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Michael Douglas Breaks Down 10 of His Memorable Roles

“The China Syndrome” (1979)
“It goes back to ‘The China Syndrome’ when I first became actively involved,” says Douglas of the decades he’s spent working for various nuclear disarmament groups, including the Ploughshares Fund and the United Nations, which, under former secretary-general Kofi Annan, named Douglas a Messenger of Peace. “I didn’t choose the picture because of the [topic], but the homework that I did for it made me understand a lot more about the half-life of plutonium. Three Mile Island happened 12 days after the picture opened.”

Fatal Attraction” (1987)
Adrian Lyne’s erotic thriller starring Douglas and Glenn Close was a box office smash and received six Academy Award nominations. The film also includes some of the most famous sex scenes in modern cinema. “When you’re doing sex in cinema you have to get comic relief or else it gets tawdry,” says Douglas. “Right at the moment it gets uncomfortable for the audience, you need to have that comic relief. In ‘Fatal Attraction’ we had the kitchen sink sex scene, and my pants dropped down to my ankles and I waddled to get her into bed. And it lets the audience laugh. You need it.”

“Wall Street” (1987)
“‘Wall Street’ was ahead of its time,” says Douglas, who won an Oscar for playing lead villain Gordon Gekko, a ruthless junk bond trader for whom greed “was good.” Looking back on the Oscar Stone-helmed film, Douglas notes, “the magnitude and size of the corruption and thievery going on today is so dramatic it makes Gordon look like a pissant on that level.”

“Basic Instinct” (1992)
“I picked a lot of good material, someone else always had the great part,” says Douglas of the controversial film in which he plays a detective out to solve a murder. “Sharon Stone had the great part. One of the things I’m most proud about is most of the women I’ve worked with gave their best performances in movies we did, whether it was Glenn Close in ‘Fatal Attraction’ or Kathleen Turner in ‘Romancing the Stone’ or Sharon Stone in ‘Basic Instinct.”

“Falling Down” (1993)
“He was an angry white guy,” says Douglas of the character he played in the edgy dark comedy, which takes places across one single day in Los Angeles. “He had a confrontation at a Korean grocery store, he ended up with all these weapons–it was so politically incorrect.”

“Disclosure” (1994)
“They wouldn’t have made ‘Disclosure’ today. There’s no way,” says Douglas of the Barry Levinson-directed thriller, in which Demi Moore plays a scorned business woman who sues Douglas’ character for sexual harassment after he rebuffs her advances.

Wonder Boys” (2000)
Douglas plays a Pittsburgh-based professor suffering from writer’s block who becomes entangled in his students’ lives in the Curtis Hanson drama, based on the novel by Michael Chabon. “It never hit, we always thought it would, they even gave it a re-release that year,” says Douglas of the film’s lackluster performance at the box office. “It has Michael Chabon, great characters, a cast comprising Robert Downey Jr. and Tobey Maguire and Frances McDormand. I don’t think people liked my character. I think they might have thought he was too shlumpy.”

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