Breakthroughs don’t usually come quite as dramatically as they did for Austrian actor Christoph Waltz who, after appearing in Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds, saw his fame catapult to international recognition. Before this point, Waltz had been studying acting since the 1970s, working through several bland roles in television, with the occasional feature film role sprinkled throughout the late 20th century.
His decades of experience have no doubt helped him to excel in the modern era of cinema, having worked with the likes of Quentin Tarantino, Wes Anderson, Roman Polanski, Sam Mendes and Tim Burton, though that’s not to say the doldrum of his early career was made any easier.
Reflecting on those tiresome times, and speaking to The Guardian, Waltz recalled, “There was no alternative,” before explaining in jest, “Or, rather, the alternative was a very deep river. And a heavy stone around my neck”.
In contemporary cinema, Christoph Waltz is enjoying a flourishing career, usually taking on spiky villainous roles, with upcoming films including, Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio, Dead for A Dollar by Walter Hill and The Portable Door opposite Sam Neill.
Until these highly anticipated releases, let’s take a look back at the six definitive films that define the career of Christoph Waltz.
Christoph Waltz’s 6 definitive films:
Kopfstand (Ernst Josef Lauscher, 1981)
Having enjoyed early career traction in the TV series Parole Chicago where he played the leading role of Ede, Christoph Waltz transitioned to feature-length film acting for the very first time in Ernst Josef Lauscher’s Kopfstand.
Playing the lead role of Markus Dorn, a young man unhappy with his home life who is sent to an asylum by his neglectful mother, claiming he’s mentally unbalanced, Christoph Waltz elicits great sympathy as his character finds friendship with an older widow. A small, independent feature that has garnered little attention over the years, Kopfstand was nonetheless a critical success, marking Waltz very first cinematic success and certainly not his last.
The Gravy Train (David Tucker, 1990)
Almost ten years following the release of his very first feature film, Christoph Waltz enjoyed considerable success in the TV mini-series The Gravy Train for Channel 4, a role that would significantly elevate his international status.
Encouraged at one point by his wife to give up a career in acting, Waltz told The Guardian, “She raised it repeatedly. Very encouragingly, she said, ‘Oh, you could do anything. You’re so talented. Why do this?… I took offence. To say the least”. Thankfully, Christoph Waltz persisted, and with his role as Hans Joachim in the celebrated mini-series, increased his industry affluence, playing the role of a young idealistic Eurocrat who gets involved with dodgy EU politics.
Inglourious Basterds (Quentin Tarantino, 2009)
Undoubtedly the most significant film in the actor’s entire filmography, the casting of Christoph Waltz in Inglourious Basterds elevated the Austrian’s beyond all previous recognition, making him an instant Hollywood asset.
In Quentin Tarantino’s seventh film, Inglourious Basterds, we follow a group of mercenaries in WWII occupied France who are attempting a plan to assassinate several Nazi leaders. Waltz delivers the performance of a lifetime as Col. Hans Landa, an incredibly intelligent Nazi officer who is fluent in multiple languages and is labelled as “The Jew Hunter”. Waltz won an Academy Award, BAFTA Award, and Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actor as well as several other awards from major Critics’ circles.
Christoph Waltz was announced on the Hollywood scene to the tune of bugle fanfare.
The Zero Theorem (Terry Gilliam, 2013)
With Inglourious Basterds having merely opened the tap of Christoph Waltz’s acting potential, the performer enjoyed considerable success following the release of the film, appearing in Roman Polanski’s Carnage as well as Quentin Tarantino’s follow-up film Django Unchained.
Consistently playing the dramatic role of the straight-talking European, it was in Terry Gilliam’s Zero Theorem that we would see some true variation in the performances of Waltz, playing Qohen Leth a reclusive computer genius in the surreal science fiction flick. Determined to find the meaning of life itself, Waltz’s character is far less conventional than his usual fare, playing a fragile, enigmatic eccentric who is entirely convincing in his fantastical role.
Spectre (Sam Mendes, 2015)
For a truly professional European actor, perhaps it was merely just a matter of time before Christoph Waltz took on the role of a James Bond villain, appearing in Daniel Craig’s penultimate film as the iconic antagonist Blofeld.
Two-time Oscar winner Christoph Waltz puts up a brilliant performance as the main villain in an otherwise underwhelming film following James Bond’s trail to find the leader of the mysterious organisation named Spectre. A considerable undertaking for any actor who takes up the role, Christoph Waltz joins contemporary greats such as Mads Mikkelsen, Javier Bardem and Rami Malek.
If you had somehow managed to avoid the existence of Christoph Waltz, his role in the first major blockbuster of his career meant that he was now a global superstar.
The French Dispatch (Wes Anderson, 2021)
Christoph Waltz’s career has only grown since his role in Spectre, appearing in the sequel film No Time to Die after enjoying success with Alexander Payne’s Downsizing and David Yates’ The Legend of Tarzan.
Now, Waltz is enjoying time among the great ensemble cast of Wes Anderson’s French Dispatch, alongside such acting royalty as Timothée Chalamet, Bill Murray, Tilda Swinton, Frances McDormand and Willem Dafoe. In many ways, being cast in a Wes Anderson film marks true Hollywood dominance, proving an actor’s worth among the finest cultural darlings of contemporary cinema.
Playing the minor role of art collector Paul Duval, The French Dispatch represents an impressive pinnacle for Christoph Waltz, who spent decades climbing to the summit and is now clearly enjoying his creative freedom.
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Six definitive films: The ultimate beginner’s guide to Christoph Waltz