best film:  It’s either Rebecca or Spartacus and this is Olivier’s problem. These films are with Kubrick and Hitchcock—the best two directors of all-time. But—and it’s a big but—I have these two films as Kubrick’s 10th best and Hitchcock’s 12th best film. Basically what I’m saying is if you were watching the greatest works of film art in order of greatness you’re going to go a very long time before you get to a Laurence Olivier movie sadly. I do not believe that’s totally coincidental despite Olivier’s obvious greatness as an actor.

best performance:  Hamlet and this category is much more fun. I went with Hamlet (best picture winner 1948- which Olivier himself directed). He’s brilliant in it. It’s hard to picture another actor doing Shakespeare better (as an actor—of course Kurosawa swamped Olivier directing Shakespeare). I also think his work as a total bastard in The Entertainer gives him a nice seedy underbelly and range to his work. I love that performance. He’s so captivating in Spartacus (it’s the best performance in the film—sorry Kirk Douglas) and of course his work in The Marathon Man is famously horrifying (“Is it safe?”).

stylistic innovations/traits: Olivier had 9 nominations and a career that spanned nearly 40 years (and 20 archiveable films) and many consider him amongst the very greatest actors of all-time (and for good reason). He’s incredibly skilled as an actor. He’s known for his Shakespearian works and performances (four times), period films and prestige pictures. Unfortunately, more often than not it was his acting that was the main show and not the film. It makes for low-stakes (relatively) art and frankly, not much that stays with you. There was some bad luck involved. He did work with the likes of Hitchcock, Wyler, Kubrick, Powell and Preminger- but not in their best work by a long stretch. I don’t know, maybe that isn’t luck.

directors worked with:   Olivier (4) himself the only one more than once—then once with Wyler, Hitchcock, Kubrick and Powell

Top 5 Performances:

  1. Hamlet
  2. The Entertainer
  3. Henry V
  4. Spartacus
  5. Wuthering Heights

Archiveable films

1939- Wuthering Heights
1940- Pride and Prejudice
1940- Rebecca
1941- That Hamilton Woman
1941- The 49th Parallel
1944- Henry V
1948- Hamlet
1955- Richard III
1957- The Prince and the Showgirl
1960- Spartacus
1960- The Entertainer
1965- Bunny Lake is Missing
1965- Othello
1966- Khartoum
1971- Nicholas and Alexandra
1972- Sleuth
1976- The Marathon Man
1976- The Seven-Per-Cent Solution
1977- A Bridge Too Far
1978- The Boys From Brazil