Anthony Hopkins is said to give a career-best performance in forthcoming drama The Father. Adapted by director Florian Zeller from his stage production of the same name, the movie takes an intimate and anguished look at the pain of dementia.
The effects of this debilitating illness are seen through the eyes of Hopkins' character, who is struggling to keep track of what is real amidst the limited confines of his flat. Olivia Colman plays his grown-up daughter who increasingly fears that she will not be around to offer vital support.
When Hopkins is said to give a career-best, that's quite an achievement. Across nearly six decades, he's delivered a host of memorable performances, most famously as lip-smacking serial killer Hannibal Lecter in The Silence of the Lambs.
Variety's Owen Gleiberman describes Hopkins as "flat-out stunning", further adding that he's "brilliant, mercurial and moving". With The Father set for release in early 2021, therefore placing it as a key contender for the Oscars, we're looking back at Hopkins' best movies.
1. The Lion in Winter (1968)
After graduating from RADA, Hopkins hit the big time in what was only his second big screen role. Stage adaptation The Lion in Winter casts movie legends Peter O'Toole and Katharine Hepburn as warring husband and wife, Henry the II and Eleanor of Aquitaine. The movie has an appropriately claustrophobic feel that enhances the richly entertaining verbal fireworks between its central duo, and Hepburn won an Oscar for Best Actress. Standing out amidst a formidable ensemble is Hopkins as Henry and Eleanor's eldest son, Richard the Lionheart, who would himself has been immortalised in many Hollywood movies. (This includes Sean Connery's cameo at the end of Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves.) Also, watch out for future James Bond Timothy Dalton in his movie debut.
2. Magic (1978)
After collaborating on the star-studded World War II drama A Bridge Too Far, Hopkins and director Richard Attenborough came together again for a very different film. Years before The Silence of the Lambs, Hopkins demonstrated his ability to play unhinged, creepy characters in this eerie William Goldman adaptation, about a struggling ventriloquist who may be under the influence of his dummy. Hopkins' twitchy performance as performer Corky gains added resonance when one learns that he also voices the dummy himself, Fats, further blurring the line between fantasy and reality. Attenborough's direction and Jerry Goldsmith's chilling, harmonica-led score further complement a superb turn from Hopkins.
3. The Elephant Man (1980)
David Lynch's heartbreaking drama, based on true events, renders Victorian London as a bizarrely surreal fantasia that is, by turns, cruel and compassionate. Hopkins is powerfully reserved as Dr. Frederick Treves, the surgeon who rescues John Merrick (an astonishing, unrecognisable John Hurt) from a vicious sideshow. The afflicted Merrick suffers from neurofibromatosis, a condition that covers his body in tumours and warps it out of all proportion. Despite his appearance, Merrick reveals himself to be a sensitive and intelligent soul, causing Treves to wonder about the line between exploitation and care. While Hurt is devastating, Hopkins draws out the emotions by playing up his character's ambiguity, forever making us question our own response to Treves's actions.
4. The Bounty (1984)
Hopkins' blusterous performance in this popular nautical yarn was hilariously imitated by Steve Coogan in The Trip. Certainly, there's no escaping the tempestuous rage of Hopkins' Captain Bligh, Commanding Lieutenant of the HMS Bounty who finds himself locked in conflict with his men during a round-the-world voyage. There are early roles for Mel Gibson and Daniel Day-Lewis but Hopkins towers over them, portraying a man who blurs the line between leader and autocrat. The movie is inspired by the true story of the so-called 'mutiny on the Bounty', and Hopkins' performance bears up well under the weight of history.
5. The Silence of the Lambs (1991)
Fava beans and Chianti were never the same again once Hopkins' Hannibal Lecter made his big screen debut. Jonathan Demme's The Silence of the Lambs adapted Thomas Harris' novel to phenomenally successful effect, forgoing gore (largely) in favour of a riveting procedural thriller that placed intelligence over sensationalism. Oscar-winner Jodie Foster is the ambitious young FBI agent Clarice Starling who must call on the incarcerated Lecter to track down another serial killer. Hopkins' laser-eyed, slurping, drawling performance only occupies 17 minutes of the film's two-hour running time, but he's so mesmerising that he not only walked away with his first Oscar, but influenced every psycho performance in his wake. (Just look at Donald Sutherland in 1991's Backdraft as an example.)
