best film:   The Seventh Seal sits atop the list but there is so much here for Max von Sydow. When an actor collaborates with the great Ingmar Bergman ten (10) times there is bound to be plenty to choose from. That very top collection of films besides The Seventh Seal includes Bergman’s The Virgin Spring and Winter Light. In Winter Light, von Sydow is superb in his brief, but crucial role as Jonas Persson talking death and the end of the world with Gunnar Björnstrand’s preacher. Besides these three Bergman films, one has to make room in this discussion for The Exorcist of course (von Sydow, again, is excellent in support – and here playing much older than he really is as Father Merrin – von Sydow was only forty-four (44) years old). Do not forget about Woody Allen’s Hannah and Her Sisters either. Max von Sydow makes the most of his two scenes playing Barbara Hershey’s boyfriend Frederick – who is comically morose and dour. The next tier down for von Sydow includes more gems like Wild Strawberries, Shame, Hour of the Wolf and Through a Glass Darkly.


best performance:  Max von Sydow as Antonius Block in The Seventh Seal  is one of the greatest of all characters in cinema history. There is no hesitation and decision to be made in this category. This is the work von Sydow will be remembered for. There is a rich depth of quality in that long career (von Sydow was going strong into the 21st century past the age of seventy (70)). However, the knock on him for the purposes of this list would be the sort of lack of a second-best performance. By comparison, Liv Ullmann is probably better than von Sydow in Shame (his second best performance), and Shame is her fourth (4th) or fifth (5th) best. Now, on the contrary, von Sydow’s ninth (9th) best performance is going to be better than just about everyone behind him on this list. Regardless, there is not much that compares to the quality of his work in The Seventh Seal. Usually it is probably not a good thing to peak in your late 20s as an actor, but when it is playing the lead in one of the best films of all-time with Ingmar Bergman – peaking in your 20s is no insult.


The Seventh Seal – a gray film – severe in pictorial tint and mood – Ingmar Bergman sets the tone with the choir reigning down during the opening as the story sets out with the young Max von Sydow (just 28 years old here) and Gunnar Björnstrand back from the crusades as Death, incarnate, shows up on the rocks on the beach. Max von Sydow would later get get a stunning confessional soliloquy.


stylistic innovations/traits:   Max von Sydow is behind only Liv Ullmann (and these two worked together often – four (4) archievable films together) as far as all-time actors go from Ingmar Bergman’s talented trope. Unlike Ullmann (and most of the rest of Bergman’s stable), von Sydow flourished outside of Sweden (he had another dozen archiveable films away from Bergman). Max von Sydow and Bergman were done as of 1971 (and they had a hell of a 1968 together with both Shame and Hour of the Wolf) – which means von Sydow missed out on some fine Bergman projects post 1971 (not to mention Persona in 1966 – no role for von Sydow there). But still, take a look at this – and talk about impressive resume. Max von Sydow is probably still Bergman’s greatest male actor collaborator, he is in the best (or close) horror film of all-time, he is a Bond villain, and he worked with David Lynch, Woody Allen, Steven Spielberg, and Martin Scorsese. That is quite a career. Max von Sydow has a shoe-in top 100 male performance of all-time and again, his work with Bergman has been studied for decades and will continue to be as long as there is cinema studies. In Hollywood, von Sydow often played intellectuals (Hannah and Her Sisters). villains (Never Say Never Again, Thee Days of the Condor, Minority Report), doctors (Awakenings) or villain doctors (Shutter Island). His trademark was that voice – equally impactful in his native Swedish or in English with that distinct accent.


In 1968’s Shame Bergman captures a marriage (Max von Sydow and Liv Ullmann as husband and wife) on the brink as the apocalypse happens. He is a dreamer (“it is better not to know”) with a weak heart. Their arguments are breathtaking.


directors worked with:  Ingmar Bergman (10), William Friedkin (1), Sydney Pollack (1), David Lynch (1), Woody Allen (1), Steven Spielberg (1), Martin Scorsese (1)


Max von Sydow’s brave performance in Hour of the Wolf (1968). “I have felt megalomania brush across my brow…”. The experimental, dissonant score is a great touch and Bergman floods the film with close-ups of von Sydow (an actor’s dream). Those close-ups are often with von Sydow is in heavy makeup getting laughed at (hence the bravery comment).


top five performances:

  1. The Seventh Seal
  2. Shame
  3. The Virgin Spring
  4. Hour of the Wolf
  5. Pelle The Conqueror


from The Virgin Spring (1960) – Max von Sydow really comes into the film (and takes over) in the second half. Powerful work from von Sydow looking at his own hands asking God for forgiveness as Bergman captures from low angle.


archiveable films

1957- The Seventh Seal
1957- Wild Strawberries
1958- The Magician
1960 – The Virgin Spring
1961- Through a Glass Darkly
1963 – Winter’s Light
1968- Howl of the Wolf
1968- Shame
1969- The Passion of Anna
1971- The Emigrants
1971- The Touch
1973- The Exorcist
1975- Three Days of the Condor
1983- Never Say Never Again
1984- Dune
1986- Hannah and Her Sisters
1988- Pelle the Conqueror
1990- Awakenings
2002- Minority Report
2007- Diving Bell and Butterfly
2010- Shutter Island
2015- Star Wars: The Force Awakens