Peter O'Toole, one of the most talented, charismatic, and esteemed actors of any generation, died on Saturday at the age of 81. With his charm and classical training, he starred in a great deal of the most famous and well-regarded films in history, and was nominated for 8 Oscars over the course of his career. Although he holds the record for the most nominations without a win, he was awarded with an Honorary Oscar in 2003, which cemented his role as one of the greatest film actors of all time. Over his 60-year career, he played a great number of iconic roles. Some of them only became cinematic icons after he brought them to live onscreen. Others are the kind of literary, historical, or theatrical icons that are reserved for only the most esteemed of actor, but all of them will forever be remembered as part of O'Toole's long, storied career.
In remembrance of the late, great actor, we've rounded up all Peter O'Toole's most iconic film characters.
T.E. Lawrence, Lawrence of ArabiaArguably the most famous and iconic role that O’Toole ever played, the British military commander T.E. Lawrence earned the actor the first of his eight Oscar nominations and made him a household name. With a performance that perfectly captured the complex and divisive nature of his character and still managed to ground the epic scale of the film, it’s no wonder that O’Toole will always be more closely associated with Lawrence's story than even the actual historical figure is. Although he was the first of many more significant and memorable roles to come, Lawrence of Arabia will forever be the iconic Peter O’Toole performance.
Henry II, The Lion in Winter It takes a significant amount of talent and charisma to steal a scene away from Katherine Hepburn, but as Henry II, the aging king who refuses to leave his kingdom to either of his sons, O’Toole turns a major theatrical and historical figure into a cinematic icon. It was actually the second time that O’Toole took on Henry II, having played a younger version of the monarch a few years earlier in Becket, and that experience with the character seems to have served him well in delivering another unforgettable performance.
Don Quixote, Man of La Mancha O’Toole actually played several characters in this musical, including the author himself, Miguel De Cervantes, but it’s his portrayal of the knight-errant who is unable to tell reality from fiction that stands out as the truly iconic role. Don Quixote is one of the most famous literary characters of all time, and O’Toole perfectly blends the tragedy and comedy of his character to wonderfully bring him to life on the big screen, and ensures that his Don Quixote will forever be remembered as just as much of an icon as the character in Cervantes’ story.
Robinson Crusoe, Man FridayAlthough one of his lesser known films, O’Toole puts his own stamp on the famous character of Robinson Crusoe, the English explorer stranded on a deserted island. The film is designed to subvert many of the messages of the original Daniel Defoe novel, which allows O’Toole to switch things up and play a stiff, blunt, overly-proper Englishman, and showcase the range of his talent. It might not be as epic or dramatic as some of his other iconic roles, but in Man Friday, O’Toole is able to interpret another famous literary character in a new unique way while still delivering an incredible, memorable performance.
Sherlock HolmesThere is perhaps no literary hero more iconic than Sherlock Holmes, so it is perfectly fitting that O’Toole took on the role for several animated films in 1983. It’s a testament to O’Toole’s talent that despite only providing his voice for the character, he is still considered to be a vital part of the long, great tradition of esteemed English actors who have undertaken the task of bringing the world’s only consulting detective to life on screen. Fun fact: O’Toole also played Sherlock Holmes’ author, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle just over a decade later, in the film FairyTale: A True Story.
Professor Henry Higgins, Pygmalion For a television adaptation of Pygmalion, O’Toole took on another role reserved for the most esteemed of actors when he played Professor Henry Higgins in 1983. Like Sherlock Holmes, his interpretation of the iconic professor will long be considered to be one of the greatest, an opinion which he solidified by reprising the role three years later on Broadway.
Zaltar, Supergirl Yes, O’Toole was nominated for a Razzie Award for Worst Actor for his role in Supergirl, but it says something about O’Toole’s talent and dedication that he still earns award nominations for what is widely considered to be his worst film. Despite this, he managed to make Zaltar an iconic character purely by portraying him onscreen, and also helped prove that just because an actor is both English and held in the highest of esteem, it doesn’t mean that casting him in your superhero film will automatically improve its clout and quality.
