Vincent van Gogh has been one of history’s most celebrated and most mysterious figures. A Dutch painter known for his landscapes and portraits, he hardly managed to sell paintings in his short depressing life. But now, his popularity soars more than ever with his artworks being sold for millions. His painting A Starry Night, along with his other pieces, continues to enthrall the world.

His life and mysterious death (rumored to be suicide) have been the subject of various realistic and fictional portrayals on-screen. Here are the 10 best portrayals of Vincent van Gogh in film and TV.

10 Kirk Douglas – Lust For Life

Probably one of the earliest portrayals of the painter, Lust For Life is based on the novel of the same name. A dramatized biopic, it stars Kirk Douglas as van Gogh and he earned his third Academy Award nomination for his act.

Douglas portrayed the right amount of pain and struggle which the real van Gogh might have faced. At the same time, in terms of his accent and characteristics, Douglas’s van Gogh still lacked some realism.
IMDB Review: 7.4 out of 10
Rotten Tomatoes: 92%

9 Tim Roth – Vincent & Theo

This film by Robert Altman is a shortened version of his own miniseries on Vincent van Gogh and his brother Theo, inspired by Vincent’s letters to his brother. Tim Roth, in his initial scenes, has a certain heroic charm as we see him creating his masterpieces. But as the movie slows down, we see Roth withering away in isolation.

Vincent & Theo drew mixed reviews but still, Roth’s performance was praised and Robert Altman’s reputation as a filmmaker soared.
IMDB Review: 6.9 out of 10
Rotten Tomatoes: 89%

8 Benedict Cumberbatch – Painted With Words

The Sherlock star regularly dabbles in biopics, having played Nikola Tesla, Stephen Hawking, and Alan Turing. Painted With Words is a TV docudrama released in 2010 back when his mainstream popularity was just beginning to soar. Like the previous film, a lot of Cumberbatch’s dialogue is sourced from Vincent’s letters to his brother.

True to most of his performances, the British actor delivers a bleak, deadpan approach to the artist’s life. As the TV movie functions as a part-documentary, Cumberbatch’s Van Gogh breaks the fourth wall, occasionally explaining his art and the inspirations behind it.
IMDB Review: 8 out of 10
Rotten Tomatoes: 89%

7 Tony Curran – Doctor Who

Scottish actor Tony Curran portrayed van Gogh in an emotional tear-jerker of a performance. In a Doctor Who episode titled “Vincent and the Doctor,” the eponymous Doctor travels back in time to find out that a commune in Paris has been haunted by an invisible creature which only Van Gogh can see. In one of the final scenes, the Doctor brings Vincent to the year 2010. He takes him to a Paris gallery where people are flocking around his classic artworks like A Starry Night and The Yellow House. The museum curator (played by Bill Nighy) further praises the artist as one of the greatest men to have ever lived. Overwhelmed with emotion, van Gogh’s eyes fill with tears.

Curran doesn’t speak much in this scene but his eyes do all the talking, making even this fictional portrayal one of the most memorable van Gogh moments on-screen.
IMDB Review: 9.3 out of 10
Rotten Tomatoes: No Review

6 Martin Scorcese – Dreams

Yes, legendary filmmaker Martin Scorcese had also tried his hand in playing van Gogh. He features in Crows, a surreal segment from Japanese director Akira Kurosawa‘s anthology film Dreams (which is based on his own dreams). Scorcese dons the quintessential orange beard and straw hat of the painter and is shown with one ear, another major physical characteristic of the painter. An art student gets lost in one of the Dutchman’s paintings and ends up meeting him.

Scorcese’s version of the artist rambles on the intense artistic process he follows, how he devours the nature around him to put it on his canvas, and even mentions how it has become difficult for him to paint self-portraits ever since he lost his ear!
IMDB Review: 7.8 out of 10
Rotten Tomatoes: mostly favorable

5 Jacques Dutronc – Van Gogh

This French film from 1991 is significantly contrasted with previous biopics on van Gogh solely for its anti-melodramatic approach. Dutronc’s act is emotional but still does not sensationalize the artist. While other biopics on artists might show how a human becomes an artist, Van Gogh plainly depicts an artist being human.

Instead of uplifting moments of creating art, we see van Gogh having migraines, losing his appetite, and resorting to alcohol in what is a particularly dark take on the artist’s life. For his compelling performance, Dutronc won a Cesar award.
IMDB Review: 7.2 out of 10
Rotten Tomatoes: 73%

4 Andy Serkis – Power Of Art

This portrayal has many similarities to Benedict Cumberbatch’s. Andy Serkis breaks the fourth wall here too, in an episode of the BBC art history series Power of Art. Mostly known for his motion-capture performances, Serkis is made to look pale and lifeless as van Gogh with yellowish tones in his makeup. This makes him look almost look like one of van Gogh’s own hand-painted characters.

A significant part of this is an ending monologue, where Serkis blankly looks into the camera and asks “Who am I?” He follows this up with depressing answers filled with self-depreciation. He goes on to call himself eccentric, a lowlife, and a nobody. This contrasts with how the world perceives him now: an artist and a legend.
IMDB Review: 8.7 out of 10
Rotten Tomatoes: 93% audience score

3 Alexander Barnett – The Eyes Of Van Gogh

Alexander Barnett writes, directs, and stars in this indie film. The plot deals with the time when van Gogh apparently started having hallucinations along with regular panic attacks. It’s for this reason that he voluntarily admitted himself in a mental asylum at St. Remy. The film chronicles the year that he spent confined here.

There are a lot of scenes that highlight van Gogh’s discomfort and struggles with mental illness. A shrill horror-like soundtrack and intense close-ups of Barnett frowning and scowling further add to this disturbing tone of the film.
IMDB Review: 6.2 out of 10
Rotten Tomatoes: no review 

2 Jochum Ten Haaf – Loving Vincent

Jochum ten Haaf’s brooding voice sets the tone in this visually-stunning animated film. However, the film focuses less on van Gogh, his art and life, and mostly revolves around his final days leading to his death. It is told from different perspectives of the people who were with him before his last breath.

Loving Vincent has easily become the most popular Vincent van Gogh film, mainly because of its tumultuous filmmaking process. It took six years to make with nearly 65,000 individual frames by 125 painters, making it the world’s first fully-handpainted film. So, even if the movie doesn’t entirely focus on his art, it still honors and carries on his artistic legacy.
IMDB Review: 7.8 out of 10
Rotten Tomatoes: 83% 

1 Willem Dafoe – At Eternity’s Gate

The most recent portrayal of van Gogh is by character actor Willem Dafoe. Again, he plays a troubled van Gogh in his final days but in this movie, an alternate theory of his death is put forward. While many biographers feel the painter committed suicide, some also have pointed out that maybe his death was a result of a scuffle with two village boys who accidentally shot him. Regardless of death, Dafoe breathes new life in the character showing us how petty and unstable van Gogh might have been in his state of depression.

One of the most intense scenes from the film sees his friend Gaugin say that he is going to leave town and the news crushes van Gogh. To show his allegiance, van Gogh cuts his ear. He then runs off in the woods like a little kid, weeping in sorrow. The intense method acting helped Dafoe garner his fourth Academy Award nomination. If we contrast him with Kirk Douglas now, we can clearly understand how realistic and intense playing Vincent van Gogh has become now.
IMDB Review: 6.9 out of 10
Rotten Tomatoes: 78% audience score