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Legends of a Superstar: The Best and Worst of Anthony Hopkins' Film Roles Ever

Updated on January 5, 2020
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Heather has a Bachelor's Degree in English from Moravian College and has been freelance writing for more than 14 years.

The Rite Poster
The Rite Poster
The Silence of the Lambs Poster
The Silence of the Lambs Poster
The Lion in Winter Poster
The Lion in Winter Poster
The Human Stain Poster
The Human Stain Poster
Legends of the Fall Poster
Legends of the Fall Poster
Freejack Poster
Freejack Poster
The Bounty Poster
The Bounty Poster
Alexander Poster
Alexander Poster
Desperate Hours Poster
Desperate Hours Poster
Nixon Poster
Nixon Poster

What is an actor? Is it someone who can tell a proper story as someone else or inhabit a role so well that you can't tell where the truth starts anymore. Their identity has become part of the characters that they play. Two perfect examples would be recent Oscar Winners Colin Firth and Christian Bale. Another example would be previous Oscar Winner Anthony Hopkins who could go from cute and lovable to disturbingly creepy in record time. Since the 1960s, Hopkins has been performing on the big and small screens in a mixture of roles that sometimes suited him more than others.

In honor of the DVD release of The Rite, let's examine some of his most memorable film roles and the ones he'd surely like to forget. Here's a list of twelve films that Hopkins has been in the course of his film career that ranged from a positive reaction to one of sheer unfavorable horror. Read on to see if you agree or think one has been overlooked.

The Early Hits

Richard in The Lion in Winter (1968)- Winter is considered one of Hopkins' earliest breaks in films where he was able to act alongside acting titans Katharine Hepburn and Peter O'Toole without breaking a sweat. He played Richard, a future King of England, as a tough man who only had eyes on the prize and was willing to kill members of his own family to win. Hopkins will be most remembered in that movie for his scenes with the scenery chewing Hepburn as she tried to manipulate Richard into doing what she wanted and him fighting her at every turn. Whatever Hepburn verbally threw at him, Hopkins responded in kind. It was a "War of the Roses" Mother and Son Edition. This version was just as acidic and just as intense to watch.

Lt. William Bligh in The Bounty (1984)- Unfortunately, Winter was followed by a series of forgettable films and TV related projects. It was with The Bounty that Hopkins had a shot at true stardom as Lt. Bligh, a man changed by being on a ship headed for faraway lands for the worse. His dark behavior led to a mutiny and gave audiences an early glimpse at Hopkins' potential to be a true movie villain in the years to come.

The Commercial Successes

Dr. Hannibal Lecter in The Silence of the Lambs (1991)- This is the role that Hopkins will be remembered for the rest of his career. He won a Best Actor Oscar when he didn't even appear in that much of the film to begin with. He made such a lasting impression that Director Jonathan Demme didn't even have to feature him in every scene. Hopkins made Dr. Lecter's violent insanity a quiet horror which can be demonstrated in his first scene as he waited for his prey in Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster). His wide eyed quiet demeanor could make even Clint Eastwood's skin crawl. Watch this instead of the sequels Red Dragon and Hannibal, because they were disappointing follow-ups for such an iconic character.

Ludlow in Legends of the Fall (1994)- Hopkins played the larger than life patriarch of three sons that were threatened to be destroyed by war and a woman. He made the father a mix of John Wayne's cowboy persona and Clint Eastwood's steely eyed attitude that it was hard to decide whether to love or hate him. Hopkins somehow won the audience over by demonstrating how his character loved him children no matter what. This film also introduced audiences to Brad Pitt: The Superstar. Sadly, if only this film could've prevented Hopkins and Pitt from working together in the dreadful Meet Joe Black.

The Lauded and Overlooked

Jack Lewis in Shadowlands (1993)- Hopkins played famous children's author C.S. Lewis who wrote books about childlike wonder, but didn't know how to function in the real world. He lived a closed off existence, until he meets his match in Joy Gresham (Debra Winger) a single mother and aspiring poet. Hopkins allowed the closed off Lewis to transform through his love for Joy, which was tragically doomed from the start. Her death could've closed him off for good but he had her orphaned son to help him along the way. Shadowlands made Hopkins a romantic lead for a change instead of a dangerous psycho. It's a shame that only Hollywood sees him as the latter instead of the former. Oh well, at least there's this film to watch instead.

Richard Nixon in Nixon (1995)- Hopkins took a huge risk in portraying a historically known figure in such a controversial film. Director Oliver Stone has made films with the same risk, but not like this one. He allowed Hopkins to truly inhabit the part and become a President worth admiring and fearing at the same time. Watch with an open mind and patience for the long running time.

Missed Potential

Tim Cornell in Desperate Hours (1990)- Sadly, Hopkins would probably like this film to removed from his resume like the rest of the cast. The script was a disorganized mess and Hopkins was sadly miscast as a pathetic yuppy trying to get back with his estranged wife when escaped prisoners have taken his family hostage. Instead of chewing scenery with costar Mickey Rourke, Hopkins is mostly slapped around and given little to do but react to the chaos around him. The movie could've worked if Hopkins was allowed to truly go toe to toe with Rourke's main villain. Now that would've been better than the disjointed mess the finished product truly was.

Old Ptolemy in Alexander (2004)- Not even Hopkins serving as narrator could save this Oliver Stone directed film from being a dud. It was hard to take the film seriously when the camp value was focused more than the story itself. See Nixon instead for a better Hopkins/Stone pairing.

Judge Irwin in All the King's Men (2006)- It's hard to believe that a film featuring Sean Penn, Kate Winslet and Jude Law would fail, but it did with a resounding thud. A major reason would the brutal miscasting of Hopkins as an old Southern Judge with a questionable Southern Accent that disappeared constantly. The film and Hopkins' role had no entertainment value. Watch Remains of the Day instead for better casting and a higher quality story.

Outright Disasters

McCandless in Freejack(1992)- Okay, not even a brief supporting role in this Sci-Fi clunker could erase the fact that Hopkins' talent was sorely wasted. He only appeared via computer based technology as a wealthy businessman who set the story in motion to begin with. He died and wanted the body of his crush's dead boyfriend in an effort to win her love. Unfortunately, the only one having any fun in this movie is Mick Jagger as a bad guy/good guy depending who was asked. He embraced the campiness in a way Hopkins never had the chance to.

Coleman Silk in The Human Stain (2003)- Unfortunately, Hopkins' acting talents couldn't save this movie from being a train wreck from start to finish. Hopkins played a disgraced Professor who covered up the fact that he was an African American living as a White man for decades. That plot point was such a stretch that the audience almost overlooked the fact that Nicole Kidman was playing hislove interest/ janitor. Almost being the operative word. It's a shame. The movie could've had potential if the script was executed and the casting was a little spot on.

Father Lucas in The Rite (2011)- Hopkins' most recent film won't be garnering any major awards or critical praise for that matter. The PG-13 Horror flick was marred due to its rating so it couldn't fully explore the disturbing nature of exorcism. As a conflicted priest, Hopkins played his part to the hilt when some of the moments were better served in a calmer fashion. It's fun to see Hopkins flirt with evil onscreen, but it would've been a better occasion if it was more like Fracture than this.

Overall, Hopkins has had quite an illustrious film career that could even withstand such dreck as The Wolfman and Slipstream. He can make audience laugh and scream almost in the same breath as Hannibal Lecter. Like any actor, some of his film choices leave something to the imagination, but he still delivers unforgettable performances nonetheless. Rent The Silence of the Lambs or even Hannibal to prove a point.


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