Creating an account with gives you access to more features and services, like our weekly newsletter and other special features just for the film community.

Large shannon man of steel

Michael Shannon: 10 Roles Ranked in Order of Bug-Eyed Intensity

As General Zod in ‘Man of Steel,’ Michael Shannon prepares to add another frighteningly intense character to his repertoire. How do all those bug-eyed loons rank?

Michael Shannon has made his reputation as actor on playing incredibly intense characters. Whether they’re characterized by mental illness, malice, or some combination of both, Shannon is the go-to guy in Hollywood for vein-popping intensity/psychosis. So we pulled out ten of his most notable roles and ranked them in order of just how scarily intense he comes across.

10. Groundhog Day: Shannon’s short appearance in Groundhog Day may well have been him playing a character who was bug-eyed and intense in secret, but judging simply by what we see onscreen, he’s not very bug-eyed nor intense at all. So he becomes the antithesis to basically everything else on this list.

9. The Runaways: You’re never going to get too far away from Scary Michael Shannon in any role, but his record promoter in this biopic of the groundbreaking girl rock group is, for every scene of utmost intensity, alternately glammed up and ... almost laid back? To be sure, he’s not chilling, he’s waiting.

8. The Iceman: The fact that Shannon’s role as a hitman here -- an actual hitman! -- can rank this low on the list just gives you a hint at what absolute steel-melting intensity lies further down the list.

7. Revolutionary Road: The bug-eyed intense role that pulled an Oscar nomination for Shannon, John Givings was your classic Crazy Man Who Is Really The Sanest Of Us All. That didn’t keep him from bugging out spectacularly.

6. Premium Rush: As a crazed cop obsessed with tracking down bike messenger Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Shannon chews all available scenery in his dogged chase through every backroom in Chinatown.

5. Man of Steel: We can only go by the trailer thus far, so we’re ranking General Zod somewhere around the middle. But it is probably a safe bet that Zod and his Armies of Krypton (or whatever) will probably bring enough intensity to bump him up this list ...

4. Take Shelter: ... or maybe not, because the top 4 on this list are pretty formidable. Starting with his acclaimed work in Take Shelter, playing a man who is either being stalked by an apocalyptic weather system, beginning to suffer the onset of schizophrenia, or both.

3. Boardwalk Empire: Shannon’s role as Agent Nelson Van Alden on HBO’s acclaimed prohibition drama has given him three seasons’ worth of opportunities to get seriously psycho-crazy on the bootleggers of Atlantic City.

2. My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done: It’s not at all a surprise that a director like Werner Herzog would have gravitated to an actor like Michael Shannon. After all, Shannon in many ways presents as the evolutionary Klaus Kinski. In My Son, Shannon is again playing a probable schizophrenic, this time a murderous, hostage-taking one. So bug-eyed. So intense.

1. Bug: There’s almost no way to have a movie called “Bug” not top this list. But even more than simply the title, this movie, and Shannon’s role as Peter Evans, deserves top placement because it remains his most impressive performance of increasingly deranged obsession, paranoia, and violence. It’s THE definitive Michael Shannon performance, still.

Previously: The Sofia Coppola Mixtape


What you need to know today