Michael Peña has been one of the greatest supporting actors in Hollywood for more than a decade, stealing most scenes he’s in and making every movie better. He has a great comedic presence, and over the years, he’s shown he also has incredible dramatic chops. Here are his best performances, ranked.
MOVIEWEB VIDEO OF THE DAY
10 The Shield (2002-2008)
The Shield was one of the first anti-hero TV series, about a bad cop named Vic Mackey (Michael Chiklis) and his team, who were able to end crime on the streets even if their methods were not the ones cops are allowed to use. Peña played Armando “Army” Renta in the fourth season; the partner of Shane Vendrell (Walton Goggins). The actor played the character with false bravado and some trust issues. He wasn’t as cool as he wanted us to believe, and he was scared his career was over and that Vic’s team didn’t have his back.
Related: The Shield: Why You Should Re-Watch the Series
9 Crash (2005)
Crash tries to tell many stories about race and class in Los Angeles. The film chews more than it could eat, making it a strange movie with a great cast. The most famous thing about the film is that it won the Academy Award for Best Picture over Brokeback Mountain. Peña plays a small but important part in the movie as Daniel, a locksmith who is constantly racially profiled. He also has one of the scariest scenes in the whole picture: his scream when his daughter leaps into his arms, which can still be heard in some people's worst nightmares.
8 Observe and Report (2009)
Jody Hill’s Observe and Report is a wild one, where mall cop Ronnie (Seth Rogen) has dreams of becoming a real detective. Peña plays his partner, Dennis, a calm security guard with an almost Hulk-like wild side. The film was ahead of its time and was one of the first comedic roles for Peña as the weird, strange sidekick. It’s not a coincidence that after this character, Peña started getting many more comedic offers, as this film proved he was born to do so.
7 The Martian (2015)
The Martian is the story of Mark Watney (Matt Damon), an astronaut who gets left behind on Mars after a sandstorm when his fellow astronauts think he’s dead. Whatney must survive on a planet where everything wants to kill him for many years, only with his intellect, so they can come to rescue him. Peña plays one of those fellow astronauts, Rick Martinez, the pilot, and Mark’s best friend. This is one of the best movies about survival, and although Peña’s role is not the biggest, he gives enough charm and a sense of humor that you believe he’s a real person and can understand why he and Mark are great friends.
6 Eastbound & Down (2009-2013)
is about retired baseball player Kenny Powers (Danny McBride), who goes back to his hometown to teach P.E. This TV series is one of the most outrageous, out-there shows ever. Created by McBride with Jody Hill, either you love it with all your soul, or you don’t understand it at all. Peña has a small role in season two as Mexican businessman Sebastian Cisneros, who wants Kenny to play for his baseball team. Although the character has a short arc, Peña works perfectly in this strange world, improvising against McBride and making it impossible not to laugh at their interactions. The actor creates a character that is as believable as any role on this show can be.
5 Fury (2014)
Fury is about the adventures of a tank squad in Nazi Germany. The film is gritty and dark, and has one of Brad Pitt’s most iconic roles. Peña plays a supporting role as the tank’s pilot, Trini “Gordo” Garcia. As always, Peña can mix the comedic with the dramatic, as his character can keep cracking jokes while inside one of the most devastating scary moments in world history. The actor has great chemistry with the rest of the cast, and you can buy they’ve been through many scary adventures together that have made them a well-oiled machine.
4 Ant-Man (2015)
As always, Peña stole every scene he was in Ant-Man and Ant-Man and the Wasp as Luis, Scott’s friend. Peña is hilarious as the ex-con whose long tangent stories are the stuff of legend. He’s been in many of the Ant-Man and the Wasp appearances, and we hope Peña is also in Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania as his character lights any room he’s in. His strange, enthusiastic, quirky humor has made him a fan favorite, and he’s not even a superhero. As with She-Hulk: Attorney at Law’s Madysinn, Peña’s Luis deserves his spinoff, where he reacts to all the craziness that keeps happening in his world and tells us about it in the most, weird, fun way possible.
Related: Everything to Watch Before Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania
3 Narcos: Mexico (2018-2021)
Narcos: Mexico is the spinoff from Narcos and tells the story of Mexican drug kingpin Migue ángel Gallardo (Diego Luna) and Enrique “Kiki” Camarena (Peña), the DEA agent who is hunting him down. In Narcos, audiences were told that after a DEA agent was murdered, the rules for killing them become extremely strict, and Peña plays that character. We know he’s doomed from the start, and yet, we can’t look away as his character keeps doing the right thing in a world that doesn’t want him to. Peña plays Camarena as a decent, lovely man with an unwavering value system.
2 Cesar Chavez (2014)
Cesar Chavez tells the story of this important figure in America’s history in one of the only times Peña has played the lead role. His transformation into Chavez is incredible, as you can see his wheels turning with every interaction with the farmers and how he’s in a conflict between his duties as a family man and the movement he’s helping birth so that farm workers can have fair living. About getting the part, Peña told NPR: “I was asked at Comic-Con the year before anybody even talked about this movie. They said, "You know if you had a dream role, what would it be?" And it was just a snap answer. I just said, "You know it'd be great to play Cesar Chavez. But I don't know much of his story." Nine months later, I got an email saying that [director] Diego Luna wants to meet about Cesar Chavez”
1 End of Watch (2012)
End of Watch tells the story of two police officers: Brian Taylor (Jake Gyllenhaal) and Mike Zavala (Peña), who, in trying to be the best LA cops ever, get targeted by local gangs who want to kill them. Shot documentary-style by David Ayer, the film shows the day-to-day of the two cops, in the good situations and in the bad ones. Peña’s Zavala is a great family man who sees Brian as his brother and will do anything to protect his family. The chemistry between both actors is incredible and feels real, as there was probably some improv in their scenes. Peña’s character is a decent, lovable, funny human being, and that’s all thanks to the actors' naturalism and charm.
About the methods for shooting in the film, Peña told Spinning Platters: “But the found footage thing really gives you a sense of reality, almost like a YouTube-esque feel. David was improvising along the way, coming up with different ways to work the cameras in. He designed a chest shell we had to wear that could hold a camera; he would put a camera on a stick just to move it around, he’d put a camera on the end of a barrel… It was awesome. It enhances the viewability of the film.”