Michael J. Fox achieved breakout success when he made his debut in the early 1980s as Alex P. Keaton on the beloved sitcom Family Ties. What the show’s viewers could not have known at that time, though, was just how impressive of a career the Canadian-born actor would go on to have. Indeed, in the 40 years since Family Ties premiered, Fox has starred in more than his fair share of acclaimed films and TV shows and has played an impressive number of equally iconic characters.
In case that wasn’t enough, Fox’s own experience with Parkinson’s disease led to him founding the Michael J. Fox Foundation in 2000 in order to help fund research into the disorder. Fox has since raised awareness for Parkinson’s disease around the world and has become a global advocate for finding a way to cure it. In other words, Fox has crafted a legacy for himself that extends far beyond his considerable contributions to film and television.
In honor of his efforts both on screen and off, Fox is set to be recognized along with three other honorees at this year’s Governors Awards, which will take place on Saturday, Nov. 19 in Los Angeles.
Below, A.frame presents six essential, must-see films from Fox's career.
There aren’t many 1980s comedies more iconic than Back to the Future. Directed and co-written by Robert Zemeckis, the film follows Fox’s Marty McFly, a high schooler who accidentally travels 30 years into the past only to find himself face-to-face with his parents’ younger selves. After ending up stranded in the 1950s, Marty is forced to find a way to return to his own time with the help of his mentor and friend, the eccentric Doc Brown (Christopher Lloyd). The film received four Oscar nominations in 1986 and went on to take home the award for Best Sound Effects Editing that year.
Released the same year as Back to the Future, this supernatural teen comedy helped cement Fox as the kind of rare, charismatic star who could truly carry his own films. Fox stars in this Rod Daniel-directed romp as Scott Howard, a teenager whose life is turned upside down when he realizes he is a werewolf. The film’s success at the box office led to the creation of a Teen Wolf animated series, as well as a 1987 sequel that Fox, notably, did not appear in. A live-action TV series of the same name also premiered on MTV in 2011, nearly 30 years after Teen Wolf first hit theaters in August 1985.
This Brian De Palma-directed war drama stars Fox as a Vietnam soldier who gets assigned to a squad that traffics in far more sadistic methods than he’d like. When his fellow soldiers, led by Sean Penn’s Sergeant Tony Meserve, decide to kidnap and assault a local Vietnamese girl, Fox’s Max Eriksson is forced to take a dangerous stand. Based on a disturbing true story, Casualties of War is a purposefully difficult and unnerving drama. That said, Fox’s performance in it only helped to further establish him as an actor capable of inhabiting darker roles than the ones he’d previously received attention for playing.
Based on a screenplay by The Social Network scribe Aaron Sorkin, The American President follows a widowed U.S. president (played by Michael Douglas) as he begins to fall in love with an environmental lobbyist (played by Annette Bening). In addition to Douglas and Bening, Fox also stars in the film as Lewis Rothschild, a domestic policy advisor to Douglas’ lovestruck commander in chief. Following its release, Marc Shaiman received a 1996 Oscar nomination for his original score for the film.
This divisive, Tim Burton-directed sci-fi comedy follows a number of humans after Earth is invaded by a race of technologically advanced, ruthless, and sadistically funny Martians. The film’s all-star ensemble cast includes everyone from Jack Nicholson, Pierce Brosnan, Annette Bening, and Glenn Close to Tom Jones and Natalie Portman. For his part, Fox makes a lasting impression as Jason Stone, a vain news reporter who desperately wants to capitalize in some way on the invasion of his planet. There aren’t, to put it simply, many films like Mars Attacks!
Atlantis: The Lost Empire, one of Disney’s early 2000s animated offerings, follows a group of explorers as they set out to find the legendary lost nation of Atlantis. Fox leads the film’s voice cast as Milo Thatch, a well-meaning, enterprising linguist, cartographer and researcher. While he never makes a live-action appearance in the film, Fox’s performance in this animated adventure nonetheless showcases just how much heart and energy he can bring to a character using only his voice.