6. Howards End (1992)
E.M. Forster's book of the early-20th century class divide forms the basis of this complex Merchant-Ivory drama. In spite of the alluring trappings and costumes, Howards End is largely fuelled by a sense of melancholy and impending anguish, embodied by the stern form of Hopkins as the aristocratic Henry Wilcox. His eventual marriage to the lower-class Margaret Schlegel (an Oscar-winning Emma Thompson) blurs the lines between affection and a relationship of convenience, and Hopkins' effectively stony portrayal precludes easy sympathy. Howard's End was among several costume dramas made by Hopkins through the 1990s, but few others got near the piercing insight of this one.
7. Bram Stoker's Dracula (1992)
In a complete about-face from the reserved and introspective Howard's End, Hopkins lets rip in Francis Ford Coppola's lurid Dracula adaptation. This box office hit reimagines Bram Stoker's bloodsucker (here played in a multitude of guises by the typically excellent Gary Oldman) as a lovelorn demon calling out for his deceased wife across vast oceans of time. The bad news is that Hopkins' theatrical (and dodgily accented) vampire hunter Abraham van Helsing is on the case. Hopkins' turn is far from subtle, but the overcranked performance is well-matched to the flamboyant and gory nature of Coppola's staging, while Eiko Ishioka's Oscar-winning costumes are to die for.
8. Shadowlands (1993)
Hopkins gives one of his finest performances in this tender adaptation of William Nicholson's play. It's another collaboration with Richard Attenborough, proving once again that the two men clearly understood one another and were sensitive to the needs of character-driven drama. Hopkins plays repressed Narnia author C.S. Lewis whose relationship with American woman Joy Gresham (Debra Winger) eventually culminates in tragedy. The slow-burn of Hopkins' performance is what really works here: by holding back to almost impossible degrees, Hopkins ensures that the bubbling over of emotion during the final reel is all the more devastating.
9. The Remains of the Day (1993)
Another period drama for Hopkins, one that graced him with an Oscar nomination. He's superb as Stevens, the devoted and ailing butler of Darlington Hall who comes to realise, in the midst of a cross-country UK road trip, that his loyalty to his late master was misplaced. Kazuo Ishiguro's celebrated novel is in good hands with the Howard's End team of Merchant-Ivory, and Hopkins crafts a delicately fascinating individual, a man who has seemingly pushed aside any notion of individuality and capacity for love in favour of his duty. His scenes with Emma Thompson, playing housekeeper Miss Kenton, are initially amusing but ultimately agonising for all that is being left unsaid.
10. Nixon (1995)
Should an actor look or sound like their historical counterpart? When the performer is as good as Hopkins, it hardly matters. He disappears into the role of 'Tricky Dick', the disgraced former President of the United States in Oliver Stone's contentious biopic. The movie races to cover all the facets of Nixon's complex life, and is surprisingly sympathetic to this oft-reviled figure, in many ways stressing Nixon as the agent of his own downfall. This is helped by Hopkins, who carries a riveting sense of urgency and desperation in his eyes, conveying the sense of a man trying to keep one step ahead of his rivals at every turn. It's a bold, bombastic movie, but Hopkins makes it resonate on a human level.
11. Amistad (1997)
Hopkins only has a small role in this historical drama from Steven Spielberg, but it's a memorable one that saw him garlanded with yet another Oscar nomination. Amistad dramatises the mutiny that occurred on the titular slave ship during the height of the 19th-century American slave trade, while also exploring the courtroom fallout that happened later on. Hopkins plays ailing former President John Quincy Adams who comes to act as the story's moral compass. So impressed was Spielberg with Hopkins that he insisted on calling him 'Sir Anthony' throughout the shoot. The speech in the clip below was reportedly completed in one take – now that's acting.
