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Every Movie Scene Where Someone Beats The S*** Out Of Paul Dano, Ranked

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Paul Dano is one of the most dependable and versatile character actors working today. Throughout his career, he has shown a complete lack of vanity in choosing which parts to play. Dano drifts towards the unseemly, the odd, and the extreme a lot of the time, but he can also bring a tremendous amount of warmth and understanding to a character. A common denominator for many of the roles he takes on is that he tends to play extremely passionate people. Whether that be religious and financial passion in “There Will Be Blood,” artistic passion in “Love & Mercy,” or a passion for being a horrific racist in “12 Years a Slave,” all of Dano’s characters have a drive that make them compelling, even at their most vile. Shockingly, Paul Dano has not been seen in a film since 2017 with “Okja,” as he took time out to direct his terrific first feature film, “Wildlife.” So, it only makes sense he makes a big splashy return to the silver screen, which he does as The Riddler in “The Batman.”

Now, all this stuff about the psychologies of his characters is all well and good, but Paul Dano excels at something else on screen: getting the s**t beat out of him. Because he will often play people you don’t necessarily want to be in the same room with, seeing someone go to town on him can be a bit cathartic, and when he does play a highly sympathetic figure, he makes you want to protect him like a puppy. He also has this fantastic high-pitched yet somewhat rough yelp that serves many scenes in which he gets beat up. That little scream can make him seem pathetic, and depending on the context, we can determine if we should pity him for it.

For this piece, I will take a look at every movie scene in which Paul Dano gets hit. A scene’s placement on the list will be based on a number of factors. First, there’s the brutality. How badly would this actually hurt? Second, there’s how it affects the story. Does him getting hurt create any kind of narrative or character development? Lastly, there’s the notion of whether or not he “deserved” it. If it’s immensely satisfying for him to get his comeuppance, it gets a bump. If he doesn’t deserve it but he isn’t supposed to, it gets a bump. Of course, I also reserve the right to include some personal preferences for certain moments at my own discretion. So let’s take a look at the beauty and range of people beating the s**t out of Paul Dano.

24. The Newcomers: A shove from Josh Peck

Paul Dano started his acting career as a child on stage, most notably the world premiere of the musical “Ragtime” in Toronto. He appeared in his first feature film as a 15-year-old in the direct-to-video light family drama “The Newcomers.” It’s about a family that moves to a new town, and Dano plays one of a trio of bullies which eventually takes the family’s young son under their wing. His first altercation on screen comes from a tiny shoving match with future Nickelodeon star Josh Peck. It’s a brief moment of friendly roughhousing. Dano shoves Peck, and Peck shoves Dano right back. As they are children, they mean the shove in the moment, but there’s no true malice here. It does feel authentic to these two kids, but there is not much here.

Brutality: 1

Story and Character: 3

Did He Deserve It?: No

23. Weapons: An unwanted cameraman

In the 2000s, Paul Dano appeared in a string of incredibly low budget movies, often dealing with the lives of people living in poverty and harsh conditions. One of them is “Weapons,” a grimy movie about a sexual assault. Dano’s character is someone constantly carrying around a videocamera and shooting everything, and in a particularly heated moment, he gets the camera smacked out of his hands. This chapter of the film is told entirely through the point of view of Dano’s camera. Things look like they might escalate from there, with Dano on the verge of getting a serious beatdown, but nothing happens. He picks up the camera and leaves. I understand the impulse to smack the camera out of his hands. Being filmed constantly is exceptionally annoying.

Brutality: 3

Story and Character: 4

Did He Deserve It?: Yes

22. Looper: Tear you limb from limb

When initially thinking about this list, one scene that immediately came to mind was this horrific scene in “Looper.” After letting his older self escape due to not performing his looper duties, Paul Dano’s Seth is turned in for punishment by Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s Joe. We see the punishment as the older Seth (Frank Brennan) loses his fingers, legs, nose, and more, signifying that younger Seth is getting all these body parts chopped off. It is an unquestionably brutal scene and important to the story. HOWEVER … the reason it places so low on this list is because we don’t actually see anything happen to Paul Dano’s character. We see a brief glimpse of him at the end of the scene under a bloody sheet on a gurney, but that’s it. It is not even clear if he is conscious for what is happening to him. This (highly specific, admittedly bizarre) list is about scenes in which Paul Dano is getting hurt, and not seeing it almost disqualifies the “Looper” scene. But because Rian Johnson created such a terrific sequence here, it will be on the list, just not very high.

