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The 12 best Sean Bean performances, ranked

Have you seen these incredible Sean Bean movies and shows?

Sean Bean
Image used with permission by copyright holder

When you think of venerable fantasy actors who deliver memorable performances, there aren’t many more well-known than Sean Bean. A soft-spoken and overall sweet guy with a reputation and a scattered career, Bean is an acting talent who has shown up in films, television, radio, theater, and voice acting since the early 80s. With a strong passion for acting (particularly Shakespearean theater), he has been known to feature as a poetically tragic character throughout his career.

With this in mind, it’s not hard to believe that many — and I mean most — of his characters on screen perish after internally struggling to an extreme extent. I could easily make this about the many on-screen deaths of Sean Bean (see the “Sean Bean death reel” on YouTube), ranking their buildups and epic conclusions, but today, we are here to appreciate him as an actor and acknowledge the best Sean Bean movies and TV shows. That is not to say we won’t be talking about his many deaths, as they are multitudinous and unavoidable.

Bean isn’t exactly known for his accent changes in films, as he mostly maintains his Yorkshire accent, which works quite well in just about every role he chooses. Since he prefers to act in films of an older period, it’s hard not to picture him in the historical, traditional garb of a bygone era. One of the most prominent roles Bean played was Richard Sharpe of the Sharpe series — consider this an honorable mention since it is so extensive and we can’t really single out one of the films for this list. So, getting to the thick of it, here is the list of the 12 best Sean Bean roles in film.

Disclaimer: It should be known that the many deaths of Sean Bean will be talked about, meaning there will be extensive spoilers for those of you who are unfamiliar.

12. National Treasure (2004)

12. National Treasure
131m
Genre
Adventure, Action, Thriller, Mystery
Stars
Nicolas Cage, Diane Kruger, Justin Bartha
Directed by
Jon Turteltaub
Watch on Disney+
In what is surely not Sean Bean’s best role but still part of a classic action/adventure ride, National Treasure is pure family fun and one of the best Nicolas Cage movies ever. Historian and puzzle-solver Ben Gates (Nicolas Cage) is obsessively searching for an American treasure with unknown whereabouts, but soon solves the puzzle and discovers that the map to it is inscribed on the back of the Declaration of Independence. Sean Bean plays Ian Howe, a previous partner to Ben Gates who decides to go down the dark path and steal the Declaration of Independence. Putting them at odds, Ian Howe takes more of a strong-armed approach instead of the tactical, mystery-solving methods employed by his counterpart. That is not to say that he is not also an accomplished historian and researcher, he just has more of criminal history. This is one of the two films on our list today where Sean Bean survives and one of the best of his antagonist performances to date.

11. Red Riding (2009)

11. Red Riding
1 Season
Genre
Crime, Drama
Created by
Tony Grisoni, David Peace
Watch on Apple TV+
Red Riding is a trilogy of films set in Yorkshire, England, between 1974 and 1983. The trilogy draws inspiration from the real-life Yorkshire Ripper killings that occurred during that period. Considered “Yorkshire Noir,” the films are a dark blend of crime, mystery, and thriller with a heavy atmosphere of corruption and conspiracy. Sean Bean’s character in the Red Riding trilogy isn’t explicitly named in any of the films. He portrays a suspiciously wealthy real estate tycoon who appears in the third part: 1983. While his specific role in the larger conspiracy remains unclear, his character is shown to have connections to some of the events and is suspected of involvement by the protagonist. His presence casts a long shadow over the narrative, even though he doesn’t play a central role throughout all three films.

10. The Island (2005)

10. The Island
136m
Genre
Action, Thriller, Science Fiction, Adventure
Stars
Ewan McGregor, Scarlett Johansson, Djimon Hounsou
Directed by
Michael Bay
Watch on Amazon
Another minor role for Sean Bean, he plays Dr. Bernard Merrick, the creator of the fabrication told to his ‘children’ called The Island. A futuristic and supposedly utopian society contains a small population of residents who have been told the rest of the world is contaminated, except for one place: The Island. If you are chosen at random by a lottery, you are sent to the Island to live out your life in paradise, or so they say. But guess what? Evil Sean Bean lied. As a fairly well-written antagonist, Dr. Merrick seems to be a kind and caring director, who quickly turns out to be a careless sociopath with a god complex. This is a pattern we will see later on the list. Turns out, every resident of this place is simply a clone of someone in the real world with lots of money, cashing in on their clone’s body parts and organs when and as needed. This time, Mr. Bean doesn’t make it. “I brought you into this world, I can take you out of it.” Dr. Merrick’s god complex causes him to say before taking a crossbow-like weapon to the neck, then being hung over his large creation as a metaphor of the film’s premise.

