1. The Silence of the Lambs (1991)

IMDB Rating: 8.6/10
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 96%

In “The Silence of the Lambs”, Anthony Hopkins plays the infamous role of Hannibal Lecter, a brilliant but psychotic psychiatrist who is serving life behind bars for his gruesome acts of violence and cannibalism. Jodie Foster co-stars as Clarice Starling, a young FBI agent who enlists the assistance of Lecter to apprehend another serial killer, “Buffalo Bill”. The film takes us into the disturbing dynamic between Starling and Lecter, keeping the audience on edge as it explores the boundaries of sanity, evil and the human mind.

Why it’s a major performance:
Even though Hopkins only appears on screen for less than 17 minutes, his remarkable portrayal of the highly intelligent yet deeply terrifying Dr. Hannibal Lecter left an indelible mark on cinematic history. This role won him an Academy Award for Best Actor, even when he was technically in a supporting role. The manner in which Hopkins delivered Lecter’s chilling dialogue, coupled with his unsettling demeanor, became instantly iconic and set a new bar for villainous characters.

Hopkins ability to humanize a character as inherently evil as Lecter is testament to his extraordinary talent. He added a chilling charm to the character, sharing an intense chemistry with co-star Jodie Foster, that made their scenes together some of most memorable in the movie. Hopkins’ performance as Hannibal Lecter is recognized as one of the greatest in film history and remains a defining moment in his illustrious career.

2. Legends of the Fall (1994)

IMDB Rating: 7.6/10
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 58%

In the epic drama “Legends of the Fall”, Anthony Hopkins plays Col. William Ludlow, a retired cavalry officer who has forsaken the brutality of civilization for the untamed wilderness of Montana in the early 20th century. The movie explores the love and betrayal between his three sons, played by Brad Pitt, Aidan Quinn, and Henry Thomas, as they deal with love, war, and the pressures of their father’s rigid moral code.

Why it’s a major performance:
Though the audience primarily focus on Brad Pitt’s role, Hopkins’ portrayal of the patriarch Col. Ludlow is a major highlight of the film. He beautifully delivers a nuanced performance showing both powerful emotional highs and the quiet strength of a man bound by a rigid moral code. As the patriarch, Hopkins conveys a profound range of emotions—from love, anger, disappointment, and a searing rage against the senselessness of war.

His scenes post-stroke in the film, where he could only illustrate his feelings through facial expressions and mumbled speech, showed how powerful an actor Hopkins is without relying on dialogue or grand gestures. The physical transformation he went through, and his ability to convey a whole array of emotions without uttering a clear word, further underscore his versatility as an actor and the breadth of his talent. This film marked one of Hopkins most powerful performances.

3. Thor (2011)

IMDB Rating: 7.0/10
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 77%

In the blockbuster superhero movie “Thor”, Anthony Hopkins plays Odin, the Allfather of Asgard, and the father of Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and Loki (Tom Hiddleston). The plot follows Thor’s banishment to Earth and his quest to prove himself worthy of Mjolnir, his magical and powerful hammer.

Why it’s a major performance:
Even in a film filled with stunning visual effects and larger-than-life characters, Hopkins stands out with his compelling portrayal of Odin. He lends a sense of gravity and emotional depth to the high-fantasy world of Asgard, serving as the moral lynchpin that links the fantastical to the recognizably human. His performance brings a necessary weight to the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe, influencing events far beyond his own lifespan.

Hopkins expertly captures the complex nature of Odin, a king who is both stern and loving, wise and flawed. Despite being steeped in myth and fantasy, his portrayal is grounded in realistic emotion, helping to guide the audience through the film’s fantastical setting. His scenes, particularly those involving father-and-son dynamics with Thor and Loki, are laden with gravitas, significantly enhancing the emotional content and audience investment in the film. Hopkins’ portrayal of Odin is memorable and has set a standard for how gods are portrayed in the superhero genre.

4. The Elephant Man (1980)

IMDB Rating: 8.2/10
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 91%

“The Elephant Man” is a biographical film where Hopkins plays the role of Dr. Frederick Treves who discovers Joseph Merrick (John Hurt) in a Victorian freak show in London’s East End. Merrick is suffering from a severe congenital disorder which has left him disfigured. Dr. Treves rescues Merrick and introduces him into London society, where the so-called “Elephant Man” becomes a celebrated figure.

Why it’s a major performance:
Hopkins’ portrayal of Dr. Treves is both heart-wrenching and soulful, as he beautifully navigates the complexities of a character who is driven by both compassion and guilt. He successfully conveys a sense of sympathy and understanding towards Merrick, driving the narrative with his own emotional journey and eventual realization about the exploitative nature of his actions.

Hopkins doesn’t just make us see the sympathetic doctor, but the flawed man beneath the surface. The disquieting realization he delivers upon understanding his unwitting participation in the exploitation of Merrick illustrates his mastery over subtle performances. His performance in the “Elephant Man” is a testament to his ability to deliver complex characters, making him stand out even when he’s not the character in focus.

5. The Remains of the Day (1993)

IMDB Rating: 7.8/10
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 95%

In “The Remains of the Day”, Hopkins displays his penchant for playing restrained, complex characters. He portrays the deeply repressed English butler Stevens, serving under the roof of Lord Darlington (James Fox), and conflicted by his feelings for the housekeeper Miss Kenton (Emma Thompson). The film explores Stevens’ loyalty to his boss and his struggle with his emotions in a world where class and duty reigned supreme.

