In "The Avengers," Tom Hiddleston’s Loki introduces himself as a son of Odin who is "burdened with glorious purpose." Similarly, Hiddleston has been "burdened" with several glorious roles over the years that have allowed him numerous chances to show off his range as a performer. While his ubiquity in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, including in the new "Loki" TV show, means that Hiddleston is largely seen as a Marvel baddie in the pop culture consciousness, Hiddleston has inhabited plenty of other parts that show he’s more than just Loki. Working with filmmakers ranging from Steven Spielberg to Jim Jarmusch to Joanna Hogg, Hiddleston has delivered some all-time great performances with all-time great artists.
Of course, no actor has a blemish-free filmography, and even Hiddleston has delivered performances that have been greeted with mixed and negative notices. Even these, though, reflect the bold artistic impulses of Hiddleston. He may have inhabited the role of Loki for a decade now, but looking over his career as a whole, it’s clear he likes to shake things up and take on a wide variety of parts. That ambition has helped inform Hiddleston’s massive following as well as the elements that define his best and worst performances as an actor.
Best: Hiddleston stood out in a crowded cast in The Avengers
Tom Hiddleston will always be associated with his work as Thor’s half-brother, the God of Mischief, Loki. First inhabiting the role in the initial "Thor" movie, Hiddleston appeared in five subsequent Marvel Cinematic Universe titles and has always emerged as a scene-stealing fan-favorite. But among his various MCU reprisals, the one that garnered him the most fame was the time he became the first adversary to Marvel’s big inaugural team-up movie, "The Avengers."
Once this film premiered in May 2012, audiences and critics weren’t just enthralled by the six central superheroes — they were also enamored with Hiddleston’s enjoyably nasty villain. Peter Travers of Rolling Stone observed that "a superhero movie is only as good as its villain, and Hiddleston is dynamite. The role of Loki demands intuition, wit and crazy daring, and Hiddleston brings it." He further called the performer "a force to reckon with." He wasn’t the only critic to single Hiddleston’s performance. Owen Gleiberman of Entertainment Weekly also praised Hiddleston, specifically for infusing Loki’s "ravings and evil smile with a sleek mystery and power that suggests he may be an actor of the stature of Gary Oldman." Hiddleston’s played the role of Loki several times but it’s his turn in "The Avengers" that’s emerged as his most-beloved take on the character.
Best: Hiddleston found a major role in the past in Midnight in Paris
For Disney+ TV show "Loki," Tom Hiddleston paired up with "Drillbit Taylor" himself, Owen Wilson. This is not the first time Wilson and Hiddleston have crossed paths. The two actors previously worked together on the 2011 Woody Allen feature "Midnight in Paris," in which Wilson’s everyman Gil Pender encounter Hiddleston’s F. Scott Fitzgerald on his time-traveling adventures.
One of Allen’s most widely-praised 21st-century directorial efforts, Hiddleston’s performance was, admittedly, not one of the most-widely beloved turns in the ensemble cast, with much of the praise in the films acting going to Owen Wilson and Corey Stoll. David Edelstein for The New Yorker speculated that "Allen doesn’t do much with Scott (Tom Hiddleston) and Zelda (Alison Pill)—perhaps he’s too in awe of them. (They do loom large.)" However, critics like Dave Calhoun for Time Out did praise Hiddleston as one of the many cast members key to the movie’s overall success. Calhoun praised actors like Hiddleston for "[getting] the tone right, the actors playing the historical characters with a spirited comic energy[.]" While not one of his most impactful roles, playing Fitzgerald here still allowed Hiddleston a chance to work with a famous filmmaker as well as lay the groundwork for the central duo of "Loki."
Best: Tom Hiddleston went to the front lines with War Horse
Six months after breaking onto many people’s radar with "Thor," Tom Hiddleston appeared in another major role — a supporting performance in the Steven Spielberg movie "War Horse." It was a briefer appearance than many of the leading man parts he’d soon regularly acquire. Hiddleston played Captain James Nicholl, the first man to look out for Joey (the titular horse) beyond his original owner. In his minimal amount of screentime, Hiddleston ended up leaving a considerable impression on viewers.
Andrew O’Hehir for Salon, for example, praised how well Hiddleston embodied Nicholl as "an admirable and likable character, an old-school English officer who believes in honor and duty and has no idea that the world order he represents is about to come crashing down." O’Hehir also took time to praise how much Hiddleston’s performance contributed to the harrowing quality of a sequence where "Nicholls and his cavalrymen realize that they’re riding toward a line of German machine-gunners, it’s one of the most terrifying sequences in all of Spielberg’s oeuvre." Through so effectively portraying a down-to-Earth man trapped in a terrifying war, Hiddleston proved he didn’t need an enormous amount of screentime to leave an enormous impression.