9. Snowpiercer (2020)

9. Snowpiercer
tv-ma
3 Seasons
Genre
Sci-Fi & Fantasy
Stars
Jennifer Connelly, Daveed Diggs, Mickey Sumner
Created by
Josh Friedman, Graeme Manson
Watch on Amazon
Sean Bean’s career is long enough and sufficiently celebrated to the point that he now works well as a headliner in certain circumstances. TNT decided to put Bean front and center on the second season poster for this powerful post-apocalyptic drama about survivors fighting a class war during the end of the world. The main characters travel the frozen tundra on a never-ending train ride. Bean plays Joseph Wilford, the character who owns the Snowpiercer train. His mysterious past is unraveled quickly throughout the ensuing two seasons, and Bean plays each layer of the character with expected stage presence and intrigue. This show is currently awaiting the premiere of a fourth season.

8. Patriot Games (1992)

8. Patriot Games
117m
Genre
Drama, Action, Thriller, Crime
Stars
Harrison Ford, Anne Archer, Thora Birch
Directed by
Phillip Noyce
Watch on Amazon
Another antagonist role for Sean Bean, but this time he employs a thick Irish accent for his Irish revolutionist character. CIA agent Jack Ryan (Harrison Ford) is in the wrong place at the wrong time and happens to intercept an IRA terrorist attack and kill one of the attackers. Turns out, that was Sean Miller’s (Sean Bean) brother, initiating a desperately vengeful character who is eager to exercise his marksmanship. As usual, Sean is not the main character of the story, but he sure antagonizes the main character enough to be noticed. For this, it made our list today. Sean Bean’s ability to be creepy and terrifying is showcased for one of the first times on film, preparing him for future roles where he truly masters the creepy factor. Surprise: Sean doesn’t make it through this one. Until being pushed into a boat hook and then promptly blown up, Sean Miller got pretty close to exacting his revenge but underestimated Agent Ryan. Fun fact: Harrison Ford accidentally hit Sean Bean with the boat hook while shooting the final scene; leaving him with a scar over his eye as a result.

7. The Hitcher (2007)

7. The Hitcher
84m
Genre
Action, Horror, Crime, Thriller
Stars
Sean Bean, Sophia Bush, Zachary Knighton
Directed by
Dave Meyers
Watch on Apple TV+
In the not-so-well-received 2007 remake of The Hitcher, Sean Bean reprises the hauntingly cold John Ryder. Like most horror/thriller films, you spend time strongly disagreeing with the choices the main characters make, this one probably has a few too many. Many say it should have been left alone but then we wouldn’t have this performance on our list today, would we? Sean Bean is the guiding light to this overtly violent thriller, playing a mentally unstable serial killer with no direction but death and psychological torture. In this film we see some more of what he practiced in The Island, showing a sweet and sensitive side before changing faces and pulling a knife on the good people of the world. It is truly chilling to see Bean in this role as a determined maniac, yet still interesting to see him stretch his legs all the way out in a new-ish genre. At first, the character seems like he has some sort of purpose, focusing mainly on the two main characters played by Sophia Bush and Zachary Knighton. As the film progresses, however, it becomes clear that he is very mentally unwell, searching for somebody to finally end his reign of terror. Turns out he taunts her long enough to get his wish, taking a final shotgun blast to the face shortly after asking her, “Feels good, doesn’t it?”

