Laurence Olivier was an Oscar-winning thespian best remembered for his psychologically intense Shakespeare adaptations, both as an actor and a director. Yet his filmography extends well past the Bard’s work. Let’s take a look back at 15 of his greatest films, ranked worst to best.
Born in 1907 in Surrey, England, Olivier first came to prominence on the British stage. A series of acclaimed theatrical performances, most notably in Noel Coward‘s “Private Lives,” caught the attention of filmmakers both in the UK and the US.
He earned his first Oscar nomination as Best Actor for William Wyler‘s “Wuthering Heights” (1939), competing the very next year for Alfred Hitchcock‘s “Rebecca” (1940). Having firmly established himself as a formidable talent in front of the camera, he stepped behind it to great success with “Henry V” (1944, released in the US in 1946), the first of three films he would direct and star in based on the works of William Shakespeare. The Academy rewarded him with an Honorary Oscar for his achievement, and he contended once again in Best Actor.
Olivier hit the Oscar jackpot with his second Shakespeare adaptation, “Hamlet” (1948), which became the first British film to win Best Picture. He took home the Best Actor prize for his moody performance as the gloomy Prince of Denmark, and competed in Best Director.
Olivier would return to the Oscar race six more times: five in lead (“Richard III” in 1956, “The Entertainer” in 1960, “Othello” in 1965, “Sleuth” in 1972, and “The Boys from Brazil” in 1978), once in supporting (“Marathon Man” in 1976). He was given a second Honorary award for his career in 1979.
On the TV side, Olivier won Emmys for his performances in “The Moon and Sixpence” (1959), “Long Day’s Journey Into Night” (1973), “Love Among the Ruins” (1975), “Brideshead Revisited” (1981), and “King Lear” (1983). He earned a Tony nomination for the original stage production of “The Entertainer” in 1958.
Olivier won BAFTAs for his performances in “Richard III” and “Oh! What a Lovely War” (1969) and received their Academy Fellowship in 1976. He won Golden Globes for “Hamlet” and “Marathon Man,” as well as the Cecil B. DeMille award in 1983.
Tour our photo gallery of Olivier’s 15 greatest films, including some of the titles listed above, as well as “49th Parallel” (1941), “That Hamilton Woman” (1941), “Spartacus” (1960) and more.