Born on August 25, 1930 in Fountainbridge, Edinburgh, Scotland to a cleaning woman mother and a factory worker/lorry driver father, Thomas Sean Connery would eventually become one of the most iconic film actors in history. After early days as a milkman through his time as a model and bodybuilder, young Sean Connery would make his debut as a leading man in the Disney classic Darby O’Gill and the Little People (1959) before winning the role that would make him a household name around the world.

Bond. James Bond.

Connery became, and remains for many of us, the iconic James Bond. From Dr. No (1962) through the classics From Russia with Love (1963) and Goldfinger (1964) to the lesser-but-still-awesome Thunderball (1965) and You Only Live Twice (1967), he was the epitome of cool masculinity and sexual fire. But he was tired of being Bond and quit. However, after the tepid reception of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969), he was drawn back to the role one more time (thanks to a truckload of cash and the promise of financial backing on two future film projects) for Diamonds Are Forever (1971).

He would ultimately return to the role one last time for another outing, although for a rival production company, in 1983’s Never Say Never Again, an odd remake of the vastly superior Thunderball.

I wanted to mention these all in the introduction because, while Connery’s Bond is timeless, the Psycho Drive-In All-Stars are a wildly divergent and fickle lot, and while coming up with our favorite Connery performances, nobody settled in on a Bond flick. To be fair, there are too many great films to cover in what has already been a two-week delay in posting this since his passing on October 31.

He went on to make some of the most popular and successful films in modern memory, before finally retiring from acting after his trying experiences on the set of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (2003). He was married twice and was accused of abuse by his first wife Diane Cilento, and had numerous affairs ignored by his second wife, Moroccan-French painter Micheline Roquebrune during their time together – from 1975 until his death. He was knighted by the Queen in 2000 after being denied twice before due to his political support for Scotland and his advocation for Scottish Independence.

And I would be remiss to not mention that in 2004, Connery was declared “The Greatest Living Scot” by the Sunday Herald, and in 2011 named “Scotland’s Greatest Living National Treasure” in a EuroMillions survey. Also, in 1989, at the age of 59, Connery was voted People magazine’s “Sexiest Man Alive” and then, ten years later in 1999, the “Sexiest Man of the Century.”

His son, Jason Connery is also an actor, who notably portrayed Bond writer Ian Fleming in Spymaker: The Secret Life of Ian Fleming in 1990.

It goes without saying, but I’ll say it anyway, his first (of five) collaboration with director Sidney Lumet The Hill (1965), The Molly Maguires (1970), The Offence (1972) also with Lumet, The Wind and the Lion (1975), The Man Who Would be King (1975) with his best friend Michael Caine, Highlander (1986), The Name of the Rose (1986), The Hunt for Red October (1990), The Rock (1996), and maybe a dozen more films could be included here.

But without further ado, here are some of our favorite performances by the late, great Sir Sean Connery.

Marnie (1964)

Marnie is a fucked-up movie. This is not all by accident, but also by design. It was billed as his “suspenseful sex mystery.” Hitchcock found a lovely bird to torture in Tippi Hedren, and Marnie is even more insidious than The Birds about putting her through her paces. It continues Hitchcock’s abiding interest in Surreal psychology and centers it around a story that makes explicit taboo subjects of sexual violation and transgressive desires.

Tippi is eerily convincing as the quiet (but not mousy) redhead who seems to move from one white collar job to another on a whim, attracting the attention of the men in the offices she silently invades, but only staying long enough to enact her principal goal, which is larceny with a somewhat punitive air. She’s intriguing and unusual enough to attract the attention of Mark Rutland (note the name), a dashing and confident playboy businessman who might almost have been played by Jack Palance or Clint Eastwood instead.

But they would likely have left Mark in full villain mode, while Connery is able to sell him as a hero despite his frankly villainous behavior. Marnie, caught for her suspicious behavior by one of Mark’s tony circle, becomes a project for him. He doesn’t just want to save her. He wants to figure her out. He wants to have her. So, readers, when it seems like she might get away, he marries her. One of the few other times I can think of this happening is when Marvel’s Wasp married Yellowjacket, because she knew he was really her crazy boyfriend Giant-Man. That impulsive gesture ended in domestic abuse years later, but we’re less worried about the imposing frame of Connery against his more fragile beauty.

