Despite beginning his acting career at a later age, and having his feature film debut at the age of 42, Alan Rickman had an incredible career as an actor. Whether you loved him for one of his infamous villain roles or preferred him as a good guy, everyone out there is a fan of the London native from one film or another.
After losing a daring battle against cancer at the age of 69, we honor the late great Alan Rickman with a list of his greatest film roles, which encompass action films, dramas, comedies and everything in between.
Here are the 10 Best Alan Rickman Performances of All Time.
10 Judge Turpin in Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
It is the mark of a fine actor when he can take a cut-and-dry villain from paper and elevate him into a full person, imbuing the character with personality and feeling and possibly even garnering him some sympathy too. The selfish and hard-fisted Judge Turpin is one such surly bad guy who could have been relegated to your average, slimy, wife-and-daughter-stealing goon if it hadn’t been for the nuanced performance of Alan Rickman.
In this bloody Tim Burton film, Turpin sends the titular hero (Depp) off to jail so that he can have Todd’s wife all to himself. When Todd is released from jail, he sets out to destroy the man who destroyed his life. Granted, Rickman’s role in the film is pretty small and the amount of singing he has (which is reasonably good) is minimal, but he still manages to elevate the antagonist to a relatable level, all things considered. Turpin is a died-in-the-wool creep, but Rickman makes him seem human.
9 Harry in Love Actually
With so many sappy and overblown romantic storylines, it’s easy to dismiss the entirety of Richard Curtis’s Love Actually as being one giant chain of clichéd romantic comedy frivolities. And yet, while there is an abundance of unrealistic happy endings, there are a precious few relationships in the film that explore the hardships of a love story, most notably the rocky marriage of Harry and Karen.
Rickman knows how to play both good guy and bad guy, but his role as a wandering husband is probably the most elegant combination of his abilities to be both maddeningly wicked and thoroughly personable. Aided all the more by the equally amazing Emma Thompson, Harry and Karen’s story seems the most true to real life and the least day-dreamy of the movie. A bonus moment of delight comes when Harry is attempting to buy a Christmas gift for his potential mistress from Rowan Atkinson – Rickman’s look of frustration and Atkinson’s dry wit make for one of Love Actually’s most brilliant comedic moments.
8 Jaime in Truly Madly Deeply
Nina (Juliet Stevenson) and Jaime (Rickman) have a wonderful life together, filled with the kind of love that most people will never really get to experience. Everything is great, until one day, Jaime suddenly dies, leaving Nina heartbroken and struggling to keep her emotions and mental state together. The world seems a bleak place, but then Jaime’s ghost returns to Nina. And while she is happy to have her love with her again, she struggles to choose between his love from beyond the grave and the possibility of love with someone who is alive.
It's rare to find a fantastically based romantic comedy that isn't drudged down by overly saccharine sentiment or general smarminess, but this Anthony Minghella film happens to be such an achievement. Rickman is wonderfully sweet and airy as the ghost of Jaime, which makes Truly Madly Deeply one of his most brilliant under-the-radar performances in his career.
7 Sheriff of Nottingham in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves
Alan Rickman will certainly go down in history as one of the greatest antagonists modern cinema has ever seen, but while he deeply enriched other movies with these kinds of roles, his role as the irksome Sheriff of Nottingham is the real reason to watch Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, an otherwise forgettable version of the Robin Hood story. It doesn’t matter if the movie is a guilty pleasure or if you happen to agree with the vast majority of critics who maligned it, it can easily be agreed that Rickman’s villain is probably the only reason to watch this film.
As it was a movie to promote the 90s popularity of star Kevin Costner, it makes sense that a good deal of Rickman’s screen time was paired back in order to bolster the movie’s title character (more Sheriff can be seen in the extended cut of the movie). If that wasn’t proof of just how important he was to the film, Rickman admitted that his iconic lines – arguably the best lines in the movie – were ones he’d written with the help of some of his theater friends.
6 Dr. Alfred Blalock in Something the Lord Made
Medical technology has come a long way in the past few decades, so much so that most people don’t even remember the time when performing basic surgery on the heart was something the medical community would never have dreamed of. The incredible HBO movie Something the Lord Made tells the story of a white man and a black man, the courageous Dr. Alfred Blalock (Rickman) and his brilliant assistant Vivien Thomas (Mos Def), who took that brave pioneering step into the realm of cardiac bypass surgery and defied customs of 40s and 50s era Jim Crow south.
Although main event of the film is Mos Def’s beautiful turn as Thomas, the performance wouldn’t have succeeded without Alan Rickman’s prickly and hard-nosed surgeon Dr. Blalock. The character was certainly something very different from what Rickman usually played, but he gave the relatively uncomplicated man just the perfect amount of nuance, and the perfect balance of tough and a little bit of tender.
