Anthony Hopkins’ 20 best film performances – ranked!

Anthony Hopkins has been nominated for a Bafta and an Oscar for his role in The Father. But how does it compare with his performances as Hannibal Lecter, CS Lewis, Odin and an ageing Zorro?

20. Thor (2011)

Over the years, Anthony Hopkins acquired the sort of gravitas that allowed him to slot effortlessly into his stint in the Marvel special effects salt mines, nowadays a rite-of-passage for every actor. And he is perfectly cast as Odin, the one-eyed ruler of Asgard, legendary know-it-all and, in the MCU at least, the father of Hela, Thor and Loki. “I’m a little like Odin myself,” Hopkins said in an interview.

19. Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992)

Everyone sneers at Keanu Reeves wrestling with his English accent in Francis Ford Coppola’s lavish vampire fest, while unfairly giving a free pass to Hopkins’ outrageous hamming as Van Helsing, a Dutch bon vivant who cackles “She is the devil’s concubine, whey-hey!” and babbles about decapitation over dinner. But the actor is having so much fun it would be churlish to complain.

18. When Eight Bells Toll (1971)

Jack Hawkins and Hopkins in When Eight Bells Toll.
Jack Hawkins and Hopkins in When Eight Bells Toll. Photograph: Rank/Allstar

If this somewhat dour thriller had been as big a hit as Where Eagles Dare, another adaptation of an Alistair MacLean novel, Hopkins might have played British secret agent Philip Calvert more than once and ended up an action star. It wasn’t to be, but it’s fun to see him dangling from helicopters, or ramming speedboats, as he tackles hijackers off the chilly coast of Scotland.

17. Howards End (1992)

An embalmed slice of EM Forster heritage from the Merchant Ivory-Jhabvala stable, complete with bluebell woods and steam trains. Hopkins, in stiff-necked mode, plays stuffy widower Henry Wilcox, who unaccountably proposes to blue-stockinged feminist Emma Thompson, resulting in endless talky ructions, with the snooty Wilcoxes treating the lower-class characters almost as condescendingly as the film does. A good cast, but they’ve all been better.

16. The Road to Wellville (1994)

“My stools, sir, are gigantic, and have no more odour than a hot biscuit.” Barely recognisable behind Colonel Sanders facial hair and Bugs Bunny teeth, Hopkins plays Dr John Kellogg, an enemas-for-all evangelist and the inventor of the cornflake. Alan Parker’s film of TC Boyle’s novel is a fine showcase for the actor, though the scatological satire should have been darker.

15. Amistad (1997)

With Djimon Hounsou in Amistad.
With Djimon Hounsou in Amistad. Photograph: Dreamworks/Allstar

Our man from Port Talbot plays ex-US president John Quincy Adams in Steven Spielberg’s courtroom drama about a shipful of slaves who, in 1839, are put on trial for their lives after rebelling against their captors. Hopkins talks with an accent, walks with a stick and delivers a grandstanding speech to the supreme court, his every appearance accompanied by the plangent tones of a patriotic trumpet.

14. 84 Charing Cross Road (1987)

This adaptation of Helene Hanff’s bestselling memoir about her 20-year correspondence with the manager of a London bookshop is a favourite of American bibliophiles and Brits who look back fondly on postwar rationing. He sends her out-of-print books; she sends him food parcels from New York. Sentimentality is kept at bay, just, by Hopkins and Anne Bancroft giving a dual masterclass in the art of the voiceover.

13. The Mask of Zorro (1998)

Hopkins looks every inch the dashing hero with his flowing grey locks, dapper goatee and super fencing skills as Zorro, the legendary Hispanic champion of the people. But for all his swagger, he’s approaching retirement age, so must train undisciplined young whippersnapper Antonio Banderas as his replacement. Old-fashioned swashbuckling thrills in this superior costume romp, with some terrific stunt work.

12. Fracture (2007)

A wealthy aeronautical engineer (Hopkins, of course) shoots his unfaithful wife in the head, then watches in amusement while young prosecutor Ryan Gosling runs himself ragged trying to prove it. The plot would barely pad out an episode of Law & Order, but there is plenty of fun to be had in watching the seasoned veteran and the smug up-and-comer (and that’s just the actors) trying to outmanoeuvre each other.

11. The Edge (1997)

Hopkins plays billionaire Charles Morse, whose plane crashes in the Alaskan wilderness, pitting him against deadly terrain, wild beasts and a love rival played by Alec Baldwin. Screenwriter David Mamet seems keen to show that intellectuals not unlike himself can hack it in the rugged manhood stakes, but as directed by Lee Tamahori, and with animal actor Bart the Bear stealing all his scenes, it’s more like an exciting sequel to Grizzly.

10. The World’s Fastest Indian (2005)

Hopkins turns on the down-to-earth charm in this corny but likable biopic of Burt Munro, a labour of love for its Australian writer-director, Roger Donaldson. Munro is an eccentric but lovable New Zealander trying to realise his dream of taking his highly modified 1920 Indian Scout motorbike to the salt flats of Utah, where he plans to show the world just how fast he and his beloved bike can go.

