After a major film debut with 1981’s Excalibur, Liam Neeson spent the rest of that swingin’ decade slowly climbing the acting ladder. (See him randomly in Krull, The Mission, The Dead Pool, and more, for example.) But after holding his own opposite Patrick Swayze in 1989’s Next of Kin, Neeson was at last upgraded to star for Sam Raimi’s dark superhero movie Darkman…where he spends most of the movie disfigured and fully covered in bandages. Still, Darkman was a financial success, especially for an original superhero IP in this era, and Neeson carried on with lending his baritone gravitas in dramas like the Certified Fresh Husbands and Wives.
In 1994, Neeson nabbed his only Oscar acting nomination with the monumental Schindler’s List, which would go on to win Best Picture for producer Steven Spielberg, who of course also got Best Director. Neeson took on another significant title historical role a few years later with Michael Collins, before entering the pop cultural fray as the decidedly unhistorical (though we suppose it depends on who you ask) Qui-Gon Jinn in Star Wars: Episode 1 – The Phantom Menace. And after that, just into the 21st century, Neeson appeared in Gangs of New York, Kingdom of Heaven, and Batman Begins. A resume that includes working with Raimi, Spielberg, Allen, Lucas, Scorsese, Scott, and Nolan? Sounds like that’d be a career peak for most…
And yet 2008’s Taken was still to come, which would transform Neeson into the go-to mid-budget action guy, create a cottage industry of similar flicks to follow in its wake. Some were pretty good (Cold Pursuit, A Walk Among The Tombstones), others came out decent (The Commuter, Non-Stop), a few were god-awful (Taken 2, Taken 3), and some were one was amazing (The Grey).
We also recently saw Neeson’s softer side resurface with Ordinary Love, his first romantic film since 2003’s Love Actually and one of the best-reviewed films of his career, proving he remains as versatile as ever. To celebrate his birthday, we take a look back on all Liam Neeson movies ranked by Tomatometer!
Critics Consensus: Hampered by an unlikable central character and source material stretched too thin to cover its brief running time, The Nut Job will provoke an allergic reaction in all but the least demanding moviegoers.
Synopsis: After he accidentally destroys the winter food supply of his fellow Liberty Park residents, Surly (Will Arnett), a squirrel, is... [More]
Critics Consensus:Third Person finds writer-director Paul Haggis working with a stellar cast and a worthy premise; unfortunately, he fails to fashion a consistently compelling movie out of the intriguing ingredients at his disposal.
Synopsis: An acclaimed novelist (Liam Neeson) struggles to write an analysis of love in one of three stories, each set in... [More]
Critics Consensus: Its 3D effects are an improvement over its predecessor's, but in nearly every other respect, Wrath of the Titans fails to improve upon the stilted acting, wooden dialogue, and chaos-driven plot of the franchise's first installment.
Synopsis: Ten years after defeating the Kraken, Perseus (Sam Worthington) is living a quieter life as a fisherman and sole parent... [More]
Critics Consensus: It may offer energetic escapism for less demanding filmgoers, but Battleship is too loud, poorly written, and formulaic to justify its expense -- and a lot less fun than its source material.
Synopsis: Lt. Alex Hopper (Taylor Kitsch) is a weapons officer aboard the destroyer USS John Paul Jones, while his older brother,... [More]
Critics Consensus: Its leisurely, businesslike pace won't win the franchise many new fans, but Voyage of the Dawn Treader restores some of the Narnia franchise's lost luster with strong performances and impressive special effects.
Synopsis: Visiting their annoying cousin, Eustace, Lucy (Georgie Henley) and Edmund Pevensie (Skandar Keynes) come across a painting of a majestic... [More]
Critics Consensus:The Commuter's cast is better than its workmanlike script - which helps make this reasonably diverting Liam Neeson action thriller worth the price of a matinee ticket or rental, if not a full-price ticket.
Synopsis: Insurance salesman Michael is on his daily commute home, which quickly becomes anything but routine. After being contacted by a... [More]
Critics Consensus:The Mission is a well-meaning epic given delicate heft by its sumptuous visuals and a standout score by Ennio Morricone, but its staid presentation never stirs an emotional investment in its characters.
