10 Best Jeffrey Donovan Movie and TV Shows, Ranked


Summary

  • Donovan shines as a versatile actor, stepping into Kennedy roles with grace and capturing hearts in Villains and Let Him Go.
  • Despite smaller roles, Donovan’s presence in J. Edgar and LBJ leaves a lasting impact, showcasing his talent and range.
  • From Sleepers to Wrath of Man, Donovan’s captivating performances make him a standout in a variety of genres, proving his acting prowess.

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Jeffrey Donovan started to enter the public’s awareness with USA Network’s Burn Notice. With a seven-season run, the show did quite well, even if it never reached Friends or Seinfeld levels of success. But, of course, with his Kennedy-esque looks, immense likability, and ranged talent, Donovan hasn’t been relegated to a single successful project.

In fact, two of his more high-profile projects literally had him play a Kennedy. In the case of Clint Eastwood’s J. Edgar, his performance as Robert F. Kennedy was one of the few things about the film that received positive marks. He then portrayed John in Rob Reiner’s LBJ, and yet again, he was one of the better parts. But, those two Kennedy projects can’t be the only notable works in Donovan’s filmography, can they? No, and those are the projects that follow, from those that are lackluster but still possess merit to top-tier stuff like Fargo‘s second season and, of course, Burn Notice.

10 J. Edgar (2011)

2011’s J. Edgar wasn’t the first time Donovan worked with director Clint Eastwood, nor was it the best. That said, 2008’s Changeling is more of comparably lackluster quality than better by a country mile. The narrative follows Leonardo DiCaprio (in a nonlinear fashion) as the title character while he establishes the FBI and tries to keep its reputation intact.

How Substantial Was Donovan’s Role In This Oscar Bait?

While Donovan doesn’t get as much noteworthy screentime as DiCaprio, Armie Hammer (at the peak of his fame here, but it wouldn’t last long), Naomi Watts, or the ever-underrated Josh Lucas, his presence is an important one. This is particluarly true in Hoover’s later years, once he’s blackmailing like a storm.

9 Sleepers (1996)

Sleepers is the devastating story of four Hell’s Kitchen kids who get sent to reform school after nearly killing a man (by accident). But what happens at that reform school is no accident. It’s repeated abuse, and this viciousness is solely done by the guards’ (particularly one) hands.

What Makes it a Great Early Performance?

While Donovan is one of the most likable performers in Hollywood, he’s never afraid to play a really contemptuous individual. This includes his role in Sleepers, which was early in his career and had him playing one of the abusive guards. Stream Sleepers on Hulu.

8 LBJ (2016)

Rob Reiner’s LBJ puts audience favorite Woody Harrelson in the shoes of 36th President Lyndon B. Johnson. This includes from his time as a VP, anxiously wishing for as much spotlight as John F. Kennedy, to his later filling of that great man’s role. That said, and it should be pleasing to the eyes of Donovan fans, the movie doesn’t deal with his assassination until fairly late in the game.

How Substantial Was Donovan’s Role In This Political Drama?

Thankfully, Donovan has a ton to do in Reiner’s film. It’s one of his meatier roles to date, and it just makes one wish the film as a whole was as strong as his performance. In other words, Donovan not only looks a good bit like a Kennedy, he knows how to act like one. Stream LBJ on The Roku Channel.

7 Villains (2019)

Led by a quartet of masterful performances, Villains is an utterly unpredictable ride. It won’t be for everyone, but without a doubt, this movie gives Kyra Sedgwick the most bizarre role of her career. She and Donovan play the titular villains, who have a young girl chained up in their basement… a little girl two home intruders have just discovered.

What Makes It a Wild Donovan Performance?

Donovan brings a certain Southern charm to the role that makes his George feel so real. And, when he’s part of a child-abducting duo, it’s pretty important he seems real. The same goes for Sedgwick, who balances with and bounces off Donovan and his easy-going charm seamlessly. Stream Villains on Hulu.

6 Let Him Go (2020)

The second season of Fargo showed that Donovan was wonderful for a Western. Then, a few years later, the Kevin Costner and Diane Lane-led Let Him Go proved as much. This is especially true when he’s playing, well, a bad guy. A really, really bad guy.

