Total Recall

Total Recall: Anthony Hopkins' Best Movies

We count down the best-reviewed work of the Wolfman star.

by | February 9, 2010 | Comments

Anthony Hopkins

Some actors struggle with typecasting for their entire careers — and some, like Anthony Hopkins, get to do pretty much whatever they want. Since making his film debut in 1968, Hopkins has dabbled in everything from Merchant Ivory period dramas to horror, moving from television to film — and picking up an Academy Award, and several nominations, along the way. He’s battled a bear in The Edge, walked away unscathed from the misery of Joel Schumacher’s Bad Company, and even survived Freejack, but he’s never been given the Rotten Tomatoes Total Recall treatment — so in honor of his supporting turn in The Wolfman, we decided now would be the perfect time to look back at the 10 best-reviewed films in his distinguished career.


10. The World’s Fastest Indian

A name like The World’s Fastest Indian doesn’t exactly conjure up images of a Kiwi in his late 60s, but don’t let the disorienting combination of Anthony Hopkins’ face floating over the title on the poster keep you from watching. For one thing, Hopkins has called this his favorite performance; for another, the real-life adventures of New Zealand motorcycle tinkerer Burt Munro, who topped 200 MPH on his souped-up Indian Scout, make for one of the most entertaining, albeit unusual, biopics you’ve probably never seen. While it never enjoyed much more than a limited run here in the States, critics were kind to Indian — among them the Boston Globe’s Janice Page, who wrote, “History dictates that you know how the story ends. Still, the heart beats no less fast when you watch Munro’s Indian rocketing across those salt flats. You can see how it might be enough to justify a journey halfway around the world.”


9. Bram Stoker’s Dracula

By 1992, the world had seen enough Dracula adaptations — many of them sadly subpar — that the character was in desperate need of a fresh, suitably creepy start. Enter Francis Ford Coppola and his lavishly mounted Bram Stoker’s Dracula, which pit Gary Oldman as the titular vampire against Hopkins as his arch-nemesis Van Helsing — and threw in a marquee cast that included Winona Ryder and Keanu Reeves, as well as an Annie Lennox song over the closing credits, for added megaplex appeal. Given its impeccable pedigree, the fact that Coppola’s Dracula was a financial success didn’t come as much of a surprise — but unlike a lot of previous adaptations, particularly those of recent vintage, it was also a success with critics, many of whom welcomed the opportunity to see a director as talented as Coppola interpret the vampire’s classic tale. In the words of the Washington Post’s Hal Hinson, “It is Coppola’s most lavish and, certainly, his most flamboyant film; never before has he allowed himself this kind of mad experimentation.”


8. Magic

The first of three collaborations between Hopkins and director Richard Attenborough, 1978’s Magic is one of the stranger entries in Hopkins’ admittedly eclectic filmography — a horror movie about an unsuccessful magician named Corky (Hopkins) whose professional expansion to ventriloquism masks a worsening case of multiple personality disorder. Doing a sort of double duty as both Corky and the voice of his murderous dummy “Fats,” Hopkins added to his burgeoning horror resume as part of a stellar cast that included Ann-Margaret, Burgess Meredith, and David Ogden Stiers. While Magic wasn’t a huge commercial success, most critics expressed admiration for the puppet-driven tragedy, and it remains one of the stranger entries in a filmography heavy with big-budget productions and period dramas. As Rory L. Aronsky of Film Threat wrote, “Because of Hopkins, because of Ann-Margret (who hardly looks like that Ann-Margret, adeptly proving herself as an occasional dramatic actress), and because of Burgess Meredith as well as Fats the dummy, Magic is one of the top-notch films of the 1970s.”


7. The Mask of Zorro

For decades, the legend of Zorro held a reliable grip on film audiences, but by the 1990s, Hollywood seemed to have forgotten his appeal; the most recent movie to feature the swashbuckling bandit, 1981’s Zorro, the Gay Blade, was a broad parody starring George Hamilton as both the black-clad hero and his gay twin brother, Bunny. On the surface, Hopkins may have seemed an odd choice for The Mask of Zorro, which presented him as an aged version of the title character, in search of a man capable of assuming his legend and defeating the villanous Don Rafael Montero. Ultimately, however, neither audiences nor critics had much trouble accepting Hopkins as the Spanish swordsman who trains his much younger successor (Antonio Banderas); in fact, despite an ungainly running time of 136 minutes and some rather clumsy stunt editing, Zorro provoked a surprising amount of applause from critics, among them Almar Haflidason of the BBC, who gushed, “There are no clever ground-breaking effects, just lashings of good clean fun with desperately devilish baddies, and good guys so fantastic, so clever and witty, that they make you want to weep with pleasure.”


6. Howards End

Immediately after collecting a bushel of awards for his portrayal of the despicable Hannibal Lecter, Hopkins made an about face to play a different kind of villain in Howards End — the well-heeled but irredeemably flawed Henry Wilcox, whose casually classist attitudes represent the dark side of early 20th century British capitalist reform. At bottom, Henry is really sort of a cad, but Hopkins infuses him with ambiguity the way only he can; it’s another finely layered performance in a career full of them, and during the era of commercial ascendancy that found Hopkins starring in fluff like Freejack, it served as a gentle reminder of the talent that made him famous. And even if Edwardian dramas generally aren’t your thing, don’t dismiss Howards End out of hand; as Matt Brunson of Creative Loafing wrote, it’s “The best of the countless Merchant Ivory productions — and arguably the most appreciated by those who don’t even like Merchant Ivory movies.”


