Ralph Fiennes birthday: the 15 best performances of The King's Man star

Veteran stage and screen actor Ralph Fiennes is 58 today. So, we've decided to celebrate by looking ahead to not one, but two, huge movies he's got coming out in 2021.

First up, Fiennes plays the Duke of Oxford in The King's Man. This is director Matthew Vaughn's prequel to his hitman Kingsman spy movies, and pairs Fiennes with rising star Harris Dickinson. Taking place during, and just after, World War I, the movie will show us the origins of the Kingsman spy agency. Together, the Duke of Oxford and Conrad (Dickinson) must battle a collective of villains led by the evil mystic Rasputin (Rhys Ifans).

Fiennes's second movie of 2021 is, of course, No Time To Die. The actor reprises his role as M, the superior to Daniel Craig's 007. This time, M must re-connect with an off-the-grid Bond as he contends with the evil Safin. True Detective's Cary Joji Fukunaga directs and Fleabag's Phoebe Waller-Bridge contributes to the screenplay – here's the trailer.

Can't wait for both of those movies? Well, scroll down and read our Cineworld blog detour into Ralph Fiennes's best movies. From raw drama to broad comedy, these films demonstrate Fiennes's formidable acting range.


1. Schindler's List (1993)

Steven Spielberg's anguished Holocaust drama recounts the brave mission of Oskar Schindler, the Nazi businessman who went from exploiting his Jewish workers to saving them from the concentration camps. Liam Neeson is Schindler and Ralph Fiennes, in his first Oscar-nominated role, is startling as vicious commandant Amon Goeth. The actor disappeared so far into the part of the notorious war criminal that real-life survivors of Goeth's internment camp were said to have been terrified of Fiennes when they visited the set. It takes someone of genuine skill to take an utterly repugnant, bloodthirsty individual and turn them into a perversely fascinating watch, digging out subtle notes of resentment, insecurity and envy.

2. Quiz Show (1994)

Left shattered by his role in Schindler's List, Fiennes sought an about-face into completely different material. In Robert Redford's superb, fact-based Quiz Show, Fiennes again demonstrates his mastery at portraying morally compromised characters. The film recounts the quiz show scandal that engulfed seemingly ace contestant Charles Van Doren (Fiennes), leading to a Congressional investigation. The actor nails the many different facets of Van Doren, from his confident facade on the quiz show itself to the off-camera paranoia he demonstrates in the scenes with his father (an excellent Paul Scofield). Fiennes was critically acclaimed for his role, and Scofield was Oscar nominated.

3. Strange Days (1995)

From period dramas to nightmarish dystopian sci-fi thrillers: there's no denying Fiennes's range as an actor. In his first collaboration with director Kathryn Bigelow, Fiennes plays Lenny Nero, a black marketeer of people's memories in 1999 Los Angeles. Memories and recollections have become a valuable commodity in this fraught landscape, as Lenny investigates a prostitute's death. Fiennes adapts to Bigelow's violent world with confidence and skill, showing that his ambiguous, chilly qualities as an actor can be transferred to many different contexts. He's well supported by a top cast that includes Angela Bassett (whose line "Right here, right now" was later sampled by Fatboy Slim) and Juliette Lewis.

4. The English Patient (1996)

Fiennes clutched another Oscar nomination for his tortured turn in this celebrated drama. The late Anthony Minghella pulls apart and reconstructs author Michael Ondaatje's Booker Prize-winning novel, fashioning a multi-stranded story of romance that takes place across multiple timelines and locations. A heavily made-up Fiennes plays a badly burned man, while recuperating in northern Italy, recounts to a nurse (an Oscar-winning Juliette Binoche) his doomed Saharan love affair with a woman (Kristin Scott Thomas) prior to World War II. There are clear echoes of Laurence of Arabia in this handsome, sand-swept production, and like that film, The English Patient benefits from an unreadable, ambiguous central figure who finds himself swept along by the intangible tides of love. 

5. The End of the Affair (1999)

Fiennes played another character unlucky in love in this sumptuous Graham Greene adaptation. Directed by Neil Jordan (The Crying Game), The End of the Affair recounts an illicit, doomed, Blitz-era romance between an author and his great love. Fiennes's character Maurice Bendix must confront the elemental question: why did Sarah Miles (an Oscar-nominated Julianne Moore) end the relationship and walk out on him? With two accomplished actors tucking into multifaceted and complex roles, it's little wonder this movie offers plenty of drama to chew on, although the film only received lukewarm reviews at the time of its release.

6. Spider (2002)

Fiennes's first and, so far, only, collaboration with the revered David Cronenberg scuttles inside the mind of a deeply troubled loner. Unlike fleshier, gorier Cronenberg movies such as The Fly, Spider's terrors are almost entirely psychological, which allows Fiennes to go to town in the central role. He plays Dennis Cleg, a man recently released from a psychiatric institution who begins to question the fabric of reality. The movie is based on Patrick McGrath's novel and would, in the hands of a lesser actor, offer the opportunity for showboating. However, as demonstrated in his previous films, Fiennes has a real skill for internalising a character's emotions, keeping us guessing as to the tempest raging beneath the surface.

7. Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit (2005)

A lot of Fiennes's most notable movies are dark and turbulent, inviting long nights of the soul. It's therefore delightful to note his skill with comedy (and there will be more movies in this realm on our list). In Aardman's joyous Curse of the Were-Rabbit, claymation heroes Wallace and Gromit make their feature film debut, and they don't lose a step. That irresistibly British humour is laced with all manner of sly references, including nods to silent cinema icons such as Charlie Chaplin. And Fiennes gives his distinctive baritone a hilarious workout as scheming antagonist Lord Victor Quartermain.