Augustus Caesar, Imperium: Augustus O’Toole took on the Roman emperor in 2003 when he played Augustus Caesar in the television movie Imperium: Agustus. The Caesar kin are the kind of iconic historical figures who are always played by the greatest actors of their day. Performers with enough talent and respect to make them almost as famous and iconic as the emperor they are portraying. It’s only fair that O’Toole get his shot at the role, and took on Caesar as an old, aged man, looking back on the glory days of his life.
Anton Ego, RatatouilleSure, Ratatouille might not be on quite the same level as Lawrence of Arabia, but Pixar creates iconic characters in much the same way that giant, sweeping epics do, and when it comes to Pixar villains (or would-be villains), Anton Ego is among the finest. As the snooty, rude, condescending food critic, O’Toole helped to create a character that will make children cower in fear, all the while laughing at his humorous affect. Plus, as one of the few Pixar villains who changes over the course of the film, O’Toole also assisted in creating a character who is just as multi-dimensional as the ones he played in live-action films.
Lions Gate via Everett Collection
When we last left our heroes, they had conquered all opponents in the 74th Annual Hunger Games, returned home to their newly refurbished living quarters in District 12, and fallen haplessly to the cannibalism of PTSD. And now we're back! Hitching our wagons once again to laconic Katniss Everdeen and her sweet-natured, just-for-the-camera boyfriend Peeta Mellark as they gear up for a second go at the Capitol's killing fields.
But hold your horses — there's a good hour and a half before we step back into the arena. However, the time spent with Katniss and Peeta before the announcement that they'll be competing again for the ceremonial Quarter Quell does not drag. In fact, it's got some of the film franchise's most interesting commentary about celebrity, reality television, and the media so far, well outweighing the merit of The Hunger Games' satire on the subject matter by having Katniss struggle with her responsibilities as Panem's idol. Does she abide by the command of status quo, delighting in the public's applause for her and keeping them complacently saturated with her smiles and curtsies? Or does Katniss hold three fingers high in opposition to the machine into which she has been thrown? It's a quarrel that the real Jennifer Lawrence would handle with a castigation of the media and a joke about sandwiches, or something... but her stakes are, admittedly, much lower. Harvey Weinstein isn't threatening to kill her secret boyfriend.
Through this chapter, Katniss also grapples with a more personal warfare: her devotion to Gale (despite her inability to commit to the idea of love) and her family, her complicated, moralistic affection for Peeta, her remorse over losing Rue, and her agonizing desire to flee the eye of the public and the Capitol. Oftentimes, Katniss' depression and guilty conscience transcends the bounds of sappy. Her soap opera scenes with a soot-covered Gale really push the limits, saved if only by the undeniable grace and charisma of star Lawrence at every step along the way of this film. So it's sappy, but never too sappy.
In fact, Catching Fire is a masterpiece of pushing limits as far as they'll extend before the point of diminishing returns. Director Francis Lawrence maintains an ambiance that lends to emotional investment but never imposes too much realism as to drip into territories of grit. All of Catching Fire lives in a dreamlike state, a stark contrast to Hunger Games' guttural, grimacing quality that robbed it of the life force Suzanne Collins pumped into her first novel.
Once we get to the thunderdome, our engines are effectively revved for the "fun part." Katniss, Peeta, and their array of allies and enemies traverse a nightmare course that seems perfectly suited for a videogame spin-off. At this point, we've spent just enough time with the secondary characters to grow a bit fond of them — deliberately obnoxious Finnick, jarringly provocative Johanna, offbeat geeks Beedee and Wiress — but not quite enough to dissolve the mystery surrounding any of them or their true intentions (which become more and more enigmatic as the film progresses). We only need adhere to Katniss and Peeta once tossed in the pit of doom that is the 75th Hunger Games arena, but finding real characters in the other tributes makes for a far more fun round of extreme manhunt.
But Catching Fire doesn't vie for anything particularly grand. It entertains and engages, having fun with and anchoring weight to its characters and circumstances, but stays within the expected confines of what a Hunger Games movie can be. It's a good one, but without shooting for succinctly interesting or surprising work with Katniss and her relationships or taking a stab at anything but the obvious in terms of sending up the militant tyrannical autocracy, it never even closes in on the possibility of being a great one.
