His characters onscreen have been immortal, legendary, and superheroic, but time catches up to us all. That voice, that face, and that charisma made Sean Connery arguably the most famous Scotsman in the world. While he was a staple of action movies from the moment his film career began in the 1957 gangster movie No Road Back, he also leaves behind many classic performances in the sci-fi and fantasy realm.
Connery shot to fame as James Bond, a role he defined so much that author Ian Fleming rewrote the character to have Scottish heritage. But the former milkman and bodybuilder became a genre staple later in life. In 1974’s Zardoz, John Boorman’s sci-fi take on The Wizard of Oz, he’s still notorious for wearing almost nothing but underwear and red straps as he battles a flying stone head. In Robin and Marian, he portrayed an aging Robin Hood on a final adventure; years later he’d play King Richard to Kevin Costner’s Robin. He starred as a space marshall in Peter Hyams’ sci-fi western Outland, and was a fatherly King Agamemnon in Terry Gilliam’s epic fantasy Time Bandits.
1986 saw perhaps his most enduring fantasy role ever, as Highlander‘s Juan Sanchez-Villalobos Ramirez, immortal mentor to Christopher Lambert’s Connor MacLeod. What could have been joke casting — the heavily accented Connery plays a Spanish-Egyptian character, while the French Lambert plays Scottish — became a genre classic. Movie sequels, two syndicated TV shows and and animated series followed, though many fans like to believe the tagline that “There can be only one,” and it’s the original.
Three years later, Connery took a similar mentor role as Indiana Jones’ father in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, frequently chastising the hero as “Junior.” In 1995 and 1996, Connery took back-to-back fantasy roles. First as King Arthur in First Knight, and then as Draco the dragon, one of the first fully CG lead characters ever, in Dragonheart.
Connery mostly retired from acting after playing Allan Quatermain in the cinematic adaptation of Alan Moore’s The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen in 2003. His on-set clashes with director Stephen Norrington (Blade) became so contentious that Norrington also retired from directing afterwards, and has stuck to special effects work since. Offers to play Gandalf in The Lord of the Rings and the Architect in The Matrix Reloaded failed to lure him out of retirement. However, he did agree to voice James Bond in a From Russia With Love video game. And, in his final role, a retired veterinarian in Scotland’s first all-CG animated feature Sir Billi.
It’s a testament to the late Sir Sean that even in his less well-received films — Highlander II, for example — he always remained compelling. The actor passed in the Bahamas at age 90, but his body of work will live on for generations to come.
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