With a career going all the way back to the ’50s, the late Sean Connery helped set a new standard in Hollywood, which still inspires the new and upcoming actors we love to watch today.
Alongside his iconic first portrayal of the famed British spy James Bond, which he’s still considered by many to be the best, Connery has starred in many films across multiple genres, managing to excel in just about all of them. Here’s how Rotten Tomatoes ranks his 20 best movies.
20 You Only Live Twice – 74%
It’s more than fitting for the first film in this list is one of Connery’s Bond films. Being a key reason as to why the franchise is as big as it is, You Only Live Twice was just one time when he displayed his unbeatable finesse as the central spy. Featuring one of Bond’s most memorable villains with Blofeld (Donald Pleasance) for the first time, the stand-off between the two paired with the film’s explosive nature makes for one of the most enjoyable Connery-lead Bond films.
Set during the Cold War, America and Russia find themselves blaming each other after both of their spacecraft go missing. With the two nations once again on the brink of nuclear war, Bond is sent to Japan after faking his own death to try and uncover the global conspiracy with the help of Tiger Tanaka (Tetsuro Tamba) and Aki (Akiko Wakabayashi). As he dives deeper, he uncovers something much bigger than anyone expected, with Blofeld at the helm.
19 Robin and Marian – 75%
In a film depicting one of the most famous stories in British folklore that has reached almost every corner of the world, Robin and Marian sees Connery star as the iconic archer Robin Hood. Starring alongside Audrey Hepburn as Maid Marian, the film was set up for success from the get-go. Their dynamic is a massive factor in the film’s success, always being praised for its authentic, atmospheric feel to such a well-known story.
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The film is set long after Robin and Little John’s (Nicol Williamson) adventures in Sherwood Forest, with the two of them fighting alongside Richard the Lion-Heart (Richard Harris) in France. After Richard dies in battle, the pair find themselves back in Sherwood, with Robin learning that his beloved Maid Marian is serving as mother superior at a nearby covenant.
Turning the story into a tale of love, Robin faces his old nemesis, the Sheriff of Nottingham (Robert Shaw) one last time after ordering the arrest of Marian.
18 The Anderson Tapes – 76%
The Anderson Tapes features Connery in the opposite role as his synonymous Bond portrayal, with him playing the lead burglar in the film. A wonderful blend of the mystery and thriller genres, the film doesn’t let you look away for one moment with its all-engulfing story. The satirical undertones also add so much to the film in such an understated way.
After being recently released from prison, John ‘Duke’ Anderson (Connery) returns to his ex-girlfriend (Dyan Cannon) after 10 years, to find out she lives in an expensive New York apartment building as the mistress of a wealthy man. You might think that John would’ve learned from his mistakes, however, he plots to rob every tenant in the building in a single job, without realizing the building is under heavy surveillance from multiple agencies.
17 The First Great Train Robbery – 76%
Yet again playing the role of a thief, The First Great Train Robbery is a comedy heist film written and directed by Michael Crichton, who adapted his own novel for the big screen in 1978. What makes this film so special for Connery is due to it displaying his range with the same character type, with a sizable difference between this role and that of The Anderson Tapes. With critics agreeing that Connery provides a winning performance, this movie will never fail to provide outright entertainment.
Following Connery’s character of Edward Pierce, he’s a thief who has never found a heist that he couldn’t pull off. Full of confidence, he decides to plan something that’s never been done before up to the film’s 1850s English setting, to rob a moving train. Working with a master safecracker (Donald Sutherland) and an alluring woman (Lesley-Anne Down), Pierce sets out a complex plan to steal the thousands of dollars worth of gold on board.
16 The Name of the Rose – 76%
In a more grounded, slow-moving film, The Name of the Rose proves Connery can shine in not just high-octane action, but dramatic mysteries as well. With its focus being on the compelling, convoluted characters, this film is perfect for those who love to decipher an ever-growing mystery, set in a time and place that is very rarely utilized in the genre, Italy in the 1300s.