(Also, I know the movie pointedly does not want to wade into the murky waters of how its time travel works, but I have some big questions about the time travel logic here.)

Brutality: 9

Story and Character: 7

Did He Deserve It?: No

21. Being Flynn: Watch out for those books

Cheating on your girlfriend is never a good thing to do. If you are unhappy in your relationship, just end it. Don’t have your flight attendant girlfriend come home after work to find an ashtray next to the bed with lipstick-stained cigarettes. Especially don’t do it if your girlfriend is the great Katherine Waterston. Well, this is exactly what happens in the forgotten Paul Dano/Robert De Niro starring film “Being Flynn.” In retaliation to this betrayal, Waterston’s character starts pelting Dano with books from across the room. While not the most intimidating of objects to throw at someone, particularly if they are paperback books, they still get the point across. Aside from the impact of the books themselves, which could hurt, you do run the risk of giving someone a rogue paper cut. This scene comes very early in the film and tells you all you need to know about Dano’s character, as well as the growth he needs to go through. Pretty standard dramatic scene here, and a pretty unremarkable, if justified, assault.

Brutality: 3

Story and Character: 5

Did He Deserve It?: Yes

20. Ruby Sparks: A purse can be dangerous

Once again, don’t cheat on your girlfriend — even if it’s a girlfriend you’ve created out of your own imagination and manifested into reality. To be a little fair to Dano’s character in “Ruby Sparks,” the notion that you can create a person out of thin air is a little, uh, bonkers, but that’s exactly what happens with co-writer Zoe Kazan‘s titular Ruby in this film. The difference between this and the “Being Flynn” scene is Dano’s character is not even trying to be discreet about it here. He is walking to a date with Alia Shawkat with Ruby following him along. Thinking she is just a vision, he ignores her questions about where he is going and tells her to just look in some shops while he is meeting a friend. So, when Ruby sees the two of them together, she rightfully gets upset, throws water in his face, and smacks him in the face a couple of times with her rather large purse. Compared to the other cheating scene, the hits pack a little more punch, makes Dano’s character look even worse, and being in public creates a bit more humiliation. The magical realism conceit adds a little more heft to it as well. This is why this scene gets the edge over the “Being Flynn” book barrage.

Brutality: 5

Story and Character: 7

Did He Deserve It?: Yes

19. The Batman: The Riddler roughed up

One would expect the Riddler to get into a fight with the Dark Knight and probably receive somewhat of a beatdown in “The Batman.” This is not the case. Batman and the Riddler have zero physical interaction throughout the whole movie. The only altercation he gets into is when the police arrest him, slamming his head on the counter. It’s a totally fine scene. He’s a serial killer, so him getting a little roughed up by police is expected, though it’s pretty restrained compared to what a real cop would do. (Then again, the Riddler is a white guy, so maybe it’s accurate after all.) “The Batman” is a major missed opportunity for this list. Dano is playing a Batman villain and doesn’t get the s**t beat out of him by Batman! The brooding hero does beat up guys who dress up as the Riddler, but not the man himself. I had so much anticipation for where a fight scene from “The Batman” would appear on this list. Unfortunately, it does not live up to its potential.

Brutality: 5

Story and Character: 7

Did He Deserve It?: Yes

18. Cowboys & Aliens: Daniel Craig’s knee, meet Paul Dano’s groin

In “Cowboys & Aliens,” Paul Dano plays such a weasel. He’s the kind of guy who goes around town thinking he’s the cock of the walk, but in actuality, he will crumble when anyone challenges him. Such is the case with his first interaction with Daniel Craig‘s Jake Lonergan, who actually is the hardened badass Dano’s character desperately wants to be. When he tries to step up to Jake and establish dominance, he is swiftly kneed in the nuts, leaving him crumbling on the ground. You can imagine how a well-implemented Paul Dano patented yelp aids in delivering the humor of this moment. Getting hit in the nuts is no testicle-haver’s idea of a good time, and a knee coming from James Bond sounds especially bad. I’d drop to the floor, too.