Synopsis: Jesuit priest Father Gabriel (Jeremy Irons) enters the Guarani lands in South America with the purpose of converting the natives... [More]
Critics Consensus: As impressively ambitious as it is satisfyingly impactful, Michael Collins honors its subject's remarkable achievements with a magnetic performance from Liam Neeson in the title role.
Synopsis: In the early 20th century, Michael Collins (Liam Neeson) leads the Irish Republican Army with the help of his friends... [More]
Critics Consensus:Silence ends Martin Scorsese's decades-long creative quest with a thoughtful, emotionally resonant look at spirituality and human nature that stands among the director's finest works.
Synopsis: Two 17th-century Portuguese missionaries, Father Sebastian Rodrigues (Andrew Garfield) and Father Francisco Garupe (Adam Driver), embark on a perilous journey... [More]
Critics Consensus: Gruesome and deliciously broad, Sam Raimi's Darkman bears the haunted soulfulness of gothic tragedy while packing the stylistic verve of onomatopoeia springing off a comic strip page.
Synopsis: When thugs employed by a crime boss lead a vicious assault on Dr. Peyton Wilder (Liam Neeson), leaving him literally... [More]
Human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together, girls in tan speedsuits! Mass hysteria has gripped the nation since the hyperventilating presence of a femme Ghostbustersswooped in with a trailer, becoming the most disliked in YouTube history. Would a Mannequin remake cause the same tribulation? Only time will tell.
For now, as the Ghostbusters franchise crosses the mainstream once again, we look at 24 more ’80s movie remakes, ranked worst to best by Tomatometer! (Only original properties included — no Annie or Conan — while movies like 2011’s The Thing, which explicitly extend the original plot, are excluded.)
The journey between arthouse and IMAX can be a treacherous trip for an actor, but Liam Neeson has navigated it more nimbly than most over the course of his lengthy career, booking major roles in Serious Movies (Schindler’s List) while leaving room for horror (The Haunting), romance (Love Actually), and blockbuster franchises (The Phantom Menace, Batman Begins) — not to mention a recent string of action thrillers that, with this weekend’s A Walk Among the Tombstones, finds Mr. Neeson kicking bad-guy butt one more time. What better way to celebrate his accomplishments than a look at his best-reviewed movies? Here’s Total Recall!
Neeson returned to Irish history for 2009’s Five Minutes of Heaven, but instead of a Michael Collins redux, he starred opposite James Nesbitt in a tense, heartbreaking character study that uses “The Troubles” as the backdrop for a meditation on the lasting consequences of violence and the weight of hatred. Neeson’s gift for world-weariness is put to good use in the role of Alistair Little, the real-life former Ulster Volunteer Force soldier who was sent to prison as a young man for murdering a Catholic boy — and who consents to meet his victim’s brother (played by Nesbitt) in an effort to put the past behind them both. Five Minutes wasn’t widely seen, but it enjoyed positive reviews from most critics, including NYC Movie Guru’s Avi Offer, who praised it as “A 90-minute tour de force of suspense and intrigue with outstanding, powerhouse performances by James Nesbitt and Liam Neeson” and called it “one of the most rousing and provocative thrillers of the year.”
A biopic about the slain Irish revolutionary Michael Collins enticed filmmakers for years, eluding the grasp of Michael Cimino and Kevin Costner before Neil Jordan was finally able to bring Michael Collins to the screen in 1996. Though a number of critics (and more than a few filmgoers) took issue with the ways Collins diverged from its subject’s real-life story, pretty much everyone agreed that age differences notwithstanding, Neeson was perfect for the central role, and not just because his 6-foot-4 frame lived up to Collins’ nickname “The Big Fellow.” As Mark R. Leeper put it, “Liam Neeson is a big man and plays Collins as a big man, somewhat larger than the people around him. He sweeps into a scene with that large bulk of his and commands it.”
