The 10 Best Ralph Fiennes Movie Performances

Amon Goeth – Schindler's List (1993)

Fiennes’s career has been so free-spirited and unforeseeable that we have seen him playing in a romantic comedy with Jennifer Lopez in one moment and then delivering an acclaimed performance as Lord Voldemort in the next. With his electrifying gaze and menacing charisma he has always mesmerised filmmakers, other actors and audiences.

Fiennes was born in 1962, the first of seven children who were always encouraged in their creative pursuits by their parents. He dreamt of becoming a painter but after discovering acting he graduated from London’s Royal Academy of Dramatic Art.

He first accomplished his dreams and goals onstage at the England’s National Theatre and the Royal Shakespeare Company by playing various Shakespearean characters (Hamlet, Coriolanus, Richard II, etc.). His film career started off more than twenty years ago and it’s more than clear that he is one of the most versatile performers in our generation.

It’s a mystery how Ralph Fiennes (pronounced Rafe Fines) can be so contemptible in ‘Schindler’s List’ and then so warmhearted in ‘The English Patient’. His inborn talents, absolute commitment to his characters, and suppressed wildness have gained him an ecletic and unpredictable career with almost 40 awards and more than 70 nominations.

So far he has balanced engagements in film and on stage; shortly after he played in ‘The English Patient’, where he was nominated for an Academy Award, he was doing Chekhov at the Almeida for the minimum wage (£200 a week).

He considers England’s obsession with class depressing and finds media responsible for running articles about class. Furthermore, he emphasizes that there are parts for everyone and that good actors get work.

“I think you learn about love continuously as you go on in life. In the cinema love is reduced to a set of clichés, but I think love is mutating and complicated and you learn about it as you live your life so you can experience moments of love that are unlike anything you might read in a book or see in a film. I think it’s a constant exploration: what the nature of love is.”


10. Wuthering Heights (1992)

Wuthering Heights (1992)

Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights is a 1992 film adaptation of Emily Brontë’s novel Wuthering Heights.  It portrays the consequences of unreturned love in Victorian society. The director, Peter Kosminsky, made it especially memorable for incorporating the story of the second generation even though this was the 15th incarnation of the novel at that time.

This is Fiennes’ first movie role where he obtained additional exposure by portraying Heathcliff. Anyone who’s read the book remembers Heathcliff to be bestial and cruel, always unhappy, like his feelings for Cathy didn’t make a complete impact on his emotions. Fiennes grabbed the chance and showed us that his incredible talents were not wasted here.

By commanding the story he was different from previous actors who’d played Heathcliff and, consequently, critics praised his performance. Steven Spielberg requested him to play Goeth in ‘Schindler’s List’ because of his ‘dark sexuality’ shown in this film. Audience is faced with Heathcliff’s bitterness and cruelty but still feels his crushed soul and shattered heart. By inhabiting the role from the inside, Fiennes became a wounded animal, alienated from others seeking nothing but revenge.

In order to show us his character’s suffering and hopelessness he insisted on doing a part from the novel in which Heathcliff hits his head against a tree. He did it so convincingly that he drew blood.


9. Harry Potter Franchise

Ralph Fiennes as Lord Voldemort

Lord Voldemort is the archenemy of Harry Potter (who according to a prophecy has the power to kill him) in ‘Harry Potter’ fiction-series. Almost nobody ventures to say his name, instead addressing him as “You-Know-Who”, or “the Dark Lord”.

Voldemort is preoccupied with blood purity and aims to conquer both magical and non-magical community. Fiennes depicted  Voldemort in a fantasy film Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (2005), Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (2007), and both Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 1 (2010) and Part 2 (2011).

Fiennes’ specialty in playing tormented monsters was intelligently challenged as he entered the world of Harry Potter. His perfect embodiment of this fictional villain brought him nothing but positive criticism.

Fiennes said in one of his interviews that he can understand how lonely Voldemort is since the character neither loved nor was loved by someone. Furthermore, he added that Voldemort was deprived of parental love and was isolated from an early age.