Brutality: 7

Story and Character: 5

Did He Deserve It?: Yes

17. The Girl Next Door: A fencing cheap shot

First was back-to-back cheating retaliation scenes, now we have back-to-back nut shots. You may have forgotten that Paul Dano plays one of the dorky friends in the early 2000s teen sex comedy “The Girl Next Door,” and in one quick scene, he receives quite a blow below the belt. In fencing class (maybe it’s just P.E.), Emile Hirsch and Chris Marquette are in the middle of a conversation, but Dano keeps playfully hitting Marquette with his foil. Having enough of it, Marquette gets back at him with a swift smack to the groin, causing Dano to double over. Making this moment a bit funnier than the kneeing in “Cowboys & Aliens” is that it happens out of focus in the background of a shot. I’m always in favor of a background gag in a comedy. Plus, the preciseness that comes with a fencing foil I’m sure provides even more pain than just a knee. I don’t have experience with that myself, but I can imagine a sword is bad news, no matter what kind.

Brutality: 7

Story and Character: 3

Did He Deserve It?: Maybe

16. Prisoners: Outside a police station

Here we have our first scene from Denis Villeneuve‘s miserablist chore of a movie, “Prisoners.” The plot of this film is essentially “Let’s torture Paul Dano for two hours. People will be interested in that, right?” The film will appear multiple times on this list, so let’s kick things off with its most mild beating. Dano’s character is arrested as a suspect in the kidnapping of two young girls. When no forensic evidence is found, he is released, but Hugh Jackman‘s character is convinced that Dano is guilty. As he is exiting the police station, Jackman grabs Dano by the lapels and tackles him to the ground, even slamming his head against the side of a police car. Cops do pull Jackman off of him, but they really should have held him back before anything happened. Dano’s character has a mental disability of some sort and is also a victim of kidnapping himself (which Jackman does not know at the moment). This guy is completely helpless to defend himself against Wolverine. A totally unjustifiable assault on Jackman’s part, which strangely has no repercussions even though it is in full view of a lot of people. Things in “Prisoners” only get more gruesome from here.

Brutality: 6

Story and Character: 6

Did He Deserve It?: No

15. The Girl Next Door: Adult film convention hijinks gone wrong

We head back to “The Girl Next Door” for our next entry, and a moment that’s a little more extreme. Emile Hirsch’s character has tracked the titular girl next door (Elisha Cuthbert) to an adult film convention in Las Vegas. The trio of friends go to the convention, with Paul Dano and Chris Marquette’s characters pretending to be adult film directors to talk to porn performers. When they are exposed as the high school dweebs they actually are, they are chased out of the convention, and Dano’s character is pushed off a platform and falls on a table with a cake on it. He’s a high school dweeb, but he doesn’t deserve to take such a long fall that could cause serious injury, especially because he is being chased by a man twice his size. “The Girl Next Door” is a comedy, so of course, he just gets up and keeps running, but it looks like quite a hard fall. I am sure it was not the most fun stunt to perform. And for performers making that fall, I know they wish it would be in service of something worthy of the stunt, which this is not. It’s a dumb hijinks scene, but you can’t deny the impact.

Brutality: 7

Story and Character: 4

Did He Deserve It?: No

14. Cowboys & Aliens: Knocked out by prison bars

Any blow that knocks you out is worthy of some note, which is the case for the second appearance from “Cowboys & Aliens” on this list. While in an adjacent jail cell to Daniel Craig, Dano’s character, of course, starts being incredibly annoying. Craig can’t take it anymore, grabs him through the bars, and bashes his head, knocking him out. This is just a more extreme version of the scene where he knees Paul Dano in the nuts. While doubling over from a groin shot hurts, getting completely knocked out is even worse and could possibly have lasting damage. As someone with a low tolerance for irritating individuals, Craig’s actions feel completely reasonable, especially in the fanciful world of a science-fiction Western.