Given the way he’s been reinvented as everyone’s favorite action hero elder statesman, The Grey‘s basic plot description — “Liam Neeson versus wolves” — might have seemed like the absurdly over-the-top culmination of an unlikely chapter in an impressive career. But as viewers soon discovered, writer-director Joe Carnahan had a lot more on his mind than just Neeson and his human co-stars going toe-to-toe with a pack of ravenous beasts; although The Grey certainly doesn’t suffer from any shortage of pulse-pounding action, it also benefits from a surprising amount of thoughtful subtext. As Dana Stevens argued in her review for Slate, “For all its macho standoffs and action set pieces and menacing off-screen howling, The Grey is at heart a simple moral fable about how true heroism consists in helping other human beings to live as long and die as well as they can.”
1984’s The Bounty is far from the first film inspired by the 1789 mutiny aboard the H.M.S. Bounty — or even the most well-known — but it might have the most impressive cast. Toplined by Anthony Hopkins as the authoritarian Lieutenant William Bligh and Mel Gibson as Bligh’s former friend and eventual nemesis, Fletcher Christian, The Bounty is rounded out by an array of famous faces from the past (Laurence Olivier as Admiral Hood) and the future (Daniel Day-Lewis plays Fryer, while Neeson appears as Christian’s enforcer, Churchill). Calling Hopkins’ work “one of the most interesting performances of 1984,” Roger Ebert applauded, “The Bounty is a great adventure, a lush romance, and a good movie.”
He earned screen time in a handful of films throughout the ’80s, including The Bounty, The Mission, and the Patrick Swayze masterpiece Next of Kin, but this Sam Raimi love letter to the comics was Neeson’s first opportunity to really carry a picture. He did it, too, despite spending much of Darkman under bandages and heavy makeup as the titular vigilante, burned and left for dead by a ruthless mobster (memorably played by Larry Drake). Critics and audiences greeted Darkman‘s pulpy action with enthusiasm, making it one of the year’s surprise hits and spawning two (regrettably Neeson-free) sequels. Applauding “Raimi’s flair for jazzy visual effects and extravagant action sequences, combined with direction that’s full of punch and energy,” the Chicago Reader’s Jonathan Rosenbaum applauded Darkman as the summer’s “best pop roller-coaster ride around.”
Neeson’s first big-screen break came courtesy of Excalibur director John Boorman, who spotted him playing Lennie Small on stage in Of Mice and Men and decided he’d be perfect for the role of Sir Gawain in his sprawling, lusty retelling of the Arthurian legend, Excalibur. Featuring lush visuals and a cast that included Helen Mirren, Patrick Stewart, and Gabriel Bryne, Boorman’s round-tabled epic became a fast late-night cable favorite among adolescent boys — and the critics liked it too, including Cinemaphile’s David Keyes, who called it “one of those great miracles in filmmaking” and said “Its concept of Arthur and the landscape that surrounds him is a benchmark for fantasy as we know it.”
Six years after appearing as Obi-Wan Kenobi’s mentor, Qui-Gon Jinn, in Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace, Neeson took what seemed at first to be a very similar role in Batman Begins — but of course, Batman‘s Henri Ducard is much more than just a mentor to Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale). Eventually revealed as the dastardly Ra’s al Ghul, Ducard proved a worthy adversary for the Dark Knight in Christopher Nolan’s blockbuster reboot — and gave Neeson a rare opportunity to play the bad guy. His layered performance helped set Batman Begins apart from the increasingly cartoonish tone previous installments in the franchise had taken, lending depth to the film that led Antagony & Ecstasy’s Tim Brayton to proclaim, “There has never yet been a Batman story with quite this kind of psychological trauma. If Ingmar Bergman had ever directed a superhero movie, it would have looked quite a bit like this.”
A movie about a sex professor? Sounds like an ’80s teen comedy (and for all we know, it probably was), but in reality, Alfred Kinsey did some groundbreaking, important work in the study of human sexual behavior, including the development of the Kinsey scale, which found a broad middle ground between strict heterosexuality and homosexuality. Of course, he also had a very busy sex life of his own, not to mention health issues and a drug problem — all of which means Kinsey had all the raw materials for a pretty salacious biopic. In less sensitive hands, it probably would have been, but with Bill Condon directing — and Neeson, Laura Linney , and Peter Sarsgaard in front of the cameras, Kinsey was an award-winning critical smash. While some writers thought it let Professor Kinsey off too easy — and some hastened to blame his studies for the relaxed moral standards of the last 40 years — most reviews echoed the sentiments of Cole Smithey, who called Kinsey “a sex education movie that uses historical fact and personal stories to articulate things that statistics can’t reveal, like the uniqueness of every individual’s imagination.”
