Remembering Alan Rickman’s Most Memorable Roles

When David Bowie died at the start of this sh*tty week of lost icons, one of the oft-repeated observations was that Bowie’s career was so full that people both cited and fell into several different albums and snapshot reflections of his talent while mourning his loss. Today, as we mourn the surprising death of Alan Rickman, the same is true thanks to a now concluded career that spanned, on the screen, almost 40 years. With that in mind, we assembled some of the moments that most clearly speak to us and remind us of Rickman’s brilliance.

This list is, of course, incomplete and subjective, but it’s a way into the conversation about the things Rickman did as an actor and the ways he impacted us. We hope you join in on that conversation below and add your own favorite moments as well.

“‘And when Alexander saw the breadth of his domain, he wept, for there were no more worlds to conquer.’ Benefits of a classical education.” – Rickman as Hans Gruber in Die Hard

A cold mercenary and a charming antagonist who is methodically moving through his thoroughly plotted and intricate master robbery before he is confronted (and maybe a litle thrilled) by an increasingly frustrating cat and mouse game with a real American cowboy in the form of John McClane. Bruce Willis became a star because of Die Hard but Rickman’s Hans Gruber is nearly as iconic a character in one-fifth the films. Why? Because McClane has never been tested as he was by Gruber in the original since, like all action-thriller baddies, Die Hard villains are futilely chasing the brilliance of Rickman’s layered portrayal of Gruber while chewing up scenery in the process. Accept no substitutes. Rickman knew when to throttle back, when to amuse himself, and when to sell a line with a sneer rather than a growl. – Jason Tabrys

“Well, it may have escaped your notice, but life isn’t fair.” – Rickman as Snape in the Harry Potter films. 

The morally complex Severus Snape in the Harry Potter franchise will forever typify Alan Rickman’s career. It is difficult to nail down a particular scene in which he stood out, because he put in a consistently great performance for seven films. However, in The Order Of The Phoenix, Snape is called upon to teach Harry to close his mind to Voldemort, and Rickman perfectly infused the scene with the feelings of a man who had been deeply hurt as a child and let that bitterness take deep root into his adulthood. – Alyssa Fikse


However, Rickman managed to keep Snape as ambiguous and ultimately sympathetic. This was a character who had spent six long books making Harry’s life a living hell, and yet when all of the information was accounted for, broke fans’ hearts in the end. While much of this must be credited to J.K. Rowling’s words, few actors could have pulled off the switch as masterfully as Rickman. With a simple “Always”, we finally got the last piece of the puzzle of a once menacing figure that went out on a tragic note in The Deathly Hallows. – Alyssa Fikse

“I was forced to deliver the news to a scared child who wanted nothing more than to play with other children. I had to tell this little boy that he was God’s only son, and that it meant a life of persecution and eventual crucifixion at the hands of the very people he came to enlighten and redeem. He begged me to take it back, as if I could. He begged me to make it all not true. And I’ll let you in on something, Bethany, this is something I’ve never told anyone before. If I had the power, I would have.” – Rickman as Metatron in Dogma

Without blinking, Rickman could add a tinge of humor to the likes of Hans Gruber, Professor Snape, and the Sheriff of Nottingham, but he was truly at his best when adding heart to his straight comedy work. Like in Kevin Smith’s Dogma, when his Metatron — the angelic voice of God — tells Bethany (Linda Fiorentino) that she is Jesus’ heir. In a film rife with dick jokes, Rickman could rip the audience’s hearts out while still making them laugh. – Andrew Husband

“Wait a minute. Robin Hood steals money from my pocket, forcing me to hurt the public, and they love him for it? […] That’s it then. Cancel the kitchen scraps for lepers and orphans, no more merciful beheadings, and call off Christmas.” – Rickman as the Sherrif of Nottingham, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves

Alan Rickman was the ultimate drunken villain — and the first complicated villain I remember. He was weird, drunken, slovenly, boorish, sarcastic, and horny. He was the best of the worst. Cartoonish enough to hate; human enough to relate to on some level. – Steve Bramucci

“What a beautiful child. So young, so alive, so unaware of how precarious life can be. I had a very sad childhood, I’ll tell you about it sometime. I never knew my parents; it’s amazing I’m sane.”

Only a handful of actors in the world played the villain role as well as Alan Rickman – a man you “love to hate” and “hate to love.”

As the Sheriff of Nottingham in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, Rickman delivered a number of memorable lines.

But it was the above line told to a peasant girl that was both remarkably hilarious and mildly depressing. An acting zenith most movie villains aren’t able to reach. – Andy Isaac

No words are needed when Rickman, as Colonel Brandon, sees Marianne Dashwood play the piano in Sense & Sensibility.

Best known for playing villains in Die Hard and Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, Rickman played against type in Ang Lee’s Sense & Sensibility. Portraying the noble Colonel Brandon, your heart couldn’t help but break a little as he gently wooed Kate Winslet’s wild Marianne Dashwood. As a man who had loved much and lost much, Rickman’s understated approach worked beautifully in a truly lovely adaptation of Jane Austen’s tale of finding what you need instead of what you think you want. From the first moment he set his eyes on Marianne, he was a goner, and the audience was just as head over heels for him. – Alyssa Fikse

“By Grabthar’s hammer, by the suns of Worvan, you shall be avenged.” – Rickman as Sir Alexander Dane in Galaxy Quest

I’m sure he was a lovely man, but Rickman was profoundly gifted when it came to playing sardonic and/or annoyed characters. Galaxy Quest is a great showcase for that skill as he plays an accomplished actor who is known only for a cheesy TV space opera. But while it’s a delight to watch a put upon Rickman, the whole thing is a setup to the heart-punch of a moment when Alexander comforts a fallen Thermian by repeating the above line with grave seriousness. With another actor, that moment might have felt cheesy. But with Rickman, the progression is unquestioned. – Jason Tabrys

“Good to have a point of view.” – Rickman as Hilly Kristal in CBGB

The genius of Alan Rickman’s body of work lies much in his eyes. That gleam he adopted when talking to John McClane in Die Hard — trying desperately to fool him into thinking he’s not a terrorist — became a faint twinkle in 2013’s CBGB, and for good reason: Rickman played a jaded night club owner who liked his booze as much as he liked his blues. With just one glance toward Donal Logue’s character, Rickman displays apprehension, disgust, and somewhere deep down inside, a strand of hope. The coalescence of emotions, conveyed with merely the shifting of his eyes, is what made the Brit thespian one of the best actors in the world. – Dariel Figueroa

“You ought to know I’m feeling very depressed.” – Rickman as Marvin in The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy

Sure, he wasn’t actually in the movie, but Rickman was spot-on as the voice of Marvin the melancholy robot. As an actor who usually played powerful, somewhat unhinged characters, Rickman showed that he just needed a few sad, words to capture the playfully eccentric tone of Hitchhiker’s Guide. And in this case, those few sad words really capture what we’re all feeling right now. – Alex Diedrick