The son of legendary Bollywood screenwriter Salim Khan, Salman Khan carved his own niche in Hindi-language films as a leading man in romances, comedies, action thrillers, and a long line of remakes of South Indian films. Even if a considerable chunk of his latter movies has polarised critics, he gained favourable reactions from his devoted legions of fans who affectionately call him “Sallu Bhai”.
While he broke out thanks to romantic portrayals in Sooraj Barjatya’s family-friendly dramas in the 1990s (starting with Maine Pyaar Kiya), the Tiger 3 star successfully rebranded himself as an action star with successful franchises like Dabangg and the Tiger series (that kicked off the YRF Spy Universe). Every now and then, Khan also stars in comedies most of which present the actor’s amusingly eccentric slapstick timing.
Here’s a look at the very best of Salman Khan’s filmography.
In the mid-2010s, it seemed like Salman Khan was content only with no-brainer action flicks. And then came Bajrangi Bhaijaan, a cross-border drama powered by Khan’s heartwarming portrayal as the titular character. Khan’s Bajrangi is a naive Indian do-gooder who makes it his goal to safely get a lost Pakistani girl back to her homeland. Cherished by critics and audiences alike, Bajrangi Bhaijaan proves how Khan can balance adorable comedic timing and tear-jerking emotional prowess.
Sooraj Barjatya’s brand of ensemble family romances mostly played around with the idea that the entire household can join a romantic narrative instead of just the film’s lead pair. Hum Aapke Hai Koun… can arguably be his best work in this canon, showcasing some memorable performances from Salman Khan and Madhuri Dixit in the lead. Starting out with a meet-cute love story and then throwing in familial responsibilities to complicate the romance, Hum Aapke Hai Koun established 90s Bollywood tropes for many other romantic comedy dramas that followed.
The 2000s had been a turbulent era for Salman Khan with a hit-and-miss filmography. And then came Prabhu Deva’s Wanted which firmly established him as an action star. A remake of the Telugu blockbuster Pokiri, Wanted found Khan playing a lovable goon who goes against a powerful gangster. Wanted is also a cult classic for how it established South character actor Prakash Raj as the go-to bad guy in Bollywood
For the cynics who believe Salman Khan can’t be funny, Andaz Apna Apna will be enough to change their minds. He, along with fellow superstar Aamir Khan, played one-half of a streetsmart duo who navigate through absurd romances and outlandish mobsters in their quest to make money. Unabashedly slapstick in its approach, Andaz Apna Apna flopped in its time but has become a beloved classic over the years with quotable dialogues and unforgettable characters like Shakti Kapoor’s mustachioed Crime Master Gogo.
Maine Pyar Kiya was the movie that established Salman Khan as a leading man. While his pairing with heroine Bhagyashree went down as one of the most iconic Bollywood couples, the Sooraj Barjatya film also established the trope of familial differences obstructing a romance (a trope that would be fleshed out further with Bollywood hits like Shah Rukh Khan’s 1995 blockbuster Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge).
Marking the debut of Salman Khan’s Rayban-wearing vigilante cop Chulbul “Robinhood” Pandey, Dabangg subverted the mainstream Bollywood action by parodying the genre with self-aware humour. Dabangg is a notable highlight in Khan’s career as it allowed its leading man to take the joke on himself while shining as an action star in the 2010s.
Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s tragiromance Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam starts on a note comparable to Salman Khan’s previous collaborations with Sooraj Barjatya. But the way the story takes a drastic turn with heartbreak and loss, the 1999 film features Khan, Aishwarya Rai, and even Ajay Devgn (in a supporting appearance) at the best of their emotional capabilities.
The sports drama Sultan was released around a fitting time in Salman Khan’s career. With over-the-top action thrillers like Race 3, Jai Ho, and Kick to his name, Khan was being panned by critics and even some of his fans. Sultan proved how he still has what it takes to experiment with different projects. Set around a wrestler who aspires to move to MMA, Sultan doesn’t mindlessly glamorise its leading man. Instead, Salman Khan’s hero does go through moments of downfall, only to rise like a true Rocky-like underdog.
The film that kicked off the YRF Spy Universe is also one of the franchise’s finest offerings. Starring Khan as Indian secret agent Tiger and Katrina Kaif as his Pakistani counterpart Zoya, Ek Tha Tiger doubles as a nail-biting espionage thriller (with fair share of realistic action sequences) and an unexpected romance that allegorically represents cross-border peace.
Salman Khan has acted in many remakes of Hollywood and South Indian films but a film like Partner proves how he can add his own twist on the original source material. Stepping in for Will Smith’s casanova in this Hitch remake, Partner is steered by Khan’s effortless performance as a “love guru” and Govinda who plays an introverted man who seeks his help. Their collective chemistry gives Partner its own voice from merely reducing it to a Hollywood remake.
The first collaboration between Khan and auteur Sanjay Leela Bhansali, Khamoshi: The Musical has everything that makes a quintessential Bhansali film. A heartfelt romance. A rousing music score. And grandiose art direction. And yet it flopped perhaps because it was ahead of its time. Offering a career-best performance by Manisha Koirala as the caring daughter of a deaf couple, the now-cult classic also features a surprisingly touching turn by Khan as an artist who reignites a musical passion in Koirala’s protagonist.