Steven Spielberg circled Schindler’s List for years, concerned he didn’t have the skills or maturity necessary to dramatize the story of Oskar Schindler, the Nazi Party member who used his position as a German industrialist to save nearly 1,200 Jews during World War II. After trying to give the project away more than once (Spielberg’s candidates for his own replacement included Roman Polanski and Martin Scorsese), he finally started filmin in early 1993 — and the result is one of the most widely acclaimed movies of the ’90s, and the crowning achievement of Spielberg’s career. Neeson, who was nominated for a Best Actor Academy Award, anchors the film as Schindler, lending depth and nuance to the portrayal of a man who started the war as a profiteer and ended it wracked with guilt over the lives he’d failed to spare, despite risking his life — and losing his fortune — to prevent the deaths of so many. It may have taken Spielberg time to feel he was up to the challenge of Schindler’s List, but in the end, he had nothing to worry about; as Janet Maslin of the New York Times wrote, “Rising brilliantly to the challenge of this material and displaying an electrifying creative intelligence, Mr. Spielberg has made sure that neither he nor the Holocaust will ever be thought of in the same way again.”
Overshadowed by the scandal and recrimination surrounding the end of Woody Allen and Mia Farrow’s relationship, Husbands and Wives is actually a quite sharply written, albeit sometimes uncomfortably bitter, examination of the hidden stresses and selfishness that can lurk beneath even the strongest-looking romantic bonds. Neeson appeared as part of an ensemble cast that also included Allen, Farrow, Sydney Pollack, and Judy Davis — playing, for a change, a man who’s not only an ordinary modern-day guy, but who gets to peel off a few darkly comic lines before the movie’s through. “With its relationship angst and Lolita temptations,” wrote the Washington Post’s Desson Thomson, “Husbands and Wives hits embarrassingly close to Allen’s home. But it also hits its comic target.”
In case you were wondering, here are Neeson’s top 10 movies according RT users’ scores:
After a few relatively dry weeks of home video releases, we finally get a handful of more notable and/or interesting titles, sure to please everyone from the comic fanboy to the kung fu connoisseur to the ’80s action nut. As is typical of brand new releases that surface during this time of year, some of the biggest new titles are films that weren’t reviewed so highly. But the reissues and smaller releases is where you’ll find the gems this week, including a box set of Stallone films, a documentary about a fine art collection, and a childhood favorite of kids (more likely boys) who grew up in the 1980s. Read on to see the full list!
You’ll be happy to know the Blu-Ray of 2010’s Clash of the Titans includes an alternate ending in which Perseus confronts Zeus on Mount Olympus. Beyond the fact I’d like to see what Mount Olympus looks like (and if Maggie Smith still lounges around in it) this little twist seems rather emblematic of the fast-and-loose-playing Louis Letterrier’s remake of the 1980s stop-motion marvel offers up. While Harry Hamlin’s Perseus featured fewer screaming poses and stomach muscles than this one, (those two things connected?), this incarnation isn’t actually angling to disregard the last; it’s clearly trying to retell the story of Perseus (Sam Worthington) and his battle with the heavens for the love and freedom of his GF Andromeda (NAME). With its monster CG (literally) and its dust kicking battles, the remake does more to create moments of homage than to upstage the original, and that alone may help you forgive the conspicuous absence of one mechanical owl (*sniffle*). Extras include a featurette called “Sam Worthington – an Action Hero for the Ages: a dedicated actor morphs into a lean fighting machine for a mythic movie” and a feature called “Maximum Movie Mode,” in which Sam Worthington, Liam Neeson, Ralph Fiennes and director Louis Leterrier add scene breakdowns, VFX breakdowns and comments on Stuntwork and filming locales. I hear they show you close-ups of the Kraken, Scorpiochs and Medusa. Be ready to watch myth… look like myth.