Why it’s a major performance:
Hopkins delivers a masterclass in the art of restrained performance as the deeply dutiful butler. His portrayal of the emotional repression and devotion to duty is not only convincing but deeply moving. Through minute facial expressions and body language, he communicates the conflicted emotions of a man conditioned to suppress his feelings.

Hopkins’ performance is imbued with a subtlety and depth that is simultaneously heartbreaking and mesmerizing to watch. His superb execution of this complex role earned him an Oscar nomination for Best Actor and confirmed his status as one of the finest actors of his generation. This film is an absolute showcase of Hopkins wide range, offering a subdued character study starkly contrasting his more grand, villainous personas.

6. Amistad (1997)

IMDB Rating: 7.3/10
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 77%

“Amistad” is a historical drama film directed by Steven Spielberg based on the true story of a slave rebellion on the ship Amistad in 1839, and the legal case that followed when the ship was captured. Hopkins plays former U.S. president John Quincy Adams who helps represent the captured Africans in the Supreme Court.

Why it’s a major performance :
The role of John Quincy Adams gave Hopkins a platform to deliver one of his finest performances, wherein he embodied the spirit of the older and wiser Adam as he champions for justice and humanity. His impassioned speeches in the courtroom scene are standouts, bearing a stoic intensity that resonates powerfully, making it a captivating watch.

Hopkins’ portrayal of Adams, the savior of those enslaved African men, became the emotional core of the movie. His exceptional performance, as an ex-President who found a new sense of purpose, gave the weight and urgency required for the film’s premise. The role earned him an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor, showcasing his ability to create deeply empathic characters within the confines of historical accuracy.

7. Shadowlands (1993)

IMDB Rating: 7.3/10
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 97%

“Shadowlands” is a British biographical drama film about the relationship between Oxford academic C.S. Lewis and American poet Joy Davidman, their marriage, and her death from cancer. Here, Hopkins assumes the character of C.S. Lewis, capturing the transformation of a staid bachelor to a man rendered vulnerable by love.

Why it’s a major performance :
Hopkins delivers a tender and touching performance, portraying Lewis’s cerebral personality coupled with surprising warmth and vulnerability as he confronts love and loss. His chemistry with Debra Winger (Joy Davidman), and the strength of his performance during their shared scenes, lends an emotional depth to the film that leaves a lasting impact.

Hopkins skillfully expresses the profound change in Lewis’s life, capturing the character’s initial hesitation, warmth, fear, and eventual grief with authentic grace. Through this film, Hopkins established his virtuosity in playing characters that demand emotional intensity and authenticity. His performance in “Shadowlands” earned him a BAFTA for the Best Actor in a Leading Role.

8. Instinct (1999)

IMDB Rating: 6.6/10
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 27%

Hopkins plays Dr. Ethan Powell, a famed anthropologist who is found living among gorillas in Africa after having been missing for a couple of years. He has been imprisoned for murders and is soon assigned to a psychiatrist, who must evaluate whether he’s fit to stand trial. The film explores the shifting dynamics between the two men as they challenge each other’s beliefs.

Why it’s a major performance :
This film exploited Hopkins’s ability to portray intellectual superiority with volatile intensity. He immerses himself in the role of a man who has seen and understood the freedom that comes from living outside societal constraints, and brings a sense of tragedy, wisdom and explosive danger to Dr. Powell.

Hopkins drew on a deep, emotional reservoir to display Powell’s evolution from civilization to a primordial state of being. His portrayal of a scholar with elements of savagery showcased both the charisma of a learned man and the raw instinct of an animal. Despite the film’s mixed reviews, Hopkins’s exceptional performance stood out, revealing his power to shine even if the script does not.

9. Nixon (1995)

IMDB Rating: 7.1/10
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 76%

In “Nixon”, Hopkins takes on the challenging role of former U.S. President, Richard Nixon. The film covers a wide span of Nixon’s life including his upbringing, presidency, the notorious Watergate scandal and his eventual resignation.

Why it’s a major performance :
Hopkins navigates the complexities and nuances of Nixon’s character with adept skill, delivering a captivating portrayal that resonated with viewers and critics alike. His performance wasn’t a direct impression but rather an evocative embodiment of Nixon and his controversial and complex reign as President.

Hopkins approached the character with a sense of deep humanity, capturing Nixon’s public turmoil and personal demons with unerring commitment. His portrayal was not of a outright villain but rather of a tragically flawed individual whose extreme paranoia and ambition led to his downfall. His performance was met with critical acclaim, earning him an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor.

10. Meet Joe Black (1998)

IMDB Rating: 7.2/10
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 45%

“Meet Joe black” features Hopkins as media tycoon William Parrish, whose tranquil existence gets interrupted by a mysterious young man (Brad Pitt) who reveals himself as Death-incarnate and takes Parrish into an incredible journey of truths about life, love, family and friendship.

Why it’s a major performance :
Hopkins portrays the role of Parrish with dignity and delivers a performance filled with emotional gravity. His portrayal of a man embodying strength and wisdom, yet having to accept his own mortality, is engaging and laced with convincing emotion.

Through this melancholy narrative, Hopkins delivered a performance which gracefully combined grandeur and vulnerability, making Parrish deeply relatable. He executed the demanding emotional range with finesse, displayed not just in his dialogues, but through his expressive silences as well. His performance added depth and sincerity to the film’s exploration of human mortality and legacy.