Adapted from the same-titled novel written by Umberto Eco six years prior to the theatrical adaptation, the film follows William of Baskerville (Connery), a renowned Franciscan monk, and his apprentice, Adso of Melk as they travel to an abbey where a suspicious death has occurred. Using his unmatched detective skills, William begins investigating what he believes is a murder, with several more monks being found dead as the investigation unfolds.
15 The Untouchables – 82%
Without a doubt one of the most well-known movies in Connery’s filmography, The Untouchables puts Connery back in the crime-fighting role, but this time as an Irish cop in Chicago named Jimmy Malone.
Adapted from the 1937 book by Eliot Ness (also a character in the film) and Oscar Fraley, this film stays true to its source material while capturing the spirit of older 1930s gangster films, which have inspired many more cult classics. Not only is TheUntouchables one of the best gangster films of the ’80s, it’s one of the most iconic of all time in its genre.
Anchored by its incredible cast alongside Connery, the film is loosely based on the legendary crime boss Al Capone, played by Robert De Niro this time round, after he builds an empire with bootleg alcohol. With Prohibition agent Eliot Ness (Kevin Costner) failing to take Capone down alone, Jimmy Malone joins the personal fight after losing his dad at the hands of mobsters a long time ago. Feeling inspired to continue, Ness renews his determination to finally bring Capone to justice.
14 Marnie – 83%
A more unique style of mystery, Marine can’t help but stand out in this list due to being directed by Alfred Hitchcock, one of the most influential directors of all time. This 1964 film features all the compelling elements that make Hitchcock’s films so distinctive, but the performances are what make this film even more special.
Adapted from the 1961 novel of the same title by Winston Graham, the film focuses on Mark Rutland (Connery) as a customer of Mr. Strutt, whose business was robbed by his secretary, the mysterious Marnie Edger (Tippi Hedren). After Marnie applies for a job with Mark with the intention of stealing from him, Rutland soon discovers that she has severe psychological issues regarding men, thunderstorms, and the color red.
Compared to Connery’s other performances, this will always be a standout due to Rutland’s complex, ever-digressing character.
13 Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade – 84%
The James Bond franchise isn’t the only iconic series that Connery found himself in. In the third installment to the Indiana Jones series, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, he plays Indiana’s (Harrison Ford) father, Henry Jones, Senior. Playing such a vital role in the story of one of the most loved characters of all time is no easy feat, and it’s one that Connery nailed. Lighter and more comedic than the prior two entries into the series, Ford and Connery’s dynamic provides so much vital to an already wonderful adventure.
After Henry goes missing on his search for the Holy Grail, the son that he introduced to archeology, Indiana finds himself following his father’s diary in hopes of finding him. Learning that the Nazis are also interested in the Biblical cup, Indiana must overcome the powerful force in order to be reunited with his parent and to stop them from gaining the most valuable piece of potential lost history.
12 Thunderball – 85%
In another explosive, enticing adventure for James Bond, Thunderball is just as thrilling as the previous Bond film on this list. Thunderball was the film that started to take the series to new heights in terms of the spectacle, exaggerating almost every aspect of what came in the previous installments. Whether that’s something you prefer or not, Connery’s sharpness as Bond doesn’t go anywhere.
Led by one-eyed villainous mastermind Emilio Largo (Adolfo Celi), the criminal organization SPECTRE hijacks two nuclear warheads from a NATO plane to complete their plan to extort £100 million. 007 is sent to recover the warheads from the heart of Largo’s lair in the Bahamas, providing a vibrant, bold environment to contrast the formal backdrop of many of the locations used in these films.
Facing all kinds of foes as the mission progresses, Thunderball provides the classic cinematic experience that only a Bond film could provide.
