What is there to say about Sean Connery other than he was a legend, an iconic totem who terraformed the landscape of cinema throughout his career and left us with a rogues gallery of tough guys, adventurers, action heroes and memorable starring roles to revisit. Here are my top ten favourite performances from Sean!
10. Draco in Rob Cohen’s Dragonheart
It’s only his voice here, but he voices a great majestic dragon and gets to banter with Dennis Quaid for the whole film, their chemistry is terrific. It’s one of the few times he did voiceover work which is odd because he’s got the pipes for it and would have done very well extensively. His pronunciation of “look to the stars” has always stuck in my mind since seeing this wonderful fantasy film as a kid.
9. Marshall William T. O’Niel in Peter Hyams’ Outland
This is a fairly standard western that just happens to be set in space, where plays the lone lawman standing up to corporate corruption on his own. There’s something so elemental about the sight of uniformed Sean, shotgun in hand dishing out justice on one of Jupiter’s moons, and he rocks the strong, silent, lethal avenger role here nicely.
8. Allan Quatermain in Stephen Norrington’s The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen
Alright so this film doesn’t have the best reputation but I really enjoy it, so there. Sean is terrific as the gruff literary figure and blusters his way through several delightfully preposterous action set pieces with a world weary swash and buckle that sells the material. Who cares if he himself has stated in interviews he had no idea what he was even filming because the script was all over the place, he looks damned dashing in the costume flinging around six guns, guzzling from a flask and making impossible shots from a highly stylized long rifle.
7. Henry Jones in Steven Spielberg’s Indiana Jones & The Last Crusade
He makes the perfect dysfunctional father to Harrison Ford’s Indy here and their relationship is exactly what you’d expect from such an extreme lifestyle. My personal favourite moment is when he literally crashes an enemy plane from the ground by scaring up a flock of seagulls to obscure its visibility using his umbrella, and looks damned pleased with himself about it after too.
6. Marko Ramius in John McTiernan’s The Hunt For Red October
Some thought it odd to cast a Scot as a Russian submarine captain but he does such brilliant job as a morally shrouded man of fierce conviction and brutal resolve that we don’t even care about accents or ethnicity, just authenticity and nuance in performance.
5. Jim Malone in Brian DePalma’s The Untouchables
The toughest Irish cop in prohibition era Chicago, Malone is a true bruiser tasked with training Eliot Ness (Kevin Costner) and his rogue unit, and he doesn’t fuck around either. “They pull a knife, you pull a gun. They send one of yours to the hospital, you send one of theirs to the morgue. That’s the Chicago way.” His delivery of those lines is light, breezy but laced with lethality that has you believing every word.
4. John Connor in Philip Kaufman’s Rising Sun
This is an underrated performance in an even more underrated film and if you’re doing a Connery retrospective right now after he’s passed, it’s a must. There’s a murder among the elite Japanese community of LA, and Connor is a culturally adept guru who knows how to navigate such waters. It’s a terrific piece of acting with meaty dialogue, great character work and chemistry alongside Wesley Snipes.
3. Ramirez in Russell Mulcahy’s Highlander
I can’t imagine the fun he must have had playing this character, but it radiates off of him in every frame anyway. A supernatural Spaniard warrior tasked with training immortal Scottish McLeod (Christopher Lambert), he’s arch, tongue in cheek, lovable, adorned in eye shadow that would make Jack Sparrow blush and just has this wonderful, charming way about him that almost has you wishing he’d get his own spinoff franchise.
2. James Bond/007 in various James Bond films
Its Bond, baby. While I can’t call Sean my favourite Bond in cinema, he was technically the first actor to hold that martini, brandish that Walther PPK, fill out that expensive suit and kick ass for MI6, and he does so with style, flourish, sex appeal and magnetism in spades. My favourite outing of him as Bond? 1983’s Never Say Never Again, which might be an weird choice but hear me out: he was already an older dude by this time or old in terms of playing a lithe super spy, but man he was a trooper and did a fantastic job in his final Bond adventure alongside the likes of Rowan Atkinson, a sultry Kim Basinger and a sassy Barbara Carrera.
1. John Mason in Michael Bay’s The Rock
The other British super spy in his career, I love his work as Mason because there’s a lot more depth than 007 and we get this world weary, sardonic and almost very sad energy from a guy who has been locked up unjustly for like three decades. All he wants to do is see his grown up daughter one time but he’s recruited to basically save the entire city of San Francisco, which he does in his own sneaky, brutal and often quite funny way. Mason is a terrific character and much more than just a spy or action hero, Sean gives him a deep pathos and soulful gaze that makes this, at least for me, his best acting work.