Ian McKellen celebrates his 81st birthday on May 25, 2020. The Oscar-nominated thespian has excelled at everything from Shakespeare to sci-fi on both the stage and screen. In honor of his birthday, let’s take a look back at 12 of his greatest films, ranked worst to best.
Born in 1939 in Lancashire, England, UK, McKellen first came to prominence on the stage, appearing in a number of classic plays from the likes of Anton Chekhov and William Shakespeare (including an acclaimed production of “Richard III” that he brought to the screen in 1995). His performance as Salieri in the 1981 production of “Amadeus” brought him a Tony award as Best Actor in a Play.
McKellen appeared in films sporadically throughout this period, earning his first starring role in “Priest of Love” in 1981. He became increasingly recognizable onscreen throughout the 1990s, earning his first Oscar nomination when he was 59-years-old: Best Actor for “Gods and Monsters” (1998). For his acclaimed performance as “Frankenstein” (1931) director James Whale, McKellen won prizes at the Independent Spirits and Critics Choice Awards (shared with “Apt Pupil”) and competed at SAG and the Golden Globes.
He returned to the Oscar race three years later for his supporting turn as Gandalf the wizard in “The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring” (2001), a role he reprised in two sequels and three prequels. The role brought him a SAG win and BAFTA nomination, as well as the undying affections of fantasy fans everywhere.
McKellen won a Golden Globe as Best TV Supporting Actor for “Rasputin” (1996). He competed at the Globes again for “Richard III,” which also brought him BAFTA bids for acting and writing. He competed at the BAFTAs again as Best Supporting Actor for “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King” (2003) and for the TV movie “The Dresser” (2015). He earned SAG Ensemble nominations for all three “LOTR” films, winning for “ROTK.”
On the TV side, McKellen earned Emmy bids for his performances in “And the Band Played On” (1993), “Rasputin,” “Great Performances: King Lear” (2009), and “The Prisoner” (2009), as well as for a memorable guest appearance on “Extras” as (what else?) an actor.
Tour our photo gallery of McKellen’s 12 greatest films, including some of the titles listed above, as well as “X-Men” (2000), “The Da Vinci Code” (2006), “Mr. Holmes” (2015) and more.