11 Legendary Neil Patrick Harris Films and Series You Should Be Binging

Neil Patrick Harris
Neil Patrick Harris, Photo: ©PATRICKMCMULLAN

East Hamptonite Neil Patrick Harris has had his fair share of iconic roles on the big and small screens over the past three decades, with more exciting new projects, such as his eagerly anticipated part in the yet-untitled Matrix 4, to look forward to. While we wait for that to come out—and for movie theaters to reopen—why not relax at home with a binge of some his most memorable films and series?

The Films

Clara’s Heart (1988) – Rent it on Amazon and YouTube
Harris made his silver screen debut at the age of 13, sharing the spotlight—and his first theatrical poster—with the incomparable Whoopi Goldberg. The duo portray a boy and his new nanny who develop a deep bond as they share their individual traumas—her infant daughter passing away and his parent’s dissolving marriage.

Starship Troopers (1997) – Stream it free on Crackle
Book-adapted movies are largely hit or miss, but this bizarre entry in film history was aiming at a different target entirely. Paul Verhoeven was originally directing an unrelated sci-fi script called Bug Hunt at Outpost Nine when the rights to Robert A. Heinlein’s award-winning book Starship Troopers were thrust upon him. He sprinkled in character names and whatever else he could garner from reading only the first two chapters, but there were so many differences between the pro-military novel and the satirically fascist film—such as Harris’s character being rewritten as a psychic—that one can hardly call it a true adaption. Also, Verhoeven directed one scene naked at the request of his cast, so there really is nothing quite like this film.

Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle (2004) – Stream it on Netflix
In this wacky trilogy of stoner comedies (yes, that’s a real genre), NPH plays what is likely his strangest role to date—himself, or rather, a fictional version of himself who is only pretending to be gay to trick women into sex. And in this canon, Harris’s real-life husband David Burtka is actually his drug dealer. This first entry in the series follows Harold (John Cho) and Kumar (Kal Penn) as they get into comical misadventures on their way to White Castle. The title pretty much says it all.

The Smurfs (2011) – Rent it on Amazon and YouTube
The little blue guys of 1980s fame hit the big screen in 2011, captivating a new generation of kids, with NPH as the leading (human) man. While the film wasn’t beloved by adult critics—it is a kids movie, after all—Harris was widely praised for his lively performance. He plays Pat Winslow, the new VP of marketing at Anjelou Cosmetics in New York City, who is roped (literally) into helping the Smurfs evade the evil Gargamel and return to their home world.

Gone Girl (2014) – Rent it on Amazon and YouTube
In this psychological thriller, Harris plays Desi, the wealthy ex-boyfriend of the deranged Amy (Rosamund Pike) who is tricked into helping her frame her husband (Ben Affleck) for her murder. The film, adapted from a 2012 book of the same title, received positive reviews, with some critics noting that the fine line its story walked between misogyny and misandry was quite fascinating. To delve into that would be to give away spoilers, so just watch it and decide for yourself.

The Series

Doogie Howser, M.D. (1989–1993) – Stream it on Hulu
Before witty medical dramas like Scrubs, The Good Doctor and House, M.D., there was Doogie Howser, M.D. starring a teenage Harris as the eponymous main character. The saccharine ABC show offered many laughs and emotional moments in its four seasons and even covered hot-button social issues such as AIDS awareness, homophobia, sexism, racism and gang violence. Hopefully, Harris will make a cameo as Doogie in the reimagined reboot, Doogie Kealoha, M.D., coming to Disney+.

Spider-Man: The New Animated Series (2003) – Stream it free on Crackle
The debate over which actor gave the best Spider-Man performance is hotly debated, with die-hard fans in the camps of Tobey Maguire, Andrew Garfield and Tom Holland. However, most people forget that Harris gave a critically acclaimed performance as the web slinger in MTV’s short-lived adult cartoon. If the unresolved season one cliffhanger leaves you wanting more, NPH reprised his role in the 2010 Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions video game.

How I Met Your Mother (2005–2014)– Stream it on Hulu
No list of must-watch NPH titles is complete without HIMYM. His character, Barney Stinson, is perhaps one of the most beloved suit-wearing playboys in TV history, and his over-the-top performance in each of the show’s nine seasons helped him stand out among an equally talented cast, comprising Cobie Smulders, Josh Radner, Jason Segel and Alyson Hannigan. Whether you’ve seen this classic comedy before or not, it’s worth a binge while you’ve got the time. This one is absolutely legen—wait for it—dary!

Neil’s Puppet Dreams (2012–2013) – Stream it free on YouTube
When you hear a title like Neil’s Puppet Dreams, it could go one of two ways, totally kid-friendly or very raunchy and adult. Thankfully for the grown-ups, this short web series, co-created with The Jim Henson Company, took the latter approach, providing the not-easily-offended with roughly five-minute episodes each following Harris into his dreams of awkward doctor’s visits, alien probing and Bollywood romance. Burtka appears as himself throughout the show, and several guest stars either make an appearance (Nathan Fillion, Joe Manganiello) or voice puppets (Daniele Gaither, Willam Belli). Watch the teaser episode here and see the rest of the series on the Nerdist YouTube channel.

A Series of Unfortunate Events (2017–2019) – Stream it on Netflix
Harris was born to play Count Olaf of the classic Lemony Snicket series, with some critics going as far as to call his fantastical display the performance of a lifetime. The wonderfully dark, macabre and absurd show begins with Olaf adopting the three Baudelaire children in a scheme to steal their inheritance before they come of age, with each episode faithfully adapting elements from the books and delving deeper into the family’s secrets.

The Bonus

Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog (2008) – Buy it on Amazon
This cult classic had to appear somewhere on this list, though its placement is tricky. It’s sort of a musical movie, but each of its three acts is its own episode, so it’s technically a miniseries. Plus, there’s the unfortunate fact that you can’t seem to stream or rent it—you have to buy the download for $20. That being said, it’s totally worth it! In it, Dr. Horrible (Harris) is an aspiring supervillain who faces off against his nemesis, Captain Hammer (Nathan Fillion, in their first of several projects together), during his plans to prove himself to the Evil League of Evil and to the nice girl from the laundromat (Felicia Day).

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