Before he officially picked up the baton for playing shadowy villain figures, Ben Barnes was most beloved for his role as Narnia’s Prince Caspian, the handsome and exiled Telmarine prince who was introduced to the Pevensies in The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian. Since those days, Barnes has appeared in everything from action fantasies to gothic period dramas to Marvel productions. His most recent role is as General Kirigan aka The Darkling in the Netflix series Shadow and Bonewhich just completed its filming of Season 2. The actor has also returned to music (after a brief stint in a boy band many years ago) by releasing his EP Songs for You late last year.
Barnes has a varied list of performances, but we gathered the most essential performances to watch, including the obvious and one or two deeper cuts. If you need something to tide you over before his appearance in Guillermo del Toro‘s Cabinet of Curiositieslook no further.
The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian (2008)
It’s the performance we all know and likely the one that introduced us all to Barnes. Yes, his appearance in Stardust came first chronologically, but it was his appearance as the charming and noble Prince Caspian in The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian that launched Ben Barnes into the zeitgeist of the time. Your mileage may vary on the Chronicles of Narnia series and its overt religious allegories, but it is hard to argue that Barnes stole the show in his role as Caspian. Aside from an eyebrow-raising Inigo Montoya impression, Caspian’s story was far more interesting than the Pevensies and gave us a look at the Telmarines, a distinctly human group that had invaded Narnia, and conflict beyond the fantastical. Of course, Caspian’s blossoming romance with Susan (Anna Popplewell) offered fans a taste of romance that we did not get in The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, even if it was ultimately a brief one. With Narnia and Stardust under his belt, the actor was already beginning to carve out a niche for himself in genre storytelling.
Watch on Disney +
Dorian Gray (2009)
Prince Caspian is all grown up in Dorian Gray. Oliver Parker‘s interpretation of Oscar Wilde‘s most iconic novel might not satisfy the literary loyalists with its ending (which is a far cry from the novel’s) but Barnes’ portrayal of the titular protagonist was undoubtedly a more grown-up character than the straight-laced Caspian. Taking part in veritable bacchanalias, Dorian Gray sees Barnes take on a darker role. While most might remember this film as the one that launched Barnes firmly into the category of “Actor Most Likely to Be Fancasted as Sirius Black,” it was also an early showcase of Barnes dabbling in the territory of an antihero. While Dorian was very much led down the road of self-destruction by Lord Henry Wotton (Colin Firth), his unexpected redemption at the end of the film turns an unlikable villain into someone we pity and perhaps even mourn when he’s gone. One of Barnes’ few forays into period drama – surprising given the fact that most British actors have at least a dozen portrayals under their belt – Dorian Gray did not perform well back in 2009. But after raunchy period shows like Bridgerton that aren’t afraid to dabble in the sexy, perhaps it’s time to revive interest in this gothic tale.
Watch on Amazon Prime Video
On this list of IP goliaths, Killing Bono might be a deep cut unless you happen to also be a Robert Sheehan or Krysten Ritter superfan. But given Barnes’ return to music, it’s a fine movie to look back on when it comes to his performances. Barnes plays the younger version of the real-life journalist Neil McCormickwho was a young aspiring rock star who just happened to come from the same town as U2’s Bono. Constantly living in Bono’s shadow and chasing after his lifestyle, Killing Bono is a story about ego and self-sabotage but also one that has a rather ironic ending. U2 is in most people’s rear windows, spending more time in headlines for their music randomly appearing in everyone’s iTunes library, while the real-life McCormick is still an active music critic for The Daily Telegraph. Barnes plays Neil with all the greedy ambition and desperation of an almost-rockstar, eager to be adored but unwilling to be associated with his old, famous school chum. His chemistry with Sheehan, who plays his brother, is playful and makes you wish the two actors would collaborate again on a project. Constantly on the edge of his big break, Neil is his and his brother’s worst enemy. On top of a manic performance, Barnes and Sheehan also perform the surprisingly catchy “Where We Want To Be.” for the official soundtrack.
Rent on Google Play
Logan Delos started off in Westworld as a rather basic and fairly douchey character. A guest of the park and the son of the founder of the company, Logan is the typical rich asshole. He treats the robot hosts like toys, using them and killing them when it suits his fancy. He primarily plays as a foil to his brother-in-law William (Jimmi Simpson) and then to his father, James Delos (Peter Mullan), but Barnes’ performance as Logan in the second season is one of the most surprising discoveries from the HBO series. When the show delves deeper into the character, exploring the tragedy of his past and his demise, Barnes was given more to work with, and he was firing on all cylinders. Logan went from a one-dimensional party boy into the territory of a Roman or Kendall Roy from Succession to James’ Logan Roy. He gives a particularly stirring performance in Season 2, Episode 10, “The Passengers,” in a scene that is a linchpin moment in James Delos’ life, and one of the saddest scenes where we see James Delos completely abandon his son, who is at the end of his rope. While it’s unlikely we’ll see Barnes again in the series, in a show full of robots and programs who look like dead people, there’s always hope.
Watch on HBO Max
Marvel’s The Punisher (2017-2019)
Part of what I like to call the “Ben Barnes Renaissance,” Barnes’ portrayal of the antagonistic but incredibly charismatic Billy Russo was the perfect other-side-of-the-coin to Jon Bernthal‘s tortured Frank Castle. Billy was not only a figure from Frank’s painful past but an unseen villain in one of the most traumatizing moments of his life. The Punisher cast Barnes to play Frank’s old comrade, who is equal parts swagger and poor life choices. For fans of Barnes from his days as Caspian, Billy was a bad boy glow-up, one that shifted him out of the position of a classic hero and firmly put him in as the antagonist. While the show gives Billy a method to his madness in the form of an abusive mother, there’s no question that this is not exactly a good guy. Although the second season had its bumps in the road, Barnes continued to deliver a stirring performance after Billy takes on the moniker of Jigsaw. Given his fate at the end of Season 2, we won’t likely see Billy again. Even if the MCU decided to pick up on Bernthal’s Punisher (which they should), Billy will be in Frank’s rearview, but we’ll always remember Billy for his unnerving charm and ability to be in increasingly toxic relationships throughout his life.
Watch on Disney +
Speaking of toxic relationships … The natural evolution from Billy Russo is, of course, playing the biggest villain in the Grishaverse: The Darkling. Shadow and Bone already had a large fan following going into its first Netflix season due to the success of the book series made up of a trilogy and two duologies. However much of the initial draw for those unfamiliar with the books was Ben Barnes’ star power. Barnes, who was fancasted as The Darkling by fans, as well as the series’ book author Leigh Bardugo, played the character with all the dark nuance that he required. While he is undoubtedly The Bad Guy of the series, it’s hard not to have some sympathy for the devil, especially given Barnes’ performance. Between an interlude into his past that explains his motivations to his interactions with Alina (Jessie Mei Li), Barnes makes it easy to look past the obvious manipulations of a war general and powerful sorcerer. Every scene is delivered charged with emotion, from the watery-eyed declaration of, “Fine, make me your villain,” to a violent and brutal wave of his hand that cuts people in half with literal shadow, Barnes leans completely into his character, and the series benefits all the more for it. The series has more solid performances, but Barnes’ expertise lends a note of gravitas to a character that definitely needs it.
Watch on Netflix