The Best Films of Paul Dano

Updated June 4, 2024 • Staff

Whether he's acting, directing, or producing, there's no denying that Paul Dano is a multi-faceted talent. Thanks to his nuanced approach to every performance, Dano can play both comedic and dramatic roles, and he's not one to back down from challenging material either. No two movies are the same in his arsenal of work, and while many of them are valuable in their own right, here we've listed our favorites. From his breakout turn in Little Miss Sunshine to his iconic role as Steven Spielberg's father in The Fabelmans, here are the best films of Paul Dano.

Read also:
10.

Spaceman (2024)

Set at a time when humans can travel as far into space as Jupiter, Spaceman looks delightfully retro-futuristic. It’s as if the people and tech of the ‘60s were transported to a faraway future where things like long-haul space flights and nebulous pink clouds exist, and so visually, Spaceman is not tiring to look at. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said about most of the film’s other elements, including its dialogue and story. Jakub is sent to space to collect mysterious ancient dust, but since we never know why he should exactly, it never feels consequential if at all necessary. In fact, this is less about his mission than it is about coming to terms with existential truths like pain, loss, and love. And what better way to confront all that than with a wise primordial arachnid? Now, the idea of a therapy session between a spaceman and a spider sounds intriguing enough, and with strong enough writing, it could fly. But the dialogue is too sparse to be thought-provoking. The main message, that you should appreciate what you have while you have it, is also too simple to carry the weight of this expansive film, especially since we have very few details about the story and character to go on with. But Sandler, Carrey Mulligan (who plays his wife), and even Paul Dano (who voices the spider) do the best with what they can, and if anything, you leave the film stunned by the visuals and moved by their empathetic performances.

Our staff rating: 6.2/10
Genre: Adventure, Drama, Science Fiction
Actor: Adam Sandler, Carey Mulligan, Isabella Rossellini, Jessica Bechyňová, John Flanders, Kunal Nayyar, Lena Olin, Marian Roden, Mikuláš Čížek, Paul Dano, Sinéad Phelps, Sunny Sandler, Zuzana Stivínová
Director: Johan Renck
Rating: R
9.

Little Miss Sunshine (2006)

Starring a sad-sack Steve Carrell and an ensemble cast with brilliant timing and real heart, Little Miss Sunshine is a rare understated comedy that brings laughter and tears. As a dysfunctional family's youngest member gets chosen to be in a pageant in California, the family must come together and support her through her journey. Along the path that they take, they learn and cope with each other. A great movie filled with phenomenal acting and writing with a real heart that will leave you breathless.

Our staff rating: 6.9/10
Genre: Comedy, Drama
Actor: Abigail Breslin, Alan Arkin, Beth Grant, Brenda Canela, Bryan Cranston, Dean Norris, Geoff Meed, Gordon Thomson, Greg Kinnear, Jerry Giles, Jill Talley, Joan Scheckel, John Walcutt, Julio Oscar Mechoso, Justin Shilton, Lauren Shiohama, Marc Turtletaub, Mary Lynn Rajskub, Matt Winston, Mel Rodriguez, Paul Dano, Paula Newsome, Steve Carell, Steven Christopher Parker, Terry Bolo, Toni Collette, Wallace Langham
Director: Jonathan Dayton, Valerie Faris
Rating: R
8.

Swiss Army Man (2016)

Probably the weirdest film you'll ever see. Paul Dano plays a borderline suicidal man who befriends a farting corpse that washed up from the sea as played by Daniel Radcliffe. It's an adventurous, witty and hilarious film yet it is filled with discreet and very deep lessons about society and norms. The soundtrack is so charmingly unique as well, it's a definite must-watch for anyone looking for a refreshing comedy.

Our staff rating: 7.7/10
Genre: Adventure, Comedy, Drama, Fantasy, Romance
Actor: Aaron Marshall, Andy Hull, Antonia Ribero, Daniel Radcliffe, Jessica Harbeck, Marika Casteel, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Paul Dano, Richard Gross, Shane Carruth, Timothy Eulich
Director: Dan Kwan, Daniel Kwan, Daniel Scheinert
Rating: R
7.

Okja (2017)

Director Bong Joon-ho (Snowpiercer) does something quite amazing with the $50 million budget Netflix gave him: he makes a simplistic movie. But man, is it good. Okja tells the story of a “super pig” experiment that sends genetically modified pigs to top farmers around the world. In Korea, a farmer’s granddaughter forms a special relationship with one of these super pigs (Okja). When the company who originally ran the experiment want their pig back (performances by Jake Gyllenhaal and Tilda Swinton) – the two find an ally in an animal advocacy group led by Jay (Paul Dano). This is a straightforward movie, but nevertheless it is entertaining and full of thought-provoking themes and performances from an excellent cast.

