05. Bane in The Dark Knight Rises (2012)
It’s no wonder Hardy goes for wild-eyed broke in so many of his roles; his biggest turns tend to hide his expressions and lyrical voice behind muffled voice modulators and stifling headgear. As Bane, the roided-up mastermind behind a people’s revolution in Gotham in Nolan’s third and final Batman film, he’s tragic and monstrous in equal measure, a traumatized child who fashioned himself into a demon just to survive. And while his mush-mouthed histrionics might require subtitles to understand, you never get the sense that Hardy is going at half-measures. It doesn’t reach the legendary heights of Heath Ledger’s Joker, but Hardy’s Bane will always be one of his most iconic roles.
Best Line: “No one cared who I was until I put on the mask.”
04. Eddie Brock in Venom (2018)
From Hardy the brute to Hardy the clown, his two forays to date into the world of comic books couldn’t be more dissimilar. But despite the perfunctory nature of the rest of Ruben Fleischer’s film, which feels like a return to the era of the dark superhero flicks of the ’90s, Hardy’s Eddie Brock is a turn of big, silly choices that salvages the rest of it. A marble-mouthed Brooklyn reporter for a Vice-like video journalism show, Brock’s weird enough before he gets the syndicate with his shambling, hunched gait and array of beaded bracelets. But throw an alien symbiote in him, and he turns into a gurning, sweat-soaked mess who dives into lobster tanks to eat ’em raw. Hardy rarely gets to play the underdog; he’s much too crazy-looking for that. But when he does, Lord knows it’s fun to watch.
Best Line: [After Venom eats a bunch of thugs terrorizing the local convenience store] “Oh… I have a parasite. Yeah. Good night, Mrs. Chen.”
03. Max Rockatansky in Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)
Despite his character’s name being in the title, Hardy’s beleaguered road warrior Max Rockatansky plays second-fiddle to Charlize Theron’s headstrong, assertive Imperator Furiosa. But even so, Fury Road gives Hardy plenty of chances to play the hits: wild-eyed desperation behind a metal mask, Chaplinesque action beats, pithy lines hidden behind an animalistic growl. Nicholas Hoult describes his Max as a “raging feral,” and Hardy’s performance fits the bill — lovingly playing the grace notes of a beast brought back to humanity by a holy mission. The rest of the movie around him is so beautiful, it’s easy to forget the beautiful work Hardy does in it. For a movie about bullets and sand and blood, there’s a startling grace to Max that wouldn’t work in anyone else’s dirt-covered hands.
Best Line: “If you can’t fix what’s broken, you’ll go insane.”
02. Ivan Locke in Locke (2013)
Steven Knight’s tense, intimate one-hander, set entirely within the cabin of an SUV driving from Birmingham to London, is proof positive that Hardy’s more than just a gurning showboater. Stripped of his physicality and left with little else but an affected Midlands accent (say it with me: kon-ka-leet) and those deep black pools of his eyes, Hardy puts in a command performance as a man driven (eh?) to the end of his rope and just trying to hold it together amongst competing pressures. For all 90 minutes, Hardy has to hold entire scenes over the phone, and he does it with incredible ease and human pain. He never feels the need to gurn or growl, Hardy leaning into a less-is-more approach that is asked of him less and less as he makes his bones as one of cinema’s most theatrical presences. But when Knight can just sit him in a car, plop a phone in front of him, and put him in a personal crisis, what he puts out is a wonder to behold.
Best Line: “Do it for the piece of sky we are stealing with our building. You do it for the air that will be displaced, and most of all, you do it for the fucking concrete.”
01. Charlie Bronson in Bronson (2008)
Hardy’s fantastic at playing delusional figures with a penchant for violence, and never has that bill been better filled than the notorious English prisoner Charles Bronson (self-styled after the movie star, real name Michael Peterson). Arguably the film that put Hardy on the map, Nicholas Winding Refn’s Kubrickian tale of wounded criminal celebrity has more than a few thematic commonalities with Capone.
But Hardy’s turn here is absolutely legendary, ticking off all the boxes required for a superlative Hardy performance. There’s the hulking physicality (he packed on 100 pounds of muscle to play the role), the weird accent, the bouts of neon-soaked theatricality as he breaks through the fourth wall like it’s Batman’s back. Bronson may have made Hardy a known quantity, but he’s never quite topped the scenery-chewing tragicomedy he achieved here.
Best Line: “My bed is four inches off the floor, it’s a concrete bed, my toilet hasn’t even got a seat on it or a lid, and I ‘ave to live like this month after month after month, and the way it’s looking it’s year after year after year. Now is that’s right then so be, but let somebody else ‘ave a fucking go at it, ’cause I’ve had twenty-six years of this bollocks and it’s time to come out, and I want the jury at my trail to come and see how I’m living. But I’m not living, I’m existing.”