May 12, 2023
WRITTEN BY: NICK
Answers to questions like “what is your favourite food?” and “what’s your favourite song?” change frequently, but for me, the answer to “who is your favourite actor?” has always been Michael J. Fox. Maybe it’s because, like me, he came from a small town in Canada, or maybe I was just introduced to his films during my formative years; either way, I have always gravitated to his relatability on the screen. He has a mix of comic sensibility and unmitigated charm that makes it extremely difficult to dislike him in any of his roles.
It's also notable that Fox has been able to leave a lasting mark on both film and television before that was the “in” thing to do. He has won multiple Emmys, Golden Globes, and even a Grammy. The list below has 10 entries, but I didn’t even touch his voice work (Stuart Little, Atlantis, Homeward Bound), Plus, there are numerous other projects I could have gotten into, be it well-regarded films like Casualties of War and The Hard Way or his acclaimed turns in series like The Good Wife and Scrubs. There is just a wealth of titles to choose from and they didn’t make the cut.
Unfortunately, with his Parkinson's battle having such a drastic effect on his ability to work, we'll never know just how many more gems there could have been. For me, though, everything on the list below is timeless and will always be something I can revisit. Plus, luckily, his life and career are being celebrated with Apple TV+'s fantastic new documentary, Still: A Michael J. Fox Movie, which examines his life both before and after his diagnosis through archival footage and the words of the man himself.
So, sit back and enjoy! No need to fasten your seatbelts either…because where we're going, we don't need roads…
10. FAMILY TIES (1982-1989)
Beyond a certain time-traveler that will pop up later on this list, Alex P. Keaton is likely Fox’s most well-known role. It’s through Keaton that Fox really honed his craft and comedic timing. What you probably know is that he played a high school student well beyond his years that was unwavering in his Republican ideals (before that was such a dirty word), and he often clashed with the rest of his family because of his opinions. What you may not know is that the series was meant to focus on the former hippie, liberal parents, Steven and Elyse Keaton (Michael Gross and Meredith Baxter, respectively). However, Fox's coming out party changed that. The focus turned to their son, and an iconic career was jump-started. Running for seven seasons, Fox played the role through the majority of his twenties, so you had the opportunity to watch him grow alongside his character.
9. RESCUE ME (2009)
Few of Fox’s roles can be classified as edgy, but one of the outliers is Dwight on Rescue Me. This wheelchair-bound substance abuser is, simply put, an asshole. Brought onto the series for a multi-episode arc, Dwight gave Fox an opportunity to play against type, and it’s clear how much fun he is having with the role, which is about as much fun as the audience has getting to watch every foul-mouthed bit of dialogue he spews. He even has a goatee! It’s no surprise this crass performance won Fox his fifth Emmy.
8. THE SECRET OF MY SUCCESS (1987)
Whether it be the slow-motion daydream montages or the over-the-top characters, The Secret of My Success is such a wonderfully 80s film. The premise of a small-town guy somewhat aimlessly moving to the big city is nothing new, but the charm of Fox is what makes this version work. He excels at displaying a confident charm that never comes off as smug or arrogant, which makes it impossible not to root for the character of Brantley Foster as he rises through the ranks. This movie is a joy to watch and makes for a great double feature pairing with Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.
7. TEEN WOLF (1985)
Maybe it’s because I was fairly young when I first saw it, but Teen Wolf holds a special place in my heart, and this over-the-top puberty picture is dripping with entertainment value. It’s pure 80s, from its characters (who can forget utterly useless coach Bobby Finstock (Jay Tarses)?) to its iconic moments (roof surfing, anyone?). Watching Fox’s Scott Howard struggle to come to terms with his lupine side could’ve been ridiculous, but it’s done in a way that parallels the high school experience to make it relatable despite the outlandish premise.
