Few actors over the 100+ year history of cinema have been so refined and so respected as Sir Thomas Sean Connery. The actor, of Irish and Scottish descent, has had a stellar career that encompasses 93 acting roles over the course of almost 60 years. When asked who a person's top favorite actors of all time are, one will often find the elegant star among the list. He is now retired, with his last feature film role (in a live-action appearance) being the poorly received The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen in 2003 — although personally, not being too familiar with the graphic novel source material, I thought it was pretty good.
With the actor having just celebrated his 86th birthday on August 25, let's have a look back at the star's career with seven performances that particularly stand out as shining moments in a life of amazing accomplishments.
7. Juan Sanchez Villa-Lobos Ramirez (Highlander, 1986)
While not the most financially successful film on the list, Highlander is an '80s cult classic that spawned four sequels and a popular television series. The story centered around immortal swordsmen who must battle each other across time until only one remains. Connery played Juan Ramirez — a 2,000 year old Egyptian who trains the film's hero about who he is and why he must fight. There's some irony to the fact that, in a film called Highlander, Connery was the only actor of the main cast of Scottish descent and he was playing an Egyptian in service to Spain.
The film, although classic and quite enjoyable, was really rough around the edges due to a low budget and an as-yet fully developed story that left a lot to be desired at the time. However, Connery brought with him a certain level of class and elegance to the film and is easily the brightest part by far. Despite his character's death, he would return in the film's far less received sequel and (once again, of course) be the best part, giving his all to a forced inclusion in a story with little, if any, merit.
Sean Connery's performance as Ramirez was insightful, caring, inspiring and enigmatic. Not since Sir Alec Guinness as Obi-Wan Kenobi had an actor given so much grace to such a character. It's everything you want in a mentor and an archetype that would be mimicked for decades to come. But when it comes to actors as charismatic as Connery, like the immortals in the movie, there can be only one.
6. John Patrick Mason (The Rock, 1996)
Long before Liam Neeson started tearing up Europe or Sylvester Stallone stepped back into the ring for one last bout as Rocky Balboa, Sean Connery was proving that men of a certain age could still kick ass and take names, as made evident by his master escape artist in this mid-'90s action thriller.
The Rock was Michael Bay's second directorial effort, just after Bad Boys, and is widely considered to be his best film — due largely to the incredible performance of Connery as John Mason. It tells the harrowing story of a group of US Marine mercenaries who take a tour group hostage at Alcatraz with chemical weapons aimed at San Francisco. Connery stars as the only person to have escaped the prison and is recruited to help guide the SEAL team in.
Connery made quite a few movies over the course of the '90s and actually considers The Rock to be one of his two favorites, along with Entrapment — that movie that everyone knows for Catherine Zeta Jones seductively maneuvering through strands of red yarn. Connery's performance as Mason — a man who simply wants his freedom to reconnect with his estranged daughter — is fun, witty, emotional and extreme as shit when it comes to killing rogue Marines.
5. James Bond (Various Bond Movies, 1962–1983)
It's widely known that Sean Connery had a lot of issues with the role of James Bond, personal problems with [producer] Albert Broccoli and, it has been said, will not sign autographs on anything related to the character (though I'm not 100 percent sure if that's fact or rumor). However, it cannot be denied that the work he did with the character was iconic.
James Bond creator Ian Flemming actually did not want Connery for the role, as he felt he wasn't refined enough for the character. Yet, after seeing his performance in Dr. No, he quickly went back on the opinion and said that Connery was perfect. Sean Connery's James Bond was distinguished, cunning, charming and swift to action with an edge that few other Bonds have matched. To this day, he is considered the best version of the popular British spy and the bar to which all other James Bond actors are measured.
Despite how events may have gone with the franchise, from the first moment that Connery ordered that vodka martini shaken, not stirred, and spoke the famous line, "Bond. James Bond" something terrific was created.
4. Jim Malone (The Untouchables, 1987)
Brian DePalma's intense adaptation of the story of Eliot Ness and the taking down of Chicago mobster, Al Capone, is also one of the best cop dramas out there and features some of the best performances from all of it's core cast, which included Kevin Costner, Andy Garcia, Robert DeNiro and — of course — Sean Connery.
In fact, Sean Connery's performance as Chicago patrolman Jim Malone is the actor's only Academy Award-winning role, having won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor in the film.
