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Sean Connery: 10 Essential Movies

From James Bond to Robin Hood, old-school cops to men who would be kings — here are some of the Scottish star’s best performances

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He would always be known as Bond — James Bond — and it’s near-impossible not to say those words without imitating Sean Connery’s deep Scottish baritone. But while the former lifeguard, bodybuilder and Mr. Universe competitor-turned-actor would help turn 007 into an iconic screen character, he was more than just the man who gave Bond his first license to kill. Before his passing at age 90, Connery had the distinction of working with directors ranging from Alfred Hitchcock and Brian De Palma, of winning Oscars and BAFTAs, of playing everything from soldiers to train robbers to kings. He became a de facto ambassador for his home country of Scotland and embraced the thick, oft-imitated brogue no matter who he played. He was a versatile actor and also a movie star, the kind of performer who could infuse roles with a certain kind of radiating, rough-and-tumble persona that you could only describe as Conneryesque.

Here are 10 essential Sean Connery movies that pay tribute to his range, his screen presence and his ability to make virtually any part, big or small, seem larger than life. Yes, Bond is in here — how couldn’t he be? But so are nine others that showed how funny, dramatic, heroic, villainous, formidable and flawed his characters were once Sir Sean got ahold of them.

From Rolling Stone US

‘Zardoz’ (1974)

Connery would continue to play a host of interesting, different parts during his tenure as Bond (see: Alfred Hitchcock’s Marnie) before officially turning in his killing license and Walther PPK in 1972 with Diamonds Are Forever. Few of those roles were as out-there, however, as the John Boorman sci-fi movie he made shortly after he left Bond behind. In the 23rd century, humanity is divided into wasteland-dwelling lower classes and an aristocracy who calls the shots via a giant flying stone head named Zardoz. Connery plays Zed, one of the “exterminators” who keep the plebeians in line; after hiding out in the mammoth cranium and infiltrating the world of the future patricians, Zed eventually becomes radicalized and helps lead a rebellion. It’s even crazier than it sounds, and its status as both a campy cult classic and a funky ’70s science-fiction landmark is well-earned. And Connery somehow finds the exact wavelength needed to make this WTF movie work. Once you’ve seen that image of the star rocking a droopy Zapatista mustache, a long braided ponytail, a bandolier, red bikini briefs and thigh-high boots, it’s virtually impossible to forget it. Stream the film here.

‘The Man Who Would Be King’ (1975)

John Huston’s rousing, boys-adventure adaptation of Rudyard Kipling’s novel paired Connery with Michael Caine — really, who better to play two 19th-century British Army officers who decide to pitch themselves as muscle to an Eastern European ruler? On the way to establishing a career as mercenaries (“a scheme for rascals to become royalty,” per the trailer), Connery’s Daniel Dravot is mistaken by the locals as a god. He happily settles into the role of both ruler and deity … and that’s when the real trouble starts. It’s both an epic romp filled with thrills, spills and derring-do, and a tongue-in-cheek take on the empire’s less-than-moral misadventures in foreign lands. Connery lets you see how the good fortune his con-artist colonialist has stumbled on warps him, and eventually sends him to a tragic end. That climactic walk across the rope bridge, singing a hymn, is one hell of an exit. Stream the film here.

‘Robin and Marian’ (1976)

One of the most underrated films in Connery’s filmography, Richard Lester’s addition to the Robin Hood legend features one of the star’s single best turns. His Robin of Locksley is no longer a young hero stealing from the rich and giving to the poor but a middle-aged man, returning to Sherwood Forest with battle scars and old scores to settle. He goes in search of his lost love, Maid Marian (Audrey Hepburn), who’s become a nun in his absence. Meanwhile, the Sheriff of Nottingham (Robert Shaw) and his cohorts want to see their former foe with his head on a spike. It’s a perfect lion-in-winter performance and a sort of first-rate fan-fiction coda to the prince of thieves’ story. The scenes between Connery and Hepburn suggest a genuine chemistry between the two, as well as a bone-deep sense of regret; his speech about taking part in one of King Richard’s campaigns during the Crusades (“He was my king”) is an all-timer. Stream the film here.

‘Time Bandits’ (1981)

Connery’s part in Terry Gilliam’s time-tripping fantasy is a small but highly memorable one: He’s King Agamemnon, the regent of Greek mythology who took part in the Trojan War. He’s also one of the friendlier historical figures that the movie’s young hero, Kevin, comes across in temporal travels, befriending the lad after he helps him kill a (literally) bullheaded opponent. Connery does a lot with the little screen time he has, leaving you with a sense that this kindhearted ruler is a nice substitute father figure for the kid. It’s a nice little drop of humanity in this wacky, whimsical romp. Stream the film here.

