Yet another singularly talented performer has passed away the first month of 2016. First it was horror icon Angus Scrimm (best known as The Tall Man in the Phantasm films) and then pop-star-turned-actor David Bowie. Now Alan Rickman. Very few actors had Rickman’s range and effortless ability to move from evil villain to lovable romantic lead. He played a king, a president, an android, and God’s personal messenger — all with a stylish flourish that often made him the best thing in any film he worked on. He was never nominated for an Oscar and that is Oscar’s loss. Voters probably kept thinking, “Oh there will be another year we can remedy this.” But alas there will not be. He probably came closest to nabbing a nomination for the art house hit Sense and Sensibility or the blockbuster franchise Harry Potter. But a lack of Oscar is of no matter to fans that know his worth and know he will be truly, madly, deeply missed. Here is a list of his ten most memorable and diverse roles.
10 Best Alan Rickman Films
1. Die Hard as Hans Gruber (1988)
There is no debate on this being number one. Die Hard was Alan Rickman’s first feature film and from the moment he appeared on screen as Hans Gruber he had us absolutely hooked. In fact, many of us would have been just as happy if Bruce Willis’s John McClane had been the one to fall from Nakatomi Tower and Gruber had lived on to appear in another film. That’s how much we loved his villainy! As Hans he projected a smart ironic sensibility and his clipped delivery gave each line a zing. Even “Ho ho ho ho” sounded like a killer punch line.
Best line (although every one was a winner): “Oh, yes. What was it you said to me before? ‘Yippie-ki-yay, motherf**ker.’”
2. Robin Hood Prince of Thieves as Sheriff George of Nottingham (1991)
Rickman deserves an honorary lifetime achievement award for making us want to watch awful movies just because he’s so damn good in them. I really don’t want this horrendous Kevin Costner take on Robin Hood in my library yet how can I NOT have Rickman’s Sheriff of Nottingham readily on hand for whenever I want to see the proper way to chew scenery.
Best line (but you need the set up):
Sheriff of Nottingham: “I’m going to cut his heart out with a spoon…”
Guy of Gisborne: “Why a spoon, cousin? Why not an axe?”
Sheriff of Nottingham: “Because it’s DULL, you twit. It’ll hurt more.”
3. Truly Madly Deeply as Jamie (1990)
Considering that Rickman introduced himself to the cinema world as Hans Gruber, it’s surprising that he was able to so readily endear himself to audiences as an appealing romantic lead in films like Sense and Sensibility, Love, Actually, and my favorite Truly Madly Deeply. I didn’t want to clutter this list with three romantic comedies so let Truly Madly Deeply stand as evidence of his skill in this genre. Truly Madly Deeply serves up a supernatural romance as Rickman plays Jamie, a man whose sudden death leaves his widow understandably distraught. So he comes back from beyond the grave to comfort her and complicate her life. An unconventional romantic comedy with a delightfully unconventional leading man.
Best line: “I really, truly, madly, deeply, passionately, remarkably love you.”
4. Harry Potter as Professor Severus Snape (2001-11)
Rickman played Professor Snape in eight Harry Potter films and for years kept a secret about Snape’s character that author J.K. Rowling had entrusted him with. His character proves to be the most tragic and our feelings for him go through the greatest transformation over the course of the series but early on in filming Rowling, who had at that point completed less than half of the Harry Potter novels, gave Rickman a vital piece of information about Snape that she thought would help him with his performance. On January 18, after Rickman’s death, she finally revealed on Twitter what that secret was: “I told Alan what lies behind the word ‘always.’” That line occurs in a pivotal scene in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2, when Snape reveals that he “always” loved Harry’s mother. Rickman was perfectly cast because he was unafraid as an actor to be unlikable in a role and then be able to turn that completely around. The role sums up one of the things that made him so brilliant and unusual as a performer.
Best line: “Always” will be the one that fans adore but for sheer brilliance of delivery I suggest it is, “Turn to page 394.” No other actor could say such a trivial phrase and have it convey so much and be so funny.