Brutality: 7

Story and Character: 4

Did He Deserve It?: Yes

13. The King: A quick but fatal stab

We’ve reached our first actual killing of Paul Dano in a film. In the movie “The King,” Gael García Bernal is an ex-convict seeking out the father he never knew (William Hurt), and starts an incestuous relationship with his half-sister (Pell James). When Paul Dano’s character finds out about this affair, he tries to confront Bernal about it, and Dano ends up getting stabbed and dying. While death is the ultimate result from an act of violence, the actual stabbing is not particularly visceral. It is just one stab, and Dano dies rather quickly. The act is inherently brutal but is not depicted as such. It is unceremonious as well. So, putting this in the middle of the list somewhere feels right.

Brutality: 8

Story and Character: 6

Did He Deserve It?: No

12. The Ballad of Jack and Rose: Pushed out of a treehouse

Here we have another scene of Paul Dano being pushed off of something tall — this time a tree house in “The Ballad of Jack and Rose.” As opposed to the equivalent scene in “The Girl Next Door,” this one actually has ramifications from falling from such a height. Paul Dano’s character attempts to sexually assault Rose (Camilla Belle), and gets into a tussle with her father, Jack (Daniel Day-Lewis). Trying to get him off of her father, Rose pushes him, and he ends up falling out of the large tree house they are in. He briefly is knocked out and has some trouble catching his breath when he comes to. This altercation could have been avoided entirely. Don’t try to sexually assault people. Period. While this is the greater of two scenes in which Paul Dano gets pushed off of something, this is the lesser of multiple scenes in which Daniel Day-Lewis goes after Paul Dano. We’ll get to those later.

Brutality: 8

Story and Character: 7

Did He Deserve It?: Yes

11. Being Flynn: Do not intervene

A good comedic sucker punch is always welcome in a comedic setting. It’s a tried and true method for a chuckle. Two people get into a verbal altercation. Someone tries to come in and diffuse the situation and ends up getting punched in the face. This scenario brings us back to “Being Flynn.” (This has to be the most anyone has ever spoken about the film “Being Flynn” since its release, right?) Anyway, the punch Paul Dano receives is swift, impactful, and makes everyone watching it deliver a wonderful, “Ooooooh.” This scene is a totally solid example of Paul Dano getting beaten up, and had there been a couple more punches, it may have appeared higher. We just get to enjoy the one hit.

Brutality: 7

Story and Character: 2

Did He Deserve It?: No

10. Gigantic: Galifianakis out of nowhere

You know when you are walking down an alleyway, and out of nowhere, Zach Galifianakis comes out nowhere and tackles you into a pile of garbage, throws you into a chain link fence, punches you in the face, and slams you to the ground? And he also seems to be impervious to any punch you deliver back at him, short of stabbing him? Then you realize that maybe this is happening in your head? We’ve all been through this. Oh … we haven’t? Well, Paul Dano has, in the film “Gigantic.” This remnant of the quirky indie 2000s about a man who wants to adopt a Chinese baby features two scenes in which Galifianakis truly beats the s**t out of Dano (look forward to the other one later), and I am not sure how we are supposed to take these scenes. Are they supposed to be funny? Are they supposed to be a real look inside this man’s tortured mind? Unclear. All I know is Galifianakis convincingly plays someone you would not want to run into in an alley, which makes for a surprisingly brutal beatdown.

Brutality: 8

Story and Character: 4

Did He Deserve It?: No

9. Okja: F**k the police

In “The Batman,” Paul Dano plays a serial killer who gets slightly roughed up by police. In “Okja,” Paul Dano plays an animal rights activist staging a protest demonstration and is violently beaten by cops with batons. Yep … that seems about right. Before Bong Joon-ho went on to win Oscars for his film “Parasite,” he made this globetrotting “girl and her dog” movie, but the dog is instead a genetically engineered giant pig who needs rescuing from a meat plant. Paul Dano’s Jay is the leader of the Animal Liberation Front (ALF) and wants to eradicate any and all mistreatment of animals. Of course, people like him will be seen as threats and targets to those in power, as their actions could hurt their bottom line and overturn the apple cart of society and business. Police work in service of those people, and they have no issue wailing on Dano’s character here. It’s sad how truthful this moment is to the real world, but we have seen enough footage from protests to know this is an all too common response to people who want justified change.