‘The Untouchables’ (1987)

Connery won a well-deserved Oscar for his role as Jimmy Malone, the hardbitten, shotgun-toting cop who instructs the goody-two-shoes Eliot Ness in the art of fighting Prohibition gangsters. In a lot of actors’ hands, this might have merely been a good mentor role; given to Connery, however, this man becomes a force of nature. And the way he digs into David Mamet’s flinty, pulp-poetry dialogue is a dream come true. His advice to Kevin Costner’s Ness about the way to nab Capone is extra-quotable simply because of the sheer, aggressive delight with which Sir Sean delivers it: “He pulls a knife, you pull a gun. He sends one of yours to the hospital, you send his to the morgue. That’s the Chicago way!” Stream the film here.

‘Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade’ (1989)

Really, who else were you going to get to play Indy’s dad if not the man who gave us the first James Bond?! Steven Spielberg’s decision to cast Connery as Professor Henry Jones in the third Indiana Jones movie might have come off as a stunt if the veteran actor hadn’t been such a perfect fit — instead, it comes off like a coup. From the second the patriarch yells “Junior?” at the globe-trotting archeologist, there’s an instant feeling that you’re watching two pop culture icons having the time of their lives acting against each other. There was really no keeping up with the Joneses once they were onscreen, and though Connery had originally turned down the role, he ended up doing a lot of research on what sort of professor Henry would be. And the key to the whole film is really this father and son’s endless game of one-upmanship even when the band together to find the Holy Grail. “Whatever Indy’d done,” Connery was quoted as saying, “my character has done … and my character has done it better.” Stream the film here.

‘The Hunt for Red October’ (1990)

If Tom Clancy’s novels about the C.I.A. analyst Jack Ryan had been made 20 years earlier, Connery might have been a good choice to play the hero. Instead, Alec Baldwin stepped in to the role (he’d be the first of several stars to step into Ryan’s shoes — not unlike Connery’s inauguration of Bond), and the Scottish movie star took on the bad guy’s role: A Russian nuclear submarine commander named Marko Ramius who’s keen to heat up the Cold War. There’s a bit of cognitive dissonance in hearing a Soviet zealot speak in such a noticeably Scottish accent, but Connery digs into this role with such gusto that by the end of this tense thriller, you don’t even mind the geographical mix-and-match approach. There’s a reason it’s Connery’s face on the poster. “I remember seeing it for the first time and thinking, ‘This guy is going to hijack a nuclear submarine, where’s the fervor in this character?’” his costar Baldwin told us. “Then as it goes on, I realized: Oh, no, this is perfect. Most people would have this guy pacing in his cabin, or wringing his hands. He has him sipping tea! It’s genius.” Stream the film here.

‘The Rock’ (1996)

“Welcome … to the Rock!” Michael Bay’s slam-bang action-movie is, like most of his blockbusters, a lot of nonstop sound and fury with the dial turned up to 11. But it has two saving graces: Nick Cage’s wonderfully weird chemical-weapons expert, pitched at a maximum level of Cage-like quirkiness; and the mere presence of Sean Connery. His federal prisoner John Mason is the only inmate to have ever escaped Alcatraz; given that a righteous general has taken over the tourist attraction and is threatening to send missiles to San Francisco unless his demands are met, his knowledge of the island’s penitentiary’s ins and outs may be the only thing keeping that city from being destroyed. Connery knows when to go camp with this career criminal, and when to simply be the flinty straight man to Cage’s absurdist egghead. And once it comes down to a mano a mano fight with Ed Harris’ military villain, you’re reminded of the way that Connery could bring gravitas to even the goofiest, most over-the-top of multiplex movies. Stream the film here.

‘Finding Forrester’ (2000)

Coming off of an Oscar nomination for Good Will Hunting, indie director Gus Van Sant proceeded to take on the story of a reclusive, Salinger-esque novelist who helps a young, African-American writer (Rob Brown) find his potential — and to say that his follow-up was chasing the same feel-good tone would be putting it mildly. But that doesn’t detract from  how Connery’s adding a number of extra layers and some much needed gruffness and grit to the elderly author; if you remember this movie for anything, it’s almost certainly the star yelling “You’re the man now, dog!” in his well-aged brogue. The star would retire a few years after taking the role, and even though he played a few more parts after this, the cantankerous literary superstar-in-hiding is really his swan song. It’s a wonderful last hurrah. Stream the film here.