Subscribe to our newsletter

(Credit: Alamy/Far Out)

Film

Liam Neeson's 10 best performances of all time

@Russellisation

An acting chameleon who often isn’t given the credit he deserves, the Irish star Liam Neeson is known for his roles in wild action flicks, emotional dramas and even dry comedies. With a dominating presence in each and every film he appears in, Neeson is well-known in Hollywood for helping to restart George Lucas’ Star Wars franchise, featuring as Qui-Gon Jinn in 1999s The Phantom Menace.

Since then, Neeson has become something of an unlikely action hero, taking his towering physique and no-nonsense attitude to countless genre movies, including the celebrated Taken trilogy. In total contrast, and as a result of this gruff persona, Neeson has also been known for his surprising comedy timing, appearing with Ricky Gervais in a hilarious skit on Extras as well as in the Seth McFarlane film Ted 2, where he delivers the film’s best scene.

Having worked with some of the greatest filmmakers of modern cinema including Steve McQueen, Christopher Nolan, Martin Scorsese and Steven Spielberg, Neeson is a multifaceted talent who should be recognised as a great of his generation.

Celebrating his 70th birthday, let’s take a look back at Neeson’s ten best performances of all time. 

Liam Neeson’s 10 Best Performances of all time

10. The Grey (Joe Carnahan, 2011)

Liam Neeson may be a great actor and a fantastic action star, but it’s fair to say that a good handful of his generic adrenaline-fueled genre films haven’t been much good. Joe Carnahan’s The Grey is an exception to this rule, with the 2011 flick following Neeson as an oil worker in Alaska who survives a plane crash with several other colleagues, only to be pursued by a pack of baying wolves.

It’s a fairly novel concept that is brought to life by Neeson in the lead role, giving a solid dose of melodrama to this surprisingly emotional action movie. 

9. Breakfast On Pluto (Neil Jordan, 2005)

Too often forgotten in Neeson’s impressive filmography, Neil Jordan’s comedy-drama Breakfast On Pluto features the actor in the supporting role of a priest and a father in the background of a story of a trans woman who travels away from their hometown to seek understanding in London. Featuring alongside Cillian Murphy, Eva Birthistle and Ruth Negga, Neeson helps to elevate the performances of those around him. 

With pertinent themes way ahead of their time, Jordan’s film has many elements worth celebrating, not least Neeson’s performance. 

8. Widows (Steve McQueen, 2018)

A lesser-known film of Steve McQueen’s glittering career that includes the addiction drama Shame, novel adaptation 12 Years a Slave and Irish biopic Hunger, Widows tells the story of four women each riddled with debt who work to forge their own future built on their own terms. Though Neeson only plays a supporting role as a deceased husband, he makes a powerful, if brief, impact. 

An outstanding thriller, Neeson appears as part of an impressive ensemble that also features Viola Davis, Michelle Rodriguez, Elizabeth Debicki, Daniel Kaluuya, Colin Farrell, Jacki Weaver, Carrie Coon and Lukas Haas.

7. Kinsey (Bill Condon, 2004)

Written and directed by the maker of Dreamgirls and Chicago, Bill Condon, Kinsey told the true story of the life of Alfred Kinsey, a pioneer in the area of human sexuality whose research changed sociology. Playing the titular character, Neeson helped the film achieve its critically acclaimed status, even earning Golden Globe and Independent Spirit Award nominations for his performance. 

Though he missed out on an Oscar nomination for his performance, his co-star Laura Linney achieved some Academy attention, even if she too didn’t take home a statuette. 

6. Michael Collins (Neil Jordan, 1996)

Working with Neeson on several occasions, Neil Jordan’s collaboration with the actor in the 1996 movie Michael Collins may be their most iconic project together. In the historical biopic of the Irish revolutionary Michael Collins who led a guerrilla war against the UK and helped negotiate the creation of the Irish Free State, Neeson seizes the title character with incredible dramatic control.

Featuring Julia Roberts, Ian Hart, Aidan Quinn and Alan Rickman, Neeson leads the ensemble cast with considerable energy and enthusiasm, somehow avoiding multiple awards for his work. 

5. Batman Begins (Christopher Nolan, 2005)

A revolutionary superhero movie of the early 21st century, Liam Neeson played his part in changing the genre for the better, playing the antagonist Ra’s al Ghul in the first film in Christopher Nolan’s epic trilogy. Initially, the friend of Christian Bale’s titular caped crusader, al Ghul turns on Batman, creating several thrilling set pieces and a dozen compelling arguments in the process. 

One of the most memorable aspects of a superhero movie that seems a little uninspiring in hindsight, Neeson does well to make his character the best it could possibly be.

4. Taken (Pierre Morel, 2008)

In modern cinema, it is the action genre that Liam Neeson is best known for, with the 2008 movie Taken being his most celebrated role, both critically and commercially. This is for good reason too, as the French English-language action-thriller perfectly rides the line between tragedy and farce, making for a truly joyous movie that revels in its own absurdity and high-octane thrills. 

Playing an all-powerful father enraged that someone has kidnapped his daughter, Neeson gives a perfectly theatrical performance famously stating, “I will look for you, I will find you, and I will kill you”.

3. Silence (Martin Scorsese, 2016)

A passion project for Martin Scorsese, Silence is an epic historical tale that tells the story of two Portuguese Jesuit priests who travel to Japan to find their mentor who is rumoured to have left his faith. An intricate drama starring Neeson alongside Andrew Garfield, Adam Driver and Tadanobu Asano, the Irish actor produces an extraordinary performance alongside Gardleid in the lead role. 

Emotionally wrought and physically demanding, it’s clear that Neeson gives his all in the exhausting film that is carried by the performances of its lead actors. 

2. Ordinary Love (Lisa Barros D’Sa, 2019)

The most recent movie on this list, Lisa Barros D’Sa’s 2019 movie Ordinary Love demonstrates a totally different type of performance from Neeson, giving a heart-breaking performance to this tear-jerker following a middle-aged couple amid the wife’s breast cancer diagnosis. Neeson’s performance is helped by the supporting role of the ever-impressive Lesley Manville, with the duo working to form an extraordinary on-screen relationship. 

Receiving a peculiar lack of attention upon its release, Ordinary Love deserves to be considered one of Neeson’s very best, proving just why he remains such a versatile actor. 

1. Schindler’s List (Steven Spielberg, 1993)

No film better demonstrates the range and charm of Liam Neeson than the classic Steven Spielberg holocaust drama Schindler’s List. Telling the story of the incredible work of Oskar Schindler, an industrialist who helped over one thousand Jews escape persecution in Germany during WWII, Spielberg’s film stars Liam Neeson as the WWII hero, delivering an emotionally nuanced performance that makes the movie such a towering success.

Leading the film from the forefront, Neeson is given a hand in the acting department with supporting performances from Ben Kingsley and Ralph Fiennes, though neither can match his own sheer dramatic weight.