On January 14, 2016, legendary English stage and screen actor, Alan Rickman, passed away at the age of 69 after a battle with pancreatic cancer. Bursting onto the silver screen for the first time as Hans Gruber in Die Hard, Rickman's film career was incredibly versatile, playing villains, heroes and in the case of his other iconic role, Professor Snape in the Harry Potter films, a little of both. From action to comedy to drama to fantasy, horror and science fiction, Rickman excelled in every genre. He will remain as one of the great screen actors of our time. Here are his essential films. RIP.
Directed by John McTiernan
Rickman had been on screen before, in mini-series on British television. But Die Hard marked the first time the actor appeared on the big screen, in a major, big-budget Hollywood film. And what a remarkable debut it was. Not only did he steal the show as the menacingly memorable Hans Gruber, he redefined what it was to be an on-screen villain in one of the greatest (arguably, the greatest) action films of all time. His brains to Bruce Willis' John McLane's brawn made for a hero/villain dynamic that has yet to be topped.
ROBIN HOOD: PRINCE OF THIEVES
Directed by Kevin Reynolds
Let's be clear here. Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves is NOT a good film. However, it was a huge financial success and includes one of Rickman's most memorable roles as the Sheriff of Nottingham. Rickman doesn't chew the scenery, he devours it. And by no means is this an insult. On the contrary, his performance is so over-the-top that the otherwise average film becomes a fun adventure film for the whole family. Rickman walks the line between menacing and comedic beautifully here. "Christmas is cancelled!" Brilliant.
Directed by Ang Lee
In Ang Lee's much celebrated adaptation of Jane Austen's 1811 novel, Rickman plays Colonel Brandon, an older suitor who falls in love with Kate Winslet's Marianne Dashwood at first sight. Emma Thompson, playing Elinor in the film and Rickman's longtime off-camera friend, was quoted as saying how happy she was that Rickman was cast as Brandon so he could portray the "extraordinary sweetness of his nature," citing the fact that he had become known for portraying villains so often.
Directed by Dean Parisot
In this spoof of the "Star Trek" series, Rickman plays Alexander Dane, a classically trained Shakespearean actor who gained fame for an old science fiction show, "Galaxy Quest." Dane has complete disdain for his much-beloved Spock-like alien character, and resents the show and its fan base. An alien race, believing that the Galaxy Quest adventures they've seen are real-life documents, travel to Earth and recruit the cast to actually save the universe from a large-scale intergalactic crisis. Rickman's comedy chops aren't quite often mentioned, but this is his funniest role in his wonderful filmography.
Directed by Kevin Smith
Bartleby and Loki are fallen angels that have found a loophole that allows them to re-enter the gates of Heaven. There's only one problem: if they go through with this plan, it will completely undo God's word, which will cause the apocalypse. Enter Metatron (Rickman) who appears before Bethany Sloane, a Catholic woman who works at an abortion clinic, whose faith in God is slipping. Metatron is the voice of God and informs Bethany of her holy quest as the last scion and how she must recruit two unlikely prophets and the 13th disciple to literally stop the apocalypse. Rickman was the first "big name" actor that Kevin Smith had worked with, and while this was the only time they worked professionally, the two continued a friendship for all the years following this film.
Rickman seemed like pitch-perfect casting for Professor Severus Snape at the time the first Harry Potter film was in pre-production. To fans of the book series, Rickman's adeptness at playing the heavy made sense. He blew everyone's already high expectations away with his introduction and first encounter with Radcliffe's Potter in Sorcerer's Stone. He shared an on-screen chemistry with his junior partner that echoed exactly what was Rowling's original text. The chemistry would last for 10 years over 8 films, and while, depending on that franchise entry's plot, the characters didn't interact as much as in other films, it was still, pardon the pun, magic. It all comes to a head in the final installment, Deathly Hallows Part II, where we finally get the much-needed context to Snape's treatment of Potter... and it's heartbreaking.
Directed by Richard Curtis
In what has now become a modern holiday favorite, Alan Rickman joins an all-star British cast including Emma Thompson, Liam Neeson, Hugh Grant, Colin Firth, Martin Freeman, Rowan Atkinson, Andrew Lincoln, Chiwetel Ejiofor and Kiera Knightley in a film of interlocking romantic holiday stories. Rickman plays opposite his friend Emma Thompson in his story, portraying her husband who is considering having an affair with a younger secretary at his office, whose sexual advances are from subtle. Rickman's character is ultimately very human and very fallible, but the audience never truly loses sympathy for him.
Directed by Tim Burton
Rickman returns to the role of the bad guy, this time in Tim Burton's gory adaptation of the infamous horror musical, Sweeney Todd. This time around, Rickman is Judge Turpin, the corrupt official that sentences Benjamin Barker/Sweeney Todd (Johnny Depp) fifteen years earlier, thus starting Todd's quest for bloody revenge.
OTHER NOTABLE FILMS:
THE JANUARY MAN (1989)
QUIGLEY DOWN UNDER (1990)
TRULY MADLY DEEPLY (1990)
CLOSET LAND (1990)
BOB ROBERTS (1992)
MICHAEL COLLINS (1996)
THE HITCHHIKER'S GUIDE TO THE GALAXY (2005)
PERFUME: THE STORY OF A MURDERER (2006)
ALICE IN WONDERLAND (2010)
THE BUTLER (2013)