a quirky, fun romantic comedy turns incredibly dangerous. The laughs keep coming, but you are also gripping your seat at the same time. Liotta plays the ex-boyfriend of Lulu, and he has not gotten over her in the slightest.

Even his entrance demonstrates what a force this guy is. The lighting of the scene completely changes, as if Jeff Daniels and Melanie Griffith have entered a hell they cannot escape. Liotta walks that fine line of sinister and irresistible perfectly, and because he was essentially an unknown actor at the time of the film's release, all someone could do was believe that there was no character there. He was just this man. The character's name is even Ray. "Something Wild" may have been incredibly early in Ray Liotta's career, but it remains one of his greatest triumphs.

"Something Wild" is available to stream on Criterion Channel.

Field of Dreams (1989)

While "Field of Dreams" has obviously become of the most beloved sports films of all time, Ray Liotta's name is rarely ever mentioned alongside it. Kevin Costner is an all-consuming force when it comes to baseball movies that the rest almost falls away for everyone else. But Liotta is key to what makes "Field of Dreams" as powerful as it is to all that dads out there and beyond. He plays the ghost of Shoeless Joe Jackson, the Chicago Black Sox legend who inspires Costner's Ray Kinsella to build the titular baseball field.

Liotta was so often called upon to play tough guys. Cops and criminals were his forte. It is the fate of so many actors after appearing in a beloved gangster movie. Seeing him with such a light touch in "Field of Dreams" shows how much more there was to him as an actor, and how we didn't get to see this side often enough. His Shoeless Joe doesn't need that hard edge that made his "Something Wild" performance so electric, and Liotta knew how to compartmentalize that when necessary. You have all seen "Field of Dreams" probably more times than you can count on cable, but on your next rewatch, pay extra attention to Ray Liotta's lovely performance.

"Field of Dreams" is available to stream on Prime Video.

Goodfellas (1990)

This is the one Ray Liotta will be remembered for. After all, it's the movie most people involved with it will be remembered for. "Goodfellas" is one of the greatest films of all time. Not just of its genre or era. Ever. And right smack dab in the center of it is Ray Liotta. His track record as a leading man is not nearly as sterling as his supporting work, but when you have a film as excellent as "Goodfellas" in your quiver, the rest basically evens out. His performance as gangster Henry Hill was so magnetic that even director Martin Scorsese has attempted to recreate it a few different times in subsequent films like "Casino" and "The Wolf of Wall Street." As a narrator alone, his voice carries you through that movie with vibrant energy.

"Goodfellas" takes all that mania from "Something Wild" and puts it inside a character who is a true human being rather than a force. He's intimidating, funny, pathetic, and off his rocker, and I can't think of anyone else who could have played that part. It will forever remain a mystery how he didn't even get nominated for an Academy Award for his performance in "Goodfellas," let alone didn't win. On every obituary for Ray Liotta you see today, it will read "Goodfellas star" in the headline, and it is with good reason. For that film to be the masterpiece that it is, it needed Ray Liotta.

"Goodfellas" is available to stream on HBO Max.

Cop Land (1997)

In the cavalcade of cop and criminal roles that Ray Liotta received after the success of "Goodfellas," the best one is probably in James Mangold's 1997 sophomore feature "Cop Land." He plays a cop named Figgis (great name), who is one of a group of dirty cops who work for the NYPD but have found a loophole to actually live in Garrison, New Jersey. "Cop Land" is stuffed with big name talent, including Sylvester Stallone, Robert De Niro, and Harvey Keitel, but for my money, the performance of the film comes from Ray Liotta. 

Figgis is the character who gets to really have an arc over the course of the film, going from dirty cop to someone frantically trying to escape his situation to informant. He brings his trademark intensity and uses it to great effect. "Cop Land" is not the greatest crime film you will ever see, but it is a strong outing from a solid director like Mangold and includes a very committed Sylvester Stallone performance. Ray Liotta, though, is the standout.

"Cop Land" is available to stream on HBO Max.

Marriage Story (2019)

The era of the great older character actor phase of Ray Liotta's career began with Noah Baumbach's fantastic divorce dramedy "Marriage Story." Laura Dern may have won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her role as Scarlett Johansson's lawyer, but Liotta is every bit as magnetic as Dern across the courtroom as Adam Driver's lawyer. He absolutely nails this slick, no nonsense Los Angeles lawyer right on the head. They don't even need to show you a television commercial for this guy's services to know what that commercial would look like. He may be intense, which is why Driver's character is initially hesitant to choose him as his divorce attorney (and goes to the equally fantastic Alan Alda), but deep down, he knows this guy can get him what he wants.

Seeing Ray Liotta in "Marriage Story" sent a collective, "Oh, right. I love Ray Liotta," thought through everyone's head, and I think it is directly responsible for why he was starting to get a bunch of good roles afterwards. Thankfully, we were at least able to get a couple of them, but it is incredibly sad that we won't get another few decades of this phase of Liotta's career. He was a singular actor, and finding someone to fill that void will be nigh impossible.

"Marriage Story" is available to stream on Netflix.