Acclaimed actor Alan Rickman who left us too soon in 2016 from pancreatic cancer. Rickman came from a working-class background and considered acting and drama school too impractical a choice as a career. He excelled in art and painting as a teen which led to him studying at the Royal Academy of Art and later starting his own design firm. At the age of 26 he decided to change course and applied to the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts to which he was accepted.
Upon graduation Rickman began working steadily on the British stage. While he played a variety of roles it wouldn’t be until about a decade later that he would find the role that would gain him huge attention in both London and the US. That role would be as Valmont in the Royal Shakespeare Company’s production of “Les Liaisons Dangereuses.” He played the role in London and then again on Broadway where he earned a Tony nomination in 1987. The success of that production would inspire two movie versions of the same story to be made in the coming years but neither would star Rickman. In 1988 John Malkovich played the role in “Dangerous Liaisons” and the following year Colin Firth would play the part in “Valmont.”
Despite being passed over for those film versions, Rickman still managed to be noticed by Hollywood and was given a key role in the action blockbuster “Die Hard” in 1988. He would work steadily in all mediums until his death. In 2002 he won a Tony on Broadway for a revival of “Private Lives.” In 1991 he won a BAFTA for his performance in “Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves.” The year 1996 saw Rickman sweep all the major television awards (Emmy, Golden Globe and SAG) as Best Supporting Actor in the TV movie “Rasputin: Dark Servant of Destiny.”
Tour our photo gallery of his 10 greatest film performances, ranked worst to best. Our list includes “Die Hard,” plus the “Harry Potter” series, “Truly Madly Deeply,” “Love Actually” and more.
10. THE BUTLER (2013)
Director: Lee Daniels. Writer: Danny Strong. Starring Forest Whitaker, Oprah Winfrey, John Cusack.
“The Butler” tells the true-life story of an African American man who serves as a butler in the White House under eight different US Presidents starting with Dwight D. Eisenhower in the fifties through Ronald Reagan in the eighties. The man witnesses history first hand and only resigns his post when Reagan refuses to support sanctions against South Africa during apartheid. Rickman played Reagan in a transformative performance and close impersonation.
9. EYE IN THE SKY (2015)
Director: Gavin Hood. Writer: Guy Hibbert. Starring Helen Mirren, Aaron Paul, Michael O’Keefe.
Rickman co-starred with Helen Mirren in this highly acclaimed film that didn’t quite get the audience it deserved. (The film was released posthumously after Rickman’s death from pancreatic cancer.) The film earned a 95% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes but only earned mild box office success. The story revolves around a British military operation in Kenya to catch potential terrorists. A young girl is accidentally killed in the military proceeding. Rickman has a key role as the Deputy Chief of Defense who knows from personal experience the brutal costs of war.
8. SWEENEY TODD (2007)
Director: Tim Burton. Writer: John Logan. Starring Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, Sacha Baron Cohen.
“Attend the tale of Sweeney Todd” begins the Stephen Sondheim musical that caused a sensation on Broadway in 1979. The story finally made it to the big screen nearly 30 years later in a beautifully shot film by Tim Burton. Johnny Depp stars as the murderous barber who returns to London to seek vengeance on the evil Judge (played by Rickman) who falsely imprisoned him and then raped his wife. Todd teams with his landlady Mrs. Lovett in an ingeniously evil plan where Todd kills his victims and then Mrs. Lovett bakes them into meat pies which become a culinary sensation and revives her struggling restaurant.
7. ROBIN HOOD: PRINCE OF THIEVES (1991)
Director: Kevin Reynolds. Writer: Pen Densham, John Watson. Starring Kevin Costner, Morgan Freeman, Christian Slater.
This version of the popular Robin Hood legend did well at the box office but was trashed a bit by critics. This was Kevin Costner’s follow up to his film “Dances with Wolves” which swept the prior year’s Oscars winning seven awards including Best Picture and Director for Costner. Costner got a lot of flack for this film about his inconsistent British accent. Rickman walked off with the best reviews for the film as the evil Sheriff of Nottingham. His acclaim was such that it won him the BAFTA award as Best Supporting Actor for this film.
6. MICHAEL COLLINS (1996)
Director and writer: Neil Jordan. Starring Liam Neeson, Aidan Quinn, Julia Roberts.
Rickman received another Best Supporting Actor nomination from BAFTA for this historical drama about Michael Collins who was a key figure in the Irish Revolution and launched a guerilla style war against the United Kingdom. Rickman played Irish politician Éamon de Valera and once again walked off with better reviews for the film than those of the film’s starry leads.
5. SENSE AND SENSIBILITY (1995)
Director: Ang Lee. Writer: Emma Thompson. Starring Emma Thompson, Kate Winslet, Hugh Grant.
BAFTA once again recognized Rickman with a Best Supporting Actor nomination for this adaptation of Jane Austen’s classic novel. Emma Thompson wrote the screenplay and starred in the film earning the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay. The film tells the story of three sisters and their mother who are left penniless after the death of the mother’s husband. Rickman plays the “sensible” and loving man that Kate Winslet’s character grows to love after a nearly fatal infatuation with a more dashing and flashy man.
4. LOVE ACTUALLY (2003)
Director and writer: Richard Curtis. Starring Hugh Grant, Emma Thompson, Liam Neeson.
“Love Actually” has become a beloved film and due in part to its Christmas setting the film has become a perineal holiday TV favorite. Rickman has a rather unsympathetic role as a husband and father of two children who becomes infatuated with a young woman he works with. Emma Thompson plays his wife and her performance in a scene set on Christmas morning where she realizes that the jewelry, she secretly witnessed her husband buy were meant for someone else and not her is one of the subtlest and sadly moving moments this great actress has put on screen.
3. TRULY MADLY DEEPLY (1990)
Director and writer: Anthony Minghella. Starring Juliet Stevenson.
This acclaimed film tells the story of a woman suffering severe grief after her partner dies. She gets a second chance to see him when he returns as a ghost. The film had some bad timing in the US since it was released around the same time as the similarly themed film “Ghost.” Despite that the film earned strong reviews and Rickman received a BAFTA nomination as Best Actor. The film also launched the film directing career of Anthony Minghella who would go on to win an Oscar for “The English Patient.”
2. HARRY POTTER AND THE SORCEROR’S STONE (2001)
Director: Chris Columbus. Writer: Steve Kloves. Starring Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson.
Rickman had a central role in this the first of the Harry Potter films and he would go on to appear in the rest of the series. The books by J.K. Rowling caused a publishing sensation with its tale of a young wizard training to use his craft at an academy that teaches wizardly. Rickman plays Severus Snape a teacher at the Hogwarts Academy whom Harry often clashes with and openly dislikes. As the series progresses Harry learns to have a different view of who Snape is and why he behaves the way he does.
1. DIE HARD (1988)
Director: John McTiernan. Writer: Jeb Stuart, Steven E. de Souza. Starring Bruce Willis, Bonnie Bedelia, William Atherton.
After a successful career on the British Stage and on British television Rickman made his American film debut in this popular blockbuster that also established Bruce Willis as an action star. Willis plays an NYC police officer trying to save his wife and others who have been taken hostage by West German terrorists. Rickman plays the leader of the terrorists and had a grand time chewing the scenery in this showy and scene stealing role.