Picking The Best Christopher Lee Performance Might Be Impossible

By  · Published on June 11th, 2015

Christopher Lee passed away on June 7th, and with the news coming out now the natural reaction is too look back on his storied career to attempt an understanding of his legacy. Normally with an artist, we’d explore the best work, the most famous work, and the work that has endured in order to catch a glimpse of how he or she should be remembered, but with Lee, there’s a problem. He made too many damned movies and played too many damned great characters.

He was Frankenstein’s creature, Dracula and the mummy. He was a Star Wars villain, a Lord of the Rings villain and a Bond villain. He played countless dignitaries and (mirroring life) countless military officers. He was in respected, prestige work and absolute, unrepentant schlock. He commanded an orc army, led a cult, shot lightning from his fingertips and fought Yoda. He did Dickens and Shakespeare and Arthur Conan Doyle. He’s in the Guinness Book for having the most roles of any international actor. Picking a favorite performance is like picking the best stone from a terrifying old castle.

You can see it in the headlines. Unlike most famous filmmakers who die, where everyone knows the most notable work of their career, outlets across the globe can’t agree on what title or character to name drop in their posts about Lee. Thus, his legacy appears to be that he overwhelmed us with the quality and variety of his work. It’s a sheer delight to love him both as the kindly, book-loving soul in Hugo and the outrageous, bacteria-spreading vampire in The Satanic Rites of Dracula. The man simultaneously had range and sort of played himself in every role. A difficult balance to pull off.

He was the King of the Villains who managed to show warmth and heart every so often, and he’ll be dearly missed, but that sonorous voice is going to echo in our ears for a long, long time.

Movie stuff at VanityFair, Thrillist, IndieWire, Film School Rejects, and The Broken Projector Podcast@brokenprojector | Writing short stories at Adventitious.