Top 10 Films of Ewan McGregor

Best known for his roles as a junkie in Danny Boyle’s Trainspotting & as a Jedi Knight in George Lucas’ Star Wars franchise, Ewan McGregor has enjoyed a career of real variety. Neal Damiano takes a look at his best work

10. Black Hawk Down (Scott, 2001)

ewan-mcgregor_top10films_blackhawkDownDirector Ridley Scott’s heart-wrenching war drama follows the doomed 1993 mission of U.S forces in Somalia. McGregor is sent in to capture top aides of the rebel enemy. When two Black Hawks are shot down, two soldiers are outnumbered in the city streets. A very dangerous mission has started. Not generally known for action roles, I really liked Ewan’s performance here; very commanding and rugged. The Scottish actor usually plays quirky and somewhat anti-hero roles; but here he’s a more straightforward hero.

9. Rogue Trader (Dearden, 1999)

ewan-mcgregor_top10films_rogue-traderAn intense thriller about the fall of London’s Barings Bank. Ewan McGregor plays Nick Leeson, a hotshot merchant banker in Singapore. Leeson gets a little too greedy and begins playing with the company’s books and moving funds around in his favor. His cockiness ultimately leads to his downfall and the company’s ruin. Ewan is cunning, manipulative, and conniving to the point where you love to hate him. But he does not lose that charm he carries so well.

8. Deception (Langenegger, 2008)

ewan-mcgregor_top10films_deceptionA soft spoken auditor becomes very intrigued by his smooth talking fellow attorney (Hugh Jackman) when he finds himself led into the seedy underground world of sex clubs. There, his risky affair with a beautiful woman (Michelle Williams) leads to dangerous intrigue and sexual disloyalty. Deception is a very entertaining sensual thriller, due mainly to McGregor’s and William’s chemistry. They sizzle on screen with lust and passion, but his naive and almost schoolboy nature, steals the movie.

7. The Island (Bay, 2005)

ewan-mcgregor_top10films_the-islandIn the same fashion of Logan’s Run, The Island is a non-stop sci-fi adventure ride from start to finish. Directed by Michael Bay, and starring Ewan McGregor and Scarlet Johansson, the pair are members of an unproductive society set in the future and hope to be selected for living on a fabricated serene island. After discovering they’re clones on their way to be destroyed they plan an escape, with an evil man on their trail. Once again, this movie shows McGregor can also star in action/adventure films. The story is quite interesting and there’s a lot of entertaining action throughout the whole movie.

6. Velvet Goldmine (Haynes, 1998)

ewan-mcgregor_top10films_velvet-goldmineTodd Haynes’ tribute to the era of glittery sex and drug-filled glam rock of the 70s sees Christian Bale’s reporter trying to get the inside story of glam icon Brian Slade (Jonathan Meyers) who disappears years earlier after a fake assassination attempt. McGregor co-stars as Slade’s obnoxious colleague – he is overly eccentric and very zany in this role, which is quite refreshing from the serious roles he often plays. I like timepiece era films and Ewan’s zealous behavior just makes you laugh in a time when music really mattered and the artists were so original.

5. Stay (Forster, 2005)

ewan-mcgregor_top10films_stayAfter threatening to commit suicide, art student Henry Latham (Ryan Gosling) becomes the object of obsession for Sam Foster (Ewan McGregor), a psychologist, whose search for the estranged young man results in his own deep conflicts with life, death, and the existence of his reality. I feel Ewan really displayed his acting ability in this film. The movie mainly focuses on him and he really has to pull from his confident self to play a man who is losing grip with reality and his own sanity. He does such a fine job you’re really routing for him in the end. A very entertaining psychological thrill ride.

4. Nightwatch (Bornedal, 1997)

ewan-mcgregor_top10films_nightwatchThis is one of my favorite psychological thrillers featuring Ewan McGregor who plays a law student who takes a janitorial job at a local morgue. A series of prostitutes turn up dead in the area. McGregor finds himself too involved with the case and becomes under suspicion by police detective Nick Nolte for the murders. A cat and mouse chase ensues that makes him possibly the next victim. I liked this movie because it really shows Ewan McGregor’s ability to completely engage your attention on screen. He is very persuasive and it is one of the roles he completely immersed himself in. The film has a very creepy atmosphere and leaves the viewer on the edge of their seat with anticipation.

