Jake Gyllenhaal has been in the industry for decades now and is easily one of the most easily recognized and in-demand actors in the industry today. Gyllenhaal currently has at least a dozen future projects he is confirmed to be apart of, as well as continuing his recent branch into executive producing under his banner Nine Stories. If you, like many others, find yourself wanting to watch more films that Gyllenhaal has had a hand, we’ve put together a list of some of our favorites that you can find across various streaming services right now with a subscription.
Nocturnal Animals – Netflix
First of all, let me start by saying Abel Korzeniowski really put out a masterpiece with this film’s score. Moving on from that (it had to be said), Nocturnal Animals is a multi-layered, fever-dream of a psychological thriller that successfully holds its audience’s attention the entire duration and an ending that will stick with you longer than you care to admit. In the film, a successful Los Angeles art-gallery owner’s perfect life is scarred by the constant traveling of her nearly-absent second husband. While he is away yet again, she is surprised by the arrival of a manuscript written by her estranged first husband (Gyllenhaal). The manuscript tells the story of a teacher whose vacation with his family quickly turns into a nightmare. As Susan reads the book, it forces her to face her past and confront some dark truths. The film shatters traditional romance tropes, provides consistently stunning imagery, and at times will leave you completely bewildered by its original premise and near flawless execution.
This is absolutely the most emotional performance of Gyllenhaal’s career. He provides two separate yet similar characters who are both profoundly emotional and complex in their own ways, and Gyllenhaal is truly one of few actors who can successfully portray two characters so different and yet still so much the same. I do recommend googling and adhering to the appropriate trigger warnings for this particular movie, because there are a lot of dark themes and therefore some difficult scenes to get through.
Prisoners – Hulu
If Nocturnal Animals wasn’t bewildering enough for you and you want to watch another Gyllenhaal project that will leave you even more confused as the plot unfolds, then Prisoners is absolutely the film for you. Keller Dover faces a reality no parent ever wants to be apart of when his 6-year-old daughter and her friend go missing right from their neighborhood, and the only lead is an old motorhome that had been parked on their street at the time. Detective Loki (Gyllenhaal), the head of the investigation, arrests the driver of the motorhome but a lack of evidence forces Loki to release his only suspect. Dover, knowing that his daughter’s life is on the line, decides to take matters into his own hands. Not only did you get to see Gyllenhaal as the cynical and clever Detective Loki, you also get incredible performances from Paul Dano in the film as Alex (the motorhome driver, of course) and Hugh Jackman (Keller Dover).
Velvet Buzzsaw – Netflix
If you’re sensing a theme of Gyllenhaal starring in absolutely bewildering films, you’re absolutely correct. Another more recent entry into the ever-growing list of absurd (I say that in the best way) films he has starred in is Velvet Buzzsaw, in which a horrifying (and confusing) sequence of events unfolds. After paintings by an unknown artist are discovered, a supernatural force carries out revenge on “artists” who have allowed their greed and selfishness to get in the way of art. Based on the plot you’d probably be likely to walk into this movie expecting to be scared, or to at least experience some sort of deeply profound lesson to learn, but let me just tell you: it is not that serious. If you go in expecting to watch a pretty silly, drama-filled film with a moderate amount of gore, you may actually find yourself entertained by this great ensemble of a cast, including Gyllenhaal as the outrageous Morf.
Nightcrawler – Netflix
This one isn’t necessarily confusing, but it is weird, so it fits the theme here. Gyllenhaal was absolutely robbed of an Academy Award for his performance in Nightcrawler, and that certainly isn’t even a controversial statement to make. Los Angeles citizen Louis Bloom (Gyllenhaal) survives by scavenging and petty theft — it’s a very glamorous lifestyle. After stumbling into a new career as a cameraman where he hopefully doesn’t have to starve anymore, he begins late-night forays all over the city armed with a camera and a police scanner in the hopes of witnessing shocking and gruesome crimes. As it turns out, being wiling to put yourself in an insane amount of danger is a great way to get noticed by a news director who is looking to increase her station’s rating. Louis goes to extensively dangerous lengths that may have when he is unable to give up the thrill of the chase and desperate to get the perfect shot for the station and his admirer. Nightcrawler is unnerving in all of the ways you hope for a thriller to be, it addresses some of the worst parts of modern news culture and capitalism, and overall provides a stunning and profound film.
This is widely considered to be a career-defining role for Gyllenhaal, and it’s hard to disagree when you watch the dedication, passion, and depth he brings to this role. It’s not often for audiences to completely and utterly despise a character from the first moment they enter the film, but this expert portrayal from Gyllenhaal provides a rare character with absolutely zero redeemable qualities.
The Guilty – Netflix
One of Gyllenhaal’s most recent performances, which was impressively filmed with a minimal in-person cast on an 11-day schedule, is one of his most gripping performances to date. In The Guilty, Gyllenhaal stars Joe Baylor, a California detective facing a recent demotion to nightshift 911-operator. Joe nearly misses the opportunity to help a kidnapped woman when he dismissively answers another phone call on his shift — but staying on the line has consequences as well. Joe must juggle incoming calls, figure out how to locate and rescue the woman, and get into contact with the woman’s child who was left home alone. While Joe attempts to save the day he must also avoid a L.A. Times reporter who seems eager to speak with the detective — probably about that recent demotion. Gyllenhaal expertly communicates the sense of panic any of us would encounter in a situation such as this.
You can read our full review of The Guilty here.
Donnie Darko – HBO Max
And now for possibly the weirdest film of them all under Gyllenhaal’s acting resume: Donnie Darko. This film is a cult classic for a reason, and it’s simply one that has to be watched at least once in life. No, it doesn’t really make a whole lot of sense — but really, when do films involving time travel make sense? In the film, a teenager named Donnie Darko sleepwalks out of his house one night and sees a giant, demonic-looking rabbit named Frank. If that isn’t already unsettling enough, Frank tells Donnie the world will end in 28 days — Halloween. Donnie returns home to find that a jet engine has crashed into his bedroom. Is Donnie living in a parallel universe, is he suffering from mental illness — or is the world actually ending? Donnie, saturated in teenage angst and sarcasm, is one of Gyllenhaal’s earlier performances and certainly one of our favorites. Plus, there’s the nice bonus of seeing Donnie’s sister played by Gyllenhaal’s real-life sister, Maggie.
You can read more about Donnie Darko and why the film is should absolutely be included in Halloween marathons here.