The pinnacle of Salman Khan-Sooraj Barjatya partnerships, Hum Saath Saath Hain might seem a tad bit outdated with its core emphasis on balancing family values with individual romance. But still, when viewed as a product of the 1990s, the family drama-cum-romantic comedy does make for an interesting watch featuring the charming bravado of Khan in his “loverboy” prime.
Perhaps the raunchiest of Salman Khan’s comedies, No Entry starred him as a womanising friend who wrecks the marital bliss of his friends. And, of couse, this comedy of errors names Khan’s character Prem (an obvious callback to the previous characters he played with the same name). No Entry was also notable for revitalising Anees Bazmee’s status as a comedy director while establishing Khan’s co-star Anil Kapoor as a reliable supporting actor in his latter years.
Maine Pyaar Kyu Kiya is yet another of Khan’s Hollywood remakes (this time the 60s comedy Cactus Flower that later became the Adam Sandler-led comedy Just Go With It). The David Dhawan-directed comedy took satirical jabs at Khan’s previous romances too along the way. With Khan playing a womanising daughter caught between two women (Sushmita Sen and Katrina Kaif), the movie offered him an opportunity to step out of his Romeo image and play more morally flawed heroes.
Although Salman Khan’s antihero Radhe is definitely a walking red flag in this ill-fated romance, Tere Naam was a watershed moment in Khan’s career. While portraying an emotionally turbulent gangster who is changed forever after falling for a mild-mannered girl, Tere Naam offers one of the actor’s most riveting performances.
Kuch Kuch Hota Hai is definitely a career milestone for Shah Rukh Khan, Kajol, and Rani Mukherji but it also offers an interesting extended cameo with Salman Khan playing the groom-to-be Aman Mehra. In fact, one of the most dramatic scenes of this Karan Johar-directed classic finds Aman stepping down from the altar as he knows his fiance loves someone else.
Raising the stakes of fast-paced action and the turbulent drama, Tiger Zinda Hai is a worthy follow-up to Ek Tha Tiger. It might not match its predecessor but the improved technical aspects in terms of the multi-location cinematography and adrenaline-fueled stunt choreography, Tiger Zinda Hai offers hope for the future of action in mainstream Bollywood.
Starring Salman Khan in a dual role, Judwaa is David Dhawan at his illogical best. You don’t need to scratch your brain while watching this comedy of errors as Khan amps up the humour as twin brothers Raja and Prem. Inspired by the Telugu film Hello Brother (which itself was remade from the Jackie Chan-starrer Twin Dragons), Judwaa is yet another of Khan’s remakes that gets a voice of its own.
One of Salman Khan’s most underrated films, Subhash Ghai’s musical drama Yuvvraj stars Khan as a promising singer who gets embroiled in a clash between his brothers as they struggle to inherit their father’s fortune. Lavish set-pieces, a soothing soundtrack, and committed performances by Khan and Anil Kapoor (who plays his manipulative estranged brother) make Yuvvraj worth revisiting.
A clash between Salman Khan and Akshay Kumar to woo the same lady (one of Priyanka Chopra’s early Bollywood roles), Mujhse Shaadi Karogi is a simple rom-com that’s elevated with individual moments of situational humour, thanks to not just Khan and Kumar’s goofy nature but also with the contributions of character actors like Amrish Puri and Rajpal Yadav.
A romantic anthology exploring the different shades of love, Salaam-e-Ishq is synonymous with the song “Tenu Leke” that found Khan donning a bridegroom’s attire and riding a white horse on the streets of London. Divided into six segments with an ensemble cast starring the most popular actors of the time, Salaam-e-Ishq offers some good, old 2000s nostalgia before Khan fully made the move to action blockbusters.
In a career mostly comprising of lead roles, Khan can be quite a revelation in his supporting acts. Heroes is an example that stars him as a martyred soldier in the Indian Army. The movie plays out in the backdrop of three letters, each of which represent a war hero’s love for their nation and their family. Humanising its militaristic heroes instead of merely glamorising their acts of valour, Heroes is an interesting look at the morality of war.
The movie that was broadcast infinitely on the Indian channel SET Max, Baghban is Indian melodrama at its peak. Amitabh Bachchan and Hema Malini lead the ensemble as an aging couple who are pushed to the brink of separation by their unafficionate children. A grateful exception among their children is the adopted orphan Alok Malhotra. The film might be bogged down by its runtime but it has somehow managed to stay relevant through its commentary on the breakdown of Indian families. Just try not watching it with parents! You might just end up getting a moral lecture later.
For those who think Sallu Bhai doesn’t have emotional range, they should just have a glimpse at Khan’s Suhaan Kapoor crying at Brooklyn Bridge as the sun goes down. A love triangle between Khan, Preity Zinta, and Akshay Kumar’s characters, Shirish Kunder’s directorial debut Jaan-E-Mann doesn’t really boast a very original story and screenplay. Yet, it’s just the heartbreaking pain that drives Khan’s hero in the latter half that makes Jaan-E-Mann worth adding to the average Salman Khan fan’s watchlist.
Watching a movie like Karan Arjun in today’s time would seem ridiculous. It is, after all, a movie about two brothers who get brutally killed only to avenge their deaths after being reborn in another life! Still, it is an amusing time capsule of sorts in the way the revenge drama displays some classic tropes of the quintessential Bollywood mass-entertainer. And further, before the YRF Spy Universe made Tiger and Pathaan’s meetings more frequent, Karan-Arjun was a rare opportunity to see Shah Rukh Khan share screen space with Salman Khan.