Daniel Radcliffe could’ve sailed into early retirement after the Harry Potter films, but his career has kept going at a brisk pace. He’s done rom-coms, action flicks, and regular ol’ dramas, but he’s also quite clearly committed to keeping it weird whenever possible. Here are six examples—the good, the bad, and the WTF.
6) Victor Frankenstein
The production design is nice, and it’s always cool to see Andrew Scott (Sherlock, Fleabag) no matter the circumstances. But otherwise, Radcliffe is the very best part of Paul McGuigan’s shrug-worthy, needlessly flashy attempt at reinterpreting Mary Shelley’s horror classic, with an end result that still feels disappointingly conventional. James McAvoy plays a young version of the title character (screenwriter Max Landis makes sure we get the wink by including a Frankenstein/Frank-en-steen joke) who impulsively rescues Radcliffe’s nameless hunchback from his hellish circus life.
Just a few minutes later and Frankenstein has cured the pitiful lad of his hunchback-ness, given him a familiar name (Igor), sized up his hidden genius, and anointed him as his new lab partner. Things begin to splinter when Igor’s pesky conscience gets in the way of Victor’s dicey experiments, though the not-yet-totally-mad scientist does get to bring his monster (briefly) to life before the finale. The movie ends with Victor penning a sappy letter to Igor about how Igor is his greatest creation, which feels a bit presumptuous, but at least we’ll never get a sequel exploring this friendship’s later years.
5) Now You See Me 2
Does this count as genre? Close enough, with the added meta-delight of famed magic poster boy Radcliffe appearing as a villainous tech genius who sneers at magic, even as he forces the world’s most notorious all-magician heist team to do his bidding.
The Now You See Me movies, which have suspiciously great casts (besides Radcliffe, the Jon M. Chu-directed sequel stars Mark Ruffalo, Morgan Freeman, Jesse Eisenberg, Dave Franco, Lizzy Caplan, and Woody Harrelson times two, and that’s not even everybody you’ll recognise in the huge ensemble), are overstuffed and silly, but everyone involved seems to be well aware of that fact. That includes Radcliffe, who seems to be having the time of his life getting to play a baddie for once.
Director Alexandre Aja (High Tension, Crawl) brings visual flair to this Joe Hill adaptation about a guy named Iggy who sprouts a pair of devil horns after the rape and murder of his childhood sweetheart, Merrin (Juno Temple).
The horns are a painful inconvenience that shake up his duelling moods of paralysing sadness and anger, both at the actual killer and at the fact that everyone in his community believes he’s the killer. They also unlock a peculiar gift, which is that everyone Ig encounters—nearly everyone in his town is completely toxic, by the way—is compelled to overshare their darkest secrets and even give into their most forbidden and/or wildly inappropriate desires. Awkward! But also, it’s actually a convenient development in a situation where Ig needs to suss out a murderer lurking in his midst and doesn’t mind stirring up some chaos along the way.
The whodunnit part of Horns is actually its weakest element; early on, by process of elimination, it’s pretty obvious who really killed Merrin (and even why they did it). But Radcliffe shows impressive range, enough to humanise a movie about a grieving man stuck in a living nightmare who’s somehow also a literal devil creature, in a twist that’s left unexplained, maybe for the best.
3) The Woman in Black
Radcliffe’s first post-Potter film was this 2012 take on Susan Hill’s spooky novel, adapted by Jane Goldman (the Kingsman films) and directed by James Watkins (Black Mirror). It’s a somber tale oozing with gothic atmosphere—as is befitting its Hammer Film Productions stamp of approval—and Radcliffe does most of the heavy lifting; a lot of the movie is just his character creeping around an old mansion that might as well have a neon sign affixed to its front door reading “GHOSTS LIVE HERE.”
But The Woman in Black is more than just a cheap frightfest, mostly thanks to Radcliffe’s performance. He plays a lawyer who’s so deeply haunted by his wife’s tragic demise that he’s almost, maybe, glad he’s been given a work assignment that offers irrefutable proof that life doesn’t end with death. That said, the title character—a vengeful mother whose anguish over losing her young son has turned her into a serial child killer from beyond the grave—is effectively horrifying.
2) Miracle Workers
To date, Radcliffe’s biggest foray into genre TV (aside from guest-voice spots on shows like Robot Chicken and BoJack Horseman) is the TBS comedy Miracle Workers. In the first season of the anthology series, he plays Craig, whose gig at megacorp Heaven, Inc. consists of toiling in the dark, cluttered Department of Answered Prayers, helping people find their lost keys but passing on anything that feels too risky.
When God (Steve Buscemi) decides he’d rather blow up Earth and get into the restaurant business instead, Craig and his cohorts scheme to save the planet by making someone’s impossible wish come true; a love story sprouts in the human world as Craig works through his feelings for fellow Heaven employee Eliza (Geraldine Viswanathan).
Season one of Miracle Workers highlighted Radcliffe’s endless capacity for awkward charm—see: the episode where Craig accidentally gets drunk on one of God’s sludgy, umbrella-festooned “shocktails” and blurts out the whole anti-apocalypse plan—and if you’re a fan of The Good Place, it offers a different sort of take on an irreverent afterlife.
Season two, which premieres tonight, keeps the same actors but delivers a new setting and characters for Miracle Workers: Dark Ages, in which Radcliffe plays a hapless royal named “Prince Chauncley.”
1) Swiss Army Man
Yes, it’s the farting corpse movie, but Radcliffe’s Manny actually does way more than fart (though goddamn, does he fart a lot). On the lonely, hazy verge of suicide after being stranded on an island, Hank (Paul Dano) spots Manny wash ashore, and it doesn’t take too long before the power of friendship brings Manny back to life, sorta, though he’s extremely naive about everything (masturbation comes up a lot, but so do the wonders of Jurassic Park) and his body has limited, albeit at-times nearly magical, functionality.
Together, Hank and Manny struggle their way toward civilisation, with some hints disputing exactly how “stranded” Hank really was, as well as how “alive” Manny really is—though the latter ends up being more convincing. This proudly absurd, exceedingly quirky tale from Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert is something that must be seen to be believed, if only because it’s impossible to convey how strangely poignant it ends up being. Has a more nuanced portrayal of a farting corpse ever been committed to film? It has not, and it likely never will be again.
The numbers on the list end here, but Radcliffe shows no sign of easing up on his offbeat career choices. For instance, here’s the trailer for Guns Akimbo, in which DanRad plays a guy with guns bolted to his hands. It’s out February 28.