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The first and most important thing you should know about Paramount Pictures’ Thor is that it’s not a laughably corny comic book adaptation. Though you might find it hokey to hear a bunch of muscled heroes talk like British royalty while walking around the American Southwest in LARP garb director Kenneth Branagh has condensed vast Marvel mythology to make an accessible straightforward fantasy epic. Like most films of its ilk I’ve got some issues with its internal logic aesthetic and dialogue but the flaws didn’t keep me from having fun with this extra dimensional adventure.
Taking notes from fellow Avenger Iron Man the story begins with an enthralling event that takes place in a remote desert but quickly jumps back in time to tell the prologue which introduces the audience to the shining kingdom of Asgard and its various champions. Thor (Chris Hemsworth) son of Odin is heir to the throne but is an arrogant overeager and ill-tempered rogue whose aggressive antics threaten a shaky truce between his people and the frost giants of Jotunheim one of the universe’s many realms. Odin (played with aristocratic boldness by Anthony Hopkins) enraged by his son’s blatant disregard of his orders to forgo an assault on their enemies after they attempt to reclaim a powerful artifact banishes the boy to a life among the mortals of Earth leaving Asgard defenseless against the treachery of Loki his mischievous “other son” who’s always felt inferior to Thor. Powerless and confused the disgraced Prince finds unlikely allies in a trio of scientists (Natalie Portman Stellan Skarsgard and Kat Dennings) who help him reclaim his former glory and defend our world from total destruction.
Individually the make-up visual effects CGI production design and art direction are all wondrous to behold but when fused together to create larger-than-life set pieces and action sequences the collaborative result is often unharmonious. I’m not knocking the 3D presentation; unlike 2010’s genre counterpart Clash of the Titans the filmmakers had plenty of time to perfect the third dimension and there are only a few moments that make the decision to convert look like it was a bad one. It’s the unavoidable overload of visual trickery that’s to blame for the frost giants’ icy weaponized constructs and other hybrids of the production looking noticeably artificial. Though there’s some imagery to nitpick the same can’t be said of Thor’s thunderous sound design which is amped with enough wattage to power The Avengers’ headquarters for a century.
Chock full of nods to the comics the screenplay is both a strength and weakness for the film. The story is well sequenced giving the audience enough time between action scenes to grasp the characters motivations and the plot but there are tangential narrative threads that disrupt the focus of the film. Chief amongst them is the frost giants’ fore mentioned relic which is given lots of attention in the first act but has little effect on the outcome. In addition I felt that S.H.I.E.L.D. was nearly irrelevant this time around; other than introducing Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye the secret security faction just gets in the way of the movie’s momentum.
While most of the comedy crashes and burns there are a few laughs to be found in the film. Most come from star Hemsworth’s charismatic portrayal of the God of Thunder. He plays up the stranger-in-a-strange-land aspect of the story with his cavalier but charming attitude and by breaking all rules of diner etiquette in a particularly funny scene with the scientists whose respective roles as love interest (Portman) friendly father figure (Skarsgaard) and POV character (Dennings) are ripped right out of a screenwriters handbook.
Though he handles the humorous moments without a problem Hemsworth struggles with some of the more dramatic scenes in the movie; the result of over-acting and too much time spent on the Australian soap opera Home and Away. Luckily he’s surrounded by a stellar supporting cast that fills the void. Most impressive is Tom Hiddleston who gives a truly humanistic performance as the jealous Loki. His arc steeped in Shakespearean tragedy (like Thor’s) drums up genuine sympathy that one rarely has for a comic book movie villain.
My grievances with the technical aspects of the production aside Branagh has succeeded in further exploring the Marvel Universe with a film that works both as a standalone superhero flick and as the next chapter in the story of The Avengers. Thor is very much a comic book film and doesn’t hide from the reputation that its predecessors have given the sub-genre or the tropes that define it. Balanced pretty evenly between “serious” and “silly ” its scope is large enough to please fans well versed in the source material but its tone is light enough to make it a mainstream hit.