6. DOC HOLLYWOOD (1991)
The cast of Doc Hollywood is perplexing. You have stage legends like Frances Sternhagen & Barnard Hughes, and early performances from the likes of Woody Harrelson & Bridget Fonda. It’s Fox, however, that ties it all together. His brand of charm makes it very hard to dislike his character, Ben Stone, and his chemistry with Julie Warner makes for one of Fox’s best on-screen relationships. The only thing more enjoyable than watching him fall in love with her is watching him fall in love with the town of Grady. All in all, another relatively simple story that is elevated by the performance of Fox.
5. THE FRIGHTENERS (1996)
I forgot how good The Frighteners is until I rewatched it in preparation for this list. My personal favourite Peter Jackson film is filled with unique and bizarre characters, but it works as well as it does because of Fox. Seeing him play a swindler is perfect casting as it allows him to manipulate his charm to be mischievous while also giving him some more work on the dramatic side of things. Performance-wise, this must be considered one of his best, and it really spotlights the direction his later film career could have gone were it not for his diagnosis.
4. BOSTON LEGAL (2006)
A highlight of his latter career, Fox’s multi-episode stint as cancer-stricken Daniel Post gave him a character that fit perfectly within the dramedy style of Boston Legal. The union of Fox and writer David E. Kelley’s dialogue is a match made in heaven because you get the same quick humour you have learned to expect from Fox but with a flavour of tragedy as well, something that landed a little harder considering this was one of his first roles post-diagnosis. It was a relatively short stint (only six episodes), but a memorable one as it led to his tenth Emmy nomination.
3. CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2011) & THE MICHAEL J. FOX SHOW (2013-2014)
I feel these two need to be roped together since both are Fox giving viewers a window into his life with Parkinson’s while still being able to find the humour in it. He doesn’t want you to feel sorry for him, nor does he want people walking on eggshells about his affliction. Curb features some hilarious physical gags, but it also makes a point of showing that, even when people are afflicted with something like Parkinson’s, they can still be jerks. It’s the underseen The Michael J. Fox Show, however, that gives a fuller picture of Fox's real day-to-day life. Sure, there’s still some quality physical gags, but it’s a great insight into how one would manage the situation while still maintaining a sense of humor.
2. SPIN CITY (1996-2001)
When people speak of great sitcoms from the 90s, Spin City is one that is often unjustly forgotten. It’s the final role of the early phase of Fox’s career, before his symptoms were prevalent, and he makes the most of it. The series itself is well-written, and it features the likes of Barry Bostwick, Richard Kind, Alan Ruck, Connie Britton, Michael Boatman, and Fox as employees in the mayor’s office battling the daily hijinks that come with the job. Sitcoms like these have become a dime a dozen these days, but this one shines a spotlight on the comedic timing of Fox that few are able to match.
1. THE BACK TO THE FUTURE FRANCHISE (1985, 1989, 1990)
Anyone who knows me knows my affinity for this franchise. It features two perfect films and a third that I will defend until my dying day. Fox and Christopher Lloyd as teenager and mad scientist are the perfect pairing to guide you through these films, but it’s the relatability of Marty McFly (Fox) that really carries things. In fact, one of the best aspects of Marty is that he is human, and it’s his own mistakes that get him into trouble. He loses his temper when anyone calls him chicken. He risks the fabric of time for a get rich quick scheme. I’m able to see myself doing these things, which makes me that much more invested in the story and his character. If I’m flicking through the channels and it’s on (no matter what point it’s at), I can’t help but watch. For a movie from 1985 that still works just as well nearly 40 years later, that’s one of the biggest compliments I can give. Michael J. Fox and countless others are still fighting but they can't do it alone. If you would like to do your part to help end Parkinson's Disease, please visit https://www.michaeljfox.org and donate to The Michael J. Fox Foundation to help find a cure.
Photo Credits: Photo 1, 8 - NBC; Photo 2 - FX; Photo 3, 6, 10 - Universal Pictures; Photo 4 - MGM; Photo 5 - Warner Bros; Photo 7, 9 - ABC; Photo 8 - HBO