Brutality: 8

Story and Character: 7

Did He Deserve It?: No

8. Prisoners: Boiling water

Back to “Prisoners” for not a fun time at all. Paul Dano’s character has been kidnapped by Hugh Jackman’s, and Jackman isn’t getting the answers he wants out of him. So, Jackman has constructed a small, makeshift cell in the bathroom of this abandoned home where only a small hole in the wood lets Dano breathe and see a little bit of light. The cell is in the shower, and Jackman has control of the water temperature, which he has set to either freezing cold or boiling hot. That way, he can easily torture Dano’s character with water. Of course, this whole exercise is futile, since the answers Jackman wants are not the ones he is going to get. There’s absolutely nothing invigorating about watching this scene. Just pain and screaming and crying and wanting it to end.

Brutality: 8

Story and Character: 6

Did He Deserve It?: No

7. L.I.E.: An abusive father

It was Paul Dano’s first time as the lead of a film, so of course he got a horrifying punch to the face. “L.I.E.” deals in a lot of rough subject matter, such as grooming teenage boys at the hands of Brian Cox, but Paul Dano’s hit comes from the fist of Bruce Altman, playing Dano’s father. Early on in the film, the two get into an argument, and Altman just takes a completely uncalled for swing at Dano. The resulting black eye remains on his face for the entire rest of the picture. Dano was 15 or 16 when he shot this movie, but looks much younger. Seeing a full-grown man clobber this young boy is incredibly upsetting, and it tells you everything you need to know about the relationship those two have. (An underrated element of this punch is that it is left-handed, and I feel like we never see that in scenes like this in film. It’s always righties. That’s one powerful punch to a helpless kid.)

Brutality: 8

Story and Character: 8

Did He Deserve It?: No

6. Gigantic: Galifianakis with a lead pipe

If you thought getting absolutely thrashed by Zach Galifianakis once was embarrassing, then you have to feel extra bad for Paul Dano, who endures it twice. This scene is actually his first beatdown by Galifianakis in “Gigantic,” and the reason it ranks higher is for the simple fact that he uses a giant lead pipe to take some swings at Dano. I have never personally been hit by a lead pipe, but considering it is one of the murder weapons in the game “Clue,” I assume it is not a good thing to be hit with. After getting hit with the pipe a few times, Galifianakis takes him to the ground and starts wailing on Dano’s face for good measure. As this is at the beginning of the film, the surprise of this altercation taking place is what really sells it. You aren’t entirely sure what movie you have signed up for, and a scene like this makes you sit forward in your seat a bit and want to know what happens next. The shock and force of the scene is what really vaults this so high on the list, even if it isn’t the most germane to the story.

Brutality: 8

Story and Character: 5

Did He Deserve It?: No

5. Prisoners: The first interrogation

The third and final scene from “Prisoners” kicks off the top five. Without a doubt, this is the most upsetting scene in Dano’s torture, as it is the one in most full view of the audience. A lot of what happens to him in the movie is off screen or obscured, but here we just see Hugh Jackman, with saran wrap around his fist, repeatedly punching Paul Dano in the face over and over and over again until his face is a bloody, swollen mess. It doesn’t help that Terrence Howard keeps propping him up so he can take another hit. When we cut back to Dano a little later to see just how swollen his face is, the prosthetics make him look more unrecognizable than Colin Farrell as The Penguin. For many, like myself, this is about when they just check out of the movie, since the scene is so brutal and unflinching, and the ultimate point the movie is trying to make doesn’t really justify just how brutal it is. But if you get punched in the face that much, you must make the top five.

Brutality: 9

Story and Character: 7

Did He Deserve It?: No

4. There Will Be Blood: A public humiliation

There’s something about getting beaten up in front of people that just makes it all worse. Not only do you have to endure the physical pain, but you also have to deal with the blow to your ego. And if you are Eli Sunday, Paul Dano’s character from “There Will Be Blood,” you have one massive ego. So, when he gets some enormously powerful open-handed slaps from Daniel Day-Lewis’ Daniel Plainview, it hurts in every way possible. Add to that the indignity of getting dragged across the ground by his hair and pinned down as Plainview slaps oil and mud all over his face, and Eli has lost the respect of just about everyone in that town. This scene also features some A+ Paul Dano caterwauling. Eli at least has the wherewithal to come back at Plainview to publicly sublimate him in the baptism scene. Ultimately, Plainview gets the last laugh in their rivalry — but we’ll get to that later.

