Not only a successful actor, Patrick Swayze was also an esteemed dancer and choreographer, as well as a singer and songwriter.
Beloved Hollywood star Patrick Swazye, who tragically passed away in 2009 of pancreatic cancer, was a man of many talents. Not only a successful actor, Swayze was also an esteemed dancer and choreographer, as well as a singer and songwriter.
At age 20, Swayze, whose mother was a dance instructor, relocated from Texas to NYC, where he was classically trained at the prestigious Joffrey Ballet school. These skills came in handy for several of his roles including Dirty Dancing and One Last Dance, in which he appeared with his real-life wife Lisa Niemi. Additionally, several songs that were written and performed by Swayze were featured in his films, including Dirty Dancing, Road House, Next of Kin, and One Last Dance.
Before breaking out into film, he was a dancer for Disney on Parade, and played the role of Danny Zuko in a Broadway production of Grease. His first movie role was as a disco roller skater in the musical comedy Skatetown U.S.A. in 1979. A decade later, Swayze had become a household name.
Swayze’s acting credits span a wide variety of genres and styles, and many of his movies have become cult classics. He has hardly disappeared from the spotlight and is still often referenced and recognized in new media, in everything from hip hop lyrics to sitcom episodes to “best of” lists. His presence will continue to live on through the work that he did and the impact it made on his fans. Here are nine of Patrick Swayze’s best performances, ranked.
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An NYC drag queen named Vida Boheme is probably not the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Patrick Swayze — but it is a role that he played, and remarkably well at that. To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar follows two seasoned drag queens, Vida and Noxeema Jackson (Wesley Snipes) and their protégé Chi-Chi Rodriguez (John Leguizamo) as they set off on a cross-country road trip to attend the Miss Drag Queen of America Pageant in Hollywood. The title of this arguably absurd movie comes from a photo of performer Julie Newmar that the three stole off of a restaurant wall and carried with them on their journey. Predictably, the queens find themselves stranded in small town America where they anger a local cop, save a housewife from an abusive husband, and just generally act as fairy godmothers to the townspeople.
Some critics complained that the plot was trite and lacking substance, but the hilarity of the film and the talent of the three leads more than makes up for it. Swayze’s gracefulness as a dancer helped him get the part when he went out in drag with director Beeban Kidron and proved he could nail the walk and successfully pass as a woman in public. Both Swayze and Leguizamo were nominated for the Golden Globe for Best Actor for their performances.
City of Joy is a film by director Roland Joffé that is based on the 1985 novel of the same name by Dominique Lapierre. The story focuses on Swayze as an American surgeon named Max Lowe, who travels to Calcutta, India, to find spiritual enlightenment after the traumatic loss of a patient. After getting beat up by some locals, Lowe crosses paths with Hazari Pal (Om Puri), an Indian man who has just moved his family to the city for a better life but has been quickly put on the street. Pal and his family live in a "slum" called the City of Joy, where he brings Lowe and helps nurse him back to health. Lowe becomes enmeshed in the community and through helping the residents of the City of Joy, he is able to overcome his own struggles and find inner peace.
The film addresses the theme of poverty in modern day India and attempts to give the viewer an intimate look into this world and the real hardships that its citizens go through. It’s certainly a Hollywood interpretation of a foreign culture, and thus not perfect, but City of Joy is still definitely worth the watch.
The Outsiders is director Francis Ford Coppola's 1983 adaptation of S.E. Hinton’s extremely popular 1967 novel of the same name. The story follows two gangs of teenagers in rural Oklahoma who battle with issues of morality as they struggle to survive each others violence. Ponyboy (C. Thomas Howell) is the main character who is a part of the lower-class gang, the Greasers, and finds himself the target of the higher-class rival gang, the Socials. An added stressor for Ponyboy is his complicated relationship with his brothers Darry (Swayze) and Soda (Rob Lowe). The film was praised by critics for its natural portrayal of teenagers and the reality of poor kids trying to make it on the streets.
The film stars several actors that would become members of the celebrated group the Brat Pack in the following years. This includes Rob Lowe, as well as Emilio Estevez and Tom Cruise, who played Greasers named Two-Bit and Steve, respectively. Actors Matt Dillon and Ralph Macchio fill out the group. Diane Lane also stars as Cherry Valance, who acts as the love interest trapped between the two groups. There is currently a stage musical adaptation of The Outsiders in the works, expected to open in early 2023.
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Donnie Darko is a psychological sci-fi thriller from director Richard Kelly that became a cult classic. It stars Jake Gyllenhaal as a mentally troubled teenager who begins seeing visions of a giant rabbit named Frank who influences him to commit crimes. Patrick Swayze has a relatively small role in the film, but one that sticks in viewers' minds. He plays a motivational speaker named Jim Cunningham with whom Donnie gets into a heated argument during a school assembly. It’s later revealed that Cunningham was a fraud and child abuser. Donnie’s internal darkness is juxtaposed with the 1980s suburban setting, which adds to the film’s uncomfortably compelling energy.
Though the story is admittedly weird, Donnie Darko has been widely celebrated for its originality and the way it blends themes of science fiction, spirituality, and coming-of-age. The movie received several nominations and wins for science fiction awards and other indie accolades. Donnie’s sister Elizabeth Darko is played by Jake Gyllenhaal’s real life sister and actress Maggie Gyllenhaal. The movie also stars Mary McDonnell as Donnie’s mother, Jena Malone as his love interest; Seth Rogen as a school bully, and Drew Barrymore as one of his teachers.