It’s 2025, and artificial organs are all the rage. Well, for the people who need transplants, anyway. A company known as The Union has been selling these organs on credit, and customers who are unable to pay up face the inevitable visit from The Union’s “repo men,” who do exactly what’s implied. So what happens when a repo man becomes one of the unlucky few who can’t make payments? Starring Jude Law, Forest Whitaker, and Liev Schreiber, Repo Men boasted a strong cast of seasoned actors and a promising premise. Unfortunately, critics weren’t so charmed by the rote screenplay, flat direction, and predictable ending, granting the film just a 22% on the Tomatometer. Still, for those who are curious, it might still be worth a rental.
Albert C. Barnes made a fortune in the development of an antiseptic drug, and he used this fortune to amass a world-class art collection comprised of over 2500 items and valued at over $25 billion. You read that right: $25 billion. The collection includes pieces by Renoir, Monet, Picasso, Van Gogh, Matisse, Goya, Gauguin, and Cezanne, just to name a few. The Art of the Steal chronicles what took place after Barnes’ death in 1951; Barnes had created a foundation (aptly named The Barnes Foundation) to curate his extensive collection, and a gallery was finally made open to the public in 1961. However, in 2002, the Foundation decided that the gallery should be moved from its residential environs to a more accessible location in Philadelphia, which was in direct opposition to what Barnes himself wished for in his will. The Art of the Steal, while not entirely unbiased, attempts to depict this controversy, and critics for the most part were impressed by the film’s ability to tell its side of the story. Currently it’s sitting pretty at a Certified Fresh 85% on the Tomatometer, and if documentaries and fine art are your thing, chances are you’ll enjoy this one quite a bit.
Those who are into martial arts and martial arts films are probably already quite familiar with the legendary Chinese folk here Wong Fei Hung, popularly portrayed by both Jet Li and Jackie Chan. But action star Donnie Yen (no slouch in the martial arts department himself) decided to take on the role of another master, lesser known to the world, beginning a flurry of interest in a new cultural icon. Yen plays the title character in 2008’s Ip Man (aka Yip Man), a 20th century master who is known to be the first to teach the style of Wing Chun openly and who counted Bruce Lee among his students. Ip Man is loosely based on the man’s life during the Second Sino-Japanese War of the 1930s and ’40s; during the Japanese invasion, soldiers take over Ip Man’s home, displacing him and his family and forcing him to work the coal mines. There is plenty of political intrigue taking place within the story, much of it dramatized, but the action sequences are spectacular and visceral. For fans of hard-hitting martial arts films and historical epics, as well as fans of Donnie Yen himself, this is a movie not to miss. Side note: Donnie Yen has already finished the sequel to this film, but because there has been a recent flood of interest in the character, leading to several film projects (including one that Wong Kar Wai wants to do), Yen has already stated he’ll no longer portray Ip Man for fear of oversaturating the market with the character.
DC has done an amazing job so far with their direct-to-video animated films, particularly those of the Batman franchise. These movies have acquired quite a following of their own, with fans hotly anticipating each new release, and this week, all will be treated to the next installment, Batman: Under the Red Hood. Based on two storylines (“Under the Hood” and “A Death in the Family”), Under the Red Hood focuses on the crime kingpin Red Hood as Batman (this time voiced by Star Trek‘s Bruce Greenwood) strives to discover his true identity and decipher what his true motivations are. As Batman delves deeper into the mystery, he must come face to face with his past. The supporting voice cast includes, among others, Jensen Ackles, John Di Maggio, Jason Isaacs, Gary Cole, and Kelly Hu, making this a bit of a star-studded affair, and if recent efforts from DC’s animation department are any indication, this should be a fairly solid film. It’s available on DVD and Blu-Ray this week.
Biopics can be hit (Milk) or miss (Amelia), but one thing is true: in order for it to succeed, a biopic must have some resonating human element, something that offers the audience a new perspective or previously unknown dimension of a well-known character. In the case of Vincere, the notable figure in question is the fascist Italian leader Benito Mussolini, and the person who carries forth these new insights is Mussolini’s famed mistress, Ida Dalser. The film focuses mainly on Dalser throughout her relationship with the dictator, chronicling the years when the two lost touch during World War I. Though they felt the film focused more on emotion than historical accuracy, critics didn’t necessarily protest the fact, saying instead that Vincere was an absorbing look into the relationship. Giovanna Mezzogiorno, who plays Dalser in the film, also received high praise for her performance, and the film ended up with a Certified Fresh 93% on the Tomatometer. In other words, this movie is certainly worth your time, should you choose to veer away from the mainstream for your next rental.
