When I heard about the passing of the great English-born actor Christopher Lee, I instantly thought of all those classic movie moments of his, moments that left strong impressions on me as a film fanatic. So I decided the best way I could honor what his work, and what it meant to me, was to put together a list of my five favorite roles that he appeared in.
In no way does that mean that there aren’t lots of great performances, I just wanted to keep the list short. And at age 93, after more than 280 performances, there’s a pretty big list to choose from. As Kevin Smith might say, Lee’s career was “a huge bucket of win.”
5. Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones (2002)
There are lots of things about the prequels that were less than acceptable to most fans, but fortunately the role played by Lee was not one of them. The imposing 6’4″ actor took to the role of Count Dooku with sinister zeal. He was the man behind Palpatine, and the real highlight of Episode II was the amazing duel between Yoda and Dooku. That alone makes the film worth watching. Also, as a Peter Cushing fan, it’s nice that he and Lee got to share one more franchise, years after Cushing’s passing.
4. Horror of Dracula (1958)
The story of Hammer Horror has been told many times, but it still bears repeating; Lee and Cushing built that studio and re-energized horror movies during the 1950s and 1960s. Some will argue that Lee’s Dracula was one of his best performances. With those menacing eyes and that ravenous blood thirst, this was a much darker Dracula than the great Bela Lugosi’s. Sinister and silent, Lee carries the Count with an air of superiority and class, and his take on the legendary king of vampires has influenced virtually every portrayal since.
3. The Wicker Man (1973)
A devout Christian police detective goes to Summerisle in search of a missing girl. What the detective doesn’t know about the isolated island is that its inhabitants are pagan worshipers. He also finds a mystery that goes much further than just the lost child. At the center of the mysterious goings-on is the island’s leader, Lord Summerisle, a haunting Victorian-esque cult leader. Lee wears the role like a glove, his every word coming across with a sense of holiness and conviction. Every time Lee is on screen, he’s in complete control.
2. The Hound of the Baskervilles (1959)
“Sir Henry Baskerville”
While Lee has one of his smaller roles next to Cushing’s Holmes, it is probably my favorite take of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s sleuth. Lee plays Sir Henry with a naïve sense of doubt and defiance as he becomes heir to a large family estate. While Holmes is preoccupied, Lee plays off of Andre Morell’s Watson to near perfection. Lee keeps the viewer invested and concerned about Sir Henry’s safety, up until Homes unravels the entire mystery.
1. The Curse of Frankenstein (1957)
Boris Karloff’s monster will always be the face that people envision when discussing Frankenstein in cinema. He played the role with such pathos and emotion that it left the viewer conflicted about who the real monster was. But Christopher Lee’s monster just scared the living hell out of you, those grotesque wounds and popping color leaving an impression that’s hard to shake. And those mixed-colored eyes had nothing but hate and evil in them. This was another role where Lee’s size played up the menacing nature of the character without the need for special effects, and the scene where the old man and his grandson come across the monster is one of the most unforgettable moments in the history of horror.
Sir Christopher Lee, thank you for leaving us a legacy of films that we will be able to enjoy long after your passing. You will be missed!