5 Metatron in Dogma
By now, Kevin Smith has proven that he is unafraid to step out and make movies that are daring and esoteric, but in 1999, Dogma was the farthest outside the proverbial box that he’s ever ventured. At the risk of offending any religious person that falls under the Christian spectrum, he made a movie about an abortion clinic worker who must use her divine heritage as the last living descendant of Jesus to save the world from two outcast angels who will negate existence entirely if they manage to gain reentry to heaven. On her quest, she is helped by an increasing number of increasing characters (like Chris Rock’s "thirteenth" apostle Rufus - left out of the Bible because he's black), but the most interesting casting choice is definitely Alan Rickman as Metatron, the voice of God.
For anyone unfamiliar with Dogma, Rickman probably doesn’t seem like the kind of guy who would fit into a raunchy sacrilegious Kevin Smith romp, but you’d be wrong. His genitalia-less curmudgeon of an angel is one of the more gratifying parts of the film, albeit a small one. Not only does he manage to bring in a good dose of dry English wit, but his blissfully dark and gravelly voice was never put to better use – if there is a God up there somewhere, it's completely believable that he would sound like Alan Rickman.
4 Alexander Dane/Dr. Lazarus in Galaxy Quest
Throughout his filmography, Alan Rickman has shown he has an incredible affinity for comedic roles, but his best was probably the Spock facsimile Alexander Dane in the hilarious sci-fi adventure Galaxy Quest. In the film, the cast of a formerly popular Star Trek-like TV show are enlisted by aliens to help fight a vicious enemy, but the aliens don’t realize that they’re actors and not their former characters. Realizing they can’t escape the mess they’re in, the group of Earthlings muddle their way through fighting a real evil villain and along the way learning why their fans love these characters so much.
Rickman uses his deft ability to play the hilarious grump to its fullest as Alexander Dane, aka Dr. Lazarus, a depressed theater actor upset by the inescapable fanboy fame of his TV character. Many of the other actors in the film carried more weight with the audience – the metatheatrical edge of Sigourney Weaver and her own personal history in sci-fi was a nice touch – but Rickman steals every scene he’s in, even in a ridiculous amount of makeup.
3 Colonel Brandon in Sense and Sensibility
In arguably the best big screen adaptation of a Jane Austen novel yet made, Sense and Sensibility tells the story of two sisters trying to find love in their disadvantaged situation, the elder is modest and reserved while the younger is a vibrant and passionate young woman who has captured the attention of two men. One of the men is a winsome young gentleman and the other, played by Rickman) is a humble man of middle age – so how will this love triangle resolve?
For years and years to come, people will be griping about the fact the Alan Rickman never received a single Oscar nomination, but if he ever came close to taking home the gold statuette it would have been for his subdued turn as the quietly dashing Colonel Brandon in this costume drama. At this point in his career, people hadn’t really seen him in such a heartwarming and gentle role. As Brandon, he proved his acting chops with a huge amount of grace and humility while finding praise from even the most critical, die-hard fans of Jane Austen.
2 Hans Gruber in Die Hard
Across his illustrious career, Alan Rickman has enjoyed juicy roles that allow him to play the best kinds of both protagonists and antagonists, but none are quite as memorable as the terrifyingly cunning German terrorist Hans Gruber in the maiden film of the Die Hard franchise. Anyone who remembers seeing this film when it first came out in 1988 recalls walking away asking the question, “Who is Alan Rickman and why haven’t I heard of this guy before?”
While the character was already written with a glorious amount of ruthlessness and sly evil, Rickman birthed Gruber with incredible acting prowess that lead him to be one of the greatest action villains there ever was or will be. It is a simple yet powerful testament to his portrayal that, despite the franchise’s staying power with audiences and Bruce Willis’s flare as hero John McClane, no sequel has ever measured up to the original film because no subsequent villain could ever match Rickman’s magnetism.
1 Professor Snape in the Harry Potter films
While the epic story of Harry Potter is filled with rich and interesting people, no one was ever as mysterious, tragic, or complex as Severus Snape (not even the title hero himself). As such, it was an incredibly tall order to cast the maybe-he-is-maybe-he-isn’t villain to appear in a whopping eight films, but as we now know Rickman, was certainly up to the task.
In reading this list, it is hopefully apparent that Alan Rickman has a breathtaking amount of clout when it comes to acting, but there isn’t any role to match Snape, which was equal parts hilarious, dark, moving, and eloquent. From his particular speech pattern and his distinct way of moving to his stoic demeanor and brilliant interplay with other characters, Rickman put a definitive stamp on Snape. His ability to play the character’s emotions so close to the vest and the final revelations of his true feelings and motivations are so spectacular that it could be argued his iteration of Snape is just as good, if not better, than the one you read in J.K. Rowling’s novels.
What is your favorite Alan Rickman role? Let us know in the comment