And when it turns out one of her many neuroses is an aversion to sex, he forces himself on her. In 1964, as her husband, he even has the legal right. This is a movie trope we see in several places (Blade Runner’s Deckard and Rachael, for example); the woman is so lost and confused, out of control of herself and potentially hysterical in her misery that she’s out of touch with her own desires. So in movie-plot and actor-dynamic logic, the man must force the truth upon her.

It’s something of a miracle that you’re still rooting for Rutland to help his bride after this incident, and he does because the problem of Marnie is going to take the whole movie to solve. It involves her horse, her invalid mother, and luridly lit flashing red scenes of childhood trauma, and Connery serves as our audience surrogate for each unpleasant revelation. That they’re both featuring good fashion and died hair ups the artificiality of the melodrama somewhat, because Marnie doesn’t have the cinema verité of Psycho at all. It’s heightened, a romance novel that masks a character study of the frailty and surprising resilience of the human mind. Rutland is smart enough to know he’s going to have to change his life to really connect with this damaged mystery woman. Rather than a pixie dream girl, Marnie is a femme fatale that he’s just in time to pull from the ledge.

— Shawn Hill

Zardoz (1974)

Written and directed by John Boorman, Zardoz is perhaps the most bizarre science-fiction film ever made. While never really able to escape both the budget limitations and the convolutions of the script, the film has become a cult classic that even those who think it’s awful will admit that it’s damned watchable. And that’s mainly because of the work that Sean Connery puts into his role as the Exterminator, Zed.

You see, in the year 2293, on a post-apocalyptic Earth, the Exterminators are tasked by their god, Zardoz – a giant, gun-spewing, flying stone head (made to look like Boorman) – to murder and enslave the Brutals, or ordinary breeding mortals, under the auspices of the slogan “The gun is good, the penis is evil.” And yes, their uniforms are red nappies and chest-crossing bandoliers, thigh-high black leather boots, and stone Zardoz masks.

Zed, however, is curious about the origins of Zardoz and sneaks aboard the giant stone head, only to discover that it is piloted by Arthur Frayn, an Eternal. You see, the Eternals are immortal and use Zardoz to control and influence the mortal population. They live in a gated community, the Vortex, sexually impotent but psychically gifted, ruled themselves by an artificial intelligence, The Tabernacle. There are two other subsets of Eternals, the Apathetics who have lapsed into catatonia from boredom, and the Renegades who have rebelled against the Eternal society and have been artificially aged into everlasting senility. What we don’t know at the time is that Zed is the end result of Frayn’s long-term eugenics experiment to create a superman who would ultimately save humanity from this sterile, violent stagnation.

Burt Reynolds was originally cast as Zed, having just worked with Boorman on the hugely successful Deliverance, but due to scheduling conflicts, was forced to back out. I’m sure it wasn’t because someone gave him a peek at the costume designs. Meanwhile, Connery was on the hunt for projects that would distance him from James Bond, a role he had grown to hate. Intrigued by the script, he said yes, even taking a reduced paycheck, driving himself to and from set, and staying in Boorman’s house to help make the most of the low-budget.

On-screen, Connery is electric as the sensual, violent killer, playing Zed with a subtle intelligence that goes against everything the decadent Eternals expect. Don’t get me wrong, though. Zed, as a character, is even more problematic than Connery’s own personal life. He is basically an incarnation of machismo, oozing sexuality and seething violence in a mish-mash of toxic masculinity, revenge fantasy, and Chosen One prophecy. Whether it’s his gun or his pecker that is brought into play, somebody’s getting shot.

