McKellen has been a star in the playing world for a long time, both for his Shakespearean roles and for his famous Hollywood roles. Here are the 10 best movies by the 83-year-old actor to watch to see how good he is.
Macbeth is a sad story about power and want, and McKellen gives one of his best performances in it. Fans of the play and people who have never seen any of Shakespeare’s work will both enjoy the well-known version.
1. The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers
From the far-flung realms of fantasy to the pages of history, McKellen has hardly left a genre unexplored in his illustrious acting career. This period piece centers on a woman’s forbidden love for a patient at the psychiatric hospital where her husband works, but it isn’t quite as engaging as some of his other work.
Though this repelisplus film isn’t as good as some of his other work, it is still a fun watch for fans of British humor and McKellen. The actor flexes his comedic muscles as Amos Starkadder, the patriarch of a family that’s taken in by a distant relative who struggles with life on the farm. The film is a satirical riff on downtrodden rural fiction of the 1930s. It may be a little tough to track down, but it is well worth it for McKellen fans.
2. The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
McKellen showcases his theater strengths in this saga, with perhaps his most memorable moment coming when he stands up to the Balrog deep within the mines of Moria. This is one of the most epic battles in cinema history, bringing together monstrous orcs, hulking elephants and flying dragons with the soldiers of Gondor led by King Theoden and his steward Denethor (played by Billy Boyd). And then there’s Aragorn and Eowyn, whose unrequited love is the movie’s heart.
This 1995 comedy was a satire of religious fundamentalism, and McKellen delivers his usual sardonic humor in this delightfully quirky film. He also shines as a talking polar bear named Iorek in this whimsical fantasy about a dystopian world where freedom of thought and speech are outlawed.
3. The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers
The second installment of the epic fantasy series features McKellen as Gandalf, a role that the actor was born to play. The film may not have the first movie’s gripping ending but its awe-inspiring battle scenes and dazzling special effects more than make up for it.
While a bit tough to find, this 1995 drama is another underrated gem featuring McKellen as Roy Courtnay, a master of backstabbing who wants one last score before retirement. The film also stars Robert Downey Jr, Maggie Smith and Jim Broadbent.
McKellen’s love of period pieces continues with this dark tale set in 1960s England. The story follows a forbidden romance between Natasha Richardson’s character and the patient of a psychiatric hospital where McKellen’s character works. The film is a complex and emotionally powerful piece. It also helped establish McKellen’s American fame.
4. The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
The final installment of Jackson’s epic trilogy focuses on the climactic battle for Middle-earth and features McKellen in his most forceful and splendiferous performance. Gandalf’s efforts to distract Sauron and keep Frodo on his Ring-destroying quest are central to the film.
A far cry from the big-budget blockbusters McKellen would go on to star in later in his career, this is a small film with a big message about prejudice. It also marked one of the first times McKellen stepped outside of his Shakespearean comfort zone for a film role.
Set during the harrowing siege of Leningrad, this is a period drama with an intriguing premise. It finds a young woman (Natasha Richardson) falling in love with a patient at her husband’s psychiatric hospital. The gnula film challenges the status quo and makes its point with grace and power.
5. The Lord of the Rings: The Battle of the Five Armies
The second installment in Peter Jackson’s Middle-earth saga concludes with a fierce war between the dwarves of Laketown, the elves led by Thranduil, and Azog’s army of orcs from Mount Gundabad. McKellen shines as Gandalf, the wise wizard who leads the dwarves and Bilbo Baggins to their home at the Lonely Mountain.
Far more of a drama than an action flick, this film features a forbidden romance between an older man and a young patient at the psychiatric hospital where the actor plays a doctor. While it may not be as amusing as some of his other films, this is still a great pick for fans who want to see a different side of McKellen’s acting talents.