5. Galaxy Quest as Sir Alexander Dane (1999)
Galaxy Quest is an affectionate homage/send up of sci-fi shows like Star Trek and the rabid fan base it has spawned. Galaxy Quest is a space opera TV series that gets canceled but the cast is so beloved by fans that they keep coming back together for fan conventions. Only problem is they seem to hate each other and the roles that have come to define their careers. Rickman plays a classically trained British actor cast as an alien doctor. He shines as the cranky Brit who complains endlessly about how degrading it is to have been in that show and forced to forever repeat his iconic line.
Best line: “By Grabthar’s hammer, by the suns of Worvan, you shall be avenged.” (And all its variations.)
6. Dogma as Metatron (1999)
Metatron describes himself as “the voice of God. Any documented occasion when some yahoo claims God has spoken to them, they’re speaking to me. Or they’re talking to themselves.” Not only is Rickman the voice of God but also he’s one pissed off angel with an attitude – mainly because he’s not allowed to drink and he has no genitalia. Rickman is spot on in this Kevin Smith comedy and he turns every line into a gem.
Best line: “I’m as anatomically impaired as a Ken doll.”
7. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy as the voice of Marvin (2005)
Doug Adams’ cult favorite The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy was originally a radio show, then a series of novels, comic books, and a TV show. It finally hit the big screen in 2005 but the feature film felt anti-climatic and not nearly as much wacky fun as what came before. But the film got two things right: Martin Freeman as our human protagonist Arthur Dent and Alan Rickman as the voice of the perpetually bored and depressed android Marvin (Warwick Davis provided the body in a suit that looks oddly like super deformed version of Big Hero 6’s Baymax). Rickman proves that with his voice alone he can create a memorable character plus only he could make such endless complaining entertaining rather than grating.
Best line: “Here I am, brain the size of a planet, and they ask me to take you to the bridge. Call that job satisfaction, ’cause I don’t.”
8. Bottle Shock as Steven Spurrier (2008)
Rickman played some famous historical figures ranging from King Louis XIV to Viennese physician Franz Mesmer to President Reagan. He also played a not quite so well known real person with British wine connoisseur Steven Spurrier. In 1976 Spurrier organized what is now famously referred to as the “Judgment in Paris” where California wines beat French competitors in a blind tasting. Needless to say, Rickman has a grand old time putting French snobbery in its place. Rickman’s wry, underplayed delivery contrasts a cast that mostly overplays (most notably Bill Pullman and Chris Pine). Rickman keeps his performance carefully nuanced and never exaggerated. We may find Spurrier’s elitism funny but Rickman keeps it on a very human scale. He’s a snob but he’s not close-minded. Someone points out that being a snob limits him, and that’s when Rickman’s Spurrier starts to open his palate to the California wines – and, in a hilarious scenes, maybe even to KFC.
Best line: Jim Barrett asks Spurrier, “Why don’t I like you?” The answer is “because you think I’m an asshole and I’m not. I’m just British and you’re not.”
9. Nobel Son as Eli Michaelson (2007)
Just to remind us that he could still be nasty as hell even after adorable romantic roles, Rickman takes on the role of Eli Michaelson, a smug, philandering bastard who wins the Nobel Prize for Chemistry. Then his son gets kidnapped and the ransom amount equals the two million dollars in Nobel prize money. Of course Michaelson refuses to pay. The film turns into a vicious black comedy about extreme family dysfunction. The movie is a schizophrenic mess but Rickman’s performance is wicked fun.
Best line: “If anyone in this room ever doubted my intellectual superiority, or your good fortune to be under my incomparable tutelage, you can now formally kiss my fine white ass.”
10. Lee Daniels’ The Butler as Ronald Reagan (2013)
What a wild piece of casting this is! I almost hate Rickman for making Reagan so, um, likable. He avoids impersonation and caricature to make the President more human than he ever seemed in real life. I conclude with this role because it goes to show Rickman’s diversity, range, and fearlessness in taking on any acting challenge.
Best line: “This whole civil rights issue, I sometimes fear I’m on the wrong side of it.”
Bonus (non-movie) Pick: In Demand music video by Texas, Rickman gets to tango. Wow!