Remembering Alan Rickman

His top five film performances 

Alan Rickman posing for pictures at the stage door after a performance of Ibsen's John Gabriel Borkman at the Brooklyn Academy of Music.
Alan Rickman posing for pictures at the stage door after a performance of Ibsen's John Gabriel Borkman at the Brooklyn Academy of Music.
Credit: 
Marie-Lan Nguyen / Wikimedia Commons

Alan Rickman’s death shook the world last Thursday morning.

Within hours, social media was filled with tributes to the late actor from friends and fans alike. For many of us, Rickman is known for his iconic portrayal of Professor Severus Snape in the Harry Potter franchise. Yet, his work that spanned nearly four decades is versatile and complex, filled with roles as love interests and villains, and even a combination of the two (looking at you, Love Actually). In honour of an actor with the ability to be both charming and frightening, we list our top five Alan Rickman films.

1) Sense and Sensibility (1995)

Alan Rickman, the love interest? To those of us picturing the billowing capes and dark stringy hair of the Potter films, this concept might prompt a dropped jaw or two. But Rickman proved that his acting chops don’t discriminate based on role or genre.

In the film based on Jane Austen’s early novel, his Colonel Brandon is warm and kind, a far cry from his villainous roles to come. Rickman is so authentic and convincing as Colonel Brandon that he makes it near impossible to consider any other actor in the iconic role. 

2) Truly Madly Deeply (1990)

This film is one of Rickman’s most notable leading performances and also the only film to make it onto lists of both the best and worst movies of the 20th century. It’s true that the premise —a dead husband returns as a ghost to visit his mourning wife — might seem gimmicky. However, the story is handled with such delicacy and compassion that it serves as a touching expression of love and loss. Alan Rickman as the ghost is sensitive and courageous in expressing emotion, which isn’t often seen in Rickman’s characters.

3) Love Actually (2003)

People tend to dismiss Love Actually as little more than a sentimental rom-com. While that assessment is somewhat true, the film is much more than the sum of its predictable rip-offs Valentines Day and New Year’s Eve. Its strength lies particularly in Rickman and Emma Thompson’s portrayal of a failing marriage. With tact and subtlety, Rickman excels at playing a husband torn by the prospect of infidelity. This film proves that no genre is beneath Rickman and further demonstrates the actor’s versatility. 

4) Die Hard (1988)

Die Hard was an iconic film for Rickman, partially because it was his first feature film role and the one that made him a household name. Taking on his first (of many) villainous roles, Rickman plays Hans Gruber, a cold and calculated “bad guy” who takes a building hostage in an attempt to steal $640 million from its vaults. Rickman’s elegant yet savage portrayal of Gruber turns the role of the one-sided bad guy into a captivating — and chilling — force to be reckoned with. This is the first in Rickman’s long and incomparable career of exquisite villainy.

 5) Harry Potter (yes, all eight of them)

Okay, let’s admit it. This is the big one, the role millennials associate with Rickman most of all. At first seeming little more than a cruel bully, Professor Snape slowly earns our sympathy as more and more is revealed of his painful past.

While the droll one-liners and intimidating glares of the early films earned both our laughter and our fear, it’s his performance in the final film that solidifies Snape’s role as one of the most beloved and tragic characters of the Potter series. It’s to Rickman’s credit that when Snape’s true motives are revealed, we believe them, because Rickman had been subtly dropping hints of what was to come since the very first film.   

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