In the end, Zed destroys the Tabernacle, absorbing all the knowledge of human history and freeing the Eternals of their immortality, while helping the Exterminators invade the Vortex and murder as many former-immortals as possible – most of whom welcome the sweet oblivion of death as a release from their endless boredom. Many of the Eternals who escape have been impregnated by Zed and will hopefully begin a new civilization of hairy, sensuous Scotsmen in the brave new world that awaits.

Honestly, Zardoz barely holds itself together under the weight of the madness that Boorman threw into that script. I don’t know if it would even be half as successful if it wasn’t for the sheer potency of Sean Connery’s charisma. That said, Zardoz would make a great entry in a 70s post-apocalyptic marathon alongside the questionable morality and sexual politics of Logan’s Run, A Boy and His Dog, The Omega Man, and Wizards.

— Paul Brian McCoy

Robin and Marian (1976)

Robin and Marian is one of those movies where it surprises me how little it gets mentioned.  Made in 1976, it was among the last embers of the blazing fire of epic, lavish Hollywood filmmaking which had peaked in the early- to mid-sixties with El Cid and Lawrence of Arabia and Doctor Zhivago.  Richard Lester, the director of Robin and Marian was known for having made (among others) The Three Musketeers with Raquel Welch, Richard Chamberlain and Oliver Reed as well as the Beatles’ Help! and A Hard Day’s Night.  James Goldman (brother to William Goldman), whose distinguished writing credits included the adaptation of his own play The Lion in Winter, wrote the screenplay depicting the all-too-familiar cast of characters twenty (or so) years on from the time of their more familiar adventures. 

For this interpretation of the Robin Hood legend, Lester assembled a monumental cast of both established and upcoming film icons.  Denholm Elliot is Will Scarlet, Richard Harris is Richard the Lionheart, Ian Holm is King John, Robert Shaw is the Sheriff of Nottingham (editor’s note: facing off for the second time after their infamous battle in From Russia with Love).  Audrey Hepburn came out of semi-retirement to play Maid Marian after nearly a decade away from the silver screen.  But as great as any such assemblage might be, if you’re making a Robin Hood movie, it all rests upon the shoulders of the guy with the bow and arrow.  And, man, Sean Connery certainly did fill that quiver.

I have a sentimental attachment to this film, having first discovered it as a college student wandering the aisles of my local video store in the early nineties.  For those born post-1990, imagine Netflix or Amazon Prime, except it’s an actual store that you went into, where you could try to talk the clerks to ignore your late fees so you could rent actual analog recordings of movies on something called Video Home System cassettes, which were stored in chunky plastic binders.  It was a whole thing.  On a cold, rainy weekend afternoon in 1992 or -93ish, I made this astonishing find!  Here was an unknown (to me) Robin Hood flick!  That great literary vigilante hero prototype, unswerving in his nobility and selflessness.  I needed something to wash the taste of the recently-released Costner Robin Hood flick out of my mouth, and this was exactly the burst of minty freshness I was seeking. 

At the time I first saw this, my only real experience with Connery was as James Bond (of course), and his roles in The Untouchables and the third Indiana Jones flick.  I must admit to being something of a Luddite who hadn’t yet discovered Highlander by then.  But man, when I found this old VHS copy of Robin and Marian on a bottom shelf at Family Video, I felt like an archaeologist discovering a relic from a lost civilization.  It was something from another era of movie making, rich and luxurious and opulent.  And it felt like I was the first person on earth to see it.  Connery and Hepburn paired magnificently as the titular couple.  Filmed in the mid-70s, this was Sean Connery beginning to really stretch his post-007 legs (Never Say Never Again would come along later, but not until long after this) and settle into the ultimate swashbuckling, high-flying, legendary role. 

Much of the movie dwells on the romance between Robin and Marian, but all the other trappings remain.  All the derring-do and daring doings one would expect from a Robin Hood adventure wrap together with the tenderness of the romance to present a sophisticated film that, in this writer’s humble opinion, should get more recognition than it does. 

I haven’t seen it again since that winter’s night somewhere deep in the nineties.  I hope it would hold up to the scrutiny of a repeat screening, even with the inevitable jading of living through a couple of decades.  But for now, it endures (if only in my imagination) as one of Sean Connery’s great performances.