11 The Longest Day – 87%
20th Century Fox
Besides crime films and spy thrillers, Connery took his talents to the War genre with The Longest Day. Depicted the infamous invasion of Normandy, France known as D-Day. Adapting Cornelius Ryan’s non-fiction book of the same title, this film can’t help but be one of the most moving, eye-opening war films of its time, displaying the true terror of perhaps the most pivotal point in the Second World War.
Related: Every Major Franchise Role Sean Connery Turned Down, Explained
In one of his earlier films, Connery plays Pvt. Flanagan in the film, starring alongside equally iconic actors like John Wayne and Henry Fonda. The ensemble cast does a great job of portraying soldiers who were placed in the horrors of D-Day, assisted by what critics agree is a massive technical achievement.
10 The Hunt for Red October – 88%
In one of Connery’s most unique roles, The Hunt for Red October sees him take on the role of Soviet submarine captain Marko Ramius. It comes as no surprise that this is one of Connery’s highest-rated action thriller due to the film being based on the novel of the same title by Tom Clancy, one of the most acclaimed action writers of all time. This was actually his first novel, proving he had immense talent from the start.
The suspense-filled film follows Ramius as he abandons his orders, and heads for the east coast of the United States in a massive escalatory move. Being equipped with innovative stealth technology, the sub is essentially invisible, but as soon as its presence is picked up by an American sub, it doesn’t take long for CIA agent Jack Ryan (Alec Baldwin) to dive head-first into the crisis.
9 The Red Tent – 89%
Another earlier film in Connery’s earlier films, The Red Tent takes him back to Italy, this time in a much different setting. This is also another unique entry in terms of how the story of the film itself is told, with the perfect blend of memory storytelling and the epic adventure being depicted.
In his apartment in Rome in the ’60s, the elderly Gen. Umberto Nobile (Peter Finch) recalls the tragic airship expedition to the Arctic that he led 40 years ago. Along with the expedition itself, the equally catastrophic rescue effort that followed is also depicted through a fascinating use of flashbacks to the original voyage and a present-day (for the film’s release) trial of Nobile.
The story is told by the angry ghosts of the mean who died in the expedition, including the specter of the legendary explorer Roald Amundsen (Connery).
8 The Molly Maguires – 90%
The Molly Maguires is another exciting entry into the extraordinary filmography of Connery, depicting the story of the group the film is named after, who were supposedly an Irish secret society that was thought to be responsible for a string of violent attacks in the Pennsylvania coal fields in the 19th century.
While historians still debate whether the group was real, The Molly Maguires tells the fascinating story in an unforgettable fashion. The film follows detective James McParlan (Richard Harris) as a Pennsylvania company plants him as a spy among the Jack Kehoe (Connery) led secret society of saboteurs. Originally planning to find ways to dismantle them, McParlan ends up feeling sympathy for the group after discovering their motive, that being to fight against corporate exploitation.
7 Murder on the Orient Express – 90%
Anglo-EMI Film Distributors
When it comes to the mystery genre, one film that will never go unnoticed is Murder on the Orient Express. Still inspiring mystery films today with its game-changing ability to constantly build mystery and suspense, the film perfectly captured the spirit of the 1937 novel by the iconic Agatha Christie.
Having concluded a case, detective Hercule Poirot (Albert Finney) settles into what he expects to be a relaxing journey home on the Orient Express, the perfect time to unwind. But when an unpopular billionaire is murdered en route, his relaxing journey is instantly put on hold for Poirot to solve the case, with everyone on the train being a suspect.
6 Time Bandits – 91%
In the only film in Connery’s top 20 movies on Rotten Tomatoes that handles the concept of time travel, Time Bandits is a refreshing film in comparison to Connery’s other films with it being a fun, lighthearted comedy that can appeal to the adventurous child in all of us.
