On November 7, 2021, the world lost Dean Stockwell – the supremely talented, yet sometimes underrated character actor – at the age of 85. As a native of North Hollywood, he began acting when he was just child before eventually scoring his best known roles as Al Calavicci on Quantum Leap, or in the 1988 comedy Married to the Mob, which earned him his sole Academy Award nomination.
Those titles are just two of our own personal recommendations below for the best Dean Stockwell movies and TV shows to check out in honor of the beloved actor’s illustrious life and career, starting off with this Emmy-winning classic.
Quantum Leap (1989-1993)
Created by Donald P. Bellasario, Quantum Leap follows a brilliant scientist (Golden Globe winner Scott Bakula) whose time-travel experiment goes a little “ka ka” and sends him on a journey with no discernible end, that forces him to right the wrongs of the past by, essentially, possessing different people from different time periods one “leap” at a time.
His only ally is a man from the future named Admiral Albert “Al” Calavicci, who appears to him in the form of a hologram only visible to him to offer whatever guidance he can. Dean Stockwell’s performance as Al earned him four Emmy Award nominations and one Golden Globe win and helped solidify this series, which originally aired on NBC for five seasons, as one of the best sci-fi TV shows of its time (or any time).
The Twilight Zone – Season 3, Episode 15 (1961)
Speaking of great sci-fi TV shows, decades before Quantum Leap, Dean Stockwell got to see what time travel via body swapping was like while appearing on creator and narrator Rod Serling’s highly influential anthology series that ran on CBS from 1959 to 1964.
In an episode titled “A Quality of Mercy” (which also stars Star Trek’s Leonard Nimoy), the then 25-year-old plays an American military lieutenant who begins to question the consequences of his actions after mysteriously being able to see things from a Japanese soldier’s perspective during World War II. Like many of the best Twilight Zone episodes, the Season 3 installment is another thought-provoking morality tale, only heightened by Stockwell’s passionate approach to the material.
Married To The Mob (1988)
Almost immediately after he secured his role in the Quantum Leap cast, Dean Stockwell became an Academy Award nominated actor for this criminally funny romantic-comedy classic from the late Jonathan Demme, who would later direct The Silence of the Lambs.
After her gangster husband (Alec Baldwin) is killed, fed-up housewife Angela (Michelle Pfieffer) thinks she has finally received a second chance, which is instead interrupted by an undercover FBI agent (Stranger Things’ Matthew Modine) and her husband’s boss, Tony (Dean Stockwell). Stockwell would work with Demme again for their 2004 remake of The Manchurian Candidate, but Tony “The Tiger” Russo in Married to the Mob would forever be remembered as one of the actor’s defining performances.
Paris, Texas (1984)
Another one of Dean Stockwell’s most acclaimed films is Paris, Texas, in which he also plays a far more likable character. He stars as Walt Henderson, who finds his amnesiac brother Travis (the late Harry Dean Stanton) after he mysteriously disappeared four years later, giving him the chance to reconnect with his young son (Hunter Carson) and his estranged wife (Natassja Kinski). From celebrated German director Wim Wenders, this witty, rousing drama (which also won the Palme D’Or at the Cannes Film Festival) is a beautiful tale about finding your family and yourself.
Blue Velvet (1986)
Dean Stockwell’s next major motion picture was the original 1984 adaption of Dune – which was not quite the critical or commercial hit that fans of Frank Herbert’s epic sci-fi novel hoped for, but luckily, not the last time the actor would work with David Lynch, either.
Just two years later, the seminal filmmaker and future Twin Peaks creator cast Stockwell in the memorable role of Ben – a sadistic, eccentric fan of Roy Orbison’s music – in Blue Velvet, which is the story of a young man (Kyle McLachlan) embroiled in a disturbing criminal conspiracy after discovering a severed ear in a field. The surreal, instant classic Neo-noir thriller was a profitable success (making more than $8 million on a $6 million budget), a surefire hit with critics (save Roger Ebert), and earned writer and director Lynch his third Academy Award nomination.
To Live And Die In L.A. (1985)
A year before playing a criminal in Blue Velvet, Dean Stockwell played Bob Grimes – an attorney to a criminal – for another legendary filmmaker, William Friedkin. The client of Stockwell’s character is a menacing counterfeiter played by Oscar nominee Willem Dafoe, whom William Petersen’s former Secret Service agent protagonist is hellbent on finding, to avenge the murder of his former partner.