Malone was a gritty, old school, tough-as-nails street cop who had the edge that Elliot Ness needed to back up his crusade to bring down the most notorious crime lord in the city. Connery brought an intensity to the film that really helped ground it in its prohibition era hard times.
Not to mention he was one hell of a beast. When Billy Drago shot him 37,000 times with a machine gun he still dragged himself into the house and left a whole bunch of clues and hung around long enough to die in Kevin Costner's arms...with a pretty angry look on his face about the whole damn thing.
3. Henry Jones, Sr. (Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade, 1989)
This was actually my first exposure to the work of Sean Connery. I still remember getting the VHS tape of this classic film for my 5th birthday. It should really go without saying, but The Last Crusade was the third (and as far as many are concerned FINAL) installment in the mega popular Indiana Jones saga. It featured the adventuring archaeologist on a mission to rescue his missing father after he disappeared on a quest for the Holy Grail.
Sean Connery was actually hesitant to take on the role of Indy's father because he's only 12 years older than Harrison Ford. However, it was really important to Steven Spielberg to cast Connery because he had always wanted to make a James Bond movie. So having James Bond as the father of Indiana Jones was the next best thing.
Connery's performance as the elder Jones was easily one of the best parts of the immensely incredible film. There was a character development at play wherein a man with a lifelong obsession that affected the relationship he had with his family paved the way for a bonding that healed them through mutual respect and understanding. Connery used his traditional level of grace, charm and that stiff upper lip the whole way through. He even displayed a lot of comedy, which isn't a common trait of his roles, with some well written and performed scenes of witty banter and shocking disbelief at his son's "dispatching" of Nazi forces.
2. William Forrester (Finding Forrester, 2000)
Finding Forrester is probably Sean Connery's last, truly great film and an incredibly underrated one as nobody seems to talk about it as much as they should. And it's hands down one of the finest, if not the finest, single performance of his career. Finding Forrester tells the story of a young, under privileged African-American kid from the Bronx who has an uncanny aptitude for writing. He befriends the hermit author of one of the world's most renowned modern novels and learns to hone his craft while facing adversity at a snooty private school that sought him out for his basketball abilities.
Connery plays the author, who hasn't left his apartment in decades and — as a result — suffers from extreme Agoraphobia. Together, the two help each other transcend their stations in life and develop a unique and unprecedented friendship.
The moral lessons of overcoming ethnic and social differences alone makes this a truly special film — more relevant now than ever — and Sean Connery hits it out of the park with his performance. To this day I find myself quoting various parts of this film. Not only is it one of his finest roles but it also stands out as one of my favorite movies on this list.
1. Capt. Marko Ramius (The Hunt For Red October, 1990)
If there were ever a film that seemed to uniquely be "Sean Connery's movie" it would have to be The Hunt for Red October. The other film's on this list featured actors of equal billing, or Mr. Connery only played a small role essential to the hero's development or — in the case of James Bond — was merely the first in a long line of successors. While The Hunt for Red October featured actors who are immensely popular by today's standard, at the time they were still relatively new to the game. That makes this Sean's movie, and his commanding presence in it only serves to solidify that fact.
Directed by John McTiernan, The Hunt for Red October is based on the novel by Tom Clancy and introduces moviegoers to the character of Jack Ryan (played here by a young Alec Baldwin). However, it's Sean Connery's role of Russian sub captain, Marko Ramius, that steals the show.
Ramius is the captain of the Soviet Union's new "silent" submarine — a vessel designed with the sole purpose of sneaking into enemy territory with nuclear weapons ready to go, undetected, off the target's coast. Uninterested in such devastation, Ramius guides the sub toward American waters with intentions to defect. The film becomes a harrowing race against the Soviet Union — who seek to stop him from giving away their secrets — and the United States — who don't realize his plans and view him as a dangerous threat.
Connery delivered a terrific performance in the form of the battle-hardened and unwavering Soviet captain. It's the type of performance that many can attempt and few can master the way that Sean Connery did. There's an emotion behind the stoic demeanor of the captain whose actions are a secret to even most of his crew. He's tired, hurting, determined, and willing to fail. One can even say that it is a character who embodied the qualities of the man playing him.
Whether you know him best as the immortal swordsman, the master British spy, the man who crossed A Bridge Too Far or even Zardoz, Sean Connery is — to the say the least — one of the greatest actors to grace the screen.
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Watch all the times that Sean Connery (and others) delivers his iconic line as James Bond in the video below:
What is your favorite Sean Connery role?