Point Break is a 1991 crime drama by Kathryn Bigelow which stars Patrick Swayze with luscious, sun-kissed locks, and a young, toned Keanu Reeves. Reeves plays FBI agent Johnny Utah who is tasked with capturing a crew of bank robbers whose signature is wearing masks with the faces of ex-Presidents. He suspects Swayze’s character Bodhi, the leader of a local surfing gang, is involved in the crimes and Utah goes undercover in the surf group to prove it. The two men develop a complicated relationship as the movie progresses, finding themselves both skeptical of each other and yet strangely drawn together, battling to see who will come out on top.
The film is surprisingly philosophical for a crime movie and tells an entertaining tale of human spirit, where the lines between good and bad are blurred. Rather than relying on traditional portrayals of criminals or law enforcement, the story zooms in on the high-intensity sport of surfing, bringing an added element of suspense and an interesting twist. The character Bodhi is the ultimate adrenaline junkie and for the role Swayze performed all his own stunts, learning to surf and going skydiving. Though some critics thought the plot didn’t quite rise up to the level of the production, Point Break has been celebrated for both its athletic and cinematographic feats.
North & South is a three-part television miniseries that is set before, during, and after the Civil War. The series was based on the trilogy of novels by author John Jakes. The show follows two friends and West Point graduates, Orry Main (Patrick Swayze) and George Hazard (James Read) who find themselves on opposite sides of the war. The differences in beliefs and circumstances between these two men shed light on the greater issues that the country was battling with and the difficulty of facing irreconcilable differences between loved ones.
Both North & South Book I and Book II were critical and commercial successes; however, the third installment (in which Swayze did not appear) was largely considered a failure. The series boasts an extensive list of A-list guest stars of the time that included Elizabeth Taylor, David Carradine, Hal Holbrook, Gene Kelly, Robert Mitchum, Johnny Cash, Jean Simmons, Mitchell Ryan, John Anderson, Jonathan Frakes, Inga Swenson, Robert Guillaume, Morgan Fairchild, David Ogden Stiers, Olivia Cole, Lloyd Bridges, Anthony Zerbe, Nancy Marchand, James Stewart, Wayne Newton, William Schallert, Linda Evans, Olivia de Havilland, Peter O’Toole, Billy Dee Williams, and Genie Francis.
The neo-noir thriller 11:14 is a fascinating film that weaves together five interconnected storylines that center around two car accidents that occur at 11:14 PM. Invoking the feelings of Christopher Nolan’s Memento, 11:14 plays with elements of time and awareness, as neither the characters nor the viewers have a clear picture of the events until the film’s conclusion. There is no semblance of chronology; instead, the film is split into five sections, each portraying the events of the night from a different perspective. The movie is small in scale and is more a puzzle to be solved than the vessel of a greater message. It’s dark, intense, and absurdly funny. 11:14 is a project that requires viewer participation, and though it can be enjoyed over and over again, you can only experience solving the puzzle the very first time you watch it—and it’s worth it.
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“Don’t put Baby in a corner.” We’ve all heard this infamous line, uttered by Swayze long before anyone knew that the film it came from would become a beloved and timeless classic. Dirty Dancing was a small-scale romantic dance drama (it only had a budget of $4.5M and was filmed in 43 days) that shocked the cast and crew when it became a massive success. The movie is set in 1963 at a Catskills resort where a well-off young woman named Baby (Jennifer Grey) meets bad-boy dance instructor Johnny Castle (Swayze). The two come from two vastly different worlds but find themselves falling in love as they learn to embrace each other on and off the dance floor.
This project was a great opportunity for Swayze to show off his talent as a classically-trained dancer, though he had to teach not only Baby how to dance within the narrative, but his co-star Grey as well. The music in Dirty Dancing is one of its greatest achievements. It’s chock-full of period-perfect classics like “Big Girls Don’t Cry” and “Hungry Eyes,” as well as the song “I’ve Had the Time of My Life” which was written specifically for the movie and won the Oscar for Best Original Song. Dirty Dancing also features the song “She’s Like the Wind” which was written by and performed by Swayze himself. Acclaimed music producer Jimmy Ienner was the music supervisor for the film and the soundtrack he curated has been certified Platinum eleven times. Both Swayze and Grey were nominated for the Golden Globe Award for Best Actor and Actress, respectively
You wouldn’t necessarily think that a romantic ghost story where a woman’s dead lover inhabits the body of a fake psychic played by Whoopi Goldberg in order to solve his own murder would work, but strangely, it did. In Ghost, Patrick Swayze plays Sam Wheat, who is killed by what looks like a mugging gone wrong, and afterward finds himself trapped in the limbo between Earth and the afterlife and sets out to investigate what happened to him. He crosses paths with a “psychic” Oda Mae Brown (Goldberg) who is shocked to find that she can communicate with an actual dead person. Wheat convinces her to help him reach out to the love of his life, Molly Jensen (Demi Moore), and convinces her that he was murdered by his best friend who is currently trying to seduce her. Dark hijinks ensue.
Ghost successfully merges genres of fantasy, horror, murder mystery, comedy, and romantic drama into a uniquely coherent and entertaining narrative. What may sound like a niche film was actually a commercial and critical success. Ghost was nominated for five Academy Awards including Best Picture, and Whoopi Goldberg won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress—after originally being rejected for the role. Swayze and Moore's steamy pottery wheel moment is probably the most recognizable scene from the movie, as it's been referenced and parodied many times over the years, there is so much more to enjoy in these two hours than just that ghostly caress.