— Rick Shingler

Outland (1981)

Though he enviably shared the screen with Brigitte Bardot in 1968’s Shalako, Sean Connery’s one truly great western role took place in outer space. Outland, an effects heavy update of High Noon, finds Connery’s Marshall William O’Niel facing off against a corrupt mining operation on a moon of Jupiter. He runs afoul of Peter Boyle’s banally evil and thoroughly capitalist mine superintendent (Is there any other kind?), and eventually the entire operation is out to kill him, including future television cops James B. Sikking and Clarke Peters. And his only ally: Esther Clavin herself, Frances Sternhagen, cast as the colony’s salty doctor (In a weird coincidence, Outland also features her future son John Ratzenberger undergoing explosive decompression). The tables seem to be set for Connery to perform some level ten heroics, but director Peter Hyams had something else in mind for his star. 

Connery works to tamp down his signature smolder and in doing so frees up Outland to make some interesting plays on his familiar persona. Foremost, O’Niel’s wife puts the hard brakes on going to the mining colony, stripping Connery of the lady’s man mystique that was such a big part of his Bond character. As O’Niel ferrets out the conspiracy and eventually must outwit gun thugs sent to dispatch him, he does it without the swagger or panache expected from a Connery character. Also absent, except for a regrettable scene where Connery threatens to slap Sternhagen’s character’s “mean ass” if she cannot furnish him toxicology reports in a timely manner, is the hard man machismo that informed so many of his roles. Marshall O’Niel, like Gary Cooper’s Will Kane before him, is not exceptional except in his steadfast morality. Connery moves grimly though the movie; he’s doing what is right and then what’s needed to survive. This makes him relatable in a way that James Bond or Henry Jones never could be. In a career of superheroes and outsize rogues, Outland shows that Connery could find the strength and humanity of the every man. 

— Mike Burr

Time Bandits (1981)

My first introduction to Sean Connery wasn’t as James Bond or Henry Jones Sr. or any of his many more memorable roles. As legend tells it, Terry Gilliam originally wrote Connery into the script as a joke, but Connery liked the role and was reputed to be a Monty Python fan. What resulted was his brief appearance in Time Bandits as King Agamemnon. While the Scottish accent is a wild choice for a Greek warrior king, he carries the role with ample charm, and as a de facto father figure to the film’s central character (the young time traveling history buff, Kevin) his short screen time made an impression. Agamemnon is featured in what was my favorite scene as a kid, battling a minotaur-esque creature in a gladiator-style combat.

Time Bandits is an odd film for a kid my age to have been exposed to. It’s layered with plenty of things that appeal to children (time travel, supernatural creatures, a kid as the central protagonist) but also laced through with a weird theological struggle with a Supreme Being, a physical manifestation of evil as a guy simply named Evil, and some truly bleak moments- like when Kevin’s parents explode at the end of the film. Kevin is also anxious most of the film, struggling with the grey morality of his thieving companions, a pack of dwarves who’ve absconded with God’s own map of the universe and the ability to zip through time and space. He’s often upset, trying to do the right thing, trying to explain the historic facts of the situations they find themselves in, and most often being ignored in favor of stealing greater and greater treasure.

So it’s with great relief that we encounter Connery’s Agamemnon. Kevin adores him, he’s fascinated by the era in which he finds himself and in thrall of the king as a warrior and mentor. It’s the first time we see Kevin happy in the entire film. The wish fulfillment even accelerates to Agamemnon claiming Kevin as his heir and promising to tutor him in the ways of sword fighting and leadership. Connery, bronzed and regal, is the perfect hero to worship. He’s just so fucking cool and chill about this time traveling kid that literally falls out of the sky. His bemused smirk and the companionship he offers Kevin are a respite from the greedy clamoring of the dwarven robbers.

