Oddly best known as a deadly serious dramatic actor, a Tony Award winner for his Hamlet, Fiennes has done his best work lately in comedy, displaying a lovely grave and wacky presence that energizes the films he is in. For much of his film career he was known for his skill in drama, but in recent years has displayed remarkable depth and versatility, something that has been exciting to watch evolve.
Cast in Schindler’s List (1993) after Steven Spielberg saw him portray T. E. Lawrence on television, he came to fame as one of the most evil Nazis to have lived, Amon Goeth, earning an Academy Award nomination and winning both the National Society and New York Film Critics Awards for supporting actor. Overnight it seemed he was established furthering his reputation with Quiz Show (1994) and the wildly over praised The English Patient (1996) for which he was nominated as Best Actor but does not crack my ten best performance list.
What I admire about the actor is his careful balancing of big studio productions including the Harry Potter franchise with small indies that offer the actor the chance to cut loose and take great risks with his art. Through these smaller films he has proven to be despite matinee idol good looks a gifted character actor.
One last note, that being his delightful comedic turn in The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014) was among the happiest surprises of that movie year, it just came out of nowhere! I remember laughing out loud when he is being questioned by the police and suddenly realizing he is a suspect he simply turns and runs! Comedy perfection! Here is the list of top Ralph Fiennes movies, selected from his vast filmography. You can watch some of these best Ralph Fiennes movies on Netflix, Hulu, or Amazon Prime.
10. The Hurt Locker (2009)
Cast in what is essentially a cameo, perhaps eight minutes of screen time, the actor portrays a Brit in Iraq, caught in a crossfire, the target of snipers when their truck has a flat. Incredibly without the proper jack they are left to fend for themselves. Matter of fact about one of his men being gunned down, the character is tuned to fight, to survive, to focus and find the enemy and fire his weapon. They seek the target, they take aim and fire their weapons as they were taught to do. Fiennes is perfect, tanned from the desert sun, intense, tired of being a target, and though he never knows it, doomed.
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9. Hail Caesar (2016)
Brilliant as a director not unlike Sir Laurence Olivier, God even the name Lawrence Lawrentz (nicely done Coen’s), Fiennes is a preening peacock. Though the cameras might be turned on his actors, he wants all eyes on him during the shooting of the film. Struggling with having to deal with a singing Cowboy with aw shucks diction, we see the Director slowly going mad. He speaks the lines for the actor several ways, each crisp and cold, and the young actor just cannot go there. Why? Because no one on planet earth speaks like that!! Again a rare comic turn, but an absolute delight.
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8. Harry Potter Series (2005-11)
Under a make up job that takes away his nose giving him the look of a snake or reptile, Fiennes dominated the final Harry Potter films as a character basking in pure evil. Fueled by a deep hatred of the boy Wizard, Lord Voldemort wants Potter dead, and will go to the ends of the earth to make that happen. Watch him move in the film, the manner in which he uses his arms and hands, his horrifying smile, and his shocking arrogance, which will be his undoing. Fiennes gave a great deal of thought to the character, choosing carefully how he spoke, listened, smiled, every move was thought out and executed with a purity that was stunning. Again, he was evil incarnate, this time in a fantasy realm. Nearly operatic in his grand style, yet expressionistic in movement.
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7. Spider (2002)
A strange little film with a Fiennes as a discharged mental patient struggling with his shattered mind and piecing back together his fractured past. The actors, Miranda Richardson being the other and director David Cronenberg took no salaries for the film, so great was their belief, so passionate was their hunger to make the film. Though largely silent, Fiennes creates a dark and twisted character slowly putting his life back together, attaching bit by bit the puzzle of his broken mind. It is not an easy film, but the performances are worth it.
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6. In Bruges (2008)
This wonderfully unexpected dark comedy sees Fiennes as a nasty mob boss, and he steals every single scene he is in. As a gang lord dispensing orders to hit men, he is a man of strange honour, believing one of his men must die after they accidentally kill a child. He just cannot let it go, and in fact when he himself believes he has killed a child, turns his gun on himself, a killer with a conscience and morals.
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5. The Constant Gardener (2005)
A tough uncompromising film about the corruption which exists in government and the large pharmaceutical companies peddling drugs to third world countries where the population struggle with abject poverty. When his wife, a crusading fighter for those who cannot fight for themselves disappears and it turns out has been murdered, Fiennes seeks justice as an enraged husband barely able to contain his fury, and a man slowly awakened to a corruption he had not taken seriously. Man and wife are reunited in death, each butchered by the government sanctioned killers in Africa. Powerful material, Fiennes is superb.
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4. Quiz Show (1994)
Showcasing his movie star good looks, Fiennes is outstanding in Robert Redford’s Oscar nominated Best Picture as Charles Van Doren. A wealthy young man, son of a famous writer, he is a contestant on the popular TV show 21, and bests long time winner Stempel. However a scandal breaks when it becomes clear Van Doreen has been given the answers and continued to get them long after he realized how wrong it was. The action brings shame to his family, and ruins the small amount of celebrity he had built for himself. Fiennes is outstanding as the handsome intellect, who despite education and wealth emerges as shallow.
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3. A Bigger Splash (2016)
As Harry, the rock and roll lover of the famous singer portrayed by Tilda Swindon, Fiennes is. Dark comedic revelation. The scene in which he throws on a Rolling Stones album and dances with wild, frenetic energy to Emotional Rescue is brilliantly liberating in its raw joy. We are seeing, at that moment, a man enjoying that moment in his life as though he might never enjoy another. Loose and free, Fiennes is superb, and when gone from the story we both mourn and miss him terribly. One of those rare times in movies when we get to witness an actors joy at creating their art.
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2. Schindler’s List (1993)
In Spielberg’s greatest film the face of evil, the face of Nazism is Goeth, brilliantly portrayed by a Fiennes as a cold man caught up in the nightmare of the time, but rather than running from it, embracing it, loving it, because it allows him a power unlike any he has ever had before. He can shoot Jewish prisoners in the camp with his rifle without ever leaving his balcony. He can grant life or order death with a wave of his hand. He doles out death, and lives for it, not seeing the Jews as people in the truest sense of the word. There are many horrors on display in the film, but nothing as terrifying as the cold, dead eyes Fiennes brings to his character. Chilling.
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1. The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)
In Wes Anderson’s masterful comedy, Fiennes gives the performance of his career as Gustav, the man who runs the famous hotel and does whatever it takes, and I mean anything to keep the guests happy. He climbs into the bed of more than one senior citizen to appease the much older lady, and considers the happiness of the patrons of the hotel his greatest duty. Fiercely loyal to those around him, he will go on a grand adventure with the new lobby boy, and staunchly fight for the boys rights at every turn, eventually once too often. Fiennes leads a sublime ensemble in the picture and Anderson wisely anchored his movie around him. Genius and unexpected in every way.
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