9. Magic (1978)

Hopkins as Corky, with Fats the dummy.
Hopkins as Corky, with Fats the dummy. Photograph: 20th Century Fox/Allstar

Richard Attenborough, who called Hopkins “the greatest actor of his generation”, directed him in five films, including this creepy character study about a hopeless stage magician called Corky who becomes a hit when he develops a ventriloquist act with a foul-mouthed dummy called Fats. Hopkins’s American accent comes and goes, and the story springs few surprises – Corky is clearly deranged from the outset – but the actor has a ball in the dual roles of sweaty loser and his evil id.

8. Surviving Picasso (1996)

When he’s playing historical figures such as Richard Nixon or Alfred Hitchcock, Hopkins sometimes seems an odd fit, if not actively miscast, though he never fails to give value for money. One of his most enjoyable forays into biopic territory is this portrait of the artist as a muse-abusing monster, livelier than usual fare from the Merchant Ivory-Jhabvala team. Best approached not as a serious study of hotblooded creative genius, but as a movie of bad accents, complete with berets and Brasserie Lipp.

7. Shadowlands (1993)

Hopkins plays CS Lewis – theologian and the creator of Narnia – in what is essentially an Oxbridge Love Story, exploring the conflict between intellect and emotion when the introverted academic finds true happiness with forthright American poet Joy Gresham (Debra Winger), only for her to be diagnosed with terminal cancer. Attenborough directs William Nicholson’s screenplay (originally a TV play) and the results are solid, with classy performances from the two leads. Guaranteed to cause sniffling.

6. The Two Popes (2019)

Hopkins and Jonathan Pryce in The Two Popes.
Hopkins and Jonathan Pryce in The Two Popes. Photograph: Netflix/Peter Mountain/Allstar

Jonathan Pryce plays the archbishop of Buenos Aires and future Pope Francis; Hopkins plays his predecessor, German-born Pope Benedict XVI, who is thinking of resigning after the Vatican leaks scandal and sexual misconduct cover-ups. Against all odds, these two very different men become friends, shoot the breeze and interrogate their own slightly dodgy pasts. This right load of pope-aganda is made palatable for non-Catholics like me by two wonderful performances, the Cinecittà-recreated Sistine Chapel, and the idiosyncratic rituals of popery.

5. The Elephant Man (1980)

Get out your hankies for the heartbreaking true story of John Merrick, whose disfigurements condemn him to a life of mistreatment in a Victorian freak show before he is rescued and rehabilitated by an ambitious surgeon. It’s John Hurt, under a ton of prosthetics, who gets the showy role in David Lynch’s historical drama. But it’s Hopkins who provides the film with its compassionate gaze in a lovely performance as Frederick Treves, who takes the disfigured man under his wing and shows him kindness.

4. Titus (1999)

With his National Theatre training, it’s surprising Hopkins hasn’t done more Shakespeare on screen. He played Claudius in Tony Richardson’s Hamlet, and Lear in a TV movie, but he hits peak stentorian eloquence in the title role of Julie Taymor’s thrilling adaptation of the Bard’s goriest play. Titus Andronicus is a victorious Roman general whose refusal to show mercy sets off a chain reaction of rape, dismemberment and murder, culminating in Hannibal Lecter-style atrocity. The Hopkins voice at full throttle can make your hair stand on end.

3. The Remains of the Day (1993)

This Merchant Ivory-Jhabvala adaptation of Kazuo Ishiguro’s Booker-winning novel gives Hopkins one of his meatiest pent-up roles. He plays the loyal butler at a 1930s English country mansion who refuses to acknowledge that he is sacrificing his own happiness for an employer whose sympathies lie with the Nazis. Emma Thompson plays the housekeeper who tries to break through his reserve. A polite but merciless dissection of the British dream of empire in which everyone knows their place.

2. The Silence of the Lambs (1991)

Hopkins as Hannibal Lecter.
Hopkins as Hannibal Lecter. Photograph: Orion Pictures/Allstar

“I ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice chianti.” Brian Cox in Manhunter is creepier, and Mads Mikkelsen on TV is funnier, but it was Hopkins who turned Hannibal Lecter into a pop culture phenomenon with his performance in Jonathan Demme’s film of Thomas Harris’s thriller. In less than 25 minutes on screen, that blue-eyed lizard stare and Katharine Hepburn-meets-Truman Capote delivery won a best actor Oscar and elevated Hopkins to superstar status, even if Hannibal and Red Dragon would later reduce everyone’s favourite serial killer to a sort of cannibalistic Dr Frasier Crane.

1. The Father (2020)

If you assumed, wrongly, that Hopkins was coasting through his twilight years, Florian Zeller’s cleverly filmed adaptation of his own stage play, which places you in the head of a man with dementia, will set you straight. The actor shuffles a full deck of emotions, exercising his considerable charm and charisma while struggling to recognise his daughter (Olivia Colman), flirting with a new caregiver, or losing his bearings in familiar surroundings as his mind betrays him. It’s a career-best performance – brave, painful, and utterly heartbreaking.

The 93rd Academy Awards will take place on 25 April. The Father will be released in the UK on 11 June.


Anne Billson

The GuardianTramp

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