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Christian Slater Movies, Ranked: 9 of the Hollywood Bad Boy’s Best Roles

Explore his most iconic films from 'Heathers' to 'True Romance' and beyond!


As far back as the early 80s, Christian Slater movies captured the zeitgeist of a Hollywood era. By the 90s, the prolific actor was surely on his way to superstardom, appearing on television, stage and the big screen.

All of this despite early branding as a Hollywood bad boy accused of copying Jack Nicholson; an accusation that triggered him to respond, “If I make a move, like raise my eyebrows, some critic says I’m doing Nicholson. What am I supposed to do, cut off my eyebrows?”

Yet if you do close your eyes while watching Slater, at times you would think it was Nicholson on screen.

Christian Slater, 1990
Christian Slater, 1990Nancy R. Schiff/Getty

Born in New York City on August 18, 1969, his mother, Mary Jo Slater, was an acting agent turned casting exec, who was influential on her son’s early acting ambitions. His first television role was at age 8 on the daytime soap One Life To Live, followed by Ryan’s Hope.

My mother was a casting director and she cast me in the soap opera. I played a kid who had hurt himself on a skateboard. I had, like, three lines. I did the lines and everybody in the studio applauded – I was immediately hooked after that. I was, like, this is the life for me.” 

And so, it was. Slater made his Broadway debut opposite Dick Van Dyke in the 1980 revival of The Music Man. Other stage credits came his way, including, ironically, one in London’s West End in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, a role made famous on screen by Jack Nicholson. 

RELATED: Dick Van Dyke Movies and TV Shows: The Legendary Entertainer’s Most Lovable Roles

Portrait of Christian Slater, 1983
Portrait of Christian Slater, 1983Aaron Rapoport/Corbis/Getty

Christian Slater movies kicked off with 1985’s The Legend of Billie Jean, which gained a cult following despite disappointing box office. He moved to Los Angeles in 1987 to continue pursuing his acting career after dropping out of high school.

A hit opposite Sean Connery in The Name of the Rose (1986) improved Slater’s career trajectory. Then came Heathers when he was 18 years old. Critics agree that out of all the great Christian Slater movies, this was his major breakout role. 

9 best Christian Slater movies from the 80s to today, Ranked

Christian Slater, 2022
Christian Slater, 2022Axelle/Bauer-Griffin/FilmMagic/Getty

Here are some of our favorite Christian Slater movies that have given him A-list appeal, though his rising star has ebbed and surged over the years. 

9. Tucker: The Man and His Dream (1988)

Scene from Tucker: The Man and His Dream, 1988
Scene from Tucker: The Man and His Dream, 1988American Zoetrope/Paramount Pictures/Lucasfilm/MoviestillsDB

In the historical biopic of Preston Tucker (Jeff Bridges), this Francis Ford Coppola directed movie follows Tucker’s dream of building the best cars ever made. But he needs money to make his dreams a reality, so he campaigns for funding to build his factory, though more than one obstacle is thrown his way by the competition. Slater plays Tucker’s son Preston, Jr. Not a major role in the film, but his performance helped propel his career. 

8. He Was a Quiet Man (2007)

Scene from He Was a Quiet Man, 2007
Scene from He Was a Quiet Man, 2007Anchor Bay Entertainment/Frank Cappello/MoviestillsDB

Slater plays loner Bob Maconel, a deeply troubled soul with a penchant for violence. Bullied at work, he decides to claim some fame for himself by shooting up his office and then taking his own life. But things don’t go according to plan as a coworker has plans of murder all his own. Maconel becomes an inadvertent hero when he steps in and saves the day. Slater’s performance as a man at his breaking point makes this one of the must-see Christian Slater movies. 

7. True Romance (1993)

Patricia Arquette and Christian Slater on the set of True Romance, 1993
Patricia Arquette and Christian Slater on the set of True Romance, 1993Warner Bros. Pictures/Sunset Boulevard/Corbis/Getty

With the street cred of Quentin Tarantino (writer) and Tony Scott (director of Top Gun fame), this crime film puts you on the edge of your seat and holds you there. The movie follows the whirlwind romance of Clarence Worley (Slater), a comic-book store employee (as was Tarantino), and a call-girl named Alabama, played by Patricia Arquette in one of her finest roles. The two meet up on Clarence’s birthday and the adventure of a lifetime ensues. Elopement, drugs, and the mafia add to a list of growing problems with Alabama’s former pimp, Drexyl (Gary Oldman).

The film seems to have resonated with audiences because, as Slater says, “Eighty-five per cent of the time, people want to talk about True Romance. That’s the film I’ve made that really seems to have stuck with people. This one was just one of those movies that comes along very rarely, and it was incredibly special.” 

(Love crime dramas? Click through for our list of the 11 best British crime dramas, ranked!)

6. Heathers (1989)

The 1988 film Heathers
Christian Slater in Heathers, 1988New World Pictures/Getty

Slater beat out many other actors (among them Brad Pitt) for the part of rebellious teen J.D. Slater, a mysterious troublemaker who causes quite a stir when enrolling in fictional Westerburg High. It’s difficult at times to come to terms with the fact that Slater is actually a villain, because the character in his hands is so likable. The movie has since become a cult classic. Popularity, teen angst and wanting to be a part of the in crowd are played out in the film. J.D. doesn’t really go for the popular crowd and finds friendship with Veronica (Winona Ryder), who is bored with popularity herself.

