The movie industry is paying tribute today to Sir Ian Holm after the beloved actor passed away at the age of 88 as a result of complications due to Parkinson’s disease. Holm leaves behind an illustrious career in stage, television and cinema, with his movie canon alone spanning six decades from The Bofors Gun in 1968 to The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies in 2014.
Stars are paying tribute to Holm online with clips and images from his most famous roles, which won him numerous awards and are still revisited as all-time favourites today.
Here are some of the movie performances that helped to define Holm’s career...
The Bofors Gun (1968)
By the time Holm made his movie debut in postwar drama The Bofors Gun, he had already won a Tony Award for his stage work and appeared as King Richard III in BBC series The War of the Roses. The role of Gunner Flynn, though, in this tale of soldiers becoming increasingly tense and violent during a night of guard duty marked his arrival as a star of the silver screen.
So good was Holm’s debut, in fact, that he won the BAFTA for Best Supporting Actor.
A Midsummer Night's Dream (1968)
The plays of William Shakespeare have always played a key role in Holm’s career, with the star a stalwart of the Royal Shakespeare Company before making the move to the big screen. He appeared alongside Kenneth Branagh in the 1989 adaptation of Henry V, playing the role of Fluellen, and then portrayed Polonius in the 1990 take on Hamlet, in which Mel Gibson played the title character.
Before that, though, Holm played the mischievous Puck in Peter Hall’s 1968 adaptation of the Bard’s most famous comedy: A Midsummer Night's Dream. The film also starred Judi Dench and Helen Mirren.
The role that gained Holm real mainstream attention for the first time was as the manipulative android Ash in Ridley Scott’s space-set haunted house movie Alien. Ash is eventually revealed to be one of the movie’s primary antagonists — other than the terrifying extra-terrestrial beastie — having received secret orders to bring the alien sample back to Earth, regardless of the fate of the expendable human crew.
One of the film’s most memorable scenes — aside from the iconic chest-burster — features the decapitated head of Ash taunting the surviving crew as he gushes with admiration for the marauding xenomorph. It’s a terrific performance that has definitely stood the test of time.
Chariots of Fire (1980)
Holm received his only Oscar nomination for his performance as running coach Sam Mussabini in the British sporting drama Chariots of Fire. The movie won four awards at the glittering ceremony, including Best Picture, but Holm played second fiddle to John Gielgud’s performance in the comedy film Arthur.
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The actor almost certainly wasn’t too bothered, though, as the role remains one of his most fondly remembered performances and won him another BAFTA.
Time Bandits (1981)
Bizarrely, Holm played Napoleon Bonaparte on three separate occasions in three very different projects. The most widely remembered is his cameo as the French leader in Terry Gilliam’s comic adventure Time Bandits, but he also portrayed Napoleon in the 1972 TV series Napoleon and Love and the 2001 historical drama The Emperor’s New Clothes.
Presumably, if Stanley Kubrick has opted to cast Holm in his long-mooted epic biopic, the project might have come to pass.
Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes (1984)
Holm found himself putting on a suit and heading to the BAFTAs as a nominee once again as a result of his supporting role in the 1984 adventure Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes. The actor played Belgian explorer Capitaine Phillippe d'Arnot, who discovers the titular figure — as played by Christopher Lambert — in the jungle and teaches him the ways of men.
After his brief appearance in Time Bandits, Holm again worked with Terry Gilliam in the Monty Python man’s darkly comic satire Brazil. Holm portrayed Mr Kurtzmann, who serves as the boss of Jonathan Pryce’s protagonist in a maddeningly bureaucratic corporate world.
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Despite lukewarm reception outside of Europe, the movie has gone on to become a cult classic and is routinely listed among the greatest British films ever made.
The Madness of King George (1994)
Holm received yet another BAFTA nomination for his performance in the historical drama The Madness of King George. The film — which was nominated for four Oscars and the coveted Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival — tells the story of King George III’s struggles with mental health. Holm portrays ex-minister turned physician Francis Willis, who is recommended to help treat the king’s symptoms.
The original play upon which the film is based was called The Madness of George III, with a common theory — albeit one debunked by director Nicholas Hytner — suggesting there was concern American audiences would stay away, assuming they had missed the two previous films.
The Fifth Element (1997)
In Luc Besson’s over-cranked and colourful sci-fi tale The Fifth Element, Holm plays priest Vito Cornelius — the human contact for alien protectors the Mondoshawans. It’s an example of Holm’s versatility that, although he was best known as a Shakespearean performer capable of eye-catching supporting roles in prestige movies, he could also do his bit to provide enough gravitas at the centre of a loony genre movie in which Gary Oldman does an unusual Southern accent for reasons best known to himself.
The Sweet Hereafter (1997)
Considered to be one of the best Canadian films ever made, Atom Egoyan’s The Sweet Hereafter cast Holm as an out-of-town lawyer helping the survivors of a bus accident to file a class-action lawsuit against the bus company. Holm described the role as his first ever movie lead and was delighted to accept the job after the original star Donald Sutherland stepped aside.
Lord of the Rings/The Hobbit (2001-2014)
Holm is most recognisable to modern audiences for his performance as Bilbo Baggins in two of the Lord of the Rings movies and, subsequently, two of the adaptations of The Hobbit. Although Holm’s role as the cousin of Elijah Wood’s Frodo is a fairly small one, Holm made a big impact — and not just in that famous GIF of his terrifying face.
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Although Martin Freeman played the role of Bilbo in the Hobbit trilogy, in which he is the main character, Holm and Wood made brief appearances as part of a framing narrative in which Bilbo is chronicling the story for his relative.
Along with two of the Hobbit films, one of Holm’s last screen appearances was in a voice role as the main antagonist in the Pixar movie Ratatouille. He voices Skinner, who was the former sous-chef to legendary cook Auguste Gusteau and now owns his restaurant. Skinner discovers that protagonist Linguini is only able to cook with the help of the street rat Remy and attempts to sabotage him.
Holm won an Annie Award for his voice acting as Skinner, providing a fitting cap on a remarkable silver screen career.