Liam Neeson is a bit of a controversial character these days. After making some comments about some disturbing thoughts he had in his past, the Irish actor came under fire for what many perceived to be a racist behavior. The controversy sunk his latest film, Cold Pursuit, and in the future, it’s unclear how welcoming Hollywood will be to him.
Before this controversy surfaced, Neeson was regarded as one of film’s most popular actors. He’s had a long and interesting career over the years, showing great versatility in his roles and the ability to handle just about any genre. He’s helped create so iconic characters that audiences have enjoyed over the years. Have a look back on some of Liam Neeson’s most memorable roles.
10 (Himself) Life’s Too Short
Life’s Too Short might not be the best of Ricky Gervais’ television efforts, but it does have some fun with its celebrity guests. The most memorable cameo comes from Neeson who pays Gervais a visit to get some advice one his burgeoning comedy career.
The scene has a lot of fun playing with Neeson’s penchant for more serious and intense roles. The painful session of improv comedy that Neeson forces Gervais into is hilarious in its absurdity. Ironically, following this role, Neeson would start appearing in a lot more comedic parts and has proven to be pretty funny.
9 (Priest Vallon) Gangs Of New York
To work with a director like Martin Scorsese much be a thrill for any actor, even one as high-profile as Liam Neeson. So it’s not surprising that Neeson would agree to even this small role in Scorsese’s Civil War-era epic.
As Priest Vallon, Neeson plays the honorable and respected leaders of the Dead Rabbits, a New York gang made up of Irish immigrants. Vallon is the father of Leonardo DiCaprio’s character and his death at the hands of Bill the Butcher at the beginning of the film sets the stage for the entire story.
8 (Rob Roy) Rob Roy
Neeson seems like the kind of actor who can fit into any time period for a film. He feels right at home in a modern setting, just as he does in a story taking place hundreds of years ago, as with Rob Roy.
Neeson plays real-life Scottish outlaw and folk hero, Rob Roy MacGregor, who seeks revenge against the noblemen who wronged him. Neeson plays the hero role well and Tim Roth steals the show as the villainous Cunningham. Unfortunately, the film had the misfortune of coming out the same year as Braveheart which stole much of its thunder.
7 (Bad Cop/Good Cop) The Lego Movie
Neeson wasn’t the kind of actor you usually find popping up in kids’ films and he rarely provided his voice for animated films, yet The Lego Movie proved he was a natural fit for that cinematic world.
Set in the wild and imaginative world of Lego, Neeson provides the voice for Bad Cop/Good Cop, the dual personality authority figure in Bricksburg. The part has a lot of fun with Neeson’s famous tough guy persona while also letting him access his rarely seen goofy side. The strange mix provides the film with some of its biggest laughs.
6 (Ottway) The Grey
By the time The Grey was released, Neeson’s reputation as Hollywood’s ultimate badass was at an all-time high. So the prospect of a film in which Neeson fights a pack of wolves in the Alaskan wilderness seemed like the perfect fit. While the film wasn’t quite what some fans were expecting, it was a brutal and relentless thriller.
The film centers on a group of oil field workers whose plane crashes in a remote, frozen area of Alaska and they are soon targeted by wolves. Neeson basically plays the kind of guy you’d want to have with you if you ever found yourself in a situation like this.
5 (Peyton Westlake/Darkman) Darkman
Before Sam Raimi brought Spider-Man to the big screen for the first time, he tried his hand at creating an original cinematic superhero.
Neeson starred as a scientist who, after being attacked by mobsters, is left horribly scarred by with a newfound super strength. Thought dead, he becomes Darkman and seeks revenge on those who ruined his life. The film has the same crazy and campy tone feature in most of Raimi’s work and Neeson is fun as the demented hero. While the film failed to become a new hit franchise, it did spawn two direct-to-video sequels without Neeson or Raimi involved.
4 (Ducard/Ra’s Al Ghul) Batman Begins
You need a certain kind of actor to be believable as the man who trains Batman and Liam Neeson is one of the few actors who can fit that bill. In Christopher Nolan’s gritty origin story of the caped crusader, Neeson plays the mysterious man who starts Bruce Wayne on his path to becoming a hero.
The film was a much-needed change of course for the Batman franchise and kicked off the highly acclaimed trilogy. Neeson provides the appropriate stoicism for the role and helped effectively sell the third-act twist.
3 (Qui-Gon Jinn) Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace
If training Batman wasn’t enough, Neeson is also the man who helped Obi-Wan Kenobi become a Jedi. He played Jedi Master Qui-Gon Jinn in the high-anticipated and highly disappointing first episode in the Star Wars prequels.
Along with Ewan MacGregor as Obi-Wan, Neeson managed to fit well into George Lucas’ world, which couldn’t have been an easy task when dealing with Jar Jar Binks. While the movie might have been a letdown, Neeson is generally seen as one of the bright spots and has even reprised the role in the Clone Wars series.
2 (Bryan Mills) Taken
It’s easy to forget that there was a time when Liam Neeson was simply seen as a dramatic actor and not the middle-aged badass he’s now known for. That reputation came with his role in Taken where he plays a former CIA operative hunting down the criminals who took his daughter.
The movie was a surprise hit and kick-started a new action-oriented phase of Neeson’s career. The film’s success also helped start the action movie trend of the middle-aged badass. While it might not be a high-caliber film, Neeson sure was impressive kicking all that butt.
1 (Oskar Schindler) Schindler’s List
Neeson’s sole Oscar nomination to date is for Steven Spielberg’s haunting and powerful Holocaust film, Schindler’s List. Neeson stars in the titular role as the real-life factory owner who helped save the lives of over a thousand Jews during the Holocaust.
The film is obviously very difficult to watch with its unflinching depiction of one of history’s darkest periods. Neeson brings humanity to this complex character, effectively portraying his willful ignorance to the situation which slowly turns into horrible guilt. The film has earned a reputation of one of the greatest ever made and Neeson’s performance is often regarded as the best of his career.
NEXT: Our 10 Favorite Modern Black and White Movies