Martial arts epics have been a tradition in Asia for decades, and those who grew up watching kung fu flicks by the Shaw Brothers Studios were already devouring everything coming out of Hong Kong. Jackie Chan and Jet Li had both already made their US debuts by 2000, but then came a martial arts film like nothing the world at large had seen before. Thanks to Ang Lee’s artful direction, top-notch acting, stunning action sequences, fantastic cinematography, and a sweeping, epic storyline about a rebellious young girl, the nomad she falls in love with, and the swordsman who tracks her down, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon not only captivated audiences to the tune of over $200 million, but it also impressed critics, who granted it Certified Fresh status with a 97% Tomatometer score. On top of that, the film was nominated for a whopping ten Academy Awards, taking home four of them, including one for Best Foreign Language Film. This week, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is available on Blu-Ray for the first time, and if you recall any of the landscape shots or adrenaline-fueled swordfights, you’ll remember why this would make a great choice to pick up in hi-def.
It’s still unclear if the recent live-action film G.I. JOE: The Rise of Cobra generated the same kind of rekindled interest in the original franchise that Michael Bay’s Transformers films have, but there are certainly fans who still care very much about the hit ’80s cartoon. Though many agree that, upon retrospect, the individual episodes of the children’s television show don’t really hold up upon repeat viewings (much like the original Transformers cartoon), the show itself is legendary among men of a certain age. Having said that, anyone who watched the show will clearly remember the week when G.I. Joe: The Movie was aired in five consecutive episodes, a direct result of the poor box office performances of both the Transformers and My Little Pony animated theatrical releases. The story line famously incorporates the Cobra-La organization (“Cobra-la-la-la-la-la!”) in a plot to hijack and use a weapon known as the Broadcast Energy Transmitter (BET). The Joe movie was also notable for the simple fact that it was the first time viewers were ever shown a Joe in danger of dying (a la several characters in Transformers: The Movie), when Duke is hit with a poison snake-arrow and falls into a coma. Does G.I. Joe: The Movie falter under scrutiny like the individual episodes tend to? That’s up to the viewer. But for anyone jonesing for a bit of nostalgia, the Special Edition is available this week on DVD and Blu-Ray, and it comes with a shockingly blunt and trivia-laden commentary by story consultant Buzz Dixon, eight of the end-of-episode PSAs, and a printable version of the movie’s script.
The Secret of the Grain. Sounds like an action-packed extravaganza, right? Well, some movies take their time and reward patient viewers, and this complex, emotionally engaging tale of an Immigrant family trying to make it in France is one of them. It’s a vibrant, fascinating portrait of a group of people that the audience really grows to know over the course of its two-and-a-half hours. The spiffy Criterion DVD package was personally approved by director Abdellatif Kechiche, and is loaded with interviews with the filmmaker and stars.
Back in 2006, Sylvester Stallone began reliving his success in the ’80s by tacking on a final installment of his iconic Rocky franchise, and two years later he did the same for Rambo. While he continues on with his homage to the decade in this year’s The Expendables, this week viewers will be treated to a complete box set of the Rambo films on Blu-Ray. The Rambo Complete Collector’s Set includes all four films, the first three of which are presented in their “Ultimate Editions” and the last of which is presented in its “Special Edition.” If you’re somehow unfamiliar with the franchise, Stallone’s John Rambo is a Vietnam War veteran who, upon returning to the US after his tour of duty, experiences severe PTSD and battles the local police force. In subsequent installments, Rambo would go on to help free POWs still held in Vietnam, rescue his friend and superior officer from Afghanistan, and save a group of aid workers in Myanmar. John Rambo has become an iconic cinematic hero, and this collection celebrates the legacy with tons of special features, both previously available and brand new, that come with the new box set. It’s available in Blu-Ray, and it’s must-have for any fans of 80s action and the Rambo franchise in particular.
Written by Ryan Fujitani, Tim Ryan, and Sara Vizcarrondo