Brutality: 8

Story and Character: 9

Did He Deserve It?: A little

3. The Good Heart: Try to save duck, get hit by car

I will fully admit that I had never heard of “The Good Heart” prior to making this list. Forgive me that a movie that made under $21,000 at the domestic box office did not cross my path 12 years ago. Essentially, Brian Cox (he’s back!) owns a bar and takes a young homeless man, played by Paul Dano, under his wing. They meet at a hospital after Cox has a heart attack and Dano attempted suicide. Cox gives Dano a job at the bar and a place to stay with the hopes of passing the bar to Dano after he dies. Spoilers for “The Good Heart,” I guess, but the film ends with Paul Dano running out of the bar to save a duck they take care of and is absolutely wrecked by a car out of nowhere, killing him. While it does not reach the absurd heights of the “Meet Joe Black” car accident, it’s pretty close. I mean … Paul Dano is chasing after a duck and gets hit by a car! What’s not to love about this moment? Yes, it is supposed to be a tragic accident, but come on! A duck makes him die. Has to make the top three.

Brutality: 9

Story and Character: 7

Did He Deserve It?: No

2. 12 Years a Slave: Definitely deserved it

This scene from Steve McQueen‘s tremendous “12 Years a Slave” easily could have been number one on this list, because it is the most satisfying on-screen beatdown Paul Dano has received and probably will ever receive. Anyone who oversees slaves has what happens to Dano’s character coming to them. Chiwetel Ejiofor‘s Solomon Northup has had enough of Dano’s orders, belittling, hate speech, and abuse, and he takes Dano’s whip and smacks the everliving s**t out of him, pinning him on the ground and never letting up for a second. In a film that is purposefully hard to watch a lot of the time, this is one moment of true release, where this racist piece of s**t gets to feel the righteous fury of a man he has tortured. Unfortunately, the release doesn’t last long, as Solomon’s punishment for this act is one of the most harrowing scenes in the whole movie (which is saying something). But while it lasted, it felt so good to see that character be reduced to a sniveling, scared pile of mush.

Brutality: 9

Story and Character: 9

Did He Deserve It?: Absolutely

1. There Will Be Blood: ‘I’m finished’

However great that scene from “12 Years a Slave” is, there really is no other choice that could top this list than the final scene from Paul Thomas Anderson‘s masterpiece “There Will Be Blood.” This 15-minute finale pits Daniel Day-Lewis’ Daniel Plainview, who has essentially transformed into a feral animal at this point, against Paul Dano’s Eli Sunday in one last bout of wills. Eli has come to Daniel for a business proposition, and Daniel has no intention of taking it seriously. First, he makes Eli emphatically deny his god and religion for his own amusement, and then the violence starts. First, he throws Eli across the room onto a bowling lane. Then he starts hurling bowling balls at him. When that does nothing, he starts throwing the pins at him. Finally, Plainview manages to hit Eli with a pin which knocks him flat on the ground. But that’s not enough. Oh, no. Plainview then proceeds to bash Eli’s skull with the pin until he lies dead in a pool of his own blood. He has finally triumphed, but of course, there is no satisfaction in it. He delivers the iconic final line, “I’m finished,” and he just has to go on living his life, continuing to be a completely hollow and unfulfilled money monster.

In terms of Paul Dano caterwauling, it does not get better than this. There are so many yelps, and shrill tones of, “I’m your old friend!” It’s a perfect performance from Dano, rightfully being utterly terrified of the gollum that is Daniel Plainview. Paul Dano has still never received an Academy Award nomination, and it will remain one of life’s great mysteries as to why he was not a lock for a Best Supporting Actor nomination in 2007 for this performance. He couldn’t even get Golden Globe or SAG nominations for this. Insanity. It only makes sense that his finest hour of getting the s**t beat out of him on screen would come from probably the man’s best performance.

Brutality: 10

Story and Character: 10

Did He Deserve It?: Maybe

Here’s to many more years of wonderful performances from Paul Dano, and many more scenes in which he gets absolutely thrashed.



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