The name’s Connery … Sean Connery, an actor almost everyone is able to recognize if only for his role as the most famous spy in all of fiction, James Bond. The star of seven different Bond films, Connery is still frequently cited as the definitive iteration of the character, his charisma, confidence, and devilish good looks helping form the basis for all cinematic depictions of Bond in the future.
While Connery’s name is almost synonymous with the Bond series, attributing Connery entirely to the 007 franchise fails to encapsulate Connery’s 50-year-long career. He’s appeared in everything from crime and fantasy films in his later years to ensemble war films in his early days in the film industry, illustrating his great versatility as a performer.
With several well-known films under his belt – including Indiana Jones, The Hunt for Red October, and Highlander, among others – Connery possessed one of the most impressive and varied careers in the whole of film history. Like any actor, though, his filmography is not without the occasional flop here and there.
From his breakthrough performance as the suave gentleman super spy, James Bond, to his various performances in his later years, here are some of Sean Connery’s greatest films, ranked from best to worst.
Investigating the eccentric mogul Auric Goldfinger (Gert Fröbe), MI6 agent James Bond (Connery) discovers an ambitious plan to break into Fort Knox, radiating the fort’s abundant gold supply and disrupting the world’s economy.
To avoid making this list a simple ranking of Connery’s 007 films alone, we decided to include only one James Bond movie on this list – starting and ending with the best of them all. Nearly 60 years later, Connery’s third Bond film is still considered one of the finest the series has ever put out, an early classic in the espionage genre directly referenced in everything from Austin Powers to True Lies.
Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade
When his professor father (Connery) is kidnapped by the Germans, globe-trotting archaeologist Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) sets out on a journey to rescue him, racing against the German Army to find the coveted Holy Grail.
At the time it was released, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade acted as the conclusive chapter to Indiana Jones’ story. If the series had ended there, what a satisfying ending it would have been. Delving more deeply into comedy than its far more serious predecessors, Last Crusade finds Connery in a wonderful odd-couple pairing with Ford’s Jones, the two lighting up the screen together as the estranged, argumentative father and son duo.
The Hunt for Red October
As an experimental Soviet submarine nears American waters, the U.S. government scrambles to determine whether the submarine means to attack the nation or whether the ship’s captain (Connery) intends to defect to the U.S.
Yes, admittedly, Connery’s attempt at a Russian accent is comically bad at best, but there’s no denying his role as Soviet captain Marko Ramius is perfectly suited to Connery’s strengths. Intense, regal, confident, and startling analytical in his strategic mindset, you spend the whole film – like a majority of the characters – trying to figure out Ramius’s motivations, only to be constantly misled by Connery’s stony expression and contradictory actions.
As a centuries-long conflict between warring immortals reaches its climax in modern-day New York, one of the combatants – a 16th-century born Scottish warrior (Christopher Lambert) – reflects back on his past, including his formative years with his mentor (Connery).
Like The Hunt for Red October, Connery barely attempts any semblance of an accent as the older, wise Egyptian noble turned Spanish aristocrat, Juan Sánchez-Villalobos Ramírez. However, that doesn’t stop Connery from being a welcome sight in every scene he’s in, handling his mentor-like role with poise and ease. (It’s films like this that make you realize how perfect Connery would’ve been in The Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, or The Matrix, all of which he famously turned down.)
As Al Capone (Robert De Niro) tightens his hold over 1930s Chicago, Prohibition agent Eliot Ness (Kevin Costner) puts together a ragtag team of law enforcement officers to combat the kingpin’s criminal empire.
As with Highlander, Connery plays a more mentorial character in Brian De Palma’s period crime epic, The Untouchables. The only film Connery ever won an Oscar for, his portrayal of Ness’s right-hand man, the old-school, tough-as-nails policeman Malone, gives the movie the hard-boiled edge it’s looking for. Standing in contrast to the youthful appearances of Costner and Andy García, Connery appears as a wizened figure from America’s past – a man who’s lived through the worst and still retains his pluck, tenacity, and his unwavering desire for justice.
