14. Mona Lisa (Neil Jordan, 1986)
In this British crime film, Bob Hoskins stars in an Academy Award nominated role as a recently released criminal who gets a job driving a call girl around to her clients. Michael Caine plays his boss Denny Mortwell. Caine exudes menace in his most evil turn to date as a heartless pimp and kingpin who abuses his girls and workers.
Mona Lisa is a staple of British gangster film, not only because is features two of the genre’s biggest stars, but because it provides a bleak and shocking glimpse at the London underworld. We see this through Hoskins’s reaction and disgust at the new depths that Mortwell and the crime world have sunk to while he was away in prison. The film ends in an inevitably unhappy and bloody climax. For fans of British crime dramas, this film is a must see.
13. The Muppet Christmas Carol (Brian Henson, 1992)
The Muppet Christmas Carol is a faithful adaptation of Charles Dickens’s novel with the addition of several songs and some comedic characters to make the story more family friendly. Michael Caine stars as Ebenezer Scrooge and is the only major human character in the film. Kermit and the gang fill most of the roles in the story with some new Muppets made especially for the parts of the three ghosts.
Despite the child-oriented atmosphere of the movie, Michael Caine delivers an adept interpretation of the legendary role. The transformation of Scrooge was as well conveyed in this film as in all of the many other film adaptations of the work. The fact that he is able to do this while playing off of silly puppets makes Caine’s performance all the more impressive.
While not the definitive version of the story, it is a creative and entertaining production that is fun for adults and children.
12. Harry Brown (Daniel Barber, 2009)
Harry Brown is a dark and gritty British crime film led by Michael Caine’s dedicated performance as the titular veteran who is driven to a breaking point by the gangs of youth in his neighborhood. After his friend is killed by a gang, Caine transforms from a widowed pensioner to a hardened vigilante. His complex portrayal elevates the film, which would otherwise be another forgettable Death Wish copy.
This movie is not only a great revenge flick, but also conveys a political message about the state of crime and unrest in the projects of London, leading to an action packed climax between the police and rioters. Emily Mortimer also stars as a detective investigating the deaths in the area. This film is Caine’s last leading role to date, and definitely worth a watch if you can handle the brutal violence.
11. The Prestige (Christopher Nolan, 2006)
The second Nolan/Caine collaboration on this list, The Prestige is a film about two rival magicians Angier and Borden, played by Hugh Jackman and Christian Bale respectively, whose sabotage of each other’s acts gets out of control. Michael Caine plays John Cutter, an engineer of magic tricks, who works with Angier character to try and best Borden. Cutter acts a father figure and teacher to him, giving him his expertise and experience, but eventually leaves him when Angier becomes too obsessed with beating his rival.
The Prestige is one of Nolan’s finest and most engaging films, filled with betrayal, murder and magic. The film is structured after the three part construction of a magic trick (the pledge, the turn and the prestige) which Caine’s Cutter details in its opening. Featuring David Bowie and Scarlet Johansson in supporting roles, and one of the twistiest endings in recent memory, The Prestige is an extremely thrilling and creative film.
10. Noises Off (Peter Bogdanovich, 1992)
This hilarious adaptation of Michael Frayne’s play of the same name, stars Michael Caine as director Lloyd Fellowes who is struggling to get together his production of “Nothing On”, in which his actors still are forgetting their lines. As they take the show on the road, the relationships and patience deteriorate and the play keeps falling apart more and more resulting in tons of laughs.
Along with Caine’s dedicated turn as the frustrated director, the film features equally funny performances from an excellent cast which includes Carol Burnett, Christopher Reeve and John Ritter. Critical reception has been a little harsh on this film, with multiple reviews condemning the change of setting and medium. While the work is undoubtedly better suited for the stage, Bogdanovich makes it work and lets the original material shine through. Although the film is perhaps not necessary, it is still very funny and a good alternative to a play that may not be performed near you.
9. The Quiet American (Phillip Noyce, 2002)
Adapted from the Graham Greene novel of the same name, The Quiet American follows British war reporter Thomas Fowler, played by Michael Caine, as he covers the French war against the Republic of Vietnam prior to the U.S.’s invasion. Instead of the war being the central conflict in the story, that comes from a love triangle between Fowler, an American agent name Pyle, played by Brendan Fraser, and a Vietnamese woman named Phuong. As the violence in Vietnam increases so do the tensions between the lovers and things eventually turn violent.
Nominated in this role for an Academy Award for Best Actor, Michael Caine shines in this film by creating a deeply flawed and conflicted, but sincere, character. He shows how someone can be pushed to do unthinkable things by jealousy and love. The film is also a commentary on the U.S.’s involvement in Vietnam and the character of Pyle represents the imperialistic tendencies of the country. Even if you disagree with the story’s political agenda, The Quiet American is still a powerful study of character and human emotion worth watching for the great performances.
8. Alfie (Lewis Gilbert, 1966)
Alfie was the first truly challenging role for Michael Caine. Having rose to stardom with The Ipcress File, Caine proved himself as a serious actor in the role of the titular character. Alfie is a selfish, fourth wall-breaking, womanizer who, after impregnating a woman, begins to understand the damage that his lifestyle causes to others. The film, based on the novel and play of the same name by Bill Naughton, follows Caine through several years of his character’s self discovery and emotional rehabilitation, leading him to eventually abandon his past way of life.
Caine’s efforts were not unrecognized as he picked up his first Academy Award nomination and the film itself was nominated for five, including Best Picture. Alfie was somewhat controversial for its time due to its inclusion of touchy subjects like adultery and abortion as well as its condemnation of 1960s era London as misogynistic. The 2004 remake of the film, starring Jude Law, loses the commentary on class and while it is a more lighthearted film, is mostly devoid of purpose. Caine’s original Alfie, however, is a powerful, if sometimes difficult, piece in his body of work.