Our staff rating: 8/10
Genre: Action, Adventure, Drama, Fantasy, Science Fiction
Actor: Adam Auslander, Ahn Seo-hyun, Ahn Seong-bong, Amber Snow, An Seo Hyun, Andreas Fronk, Ann Evans, Barbara Wallace, Bettina Skye, Boyd Ferguson, Byun Hee-bong, Byun Heebong, Carl Montoya, Cho Wan-ki, Choi Hee-seo, Choi Woo-shik, Colm Hill, Cory Gruter-Andrew, Daniel Henshall, David Bloom, Devon Bostick, Eha Urbsalu, Erik De Boer, Faith Logan, Giancarlo Esposito, Han Yi-jin, J. C. Williams, Jake Gyllenhaal, Jamar Greene, Jason Scott Nelson, Kathryn Kirkpatrick, Kim Chul-moo, Kim Moon-hak, Kim Woo-hyeon, Kristoffe Brodeur, Kwak Jin-seok, Kyul Hwi, Lee Bong-ryeon, Lee Jung-eun, Lena Avgust, Lily Collins, Luis Javier, Lynn Marocola, Martin Lo Rimorin, Michael D. Joseph, Michael Mitton, Milo Shandel, Myles Humphus, Nancy Amelia Bell, Niall Cunningham, Park Jeong-gi, Park Ji-hoon, Park Keun-rok, Paul Dano, Pavla Tan, Phillip Garcia, Rebecca Husain, Rickland Powell, Seo-Hyun Ahn, Sheena Kamal, Shirley Henderson, Steven Garr, Steven Yeun, Tilda Swinton, Waris Ahluwalia, Woo Shik Choi, Yoon Je Moon, Yoon Kyung-ho
Director: Bong Joon-ho, Joon-ho Bong
Rating: TV-MA
6.

Ruby Sparks (2012)

Calvin Weir-Fields (Paul Dano), a young and promising novelist imagines and writes about his idea of a perfect female companion. Somehow, his words manifest into reality - the beautiful and corky Ruby Sparks (Zoe Kazan). Soon, however, his magical love turns shallow as his creation begins to think for herself and wrestle against her creation. This romantic comedy has the right amount of wit and emotion with a deep message of loving people just the way they are.

Our staff rating: 8.1/10
Genre: Comedy, Drama, Fantasy, Romance
Actor: Aasif Mandvi, Alia Shawkat, Annette Bening, Antonio Banderas, Casey Genton, China Shavers, Chris Messina, Claudia Bestor, Deborah Ann Woll, Diana Parros, Eden Brolin, Eleanor Seigler, Elliott Gould, Emma Jacobs, Jane Anne Thomas, Janine King, John F. Beach, Kai Lennox, Mark Roman, Mary Jo Deschanel, Michael Berry Jr., Paul Dano, Rick L. Dean, Rightor Doyle, Steve Coogan, Tatiana Sarasty, Toni Trucks, Wallace Langham, Zoe Kazan
Director: Jonathan Dayton, Valerie Faris
Rating: R
5.

Youth (2015)

Youth is a film about Fred Ballinger (Michael Caine) a famous composer vacationing at a resort in the Swiss Alps with his friend Mick (Harvey Keitel), an accomplished filmmaker, and his daughter Lena (Rachel Weisz). While Fred shuns his work (including an opportunity to play for the Queen of England) and muddles himself in disillusionment, Mick works fervently on his final film, intended to be his life’s crowning achievement. Their remaining time is spent intermingling amongst the guests and reminiscing upon their lives, their achievements, their failures and their undying yearnings. From writer/director Paolo Sorrentino (The Great Beauty), Youth is another charming work offering an array of eccentric characters and quirky scenarios, while also serving as a touching examination of age, wisdom and ultimately personal reckoning.