Of course, it all falls apart and the companions arrive to “rescue” Kevin. We’re certain we’ll never see Agamemnon again, but in the film’s closing scene there’s a rather brilliant “was any of this even real” moment where Kevin is restored to his bedroom in his parent’s home and awakens to the house on fire. He is saved by a firefighter who bears a striking resemblance to the fabled king, whom Kevin recognizes from one of the many Polaroid photos he snapped during his adventures through time and space. 

Watching this all in light of Connery’s passing, his magnetic personality hits hard in his brief amount of screen time. His smile and presence loom large and he swells to fill the screen with his charm. I’m reminded why he was a star, why he was on the level of stardom that led to Gilliam making that offhand joke referencing him in the script, never daring to hope that his little production could land someone of Connery’s caliber. And the ending scene is delightful as well, the king transformed into the ultimate working-class hero, every bit dear to the young man he rescues as any royalty.

— Adam Barraclough

The Untouchables (1987)

“Sometimes, when I need him, Malone comes to me. He’s kinda racist, really grouchy, but he always tells me what to do. He’s kinda like a father figure in that way. 

He’s been coming to me since shortly after 1987, when he first appeared in this world, or in my world anyway. That was when I saw Brian DePalma’s excellent 1930s gangster epic THE UNTOUCHABLES. That was also the year I graduated from high school and really needed someone to tell me what to do. 

Malone was played by Sean Connery. He’d been James Bond, of course, and a bunch of other folks in movies like ZARDOZ and OUTLAND. I’d never been as into 007 as some of my friends, but he was probably my favorite Bond. He was tough, kinda cold, and yet funny without constantly winking at the camera. He was cool enough, but you knew that Bond was never gonna die, so what was he really risking up there on the big screen? 

Not so much with Malone. 

He was just some beat cop that Elliott Ness chatted with on a bridge some night. He was old, so old that he should’ve had a better place on the force or been retired. He wasn’t risking much either, but you knew he’d seen some shit. This being the movies and all, you knew he’d end up risking it all by the end of the movie. 

I needed someone like Malone back then, and probably every year since then. Someone old and tired, who probably should just give it up and rest, but who’s decided that he can’t. Jeezus, that’s how I feel most of the time now at 51. 

But there’s Malone. 

I usually see him in a church. Like the one from the scene where he finally decides to help Ness get Al Capone. They’re framed DePalma-style from the front, with the big round stained glass high above and behind them, like the eye of God looking down. Malone starts it off, “You said you wanted to get Capone . . .”

Then Ness goes into his good guy routine, anything within legal means and all that. But Malone insists, “Do you really wanna get him?” 

Because getting Capone wouldn’t be easy. Getting him was going to cost quite a bit, in fact, and might not even be all that rewarding. 

That’s life right there. 

Anything within the law, that’s what Ness is prepared to do. But Malone asks, “And then what are you prepared to do? If you open the can on these worms, you must be prepared to go all the way.” 

Maybe that’s why I’m not much more than an older version of the weary kid who walked out of Loy Norrix High School in 1987. I’m never sure if I’m prepared to go all the way. At least not with college or work or relationships. 

But Malone’s been there, urging me on all this time. “You wanna know how to get Capone?” he asks again. 

He’s talking about anything else I wanna do too, of course. I mean, Capone is long dead, and I’ve never faced anything that big. Not really. But that’s the beauty of David Mamet’s dialogue, coming through Malone’s mouth. It’s not always about what it’s about . . . actually, that’s a pretty good line there too, and I think Mamet might like it. 

We all know what comes next, anyone who’s into 80s movies, or gangster flicks. “They pull a knife, you pull a gun. He sends one of yours to the hospital, you send one of his to the morgue. That’s the Chicago way.”

Well, I’ve only been to Chicago a few times, and I dont recall pulling a knife or a gun while I was there. But I get what he’s saying. If you’re gonna go, go big. 

Of course, going big for Malone is gonna end up in a hailstorm of bullets. It’s not gonna end well, but I think he knew that. I think that’s why he put off doing anything for so long, keeping his head down til he was an old man. 

Maybe that’s what I’ve been doing. 

