Christopher Lee was the kind of guy that came to mind whenever you heard the term ‘commanding presence.’ He had a legendary career that bridged the gap from 70’s Hammer horror fare all the way to being a regular in Tim Burton films as well as memorable voiceover work and a handful of instantly recognizable roles in iconic Sci-Fi/fantasy franchises. The one aspect to this wonderful actor was his strikingly deep voice, like molasses poured over mahogany and put to use in countless treasured performances. These are my personal ten favourite!
10. Victor in Disney’s Return From Witch Mountain
This is an admittedly lacklustre sequel to a magical Disney classic but it’s on here for a reason. I grew up with Escape To Witch Mountain, I’ve seen it a trillion times and I waited forever for Disney to release this one from the vault. It’s enjoyable if not as amazing as the first but I really loved seeing Lee as the darkly charismatic mad scientist who wants to harvest the hero’s supernatural powers, stepping in for Ray Milland’s maniacal billionaire antagonist from the first film.
9. Rochefort in The Three Musketeers
This is a totemic role for me because many actors I adore have played it including Michael Wincott in the 90’s as well as Tim Roth and Mads Mikkelsen more recently. This 1973 musketeers film is admittedly a silly version but Lee makes an imposing incarnation of the one eyed anti-musketeer.
8. Mohammed Ali Jinnah in Jinnah
I’ve admittedly only seen part of this on TV in Europe but it’s one of Lee’s personal favourite roles that he himself cherishes and an important piece of acting/filmmaking. Jinnah was the political founder of Pakistan and a man who believed that all human beings everywhere have the right to worship whichever god they choose and can coexist and be free. It’s a stunning performance from the man and if you YouTube any interviews where he is asked what roles he cherishes most in his career he always brings it up and you can feel how important it is and how much it meant to him playing that historical figure.
7. Dr. Catheter in Joe Dante’s Gremlins 2: The New Batch
If there’s one thing Lee was great at it was keeping a straight face in the midst of sheer lunacy. He’s a maniacal scientist hellbent on weird experiments here as the huge high rise building he works in becomes infested with nasty Mogwai, and he plays it pricelessly deadpan.
6. Burgomaster in Tim Burton’s Sleepy Hollow
He’s only in this for like two minutes right at the beginning but he basically singlehandedly sets the mood with a couple lines. I’m not sure what a ‘burgomaster’ is but he appears to be some kind of austere judge who dispatches Johnny Depp’s Ichabod Crane to Sleepy Hollow and is the first character in the film to actually say the town’s name in that iconic voice.
5. Lord Summerisle in The Wicker Man
The legacy of this awesome British cult horror film is obviously now scarred by the obnoxious Nic Cage remake but seek it out anyways, Lee plays the deeply philosophical and extremely unnerving head of a pagan cult with supernatural proclivities and a hostile attitude towards puritans. He embodies this charismatic fiend with affability that swiftly turns into menace, a very fascinating antagonist.
4. Dracula in a bunch of Dracula films
Lee in the Vampire getup is such totemic symbol of 60’s/70’s horror, what can I say. I haven’t seen all the Dracula stuff he did but the image of him as the character is imprinted in my pop culture subconscious as I imagine it is for many.
3. Francisco Scaramanga in The Man With The Golden Gun
One of the classiest, most dangerous and cool Bond villains, an assassin for hire with a literal golden gun and a… uh… third nipple. Lee is calm, sociopathic and deadly as the guy, who enjoys killing people a lot and is good at it too.
2. Count Dooku/Darth Tyranus in George Lucas’s Star Wars Episode II: Attack Of The Clones
My second favourite Star Wars antagonist after Darth Maul, Dooku is a no good scheming arch-baddie who incites a war, pits intergalactic factions against each other and masterminds one of the most memorable gladiator arena matches in cinema history. He gives the guy an ever so slight air of aristocracy and swings around a cool curve handled lightsaber like nobody’s business.
1. Saruman The White in Peter Jackson’s The Lord Of The Rings
This was the first film I ever saw him in and will always be the character I remember him for. He’s unbelievably intense, measured in line delivery and incredibly malevolent in an implosive portrait of power hungry mania. Saruman is the wizard gone bad, and Christopher takes full advantage of that arc, not to mention nailing the stark look of the character wonderfully.