Following young history buff Kevin (Craig Warnock), he understandably struggles to believe it when six dwarfs emerge from his closet. Being former employees of the Supreme Being (Ralph Richardson), they’ve managed to chart a map with all the holes in the fabric of time itself, using it to steal treasures from different historical eras. Along the way, they drop in on some of the most important figures in history, one of which is King Agamemnon, played by Connery.
5 Dr. No – 95%
Dr. No is perhaps the most important film on this list, for more than one reason. Not only did it kickstart the James Bond franchise leading to it being the cinema icon that it is today, but it also launched Connery’s career to new heights, assisting him in landing some of the roles in this list. Connery instantly felt in place as 007, capturing the class of the spy from the get-go. Featuring the perfect balance of humor, action and thrills, it comes as no surprise that this film is still held with such high regard.
Bond goes toe-to-toe with the mysterious Dr. No in the first installment in the series, a scientific genius bent on destroying the U.S. space program. As the countdown to the disaster begins, Bond finds himself in Jamaica, encountering Honey Ryder (Ursula Andress) to confront the villain in his massive island headquarters.
4 The Man Who Would Be King – 97%
Based on a short story by Rudyard Kipling of the same title, The Man Who Would Be King sees Connery partner up with yet another iconic British actor Michael Caine. Constantly praised for the old-school escapist entertaining fun that the film provides, this John Hurston-directed film is perfect to settle into for a joyous cinematic experience.
The adventure follows the exploits of Peach Carnehan (Caine) and Danny Dravot (Connery), English military officers in 1880s India, who decide to travel to the isolated land of Kafiristan, where they’re ultimately embraced by the people and seen as rulers. As the wild story unfolds, it becomes clear that the two soldiers can’t keep up their deception forever.
3 From Russia with Love – 97%
The second installment in the Bond series, From Russia with Love takes everything that Dr. No does so well and simply builds on it while adding fresh elements to its story. Slightly upping the scale in terms of the action, the film yet again is the perfect mix of sophistication and explosive action.
007 finds himself battling the secret crime organization SPECTRE for the first time onscreen. Russians Rosa Klebb (Lotte Leyna) and Kronsteen are out to steal a decoding device known as the Lektor, using Tatiana (Daniela Bianchi) to lure Bond into helping them. He agrees to meet Tatiana but soon finds himself drawing on every bit of skill to escape with his life in a series of deadly standoffs with the enemy.
2 Goldfinger – 99%
It comes as no surprise that Goldfinger is the highest-rated Bond film that Connery has starred in, nailing just about every aspect of the spy action genre while introducing a few new conventions of its own. Providing unmatched fun, and thrilling action in comparison to the other Bond films with Connery at the helm, there’s never a dull moment with this perfectly paced icon of a film.
Related: All Sean Connery James Bond Movies, Ranked
This installment sees 007 come face to face with one of the most famous villains in the franchise history in Goldfinger (Gert Frobe), in an attempt to overpower the tycoon to prevent him from chasing in on a bold scheme to raid Fort Knox, which would turn the world’s economy on its axis. Although it was clear that Connery was perfect for the role in Dr. No, it’s Goldfinger that audiences go back to, to remind themselves why Connery is without a doubt one of the best Bonds of all time.
1 Darby O’Gill and The Little People – 100%
Buena Vista Distribution
The film in Connery’s filmography that receives a perfect score is also the earliest film on this list that he’s starred in, that being Darby O’Gill and The Little People. A film that feels separate from the classic action thriller that Connery tended to find himself in, this film is full of joyous fun and adventure, making it unmistakably Disney.
Following the recently fired Darby O’Gill (Albert Sharpe) as he doesn’t want to tell his daughter Katie (Janet Munro) that he lost his job to a younger man (Connery), Darby slips through a portal on the way home, finding himself in the world of “little people”. He soon meets the leprechaun king, Brian (Jimmy O’Dea), who accidentally brings the monarch home with him. Demanding three wishes from Brian, Darby’s wishes bring him the most unexpected yet bittersweet results.