3. A Life Less Ordinary (Boyle, 1997)

ewan-mcgregor_top10films_life-less-ordinaryA romantic comedy from Danny Boyle, McGregor plays an out of work janitor that tries to get his job back. This attempt turns into a zany kidnapping with help from his ex-boss’ daughter played by Cameron Diaz. Adding to the renegade’s problems on the journey are a pair of angels determined to bring the couple together. McGregor and Diaz, who benfit from a very quirky, original, and offbeat script, radiate on screen and their chemistry is undeniable. This particular film really shows how he is able to play a serious and funny character at the same time.

2. Shallow Grave (Boyle, 1994)

ewan-mcgregor_top10films_shallow-graveThis is one of my favorite films, I fell in love with it the moment I saw it. A group of friends search for a fourth roommate for their apartment. They find a quiet, unassuming man that tends to stay in his room and never leaves. Getting intrigued they decide to enter the room only to find him dead, along with a suitcase full of money. What ensues is greed, jealousy and murder as the three plot, fight, and kill for the money. The acting is phenomenal and the story is brilliant. Ewan McGregor is totally convincing as a charismatic yet greedy, little creep; you find yourself hating him through the film. But he is also quite funny and off the wall especially at the party scene. It is such an engaging film that finds you anticipating who is going to end up with the money. A very entertaining movie about the desire for money and the lengths one will go to have it.

1. Trainspotting (Boyle, 1996)

ewan-mcgregor_top10films_trainspottingTrainspotting is the film that introduced me to Ewan McGregor’s fascinating work – it’s a gritty look at a group of heroin addicts in Scotland. Director Danny Boyle’s adaptation of Irvine Welsh’s novel follows Mark Renton (Ewan McGregor) on a journey to redemption, as he continually tries to kick a terribly intense drug habit, only to be lured back in time and time again. It features off the wall characters and insanely funny, quotable lines especially from McGregor. Once again, a film that displays Ewan’s brilliant acting ability. The scenes are so vivid and surreal, for example, the world’s dirtiest bathroom scene, where Renton is so addicted he dives into the dirty scum-ridden toilet to retrieve his heroin. McGregor’s character really battles with moral dilemma and trying to go down the right path in life. He gets tempted with addiction, greed, and sexual perversion. He’s so convincing I actually thought he had a drug habit. In the end, seduction is far too powerful and he betrays his friends, hoping to live the straight and boring life. Trainspotting proves the pairing of Boyle and McGregor is a match made in movie heaven!

Written and compiled by Neal Damiano.

What are your top 10 films of Ewan McGregor?

About the Author
Neal Damiano calls himself “an unhip film geek” who mixes his passion for movies with an enthusiasm for travel, music and journalism.

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  1. Avatar
    Laura Grande Reply

    Favourites? Trainspotting. Velvet Goldmine. Big Fish. Shallow Grave. I have a soft spot for Moulin Rouge.

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    Anna Banana Reply

    Maybe Moulin Rouge

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    Jay Mistry Reply

    surely Trainspotting will be frequently mentioned …

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    Nostra Reply

    Excellent choices and nice to see Shallow Grave so high on the list. Also thought he was good in Moulin Rouge.

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    CineGirl Reply

    Great list Neal, it just goes to show how good McGregor and Danny Boyle were together. Trainspotting has to be his finest performance but I also thought he was great more recently in Beginners. Nice to see some of his lesser known films appear in your top 10 such as Stay and Nightwatch.

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    Rory Fish Reply

    Roger that!

    Ewan McGregor is a funny ol’ actor. I’m not too sure what to make of him. I did hate Black Hawk Down by the way and wasn’t too fussed about A Life Less Ordinary even though the Ash theme song often gets me singing in the shower (and sometimes on the toilet as well).

    But Shallow Grave is immense – better than Trainspotting for me – and would be my number one. However, there’s no arguing from me on the selection of the top 3 Boyle/McGregor collaborations!