RELATED: Winona Ryder 80s: Fabulous Photos of the Star Who Defined Gen-X Cool

Portrait of Christian Slater and Winona Ryder for Heathers, 1988
Portrait of Christian Slater and Winona Ryder for Heathers, 1988New World Pictures/Getty

The vicious clique of trendy upper-class women, mostly named Heather, make life a living hell for their perceived uncool classmates. As the movie unfolds, audiences realize that J.D. doesn’t just dislike the popular kids – he wants them dead!

“It was probably the first time I started to notice that people were opening doors for me and giving me tables at restaurants, regardless of what I was wearing. A whole world opened up to me that was shocking and weird and different, and I enjoyed it and I took great advantage of it at times.” 

5. Interview with the Vampire (1994)

Christian Slater and Brad Pitt in Interview with the Vampire, 1994
Christian Slater and Brad Pitt in Interview with the Vampire, 1994Francois Duhamel/Sygma/Getty

In case you didn’t know, the gothic movie was based on Anne Rice’s uber popular book of the same name, starring Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt. It tells the story of Louis (Pitt looking gorgeous), a 200-year-old vampire, through a present-day interview with San Francisco reporter Daniel Molloy, played by Slater, in which Louis details his transformation by Lestat (Cruise) in 1791. The vampire offers Daniel something he never had – the choice as to whether or not he becomes a member of the undead. The film ends before Daniel decides. “I felt like, with Interview with the Vampire, I did get bitten on the neck by Tom Cruise. I’m curious to know what choice Daniel did make.” 

Slater accepted the role after his good friend River Phoenix’s untimely death; Phoenix was to play Daniel. “It was awkward. It was uncomfortable. It was hard,” he told Yahoo News. Slater donated his payment for the movie to charities Phoenix favored.

Related: 20 Flashback Photos of a Young Brad Pitt That Prove He’s Always Been a Dreamboat

4. Broken Arrow (1996)

Christian Slater and Samantha Mathis in Broken Arrow, 1996
Christian Slater and Samantha Mathis in Broken Arrow, 1996 20th Century Studios/Mark Gordon Productions/WCG Entertainment Productions/MoviestillsDB

Quite a good action flick directed by John Woo in a very stylish manner. John Travolta plays Vik Deakins, whose ambition is to steal a nuclear warhead for an act of terrorism. But Riley Hale (Slater) will have none of that. Slater becomes the hero of the movie with the aid of a local park ranger (Samantha Mathis). Many action sequences will enthrall audiences in this big budget film, and It’s refreshing to see Slater shed his bad-boy image from previous Christian Slater movies and emerge as the champion of the flick.

3. The Public (2018)

Scene from The Public, 2018
Scene from The Public, 2018Hammerstone Studios/Living the Dream Films/E2 Films/MoviestillsDB

As is too often the case in real life, a homeless man is discovered dead in the midst of a cold Cincinnati winter right outside the public library. Another homeless man, who also sought shelter from the cold in the same place, learns that emergency shelters are at full capacity and thus leads his companions to take shelter within the library in order to survive a brutal cold front.

But as is the case in many peaceful sit-ins, the police intervene, determined to remove them. Christian Slater is savvy District Attorney Josh Davis, who tries to mediate the issues between the parties. He teams up with no nonsense negotiation expert Detective Bill Ramstead (Alec Baldwin) to find the most reasonable solution to the increasing tensions. 

2. Pump up the Volume (1990)

Portrait of Christian Slater for Pump Up The Volume, 1990
Portrait of Christian Slater for Pump Up The Volume, 1990Aaron Rapoport/Corbis/Getty

The true spirit of a generation is depicted in this comedy/drama film where Slater plays high school student Mark Hunter. He DJs an illegal underground radio station run out of his parent’s basement, not really attracting much in the way of attention until he starts pulling stunts in between playing some really cool music.

He soon becomes the voice of his generation when he begins addressing issues facing teenage life. Listeners, unaware that Mark is a teenager himself, start embracing his opinions on serious issues such as depression, suicide, and bullying. One of his listeners, however, actually commits suicide and parents quickly report his broadcasts to the government. Mark is arrested, but his influence continues to resonate with his audience.

Slater was lauded for his performance and his ability to transform from regular high schooler by day to a nighttime radio host. “This was a film and character that I really responded to. That was a movie about a guy trying to take down the establishment using a ham radio.” The collection of 90s alternative rock tracks on the movie’s soundtrack featured artists such as Soundgarden, Pixies, Concrete Blonde and many more.

1. The Contender (2000)

Christian Slater in The Contender, 2000
Christian Slater in The Contender, 2000Gino Mifsud/Online USA/Getty

This political drama is Slater’s final starring role in a major studio production. His part as a party representative who uncovers information about Senator Laine’s (Joan Allen) past is not a big one, but Slater excels in this smaller performance as Junior democratic congressman Reginald Webster.

The film focuses on a fictional United States President (played by Jeff Bridges) and the events surrounding his appointment of a new Vice President, Laine. Allen was nominated for a Best Actress Oscar and Bridges for Best Supporting Actor. 

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