Christopher Lee's Most Iconic Roles
The British star, who died this week aged 93, played on-screen villians from Dracula and Frankenstein to Fu Manchu, Scaramanga, Saruman and Count Dooku.
Christopher Lee's 1977 autobiography was titled Tall, Dark and Gruesome, and the British actor, who died this past weekend at age 93, will be remembered most for his iconic movie villains.
Sir Lee (he was knighted in 2009) did them all: from the lurching Frankenstein's monster, Mummy and Dracula monsters of the Hammer Films franchises of the 1950s, to the racially insensitive “evil Oriental” Fu Manchu in the 1960s and James Bond nemesis Scaramanga in the 1970s to his late-career revival as Saruman in The Lord of the Rings and Count Dooku in the Star Wars prequel films.
Johnny Depp cited Lee as one of his main influences (the two appeared together in Tim Burton's films Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Sleepy Hollow and Dark Shadows), and the British actor looms large over the world of horror and genre movies.
Here's a look at some of his most iconic roles.
The Curse of Frankenstein (1957), The Horror of Dracula (1958), The Mummy (1959)
Lee and Britain's Hammer Films jolted the horror genre back to life with this trio of monster movies. He played Dracula in a total of 10 films and is arguably the actor most closely associated with the Prince of Darkness. But Lee disliked being called a “horror legend.”
The Hound of the Baskervilles (1959), The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes (1970)
The same year that Lee stumbled across the screen as the Mummy, he starred as the new owner of Baskerville Hall in the remake of the The Hound of the Baskervilles. Lee's best friend and frequent co-star Peter Cushing played Sherlock Holmes in that version, but Lee appeared as the legendary detective three times on screen. He also starred as the London detective's smarter brother Mycroft in Billy Wilder’s spoof The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes in 1970.
The Face of Fu Manchu (1965)
Lee's yellowface performance as Sax Rohmer’s Asian evil genius with the distinctive drooping mustache is the role most likely to cause cringing on re-viewing. But at the time, in the 1960s, Lee's Fu Manchu was a hit, and the actor reprised the role in five films.
The Wicker Man (1973), The Man With The Golden Gun (1974)
Two of Lee's most iconic performances are on opposite sides of the cinematic scale: as the wild-haired neo-pagan Lord Summerisle in the 1973 horror classic The Wicker Man (ill-advisedly remade with Nicolas Cage in 2006); and as the one-shot assassin Scaramanga in 1974 Bond film The Man With The Golden Gun (1974). Interesting, James Bond creator Ian Fleming was Lee's cousin, and the author had originally wanted the British actor to play the title villain in the first 007 film, Dr. No (1962).
The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001), Star Wars Episode 3: Revenge of the Sith (2005)
The autumn of Lee's career saw him acting in the biggest film franchises of the new century, playing white wizard Saruman in Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings trilogy and Sith Lord Count Dooku in the Star Wars prequel films. The actor also voiced the same characters in LOTR and Star Wars video game spinoffs.
The Return of Captain Invincible (1983)
But for all his onscreen evil, Sir Lee retained a sense of humor about himself and his career. He had a sharp, self-deprecating wit and a love of the offbeat. This was clear in his second career — in music. Lee appeared in operas, recorded two heavy metal concept albums and, in this cult clip, sang a tribute to the glories of alcohol in the otherwise forgettable The Return of Captain Invincible (1983).