Our staff rating: 8.1/10
Genre: Comedy, Drama
Actor: Adam Jackson-Smith, Aldo Ralli, Alex Beckett, Alex MacQueen, Alexander Seibt, Alice Bauer, Anabel Kutay, Anna Marie Cseh, Ashley Bryant, Beatrice Curnew, Beatrice Walker, Carolina Carlsson, Chloe Pirrie, Dominique Leidner, Ed Stoppard, Elizabeth Kinnear, Emilia Jones, Eugenia Caruso, Gabriela Belisario, Harvey Keitel, Heidi Maria Glössner, Helmut Förnbacher, Ian Attard, Ian Keir Attard, Jane Fonda, Jasmin Barbara Mairhofer, Josie Taylor, Julia Danuser, Kaspar Weiss, Laura De Marchi, Loredana Cannata, Luna Mijović, Madalina Diana Ghenea, Mãdãlina Ghenea, Maria Letizia Gorga, Mark Gessner, Mark Kozelek, Melinda Bokor, Michael Caine, Nate Dern, Paloma Faith, Paul Dano, Poppy Corby-Tuech, Portia Reiners, Rachel Weisz, Rebecca Calder, Robert Seethaler, Roly Serrano, Sonia Gessner, Sumi Jo, Tatiana Luter, Tom Lipinski, Veronika Dash, Wolfgang Michael
Director: Paolo Sorrentino
Rating: R
4.

Wildlife (2018)

A powerful but quiet movie directed by Paul Dano and based on a novel of the same name by Richard Ford. It stars Carey Mulligan and Jake Gyllenhaal as a couple who move to a new town with their only child during the 1960s. Their relationship transforms after Gyllenhaal's character loses his job as a butler and chooses to leave for a more dangerous profession, firefighting. This movie is about his wife's response to this event and the implications of both parents' behavior on their kid. There are no twists or turns, exciting action or plot; but Wildlife doesn't need any of that. This moving story about a decaying family unit is portrayed in the sadness that comes with such events. The only joy comes from watching the outstanding (but expected) performances of the cast.

Our staff rating: 8.1/10
Genre: Drama
Actor: Avery Bagenstos, Bill Camp, Blaine Maye, Carey Mulligan, Darryl Cox, Ed Oxenbould, Ginger Gilmartin, J. Alan Davidson, Jake Gyllenhaal, Jay Dee, John Walpole, JR Hatchett, Kaye Brownlee-France, Laurie Cummings, Lexi Anastasia, Marshall Virden, Michael Gibbons, Mollie Milligan, Paul Dano, Richard L. Olsen, Tom Huston Orr, Travis W Bruyer, Zoe Colletti
Director: Paul Dano
Rating: PG-13
3.

The Fabelmans (2022)

The Fabelmans is often described as director Steven Spielberg’s semi-autobiographical movie about his inauguration into filmmaking, and while it certainly is that, I’d venture to say that it also functions as a universal coming-of-age tale, with protagonist and Spielberg stand-in Sammy Fabelman (Gabriel LaBelle) learning harsh truths about identity, family, and passion for the first time.

Here, we see how so much of filmmaking is intertwined with his life, and how the movies inspire his personality (and vice versa). Whether you’re a fan of Spielberg or not, this movie will surely win you over with its beautiful imagery, impressive technique, and big, big heart.

Our staff rating: 8.2/10
Genre: Comedy, Drama
Actor: Adriel Porter, Alejandro Fuenzalida, Alex Quijano, Alina Brace, Ari Davis, Art Bonilla, Brinly Marum, Cameron Hennings, Carlos Javier Castillo, Chandler Lovelle, Chloe East, Cody Mitchell, Connor Trinneer, Cooper Dodson, Crystal the Monkey, David Lynch, Ezra Buzzington, Gabriel Bateman, Gabriel LaBelle, Greg Grunberg, Gustavo Escobar, Harper Dustin, Isabelle Kusman, James Urbaniak, Jan Hoag, Jared Becker, Jeannie Berlin, Jonathan Moorwood, Judd Hirsch, Julia Butters, Julyah Rose, Kalama Epstein, Keeley Karsten, Kendal Evans, Lane Factor, Larkin Campbell, Mason Bumba, Max David Weinberg, Meredith VanCuyk, Michelle Williams, Nicolas Cantu, Oakes Fegley, Orion Hunter, Paige Locke, Paul Dano, Rob Shiells, Robin Bartlett, Sam Rechner, Seth Rogen, Sophia Kopera, Stephen Matthew Smith, Taylor Hall, Tia Nalls, Trang Vo, Vera Myers
Director: Steven Spielberg
Rating: PG-13

Free Watching Options:

Watch The Fabelmans (2022) on Fubo for free

Ready to cut the cord? Here are the 14 live TV streaming services that offer a free trial.

More lists

That's all from us for the The Best Films of Paul Dano! For more, subscribe to the newsletter. It's ad-free, spam-free, and algorithm-free. You get two e-mails every week with the best of Netflix and Amazon Prime, and nothing else.