What Makes it a Great Modern Western?

Let Him Go is basically a small-scale war film. It’s just that, instead of two nations fighting, it’s two very different families. And, when it comes to the country fried, violent family… Donovan is the guard dog. Stream Let Him Go on Peacock Premium.

let him go

Let Him Go

Release Date
November 5, 2020

Runtime
113

5 Law & Order (2022-2023)

While he only ended up playing the role of Detective Cosgrove in two seasons of the iconic Law & Order, he was a fan favorite nonetheless. And, fortunately for those fans, his short career as Cosgrove wasn’t limited to just the OG Law & Order. He also inhabited his role in both Law & Order: Organized Crime and Law & Order: Special Victims Unit.

What Made His Short-Lived Addition a Fan Favorite?

Donovan has always been great at both seeming like the one in charge as well as the most likable person in the room. It’s an odd balance to strike, and it works particularly well for procedurals. So, while it may not have worked out as a long-term gig, Donovan was still a natural addition to the Law & Order lineup. Stream Law & Order on Peacock Premium.

4 Wrath of Man (2021)

Quite possibly the best Jason Statham movie, Wrath of Man is also one of Donovan’s top projects. He’s not in this non-linear heist/revenge tale as much as Statham, Holt McCallany, Josh Hartnett, or some of the film’s other incredibly likable cast members, but his role is compelling nonetheless.

Who Does Donovan Play?

Wrath of Man is split into four chapters, and Donovan’s Jackson Ainsley is a major part of the latter two. He’s the man at the head of the group of robbers. Who are they? Afghanistan veterans, and Ainsley was Sergeant Ainsley. Stream Wrath of Man with a subscription to Paramount+ Apple TV Channel.

Wrath of Man

Wrath of Man

Release Date
May 7, 2021

Director
Guy Ritchie

Runtime
1hr 59min

3 Sicario (2015)

Donovan’s a great presence in a group. Burn Notice proved as much just as this masterpiece by Taylor Sheridan did. Not to mention, Donovan reprises his role of Steve Forsing in the underrated Sicario: Day of the Soldado, which again explores his terrific chemistry with Josh Brolin.

What Makes it Top-Tier for Both Donovan and Sheridan?

Sicario tells the story of FBI Critical Incident Response Group Agent Kate Macer as she faces down not only a merciless cartel, but domestic sexism from her peers. The peers who should have her back. Donovan portrays one of those peers, but thankfully, his character isn’t a monster like Jon Bernthal’s. Stream Sicario on Amazon Prime Video.

Sicario

Sicario

Release Date
September 17, 2015

RELATED: Sicario 3 Moving Forward with MI’s Christopher McQuarrie

2 Burn Notice (2007-2013)

What a treat Burn Notice was (and remains). If ever there was a project where Donovan had ample opportunity to show off both his range and his charm, Burn Notice was it. And, unsurprisingly, not once did he disappoint, even once the series lost some of its luster after season four.

What Makes It Ultimate Donovan?

Of course, Burn Notice isn’t just about Donovan or his Michael Westen. The project is just as big a treat for Bruce Campbell fans. After all, save for Ash Williams, the character of Sam Axe is the legend’s best role to date. Stream Burn Notice on Hulu.

1 Fargo: Season 2 (2015)

Is Burn Notice the most important project of Donovan’s career thus far? Absolutely, and, quite frankly, it’s probably going to stay that way. Not only was the series at the very least worth watching throughout the entirety of its run, but it more often than not was well-constructed fun, and Donovan’s A-game was about 60 percent responsible for that (there was also Campbell, Gabrielle Anwar, Sharon Gless, snappy writing, and the Miami locale). But A-game was what he brought to the second season of Fargo, as well.

What Makes it the Best Project of Which Donovan Has Taken Part?

As great as it is, Burn Notice isn’t nearly as solid as Fargo‘s second season. It’s an expertly-written work absolutely loaded with genuinely perfect performances. And, as incredible as Jean Smart is throughout the season, Donovan’s the one who steals the whole thing. Just as he can play the most likable human with breath, he can also portray one of the most contemptible. Stream Fargo on Hulu.

Fargo

Fargo

Release Date
April 15, 2014

Seasons
5

Studio
FX



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