His first prominent role was a lead part on the short-lived cult hit television program Freaks and Geeks; he later achieved recognition for playing the titular character in the TV biographical film James Dean (2001), for which he was awarded a Golden Globe Award. He achieved international fame with his portrayals of Harry Osborn in Sam Raimi's Spider-Man trilogy.
Franco has won or been nominated for a number of awards. He has done both dramatic and comedic work in projects and has appeared in an eclectic range of films since the 2000s, ranging from period to contemporary pieces, and from major Hollywood productions to less publicized indie films, as well as fantasy films to biopics and soap operas. Other notable films include Pineapple Express, a 2008 stoner comedy that earned him his second Golden Globes nomination; the 2008 Harvey Milk-biopic Milk; and Danny Boyle's 2010 drama film 127 Hours, about real-life mountain climber Aron Ralston's struggle to free his hand from a boulder. His performance in 127 Hours earned him nominations for many high-profile awards, including the Academy Awards, Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild Awards. In 2011, he starred opposite Andy Serkis in Rupert Wyatt's successful science fiction film Rise of the Planet of the Apes, a reboot of the Planet of the Apes franchise. Since 2009, he has played a recurring role in the ABC daytime soap opera General Hospital.