Based on the novel by Gerald Petievich, To Live and Die in L.A. is one of the most gripping, authentically gritty, and underrated action thrillers of the 1980s, that only the director of The French Connection and The Exorcist could deliver.
The Rainmaker (1997)
More than a decade later, Dean Stockwell was promoted from a corrupt attorney to a corrupt judge, as the honorable Harvey Hale in The Rainmaker. Co-written and directed by Francis Ford Coppola, the legal drama stars Matt Damon as a young lawyer who finds himself in over his head when his first case after passing the bar exam proves to be a high-profile battle against a fraudulent insurance company and its impressive team of seasoned attorneys (headed by Jon Voight).
Danny DeVito also stars as Damon’s sole underdog ally in what is considered to be one of the greatest modern courtroom dramas, especially among those based on a John Grisham novel.
Air Force One (1997)
In the same year as The Rainmaker, Dean Stockwell flew to even greater heights when he starred in Air Force One as the United States Secretary of Defense, Walter Dean. He, the Vice President (Glenn Close), and others find themselves in over their heads when struggling to figure out how to bring passengers of the President’s private jet to safety, after it gets hijacked by Russian terrorists (headed by Gary Oldman).
However, the President himself (Harrison Ford) – a Vietnam War veteran – seems to be handling things pretty well on his own, in this thrilling action classic from director Wolfgang Petersen.
Beverly Hills Cop II (1987)
A decade earlier, Dean Stockwell was still earning a steady living playing shady criminal types, such as in the follow-up to the monster hit comedy that made Eddie Murphy one of Hollywood’s most bankable leading men.
In Beverly Hills Cop II, Stockwell plays a member of an international arms trafficking ring that Detroit-based detective Axel Foley returns to the Sunshine State to investigate, following an assassination attempt on a renowned, local police captain. Aside from being about as funny as its predecessor (one of the funniest and best ‘80s movies), the sequel is admired for upping the ante on its action sequences, especially with the late Tony Scott at the helm.
Batman Beyond: Return Of The Joker (2000)
I will not give away how, but Dean Stockwell (technically) got to play both sides of the law with his role in Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker. He voices an older Tim Drake, whom Terry McGinnis (Will Friedle) – the young successor who was given the Batman mantle by Bruce Wayne (Kevin Conroy) – seeks out to learn more about his traumatic past as Robin, after the Clown Prince of Crime (Mark Hamill) seemingly comes back from the dead. The secrets that come to light and the thrills that follow make this spin-off from the hit Batman Beyond one of the best animated Batman movies of all time in the eyes of many.
Battlestar Galactica (2006-2009)
Perhaps the finest (and most sinister) of Dean Stockwell’s villainous performances was in his triumphant return to science-fiction television when he joined the Battlestar Galactica cast in Season 2. His character, a humanoid Cylon known as John Cavil, proved to be one of the most brilliantly conceived and engrossingly intense antagonists on Syfy’s celebrated reimagining of the short-lived ‘70s TV show originally created by Glen A. Larson.
The Boy With Green Hair (1948)
I could not have called this retrospective of Dean Stockwell’s career fully complete without a mention of one of the more obscure and undeniably bizarre credits from his early days as a child actor in the 1940s. He plays a young Irish lad name Peter Fry, the titular character of The Boy with Green Hair, whose locks magically turn an unusual and unnatural color after a deadly raid leaves him orphaned and living with his grandfather. While it seems like nothing more than a silly children’s fantasy, director Joseph Losey’s dramedy is actually a clever, deeply symbolic satire way ahead of its time with a powerful message that stands against wartime violence.
Scott Bakula’s Dr. Samuel Beckett could not have asked for a better holographic companion on Quantum Leap than Al Calavicci, and no better actor could have played him than Dean Stockwell. Even though he had not acted since 2015, after starring in the twisted indie comedy Entertainment, his undeniable talent is still far from forgotten and his legacy will be everlasting.
Jason has been writing since he was able to pick up a washable marker, with which he wrote his debut illustrated children’s story, later transitioning to a short-lived comic book series and (very) amateur filmmaking before finally settling on pursuing a career in writing about movies in lieu of making them. Look for his name in just about any article related to Batman.