The journey between arthouse and IMAX can be a treacherous trip for an actor, but Liam Neeson has navigated it more nimbly than most over the course of his lengthy career, booking major roles in serious movies while leaving room for horror, romance, and blockbuster franchises - not to mention a recent string of action thrillers.
Neeson struggled a bit in his early days to find substantial roles and was often cast based on his good looks and imposing physical appearance. Gradually he began to establish himself as a serious actor worthy of deeper roles. Here are Liam Neeson’s 10 most memorable roles.
10 MICHAEL GATES - HUSBANDS AND WIVES
Overshadowed by the scandal and recrimination surrounding the end of Woody Allen and Mia Farrow’s relationship, Husbands and Wives is actually a quite sharply written, albeit sometimes uncomfortably bitter, examination of the hidden stresses and selfishness that can lurk beneath even the strongest-looking romantic bonds.
Neeson appeared as part of an ensemble cast that also included Allen, Farrow, Sydney Pollack, and Judy Davis - playing, for a change, a man who’s not only an ordinary modern-day guy, but who gets to peel off a few darkly comic lines before the movie’s through.
9 ROBERT ROY MACGREGOR - ROB ROY
Neeson found success with the biographical drama Rob Roy in which he plays Scottish clan leader Robert Roy MacGregor who is fighting to save his clan from starvation. Details of Rob Roy's life are a mix of fact and legend; the film portrays Rob Roy in the most sympathetic light possible.
He has many passionate and dramatic scenes with the excellent Jessica Lange, however it was Tim Roth as the film’s villain who walked away with the film’s only Oscar nomination.
8 ALFRED KINSEY - KINSEY
Neeson played the title role of Alfred Kinsey, a pioneering doctor who studied sexual behavior in this biopic. Kinsey was one of the first people to exclusively study sexuality in humans and published a landmark book on the subject.
His 1948 publication, Sexual Behavior in the Human Male (the first of the Kinsey Reports) was one of the first recorded works that tried to scientifically address and investigate sexual behavior in humans. On Oscar day, he was left out but his co-star Laura Linney did receive a Supporting Actress nomination.
7 PEYTON WESTLAKE/DARKMAN - DARKMAN
This Sam Raimi love letter to the comics was Neeson’s first opportunity to really carry a picture. He did it, too, despite spending much of Darkman under bandages and heavy makeup as the titular vigilante, burned and left for dead by a ruthless mobster (memorably played by Larry Drake).
Critics and audiences greeted Darkman‘s pulpy action with enthusiasm, making it one of the year’s surprise hits and spawning two (regrettably Neeson-free) sequels.
6 OTTWAY - THE GREY
Given the way he’s been reinvented as everyone’s favorite action hero elder statesman, The Grey's basic plot description might have seemed like the absurdly over-the-top culmination of an unlikely chapter in an impressive career.
But as viewers soon discovered, writer-director Joe Carnahan had a lot more on his mind than just Neeson and his human co-stars going toe-to-toe with a pack of ravenous beasts; although The Grey certainly doesn’t suffer from any shortage of pulse-pounding action, it also benefits from a surprising amount of thoughtful subtext.
5 QUI-GON JINN - STAR WARS: EPISODE I - THE PHANTOM MENACE
When you need someone to play the mentor of Obi-Wan Kenobi, you get the guy who has done it all.
While the movie itself was critically panned upon release, it had nothing to do with the gravitas of Neeson playing this pivotal, but short lived character.
4 BRYAN MILLS - TAKEN
Neeson had one of his most popular and successful films in 2008 with Taken, the story of a retired CIA agent named Bryan Mills who is trying to rekindle his relationship with his teenage daughter.
When the daughter is abducted Neeson embarks on a long and action-packed journey to find her. The film was a huge box office success and two sequels to the original were eventually made.
3 HENRI DUCARD - RA'S AL GHUL - BATMAN BEGINS
Neeson had a key role and a surprisingly villainous one in this first film of the Christopher Nolan-directed Batman movies. After Gary Oldman opted instead to play Commissioner Gordon in the film, Nolan cast Neeson against type as the film’s crazy main villain.
First revealed as a sympathetic character (which Neeson usually plays), Nolan is said to have loved the surprise factor that Neeson turns out to be the film’s most insane character.
2 DANIEL - LOVE ACTUALLY
Neeson plays an understanding but sometimes bemused widower trying to guide his young stepson through his first romantic crush and the death of his mother in this very popular film that has become a holiday season classic on TV.
Liam’s character Daniel is an excellent depiction of two instantiations of love - a recent widower and a loving stepfather.
1 OSKAR SCHINDLER - SCHINDLER'S LIST
No film of Neeson’s will probably ever top Spielberg’s masterpiece Schindler’s List. Spielberg entrusted Neeson with the complex role of real life German businessman Oskar Schindler, a member of the Nazi party who moves to Poland to create a business and make money during World War II. He sets up a factory in Krakow’s Jewish Ghetto that becomes quite profitable.
As the Nazi plan to exterminate the Jewish race begins Schindler witnesses the killing of most of the residents of the ghetto. This has a huge effect on him and he then begins to try to save the lives of as many of his Jewish factory workers as he can. It’s the only film so far in his career to bring him an Oscar nomination.