6. Troy (2004)

6. Troy
163m
Genre
Adventure, History, War, Action
Stars
Brad Pitt, Orlando Bloom, Eric Bana
Directed by
Wolfgang Petersen
Watch on Apple TV+
Sean Bean is a good guy? Only sometimes. Sean Bean survives? Only sometimes. In this epic and historic staple tale of love, war, gods, and men, Sean Bean plays world traveler and narrator Odysseus. A diplomatic and rational character, Odysseus spends most of the film making plans and mediating between hot-headed Achilles (one of Brad Pitt’s best roles) and the greedy King Agamemnon (Brian Cox). If you don’t know the story of Homer’s Iliad, a Trojan prince steals away the bride of a Greek royal, starting the Trojan War and giving us one of the most interesting tales of ancient history. Bringing the story of the Trojan War to the screen is not an easy task, but it sure helps to enlist the talents of director Wolfgang Petersen and all of the incredible acting talents present to see it through. An epic that should be watched at least once, this is what birthed the concept and the many expressions of the Trojan Horse scheme. After all, it was Odysseus’ idea to create and use the Trojan Horse, resulting in their legendary victory. Sean Bean’s soothing voice is also used in this film as the narrator, acting as the storyteller of a first-person account.

5. Black Death (2010)

5. Black Death
102m
Genre
Drama, History, Horror
Stars
Sean Bean, Eddie Redmayne, Carice van Houten
Directed by
Christopher Smith
Watch on Amazon
In what is certainly the darkest film on this list, Black Death puts forth one of the more original plots that have been mostly unexplored due to its bleak nature. Sean Bean plays Ulric, a religiously driven knight convinced that everything he does is for the sake of God. Righteous as it may seem, Ulric commits some horrific acts in the name of his lord. As it is based in the mid-1300s during the sweeping tragedy of the Black Plague, Ulric is tasked with traveling to a distant village that has seemingly been untouched by the Black Death. Along with him are his cohort of soldiers and torturers, as well as a young and naïve monk named Osmund (Eddie Redmayne) who agrees to join them on their quest as their guide, but is simply using them as an escape from the Monastery to be with his true love. Ulric remains a man of God in humanity’s darkest hour, suspicious that “God has left” the villagers that are free of the plague and that a necromancer lives among them. Sean Bean plays a character somewhat like Boromir, but utter violence is a defining theme. Spoiler alert: He and his men get captured by the villagers and tortured to get them to renounce their God. Ulric dies as a martyr, asking Osmund to remove his shirt, revealing that he has brought the Black Death to the villagers. “God’s fury rains down on you!” Ulric screams to the heavens just before two horses literally tear him in half.

4. Game of Thrones (2011)

4. Game of Thrones
tv-ma
8 Seasons
Genre
Sci-Fi & Fantasy, Drama, Action & Adventure
Stars
Peter Dinklage, Kit Harington, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau
Created by
David Benioff, D. B. Weiss
Watch on Hulu
Okay, I know it’s not a movie but this role is too honorable and notable to be left out. Just one season for this justified hero. Ned Stark is like if Boromir got to grow old and was crowned king of a very sad and cold kingdom, after having many, many children. As with all kings in this universe, there is a responsibility to land and citizens that should be upheld, even if it seems that Ned Stark is the only one to do so. As the kingdoms are plagued with corruption and secretive politics, it turns out that it is more dangerous to be a good and honorable man than it is to sacrifice a few human qualities like empathy, respect, and compassion. Sean Bean does a fantastic job playing the only righteous leader in The Seven Kingdoms, seemingly used only as a plot device in this show to get viewers hooked. If you haven’t seen it, you probably never will or maybe already know that Ned Stark dies. Due to his incorruptibility, he’s painted as a traitor to his kin and decapitated in front of the townspeople. “I learned how to die a long time ago,” Ned says just a few minutes before his untimely demise.