12. The Edge (1997)
This underrated Hopkins vehicle pits him against a sleazy Alec Baldwin and, even more terrifyingly, a voracious Kodiak bear. Hopkins plays Charles Morse, a multi-millionaire stranded with fashion photographer Bob (Baldwin) after their plane crashes in the Alaskan wilds. Morse suspects Bob of sleeping with his wife, but the two men have to put their differences aside when a terrifying bear begins to stalk them. It's a deeply physical role for Hopkins and he was said to have been in awe of trained grizzly Bart, who gives tangibly physical threat to the human-animal confrontation scenes.
13. The Mask of Zorro (1998)
Not just a purveyor of upper-class aristos and cultured psychopaths, Hopkins can also do the odd bit of swashbuckling when it's called for. In Martin Campbell's terrific Zorro reboot, Hopkins plays the ageing Zorro, Dom de la Vega, who must train a cocky young upstart (a charismatic Antonio Banderas) to take revenge on the man who killed his wife and kidnapped his infant daughter. Hopkins brings grace and gravitas to this Spielberg-inflected adventure (the latter executive produced the movie), ensuring that it's about a lot more than just whipcracks and horse stunts. The scene in which Hopkins extinguishes the candles via whip was carried out by the actor himself.
14. Titus (1999)
Hopkins returned to his RADA roots with this Shakespeare adaptation, staged to lurid and anachronistic effect by Julie Taylor (who would later bring The Lion King to the stage). Titus is a vivid and gruesome adaptation of the Bard's notoriously bloody play, but what gives this staging an edge is how it mixes the ancient Roman setting with modern-day trappings like microphones and cars. It could be a gimmick but Taymor's storytelling skill instead uses the anachronisms to draw out the play's inherent themes of corruption and sacrifice. Holding it together is an effectively weary and jaded Hopkins as Titus himself, the fading Emperor presiding over a banquet of bloodshed and betrayal.
15. The World's Fastest Indian (2005)
Roger Donaldson's infectiously entertaining biopic proves once again that while perennial Welshman Hopkins can't do accents, he's excellent at getting beneath the skin of larger-than-life characters. The film, reuniting Hopkins and Donaldson more than two decades after The Bounty, is based on the true story of Kiwi speed bike racer Burt Munro and the tests he undertook at America's Bonneville salt flats in Utah. A box office hit in New Zealand, it also generated warm reviews for Hopkins' spirited performance, even if he does sound like Christchurch by way of Cardiff.
16. Thor (2011)
The first Thor movie, helmed by Kenneth Branagh, is defined by Chris Hemsworth's muscles and Tom Hiddleston's deviousness as Loki. But the always-theatrical Hopkins finds an effective outlet as Asgardian ruler Odin, a part that allows him to strut, bellow and look resplendent in shining golden armour. Facetiousness aside, the first Thor movie nicely emphasises the triangular power struggle between Odin and his two sons, a relationship cloaked in secrecy and betrayal that threatens the future of the kingdom. Hopkins does well not just in the shoutier moments (well, he has to work harder to resonate against the CGI effects), but also the quieter ones where Odin confronts the legacy of his mistakes.
17. The Two Popes (2019)
Hopkins' most recent Oscar nomination came for this unexpectedly joyous and funny, Vatican-based movie. The prospect of a dialogue-driven movie about a meeting between an outgoing Pope and the Cardinal who would eventually replace him sounds as dry as the Sahara. But Hopkins and co-star Jonathan Pryce (also Oscar nominated) do an excellent job in humanising the face of the Catholic Church, bantering and arguing about everything from the nature of Catholicism to the music of The Beatles. Hopkins Pope Benedict XVI is crotchety and irascible whereas Pryce's Cardinal Jorge Maria Bergoglio, the future Pope Francis, is more measured and open-minded. Together, these two screen veterans create movie magic.