Those eyebrows. That voice. The deepest smile lines I recall ever seeing. That accent. The element of nobility he brought to every screen he graced. All those hairpieces. All those women. All those cigarettes.
The recently-passed Scottish actor Sean Connery (Aug. 25, 1930-Oct. 31, 2020), though not a figure in the film consciousness of the last two decades, truly stands as one of the great leading men of modern cinema. Winner of an Academy Award for The Untouchables, two BAFTA awards, three Golden Globes and People Magazine’s “Sexiest Man of the Century” honors (ha!), a read-through of Connery’s Wikipedia page quickly reminds of how big of a star the actor was during his heyday.
Connery was a notable leading man for almost 50 years, beginning with scene stealing supporting parts in the mid-’50s (see No Road Back, Action of the Tiger, and Tarzan’s Greatest Adventure) and lasting until his retirement, at age 73, in 2003’s The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. It’s a truly incredible run that has had me revisiting his work, trying to determine just how substantial his career was.
So here’s the thing: I’ve never been a huge Sean Connery fan. I’m not a big James Bond person and, during my lifetime as a movie-goer, he didn’t put out a whole lot of what I thought would be notable work. I knew of his relevance as both the most popular James Bond ever and as one of the most handsome men ever, but otherwise mostly thought of him as the tall old guy with the notable accent and unbelievably authoritative screen presence.
But looking back through his filmography and visiting some of the older work, I’m beginning to see him as more than a pretty face. While his dramatic range was surely limited, Connery’s ability to pick projects and work with great directors (look at all those Sidney Lumet collaborations!) in a very hands-on manner, and to have a narrative presence that no other actor could offer, suggests that he might be one of the great leading men ever.
And, if not quite at that level, he’s certainly one of the most enjoyable actors of all-time to do an impression of at a party.
From my two-week Connery deep dive I’ve arrived with a list of my Top 20 favorite Sean Connery films. But, before you read through it, I feel the need to note that I very much prefer Connery as an older actor (The Untouchables is where I think he really starts to feel special), as opposed to the work he did when he was younger, which for the most part feels largely one-note to me. Maybe it’s my age or maybe it’s my preference for modern film; either way, here’s where I landed on Sean Connery’s excellent filmography:
20. The Great Train Robbery (dir. Michael Crichton, 1978)
19. The Hill (dir. Sidney Lumet, 1965)
18. From Russia With Love (dir. Terence Young, 1963)
17. Thunderball (dir. Terence Young, 1965)
16. Dr. No (dir. Terence Young, 1962)
15. Goldfinger (dir. Guy Hamilton, 1964)
14. The Anderson Tapes (dir. Sidney Lumet, 1971)
13. The Man Who Would be King (dir. John Huston, 1975)
12. Highlander (dir. Russell Mulcahy, 1986)
11. Murder on the Orient Express (dir. Sidney Lumet, 1974)
10. Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (dir. Steven Spielberg, 1989)
9. A Bridge Too Far (dir. Richard Attenborough, 1977)
8. Zardoz (dir. John Boorman, 1974)
7. Rising Sun (dir. Philip Kaufman, 1993)
6. Time Bandits (dir. Terry Gilliam, 1981)
5. The Hunt for Red October (dir. John McTiernan, 1990)
4. Marnie (dir. Alfred Hitchcock, 1964)
3. The Rock (dir. Michael Bay, 1996)
2. Finding Forrester (dir. Gus Van Sant, 2000)
1. The Untouchables (dir. Brian De Palma, 1987)
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