3. Equilibrium (2002)

3. Equilibrium
107m
Genre
Action, Science Fiction, Thriller
Stars
Christian Bale, Taye Diggs, Angus Macfadyen
Directed by
Kurt Wimmer
Watch on Amazon
Adopting an Orson Welles futurism theme, Equilibrium explores a sci-fi topic with over-the-top action gusto. In a future world where “peace is achieved,” humans must take daily medication to suppress human emotions. Unfortunately for this society: where there is conformity, there will be rebellion. Sean Bean plays Agent Partridge, called a “Cleric,” who is tasked with locating and eliminating rebels and anything that evokes human emotion — books, art, puppies, etc. Featuring one of the best Christian Bale performances, Sean Bean does what he does best: dies tragically and poetically. Fairly early on in the film, we find that Partridge has not been taking his medication for some time now and has enjoyed sneaking off to read a book or marvel at some art. Since John Preston (Christian Bale) is his emotionless partner, he is the obvious choice to be rid of the ‘Sense Offender’. Sean Bean plays the role with a quiet proficiency, attempting to blend in with all the other emotionless humans despite witnessing some unthinkable acts. Sean’s performance really comes down to his final scene, masterfully nuanced page turns and slight raises of the eyebrow as he reads the book as if every word is a miracle. When Preston mentions all the negative sides of emotion before shooting him in the head through a William Butler Yeats novel, Partridge replies, “A heavy cost. I pay it gladly.” This is honestly the best scene of the movie, as the rest continues to be an all-out action drama of Syfy channel movie quality.

2. GoldenEye (1995)

2. GoldenEye
130m
Genre
Adventure, Action, Thriller
Stars
Pierce Brosnan, Sean Bean, Izabella Scorupco
Directed by
Martin Campbell
Watch on Amazon
In what I find to be one of the coolest new-age Bond films, GoldenEye takes all the classic aspects of espionage which includes cool technology, a badass Bond girl, and elements of betrayal. This is all made better by the appearance of Sean Bean, who is the dark horse of this story. Playing Agent 006 A.K.A. Alec Trevelyan, Bean’s character is the long-time friend and co-Agent to James Bond, who gets discovered and executed by the enemy almost exactly 6 minutes into the film, right? Nope, gotcha. Turns out Alec Trevelyan faked his death in order to work in the shadows for a while, plotting to exact his revenge on MI6 for lying to him all his life. This is one of the first Bond films that introduces some incredibly deep concepts and backstories to the villain, luckily we got to see Sean Bean portraying it with unwavering confidence. Though he is not included in a majority of the film’s runtime, the epic showdown between him and Bond is well-coordinated and by the two of them nonetheless. His other great scene is his re-reveal toward the end, explaining himself and showing his intensity as he remembers the shame and dishonor that MI6 showed him. “For England, James?” Trevelyan chuckles, shortly after being dropped 100 or so feet. After somehow surviving the fall, the entire structure comes down on him, making for one of the more epic deaths of Bean’s career.

1. The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001)

1. The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring
179m
Genre
Adventure, Fantasy, Action
Stars
Elijah Wood, Ian McKellen, Liv Tyler
Directed by
Peter Jackson
Watch on Hulu
In our final and absolute best role Sean Bean has ever blessed us with, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring is the epic beginning to one of the most beloved and cherished fantasy trilogies of all time. There shouldn’t be a need to explain the plot, since this tale has been around on screen for a while and way longer in writing. Sean Bean plays the proud and courageous Boromir, getting a chance to take part in most of the film’s runtime, as opposed to the usual. His character is the son of the steward of Gondor, the leader of the last and quickly deteriorating world of men. Due to this, Boromir feels a responsibility to the ring, convinced that it could be used as a weapon against the dark lord Sauron. As the ring weighs heavily on the party of adventurers, Boromir is the first to lose his mind to it and betrays Frodo’s trust in an attempt to steal it. This makes him feel immediate shame and a need for redemption, resulting in the best of Bean’s death scenes and arguably the best scene in the movie. Fighting off as many foes as possible, Boromir does a fantastic job until the Uruk-Hai leader sinks an arrow into his chest. He doesn’t fully stop fighting until a third arrow is launched into his stomach, rendering him useless. His acting in this scene is the best I’ve seen in the films as well as his career, confessing his shame to the previously rejected would-be-King, Aragorn. “I would’ve followed you, my brother, my captain, my king.” If this scene makes you tear up, I don’t blame you, but I don’t recommend watching it with a date unless you’ve been dating for a while.

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Movie images and data from:
Shawn Laib
Shawn Laib is a freelance writer with publications such as Den of Geek, Quote.com, Edge Media Network, diaTribe, SUPERJUMP…
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