5. The Elephant Man

Before David Lynch’s name was synonymous with artsy, non-linear fare, he was the young director whose work on Eraserhead made a fan of Mel Brooks — who, when producing a film based on the life of medical legend and 19th-century British celebrity Joseph Merrick, hired Lynch to direct what would become 1980’s The Elephant Man. Though John Hurt justifiably received much of the film’s critical praise, as well as a Best Actor nomination, it’s Hopkins, as Merrick’s friend and fierce advocate Frederick Treves, that lends Elephant much of its compassion and moral weight. As Christopher Null of Filmcritic wrote, “Understated and masterful in its use of costumes, makeup, and low-budget camerawork, David Lynch’s portrait of John ‘The Elephant Man’ Merrick stands as one of the best biographies on film.”


4. The Lion in Winter

Many successful actors find themselves making excuses (or apologies) for the earliest entries in their resumes, but Anthony Hopkins’ first film was no Leprechaun — he made his debut in the 1968 period piece The Lion in Winter, starring as twelfth-century king Richard the Lionheart in a cast that included Peter O’Toole (as King Henry II) and Katharine Hepburn (as Queen Eleanor). Also kicking off his film career was Timothy Dalton, who appeared as King Philip II, the French monarch and Richard’s future nemesis (and perhaps paramour). Lion would go on to win three of the seven Academy Awards for which it was nominated, including a Best Actress trophy for Hepburn, and marked the first of many Hopkins performances based on historical figures. Praising it as “Less historical spectacle than vicious farce,” Kim Newman of Empire applauded its “great cast spitting venomous dialogue and a young Anthony Hopkins and Timothy Dalton as gay lovers destined to rule England and France.”


3. Shadowlands

His gift for fantasy helped make him one of the most successful authors in the world, but C.S. Lewis’ real-life experiences were as noteworthy as his fiction, as evidenced by 1993’s Shadowlands, which recounts his unexpected, slow-blooming love affair with the poet Joy Gresham. First friends, then partners in a marriage of convenience designed to keep her from being deported, Lewis and Gresham found their bond tested when she was diagnosed with cancer — and, in fact, found that their feelings ran deeper than either had planned. A gentle, melancholy tearjerker, Shadowlands reunited Hopkins with Chaplin director Richard Attenborough, and paired him with Debra Winger in a film that brilliantly highlighted the strengths of all three. Praising his work, Janet Maslin of the New York Times wrote, “Here is Mr. Hopkins giving an amazingly versatile and moving performance, shifting the light in those knowing blue eyes to reveal endless shadings between delight and sorrow.”


2. Silence of the Lambs

All the fame, ticket receipts, and critical superlatives aside, if you want to know what a tremendous actor Anthony Hopkins is, you need only consider that he earned a Best Actor Oscar for his portrayal of Hannibal Lecter in The Silence of the Lambs — a role that called for less than 20 minutes of screen time. Of course, it didn’t hurt that Lecter was a terrific character, one whose brilliant intellect and bloodthirsty appetites inspired multiple films and books (and helped make author Thomas Harris a very wealthy man in the process). Hopkins would go on to play Lecter on more than one occasion, resurfacing for 2001’s Hannibal and 2002’s Red Dragon — but while both of those films made money, neither approached the level of critical success enjoyed by Silence, which won a whopping five Academy Awards (including Best Picture). It isn’t often that a horror movie scales such heights; Silence succeeded because, in the words of Rolling Stone’s Peter Travers, “For all the unbridled savagery on display, what is shrewd, significant and finally hopeful about Silence of the Lambs is the way it proves that a movie can be mercilessly scary and mercifully humane at the same time.”


1. Remains of the Day

Hopkins’ commercial film breakthrough came with his gleefully mad portrayal of Hannibal Lecter in The Silence of the Lambs, and he hasn’t been above chewing the scenery on occasion — but he’s also more than capable of occupying the other end of the dramatic spectrum, as evidenced by his impeccably reserved work in Merchant Ivory’s Remains of the Day. Adapted from the Kazuo Ishiguro novel, Remains tells the story of an implacable butler (Hopkins) and the comparatively hot-tempered housekeeper who grows to love him (Emma Thompson) during their years together in a pre-World War II British estate. Not the stuff of blockbuster epics, obviously, but it picked up eight Academy Award nominations, gave Hopkins the opportunity to wring incredible drama from an act as simple as raising his hat, and reaffirmed his status as one of the few actors capable of making the jump between the megaplex and the arthouse. Among Remains‘ many appreciative critics was Variety’s Todd McCarthy, who wrote, “All the meticulousness, intelligence, taste and superior acting that one expects from Merchant Ivory productions have been brought to bear.”

In case you were wondering, here are Hopkins’ top ten movies according RT users’ scores:

1. Silence of the Lambs — 97%
2. The Elephant Man — 95%
3. The World’s Fastest Indian — 91%
4. Remains of the Day — 90%
5. Chaplin — 89%
6. Amistad — 87%
7. Howards End — 87%
8. Shadowlands — 87%
9. The Lion in Winter — 86%
10. Fracture — 84%

Take a look through Hopkins’ complete filmography, as well as the rest of our Total Recall archives. And don’t forget to check out the reviews for The Wolfman.

Finally, here’s Hopkins rhapsodizing on the merits of largeness in a Barclays Bank advert:

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