Worst: Kong: Skull Island was one of Hiddleston’s more forgettable leading man roles
By and large, "Kong: Skull Island" received positive marks from critics for its visuals and its commitment to old-school monster mash schlock. One point that was widely criticized, though, were the human characters. Though not universally reviled, reception to these figures that weren’t played by John C. Reilly ranged from "fine" to outright hostile. This included protagonist James Conrad, played by Tom Hiddleston — a figure whose role in the film is largely to respond to all the CG creature mayhem he encounters on the titular location.
The fact that "Kong: Skull Island" cast major actors like Hiddleston and then-recent Oscar-winner Brie Larson in such thinly-sketched roles was a point of contention for many critics. "Tom Hiddleston and Brie Larson are far too good for this," wrote Kristen Lopez for Culturess. "And their roles as the hero and ‘the girl’ give them nothing more than looking gruff and dominant, and taking photos, respectively." Many critics, however, didn’t even care to mention Hiddleston’s performance, a testament to how little of an impression it had left on these viewers. Hiddleston has excelled in smaller-scale projects helmed by some of the most acclaimed auteurs working today. In a big-budget movie like "Kong: Skull Island," though, Hiddleston was largely perceived as getting lost in a land of monsters.
Best: Hiddleston took a bite out of the unorthodox with Only Lovers Left Alive
Writer/director Jim Jarmusch has never adhered to normalcy in his filmmaking pursuits, and he certainly didn’t deviate from that when making a movie about vampires with "Only Lovers Left Alive." The project was headlined by Tom Hiddleston and Tilda Swinton, a pair of performers who have never shied away from embracing the unorthodox. Putting all these artists together resulted in an idiosyncratic production that emerged as one of the best-reviewed movies of 2014.
For his part, Hiddleston’s performance as the vampire Adam received a special amount of acclaim. Scott A. Adams for Exclaim, for example, had high praise for Hiddleston’s work on-screen, particularly for his rapport with Swinton which established "an affectionate familiarity that provides a great platform for digging at truths about the excuses we make not to enjoy life because of how pointless it all feels sometimes." Sharon Shetty of Slate, meanwhile, commended Hiddleston for portraying Adam in a unique manner compared to most movie vampires by defining this character as "angsty and brooding and petulant—a lithe musician who spends his days making ambient drone rock in dishabille." Through embracing the strange and unexpected, Hiddleston delivered a memorable performance that could stand tall not just with the roster of outstanding performances in "Only Lovers Left Alive" but also with the best turns seen in the works of Jarmusch.
Best: Hiddleston scared up acclaim for Crimson Peak
"Crimson Peak" may not have set the box office alight in its original theatrical release, but in the years since, it’s garnered a cult following. Articles with headlines claiming it’s "A Modern Classic of Gothic Tales" are common sights on the internet and the film’s fanbase only grows as the years go by. Several notable qualities inform why so many have become attached to this specific Guillermo del Toro title, one of which is Tom Hiddleston’s lead performance in the role of Sir Thomas Sharpe.
Hiddleston’s experience with prior period pieces like "Midnight in Paris" meant that this performer was able to seamlessly step into the unique 19th-century domain of "Crimson Peak." His believability in the part was just one of several aspects of Hiddleston’s performance that drew praise from critics. Alex Maidy of JoBlo, for instance, praised Hiddleston’s work on-screen as an example of how "the cast truly gives this story their all and treat the events not with skepticism but with fear and that makes everything more tangible for the audience." Dana Stevens of Slate, meanwhile, praised how well Hiddleston embodied a vision of romantic perfection. "Tall, pale, and hollow-cheeked," Stevens observed, "[Hiddleston] is the man of every would-be ghost’s dreams. If he invited you to live in his decaying ancestral home, you’d go[.]" With this kind of committed and dreamy performance, Hiddleston has been an indispensable reason for "Crimson Peak" enduring as a cult favorite.
Worst: High Rise didn’t have room for Hiddleston to shine
Not every independent film starring Hiddleston have been beloved as titles like "Only Lovers Left Alive" or "Archipelago." Case in point: "High Rise," a 2016 feature from Ben Wheatley that generated a divided response when it first premiered. For every critic who saw it as a new modern classic, there was another writer who saw the film as a bunch of style with no substance to speak of. There were a lot of conversations surrounding this stab at sociopolitical commentary but there was no consensus to be found, though a general perception over Hiddleston’s performance did manage to emerge through the differing perspectives.