8. Red Dragon (2002)

Red Dragon (2002)

Red Dragon is a 2002 American psychological thriller based on Thomas Harris’ novel of the same name, featuring Dr. Hannibal Lecter, an infamous psychiatrist and a cannibalistic serial killer, but this time the focus is also on another madman played by Ralph Fiennes. It is a prequel to The Silence of the Lambs (1991) and ‘Hannibal’ (2001).

FBI Agent (Edward Norton) starts searching for a barbaric killer (Fiennes) but finds himself inside the madness that’s hard to escape from. Francis Dolarhyde, AKA the Tooth Fairy, a serial murderer so disgusted by his own looks that he sticks glass fragments in his victims’ eyes so they can’t look at him.

The Tooth Fairy could have been abominable but Fiennes somehow made him a sympathetic monster. While we watch his performance we are able to see a human being behind a pure evil. His childhood traumas are highly influential and while he tries to fit in the society, even attempts to befriend a blind girl, he is aware that he can’t fight his psychotic tendencies.

Francis Dolarhyde: “I am the Dragon. And you call me insane. You are privy to a great becoming, but you recognize nothing. To me, you are a slug in the sun. You are an ant in the afterbirth. It is your nature to do one thing correctly. Before me, you rightly tremble. But, fear is not what you owe me. YOU OWE ME AWE.”


7. The Reader (2008)

The Reader (2008)

The Reader is a 2008 German-American romantic drama film based on the German novel of the same name written by famous author, Bernhard Schlink. The film was directed by Stephen Daldry whose constant motive in almost all of his films is loss (protagonists are forced to deal with the loss of a father or with the loss of hope, while in ‘The Reader’ the main character deals with the loss of childhood).

Kate Winslet won a number of awards for her performance, including the Academy Award for the best actress and the film itself was nominated for several other major awards, including the Academy Award for the best picture. Although Fiennes was a supporting actor he gave a haunted performance.

Middle aged German barrister, Michael (Fiennes), thinks to himself about his acquaintance with Hanna Schmitz (Winslet) and a relationship he had never talked to anyone about. It’s obvious at once that his relationship have made him unforthcoming, isolated, and emotionally disturbed. 

They first met when he was fifteen, and she was thirty-six. She was in charge of their romantic meetings that always included reading (him to her). Later, while being present at the Nazi war crimes, Michael, now a law student, encounters his ex lover again. The torment begins and appears that justice has two faces.

The movie raises a question whether the people who had been working in concentration camps were coldblooded killers or just ordinary people forced to commit horrors. War times bring the worst out of people but still consequences must be faced.


6. Sunshine (1999)


Sunshine is a 1999 historical drama written, directed and produced by István Szabó. It captures a fate of a Hungarian Jewish family from the beginning of the 20th century to the period after the Hungarian Revolution that occurred in 1956 (tragic destiny brought successively by the Empire, the Nazis, and the Communists). Even though it is considered fiction, this forceful and wonderful film contains some stories which are similar to real life events.

Ralph Fiennes is a central protagonist representing extraordinary lives of all three characters that he plays in this film. He proves himself a true acting genius by reviving characters that are totally different from each other. Ralph Fiennes is marvelous as the grandfather, the father, and the grandson. These three outstanding performances bring us the Jewish perspective and show us how incredibly hard was for them to live under different regimes.

The filmmaker was criticized for choosing the same actor in three roles, but after the film premiere critics loved Fiennes’s versatility, especially his second character, an Olympics champion, who is about to die in a Nazi concentration camp.

Fiennes’ Adam Sors: “Our life is nothing but a boat adrift on water balanced by permanent uncertainty. About the people whom you will judge, know this; all they do is struggle to find a kind of security. They’re just people, like us. Examine all things yourself. Do not join with power. Owning possessions and property ultimately comes to nothing. Possessions and property can be consumed by fire, swept away by flood, taken away by politics.”