Marlon Brando is one of the most magnetic and eccentric actors to ever grace the silver screen. Not only was he acclaimed for his naturalistic performance style, which has influenced countless modern-day actors, but he was likewise noted for his versatility, crafting a varied and impressive range of roles in his long filmography.
As iconic as Brando was, and continues to be, some of his experimental choices and notably irritable temperament led to him being something of an oddity in his later years, tackling some of his most out-there, unconventional roles.
Made during the height of the psychedelic movement of the 1960s, Candy is a star-studded coming of age (sort-of) story mixed with a raunchy road comedy.
It is weird stuff all the way through, but Brando’s performance in the film is by far one of the strangest and most compelling parts of the film. Though the film itself is not one of the more memorable offerings of the era, seeing Brando as a guru in the back of a truck ranting and raving about cosmic nonsense is a sight to behold.
By 1978, Brando had become a critical superstar all over again, thanks to his strange but brilliant turns in The Godfather and Last Tango In Paris. However, one of his strangest choices came when he agreed to play Jor-El in what was essentially an extended cameo in Richard Donner’s original Superman film.
Though the superhero genre was essentially nonexistent at the time, the film was still a far cry from the darker and more tortured performances he is most known for. Additionally, the actor was paid an enormous salary and received top-billing, a result of his notorious ego seeping into the finished project.
One-Eyed Jacks (1961)
Brando directed this film, and this film only, in 1961. Essentially a more philosophical and brooding take on the Western, One-Eyed Jacks is one of Brando’s most underrated showings, due to his ability to direct himself to show restraint in the more theatrical aspects of his style.
Though undoubtedly still a Brando performance through-and-through, the film failed to capture much of the acclaim it was promised to deliver on the promotional posters. This is one of the best examples of the actor’s ability to embrace risk and give it everything he has in the process.
Reflections In A Golden Eye (1967)
Legendary director John Huston paired Brando with the iconic Elizabeth Taylor for this 1961 bleak film probing the heavy issues of repressed homosexuality and military marriages, amongst the larger themes of betrayal and sexual perversion.
One of the strangest and darkest films Huston made during that decade, Brando helps add another layer of dark nuance and angst to the film with his lead role as an army Major who is going through something of a personal crisis within his marriage. A collage of unhappiness and passionless sex, the film is often forgotten but has lost none of its power over the decades since its release.
Guys And Dolls (1955)
A big Broadway musical starring Marlon Brando and one of the weirdest choices in his initial heyday of the 1950s, Guys and Dolls is a cinematic adaption of the Broadway hit about crapshoots and gamblers falling in love.
Brando sings one of the show’s signature tunes “Luck Be A Lady” serviceably, and in the presence of one Frank Sinatra no less, and his performance is not nearly as awkward as contemporary critics mentioned. Still, even though Brando did his fair share of romantic comedies, the grandiose studio-gloss of Guys and Dolls make it an entry that sticks out like a sore thumb in the actor’s overall filmography.
The Island Of Dr. Moreau (1996)
This film’s reputation as a disaster both behind the scenes and in the final film has been well documented. It was a troubled shoot that was certainly not helped by Brando, an elderly man by this point, who had become exceedingly difficult to work with.
Still, Brando is not the only thing in the film that is bonkers-weird in all the worst ways. Nearly everything in the H.G. Wells adaption is a bad decision that created what many critics felt was one of the most bizarre and unfortunate cinematic trash fires of the 90s.
Don Juan DeMarco (1994)
Marlon Brando worked with Johnny Depp, a noted fan of the actor, for this extremely weird film about a therapist, played by Brando, whose latest patient, played by Depp, believes he is the legendary hero Don Juan, the great seducer of women.
The film’s incongruous tonal shifts between comedy and drama make it something of a confusing experience, but Brando’s unusual turn as the straight man to Depp’s eccentric patient creates an admittedly compelling dynamic. The film received lukewarm reviews and failed to develop the cult following it had the potential to, but it represents a good showcase for the two lead actors.
Apocalypse Now (1979)
Brando closed out one of his weirdest and best decades with his iconic and disturbing portrayal of Col. Kurtz in Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now. As shown in the documentary Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse, the shoot for the film was close to hell on earth, and Brando was a huge element of its pandemonium.
Allegedly, the actor showed up to set overweight and unfamiliar with the source material. Nevertheless, his off-kilter performance is enough to leave a lasting impression, even though he is only on screen for a fraction of the film’s runtime.
The Freshman (1990)
Earlier in his career, it would’ve been out of the realm of possibility to imagine Marlon Brando doing a self-impression in a satirical comedy. However, in 1990, that’s exactly what he did in The Freshman. Not only did he essentially reprise his role as Vito Corleone for the film, but he was somehow able to make it all work.
The performance is odd and hilarious, but never does it cross the line into gimmickry or cheap humor. One of the most unpredictable successes of the actor’s later years, The Freshman proved he could do funny and dramatic in the same breath.
The Missouri Breaks (1976)
At the time of its release, The Missouri Breaks was largely derided and failed to make a dent at the box office. However, over the succeeding years, the film has garnered a much more favorable reputation from critics and audiences. The film’s suspense-laden Western Noir follows a horse thief as he engages in a battle of wits with a very quirky bounty hunter, played by Marlon Brando.
Brando apparently acted in unusual ways on the set of the film, a kookiness that translates into his revisionist take on the bounty hunter archetype. One of the better and underappreciated Brando performances, his back-and-forths with Jack Nicholson are worth the time alone.