His wide breadth of work is worth much deeper scrutiny in order to explore all his skills but, in honor of his tragic passing, we’ve compiled a chronological list of some of our favorite roles he embodied, and a little bit about what he did to make each character special.
Die Hard (1988) — Hans Gruber
Rickman almost turned down his now-iconic role as the terrorist/uber-villian Hans Gruber in the first Die Hard movie. He eventually decided to take the role due to what he considered to be a progressive script. As his first true Hollywood film, his experience as a seasoned stage actor also impacted the plot of the film; the memorable scenes in which he pretends to be a hostage to Bruce Willis’ character were only written when producers discovered he could do an extremely convincing American accent.
Truly, Madly, Deeply (1990) — Jamie
A major stepping stone in his dramatic career, Rickman’s second major film role featured the British actor playing the ghost of a much-beloved boyfriend and cellist to the lead character. His portrayal of a dead lover was so passionate it landed him a BAFTA nomination for best actor, and propelled him to even greater dramatic roles throughout the rest of the decade.
Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (1991) — Sheriff George of Nottingham
“Locksley! I’m gonna cut your heart out with a spoon,” famously declares an angry Rickman as the evil Sheriff of Nottingham in the extremely popular version of Robin Hood helmed by Kevin Costner. A follow up to his role as Hans Gruber in Die Hard, the actor was able to stretch out even more into the deliciously despicable for this film. And due to the film’s historical setting, the role allowed him to showcase his stage chops, too. For his effort as an evil ruler, he was awarded a BAFTA award for Best Actor in a Supporting Role.
Sense and Sensibility (1995) — Colonel Brandon
A film cast with a group of budding all-stars that included Kate Winslet, Emma Thompson, and Hugh Grant, director Ang Lee’s period-set Jane Austen film relied heavily on Rickman’s range. Portraying a passionate older suitor who falls in love with main character Marianne at first sight, Thompson (who also scripted the film), said she was impressed that Rickman could, “Express the extraordinary sweetness of his nature,” despite having played, “Machiavellian types so effectively,” in many of his other film roles.
Dogma (1999) — Metatron
A surprising change of pace for the actor came with his work in Kevin Smith’s Dogma, not simply because many didn’t think of him as a comedic actor, but also because of his on-screen company. Rickman’s perfectly deadpan acting as Metatron, the voice of God, was one of the funniest and most ironic elements of the film, and it was so good it also impacted the work of his fellow actors. When Smith told Jason Mewes (Jay of Jay and Silent Bob), that he would have to take his acting to another level, Mewes famously memorized the entire script, because he, “Didn’t want to piss off that Rickman dude.”
Galaxy Quest (1999) — Alexander Dane
In a second comedic role of the late-90s, Rickman joined the cast of Galaxy Quest to play a version of himself, more or less. A film which follows the cast of a once-popular space adventure TV series called Galaxy Quest (similar in most ways to the real-world series Star Trek), Rickman played Alexander Dane, a trained Shakespearean actor who fell into a typecast role similar to Star Trek‘s Spock. A salty character who resented basically everything about his sci-fi world fame, Rickman delivered some hilarious high-and-mighty humor in the cult-adored ’90s Sci-Fi parody.
Harry Potter (2001-2009) — Severus Snape
Rickman’s most popular role would come several years after he first worked at a Hollywood film studio, playing the role of the ostensibly insidious, Potter-hating potions master at Hogwarts, Severus Snape. Carving out the deep role for which Rickman’s ability to play a jet-black persona shined, the actor was critically acclaimed for his performance in each of the films. He was famously told the outcome of his character by the book’s writer and sworn to secrecy about it, in order to help his stern, but ultimately magnanimous character break through.
Love Actually (2003) — Harry
The actor showed off his passionate side again in 2003’s Love Actually as part of an ensemble cast which included a powerhouse of actors such as Liam Neeson, Hugh Grant, Colin Firth, Laura Linney, Emma Thompson, Kiera Knightly, and Rowan Atkinson. A reunion-of-sorts between Thomson and Grant, with whom Rickman had co-starred in Sense and Sensibility almost ten years prior, Rickman shines as Harry, a married design agency director who stupidly falls for his secretary, only to realize the damage that he has done to his marriage.
Sweeney Todd (2007) — Judge Turpin
As part of Tim Burton’s extremely well-received version of Stephen Sondheim’s 1979 musical, Rickman played the evil Judge Turpin. As the primary antagonist in the film, Rickman used his powerful range as a seasoned on-screen evildoer to flesh out the much-loathed character. It was a role at which he easily excelled, finding it along similar lines to his work portraying the hated Sheriff of Nottingham in Robin Hood. He was an integral part of the ensemble-driven film, helping the movie win the Golden Globe Award for Best Motion Picture, Comedy or Musical.
Lee Daniels’ The Butler (2013) — Ronald Reagan
One of the actor’s most surprising roles came in his turn as President Ronald Reagan, with whom (it turns out) Rickman bore a striking resemblance — with a touch of Hollywood magic, and a decent amount of hair dye, that is. The actor once again showed off his tremendous American accent in the film, and showed the softer side of Reagan to Forrest Whitaker’s butler character.
BONUS: Perfume: The Story of A Murderer (2006) — Richis
As part of a German fantasy thriller about a murderer who is obsessed by scents, Rickman was praised for his performance as the wealthy father of a female victim. He was reportedly the first choice for the role, and director Tom Tykwer refused to even screen other actors.
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