The Man Who Would Be King
In 1880s India, two ex-British soldiers (Connery and Michael Caine) establish themselves as kings of a small country.
In essence, The Man Who Would Be King is a retro adventure story modeled after the swashbuckling epics of the 1930s (most especially Gunga Din). Coasting on the abundant charisma of its two lead actors, the film deftly combines comedy with action and adventure, serving as one of legendary director John Huston’s best movies.
After a rogue Special Ops commander (Ed Harris) seizes control of Alcatraz Island and threatens San Francisco with a chemical weapon, the U.S. government sends in a bookish chemist (Nicolas Cage) and a former Alcatraz inmate (Connery) to stop him.
The Rock is arguably the closest Connery ever came to playing James Bond again after 1983’s Never Say Never Again (interestingly, there’s a feasible fan theory which asserts Connery’s character in the film is actually a disavowed James Bond). Channeling a Bondian level of charm, efficiency, and proficient espionage skills, Connery gives an excellent performance, complimenting Cage’s meek and mild-mannered chemist nicely.
Marnie (Tippi Hedren) is a serial liar and kleptomaniac who is unable to stop her criminal lifestyle. Marrying one of her employers (Connery), her new husband tries to do everything he can to help Marnie reform her criminal ways.
Connery’s first and only collaboration with the iconic Alfred Hitchcock, Marnie came at a time when the celebrated director was on a gradual artistic decline, each new movie of slightly worse quality than the one that came before it. Fortunately, Marnie possesses enough strengths to keep it from suffering the same middling reputation as Topaz or Torn Curtain, largely owing to Hedren and Connery’s unique romantic chemistry.
The Longest Day
In June 1944, the Allied forces launch a massive invasion of Nazi-occupied France, the subsequent battle told from various points of view, including American, British, French, and German soldiers on the front line.
A massive ensemble film, The Longest Day features Connery in a comparatively smaller role, appearing alongside fellow acting giants like John Wayne, Robert Mitchum, Henry Fonda, and Richard Burton. With how large the cast is, it’s a testament to Connery’s gifts as an actor that he’s able to forge his own presence in the film, delighting viewers as the sardonic Private Flanagan.
Murder on the Orient Express
Temporarily stalled in the mountains of Yugoslavia due to inclement weather, the famous Belgian inspector Hercule Poirot (Albert Finney) must solve a murder when one of his fellow passengers (Richard Widmark) aboard the illustrious Orient Express is found dead.
One of the best adaptations of Agatha Christie’s famed book, Murder on the Orient Express is a first-rate whodunit featuring an all-star cast. As with The Longest Day, Connery doesn’t allow himself to be overshadowed by any of his brilliant co-stars (Lauren Bacall, Ingrid Bergman, Vanessa Redgrave), holding his own as the imposing, easily-offended Colonel Arbuthnott.
The Great Train Robbery
In 1850s England, a British aristocrat (Connery) plans a daring robbery on board a train carrying a fortune in gold.
A sadly overlooked gem among Connery’s filmography, The Great Train Robbery is a superb adaptation of Michael Crichton’s adventure novel, serving almost as a Victorian-era heist film. Connery and his main co-stars, Donald Sutherland and Lesley-Anne Down, all possess unique chemistry together, making for a comedy heist movie that deserves to be seen by more people.
Befriending a group of time-traveling dwarfs, a young boy neglected by his parents (Craig Warnock) embarks on a fanciful journey across time and space, meeting famous historical and fantastical figures like Napoleon (Ian Holm), Robin Hood (John Cleese), and the personification of Evil (David Warner).
A wonderfully bizarre film from the mind of Monty Python member Terry Gilliam, Time Bandits is the first of Gilliam’s thematically-connected “Trilogy of the Imagination,” continuing with Brazil and concluding with The Adventures of Baron Munchausen. In this film, Connery has the small but notable role of Greek hero, Agamemnon, the ideal father figure to Warnock’s main character. It’s a minor performance, but one that again suits Connery’s strengths as an actor, quickly winning audiences over in spite of his limited screen.