Jacob Brogan of Slate, for example, was no fan of the film, which he saw as too detached for its own good. In his eyes, Hiddleston’s lead turn was emblematic of larger problems in the film. "Though Hiddleston’s performance is evocative and compelling," Brogan wrote. "He rarely betrays any emotion beyond a kind of stoned curiosity." Even Sara Stewart of The New York Post, who liked "High Rise" more than she didn’t, opined that Hiddleston’s work as the character Dr. Liang was "such an enigma, it’s hard to latch on to him … as a guide to the chaos in the strobing, gore-strewn hallways." Response to the bold tendencies of "High Rise" will vary from viewer to viewer, even though it’s widely agreed to be one of Hiddleston’s weakest lead performance.
Best: The Night Manager featured an award-winning turn from Hiddleston
Tom Hiddleston joined up with an all-star cast including Hugh Laurie and Olivia Coleman for the 2016 miniseries "The Night Manager." It was a chance for Hiddleston to explore his range as an actor by embracing the moral ambiguity entrenched into the shows source material, a novel by John le Carre. By taking on such a weighty part, Hiddleston was rewarded with one of his most acclaimed performances ever.
Hiddleston was especially praised for being more than just a pretty leading man — critics commended him for tackling such a complicated character with ease. Writing for IGN, critic Jesse Scheedan noted that "Hiddleston shines as he explores the many shades of Jonathan Pine and his various other identities…He’s a more vulnerable sort of spy hero, one who’s haunted by the mistakes of his past and all-too-eager to seize the opportunity to atone for them, even to the point of recklessness." Ben Travers of IndieWire observed that "there is such an incredible amount of nuance to Hiddleston’s role" and further praised him for handling the character’s transformation over the course of six episodes. Hiddleston received more than just widespread critical praise — he also scored a Golden Globe win for Best Actor in a Limited Series or TV Movie.
Best: Hiddleston took a trip to challenging material with Archipelago
Hiddleston has frequently worked with Joanna Hogg, the auteur behind the well reviewed 2019 feature "The Souvenir." The pair collaborated on Hogg’s first two-feature length directorial efforts which included the 2010 movie "Archipelago." An examination of a family trip that soon turns chaotic as long-simmering problems between the various relatives creep in, the project received widespread acclaim – with Hiddleston’s performance as the character Edward being particularly singled out as something worth remembering.
Leslie Felperin of Variety praised Hiddleston and the other professional actors in the production for conveying the same naturalism exuded by the cast members with zero prior acting experience. Holly Cooper for CineVue observed that "the character of Edward is one of the most fascinating features of ‘Archipelago,’ and Hiddleston plays him with an endearing mixture of childlike idealism, gentleness, and silent desperation." Rather than giving off a movie star quality that could undermine the realism of the piece, Hiddleston was praised for unearthing both a sense of believability and a captivatingly distinct personality in his on-screen work. No wonder he and Hogg worked together so frequently given the results of a collaboration like "Archipelago."
Worst: I Saw the Light featured an off-key turn from Hiddleston
Just before "Bohemian Rhapsody" came along to revive the music biopic as a fixture of mainstream cinema, the Hank Williams biopic "I Saw the Light" hit theaters and arrived with such an uneventful thud that it seemed to suggest the genre was permanently stuck in doldrums. Inhabiting the role of Hank Williams here was none other than Hiddleston himself. Playing a famous musician has led to Oscar glory for actors like Rami Malek and Jamie Foxx. For Hiddleston, it resulted in some of the worst reviews of his career.
Ignaity Vishnevetsky of The A.V. Club lamented that "When Hiddleston sings ‘Lovesick Blues,’ he sounds good, but lacks conviction in his voice. He plays Williams as though he were the most genteel philandering, pill-popping boozehound to ever die in the back seat of a car," before later noting that the performance was a severe misstep in the career of "the typically engaging Hiddleston." Such sentiments were echoed in the largely negative reviews that greeted "I Saw the Light" when it hit theaters, though some did praise Hiddleston for giving his best in a subpar project. Connie Ogle of The Miami Herald was one such figure, who commended Hiddleston for doing what he could despite the performer being "about as Southern as a plate of scones and a cuppa." Still, this cinematic take on Hank Williams ended up being a disposable footnote in the histories of both Hiddleston and music biopics.