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.
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.
directors worked with: Ingmar Bergman (10), William Friedkin (1), Sydney Pollack (1), David Lynch (1), Woody Allen (1), Steven Spielberg (1), Martin Scorsese (1)
top five performances:
- The Seventh Seal
- The Virgin Spring
- Hour of the Wolf
- Pelle The Conqueror
|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|
|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|
|1986- Hannah and Her Sisters|
|1988- Pelle the Conqueror|
|2002- Minority Report|
|2007- Diving Bell and Butterfly|
|2010- Shutter Island|
|2015- Star Wars: The Force Awakens|
I watched Minority Report (2002) last week for the 1st time in like 15 years. I remembered it being entertaining but was also very impressed by the performances. It’s one of the best what I like to call “old evil guy” performances lol. The scene where he kills Colin Farrell’s character was chilling as was the scene where he accidentally gives away that he murdered the Ann Lively character to John Anderson (Tom Cruise) wife. “I said her name was Ann Lively but I never said she drowned” he turns slowly and towers over her silently. Christopher Plummer was good at these sorts of roles as well although there is no better old evil guy performance than John Huston’s Noah Cross in Chinatown (1974).
Doesn’t he play a similar, smaller role in Shutter Island? Could be misremembering
Completely unrelated note but Drake there is a site I recently discovered called “Filmgrab” and it’s by far the best resource I’ve found for grabbing high quality screenshots. And the sheer number of images they have posted on their film pages is super helpful. Usually on all other sites I browse for images it is the same handful of images recirculating over and over again, but that’s not the case on there. You might already be aware of this site, but if not I bet it would make finding screenshots of certain shots for your blog much easier
@Matthew- Great find- yes- I have been using it steady for the past few years. It is one of my favorite sites. I almost always have it open on one of my tabs.
Drake, since there are so many great actors, have you thought about expanding the list to 125 or 150 maybe? Or would that be too much work?
@George- Yes – there will be some very good actors left off the list altogether. I like sticking to 100 – I like talking actors and people seem to enjoy the discussions, but I thought about getting rid of the actors pages altogether. I’m personally more excited to get back to the director pages update. So 100 feels like a good compromise and place to stop.
@Drake Yes, that’s actually true, considering the fact that the first thing I look at is the director and it’s the primordial aspect in my choosing what film to watch next. I look forward to your updated list. And, by the way, the first place I look at when I hear of a film is your site to see if it’s in the archives or what rating it has, so thank you for all the work!
@George- Appreciate the kind words on the site- thank you.
Drake what’s your take on The Touch? It’s meant to be one of the much much lesser Bergman’s but I see here it got added to the archives.
I’m in Bergman mode right now so will get to it this year I think
Wow. I didn’t knows Elliot Gould(The Long Goodbye) played a lead role in a Bergman film
@Harry – It is lesser Bergman – it is a fringe recommendation. It is marriage and fidelity – and that’s Bergman. And there are a few highlights – but he is clearly not firing here. It is a modest artistic accomplishment.