8. The Constant Gardener (2005)

The late John Le Carre's novel is the basis for this emotional drama, which pairs Fiennes with an Oscar-winning Rachel Weisz. The former plays Justin Quayle, a British diplomat in Kenya who is drawn into a conspiracy when investigating his activist wife's death. Justin comes into emotional focus gradually across the course of the narrative, Fiennes conveying, in heartbreaking fashion, a man forced to re-assess the nature of his marriage and life. Weisz may have got the plaudits for her relatively outspoken turn, but Fiennes is the one who carries us through this increasingly fractured drama of personal and political recriminations.

9. In Bruges (2008)

We noted Fiennes's comic abilities in The Curse of the Were-Rabbit. However, his hysterically funny performance in the pitch-black In Bruges is definitely not suitable for families. Martin McDonagh's scabrous blend of purgatorial reckoning, dwarfs, foul language and the cobbled streets of Bruges was met with critical acclaim, not least the inspired pairing of Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson. They play chalk and cheese assassins, forced to lie low in Belgium after a job gone wrong. But Fiennes steals the show as their incandescent boss Harry, whose sense of righteous indignation is well matched by his capacity for blisteringly bad language. 

10. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part II (2011)

Fiennes made his debut as dark wizard Voldemort in 2005's Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. It was a challenge to select his best Voldemort performance from the Harry Potter franchise, but we elected to go with the final movie in the series. This is the one where Harry's (Daniel Radcliffe) nemesis emerges front and centre to engage in the ultimate battle, allowing Fiennes to go off the leash, pantomime evil in ways that are diabolically entertaining. By this stage, Voldemort's hatred of Harry has reached such a critical mass that he becomes more terrifying than ever, a taunting tyrant who puts the boy wizard to the ultimate test. Fiennes later confessed to not having a clue what was happening in the Harry Potter films, but he's terrific nonetheless.

11. Coriolanus (2012)

Given Fiennes's Shakespearean background at the Royal National Theatre, it was perhaps surprising that it took this long for him to make his directorial debut. Nevertheless, it was well worth the wait. Fiennes writes, directs and acts as the tormented general Caius Martius Coriolanus, shifting the Bard's story from ancient Rome to a war-torn, undefined country in the east of Europe. The themes of the original play remain intact but are goosed with contemporary political relevance. Even so, Fiennes's greatest achievement is coaxing that rarest of things: a truly great performance from Gerard Butler, here playing Tullus Aufidius.

12. Skyfall (2012)

Skyfall was a pivotal moment in the James Bond series, transitioning from the old to the new. As Daniel Craig's 007 confronts his own obsolescence, reflected in the battle with the ruthless Silva (Javier Bardem), there are quantum shifts going on elsewhere too. As Judi Dench's M exits the franchise, having first appeared in 1995's GoldenEye, Fiennes's incoming bureaucrat Gareth Mallory becomes the man to replace her. He's initially set up as a shifty-looking quasi-antagonist but later proves his worth to 007, helping to fend off the evil Silva during the enquiry attack sequence. At the end of Skyfall, Mallory is officially appointed as M, setting up his place in the later films Spectre and No Time To Die.

13. The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)

Fiennes is a revelation in Wes Anderson's deliriously entertaining comic confection. No-one constructs movies quite like Anderson does: all of his films are precision-tooled quirk engines, filled with chapter headings, changing aspect ratios and minutely calibrated performances. Fiennes' inherent discipline and theatrical bearing sets him up well for this exacting brand of comedy, in which the slightest twitch or vocal emphasis is engineered for maximum laughter. He plays Grand Budapest Hotel concierge M. Gustave, a man capable of swerving between suave urbanity and foul-mouthed crassness. He is the fulcrum of the elaborately designed hotel, a man who evolves from sleeping with the guest's female residents to helping young lobby boy Zero (Tony Revolori) as they both become embroiled in art theft. That Fiennes wasn't Oscar nominated is a crime in and of itself.

14. Hail, Caesar! (2016)

The comic discipline that Fiennes demonstrated in The Grand Budapest Hotel bears fruit again in the Coen brothers' affectionate comedy. Hail, Caesar! is a loving look at the backstage machinations of Hollywood, various stories drawn together by gruff studio 'fixer' Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin). One of the funniest threads involves Fiennes' sophisticated English director Laurence Laurentz, who must contend with a new actor in his stiff-upper-lipped drawing room drama. Said actor is the hopelessly miscast cowboy stalwart Hobie (Alden Ehrenreich), whose inability to cope with basic linguistics ("Would that it were so simple") results in a riotously funny sequence.

15. The LEGO Batman Movie (2017)

We're ending our list on a fabulous comic high note for Fiennes. Coming hot on the heels of The LEGO Movie, The LEGO Batman Movie places Will Arnett's self-absorbed Dark Knight front and centre. Gruff of voice and lonely in his soul, this pint-sized, plastic Bruce Wayne must contend with the fact that his existence is defined by the villains in his life. The Joker (Zach Galifianakis) makes this very clear, and there's yet more insight from Fiennes's wonderfully droll butler Alfred. Whether he's putting the parental lock on the bat-computer, or pointing out the history of the Batman franchise (extra points for "That weird one in 1966"), Fiennes is an absolute delight.


What's your favourite Ralph Fiennes movie? Let us know @Cineworld. And don't forget to check out our list of 2021 movie releases.