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    Movie Gran Reply

    10. A Life Less Ordinary
    9. Moulin Rouge
    8. The Men Who Stare at Goats
    7. Big Fish
    6. Little Voice
    5. Brassed Off
    4. Salmon Fishing In The Yemen
    3. Shallow Grave
    2. Trainspotting
    1. Beginners

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    ruth Reply

    For sure I’d have Moulin Rouge on my list, LOVE him in that movie. Ewan is always fun to watch! I haven’t heard of Rogue Trader before but that sounds intriguing!

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    Neal Damiano Reply

    Not a fan of Moulin Rouge, but I know people loved it. Nor was I was a fan of the Star Wars second series. I feel his lesser known roles in smaller films really showed his acting.
    @Rory, I battled with putting Shallow Grave at number one but Trainspotting is the film that introduced me to Ewan’s work. Shallow Grave is in my top 50 films of all time list.
    Thanks all for reading & feedback.

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    Ryan Pollard Reply

    I think Perfect Sense is one of Ewan’s most underrated films. That was an interesting sci-fi inflected story that owed a debt to Never Let Me Go, and both he and Eva Green were absolutely brilliant.

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    Neal Damiano Reply

    @Ryan….hmmmm haven’t seen that one but will check it out.

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    Jaina Mistry Reply

    Yet to see Trainspotting. Big fan of Shallow Grave!

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    Avigail Reply

    Trainspotting; the Pillow book; Shallow Grave; Down with love

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    Brittany Rivera Reply

    Moulin Rogue! & Beginners

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    InSession Film Reply

    Trainspotting, Moulin Rouge!

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    Cinema Parrot Disco Reply

    Shallow Grave, Big Fish

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    Jose Solis Reply


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    peggyatthemovies Reply

    Velvet Goldmine & The Ghost!

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    Sarah Reply

    Shallow Grave, Trainspotting, A Life Less Ordinary, Moulin Rouge! and Little Voice

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    Fulmer Reply

    Shallow Grave, Big Fish, Blackhawk Down, Trainspotting, The Ghost & The Pillow Book.

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    Dobson Reply

    Shallow Grave. Trainspotting. Young Adam.

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    Neal Copeland Reply

    Moulin Rouge. Not The Island.

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    Hyphen Reply

    Fan of Big Fish too but I like your top 10. Trainspotting and Shallow Grave are great movies and yet totally different. Have you seen Beginners? I like that you’ve included A Life a Less Ordinary and Velvet Goldmine which feature two of McGregor’s best performances. Equally, I’m glad you left off all mention of Star Wars!

  24. Avatar
    ArchE Reply

    Good work Neal. Although there’s a tendency to think McGregor did his strongest work under the guidance of director Danny Boyle I feel he’s grown as an actor and, post-Star Wars, he’s achieved some real career highlights. Although I’m not a huge fan of him in general I have enjoyed both Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, I Love You Phillip Morris, Beginners and The Impossible. They would all be worthy of my personal top 10 and trump his work for Boyle. That said, it would be churlish to ignore Trainspotting as a vital cog in British film’s 1990s output and deserves much of the praise it is given.

    • Avatar
      Neal Damiano Reply

      @Arch, thank you for reading and providing your feedback. I for one did not like Beginners, I know it’s mentioned here a lot. I didn’t care for the story all that much or Ewan’s character. As for the Boyle/ McGregor duo, it’s not so much the pairing. It is more so.. those 2 films- Shallow Grave & Trainspotting are 2 of ny favorite films. Both are in my top 50 of all time list. Danny Boyle just happens to direct both movies. I really like Nightwatch a non Boyle film. That story and atmosphere in it is so intense.Ewan’s is very good here along with Brolin.

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    Andress Reply

    Transporting is my favorite too. Nice top 10.

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    Greg Pearson Reply

    Favourite would be Big Fish but I’m a sucker for Tim Burton.

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    Mark Reply

    Trainspotting before Shallow Grave fer sure – plus it is absolutely right to have it at number one. Glad you didn’t mention the Star Wars stuff and Cassandra’s Dream, that Woody Allen waffle where one brother is a Scot and the other Irish … would have had Men Who Star at Goats before Nightwatch for what it’s worth, but a most thoroughly entertaining list nevertheless …

  28. Avatar
    Ewan Fan Reply

    As a huge Ewan fan can I just say you’ve done a great job. I love him so much.

  29. Avatar
    Neal Damiano Reply

    @Ewan fan, thank you…..he has done some really great films!

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