And now he’s dead. Not Malone. He was dead in 1987, or sometime in the 30s. But Sean Connery, he’s dead now. So I’m thinking about Malone, and thinking I’m gonna be dead soon too. Maybe not this year, but maybe not so long from now. And maybe I shouldn’t keep my head down forever. 

“Now do you want to do that?” Malone asks Ness. “Are you ready to do that?” 

Ness isn’t really ready yet, but Malone is. 

Maybe he can see that scene about an hour later, when he’s bloody and full of bullets, dragging himself across the floor. He’s done what he had to do, and it cost him. In his last words, he grabs Ness’ collar and gasps, “What are you prepared to do?” 

But, for now, in the church, all he can do is shrug at Ness and say, “Well, the Lord hates a coward.” They shake hands, and he asks if Ness knows what a blood oath is. Ness says he does. 

“Good,” Malone says, “Cuz you just made one.” 

The time is running down, and none of us knows how long until our own final scene. Maybe I need to make a blood oath with Malone too. The end is coming, someday anyway, and I need to be prepared to go all the way. That’s the Chicago way. 

— John E. Meredith

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989)

Everyone remembers Sean Connery as the original 007, but he will always be, “Jones, Henry Jones, Senior” to me.

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade is the third installment in the Indiana Jones franchise.  After the dark and violent Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984) was met with mixed reviews, Steven Spielberg was able to infuse the adventurous story with humor and heart by introducing us to Indiana’s father, Dr. Henry Jones, Sr. played by the late and iconic Sean Connery.

In the film, Dr. Henry “Indiana” Jones (Harrison Ford) meets businessman Walter Donovan (Julian Glover) who informs him that Indiana’s estranged father and Grail scholar, Dr. Henry Jones, Sr. (Sean Connery) is missing while searching for the Holy Grail with an incomplete tablet.  Dr. Jones mails his Grail journal to Indiana so it does not get into the wrong hands.  It is up to Indiana to rescue his father while both try to beat the Nazis on the search for the Grail.

The father and son dynamic adds heart and comedic elements to keep the movie flowing.  It also adds dimension to Indiana Jones as a character.  Sean Connery is a perfect choice because Indiana Jones was inspired by James Bond.  James Bond, in a sense, was always the father of Indiana Jones. Only Connery could convey the intelligence, charm, and good looks it would take to be Indiana’s father.  Despite being only twelve years Ford’s senior, Connery pulled it off his knowing smirk and nags, insisting on calling referring to his son as “Junior.”  When it is revealed that father and son have slept with the same woman, a reveal that is credited as an ad lib by Connery, it is completely believable.  Just like Bond, women wanted to bed BOTH Dr. Joneses, and men wanted to be them.

— Jessica Sowards

Finding Forrester (2000)

Sean Connery, like a lot of the artistic lions of his generation, is problematic. His views on women were wholly unacceptable[1] and his persona, which translated to many of the characters he chose to play, was that of the unrepentant hard man, who enforced his will with brute strength and violence. Time comes for all men, however, and the fist must eventually be replaced with something else. When he was no longer able to pull off being a hero in the mold of Bond (though Never Say Never Again shows just how hard it is to make that transition), Connery became an elder statesman, offering flinty support and wisdom to the younger men expected to save the day.

Never is this more apparent than in Finding Forrester, where Connery plays a man defined more by the frailties of his present than by the accomplishments of his past. His character is trapped by age and irrelevance before serving as a mentor to an aspiring writer. The film is not particularly great, given its similarity to Gus Van Sant’s earlier Good Will Hunting with the additional complication of a white savior narrative, but Connery’s charisma somehow finds a way to shines through. Despite all of his baggage and the triteness of the story, the man could sell a character. Finding Forrester is Connery accepting and succeeding in a new persona: the man of action becomes the man of words[2].

— Mike Burr


[2]  I would be remiss not to mention five of those words: “You’re the man now, dog.” It is not exactly Shakespeare, but Connery’s delivery makes it an object of joy.

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