Skip to main content

The 11 best Sean Bean performances, ranked

Have you seen these incredible Sean Bean movies and shows?

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 performances. 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 11 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.

11. National Treasure (2004)

11. National Treasure
Genre Adventure, Action, Thriller, Mystery
Stars Nicolas Cage, Diane Kruger, Justin Bartha
Directed by Jon Turteltaub
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.

10. The Island (2005)

10. The Island
Genre Action, Thriller, Science Fiction, Adventure
Stars Ewan McGregor, Scarlett Johansson, Djimon Hounsou
Directed by Michael Bay
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.

Snowpiercer (2020)

tv-ma 3 Seasons
Genre Sci-Fi & Fantasy
Cast Jennifer Connelly, Daveed Diggs, Mickey Sumner
Created by Josh Friedman, Graeme Manson
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
Genre Drama, Action, Thriller, Crime
Stars Harrison Ford, Anne Archer, Thora Birch
Directed by Phillip Noyce
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
Genre Action, Horror, Crime, Thriller
Stars Sean Bean, Sophia Bush, Zachary Knighton
Directed by Dave Meyers
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
Genre Adventure, History, War, Action
Stars Brad Pitt, Orlando Bloom, Eric Bana
Directed by Wolfgang Petersen
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
Genre Drama, History, Horror
Stars Sean Bean, Eddie Redmayne, Carice van Houten
Directed by Christopher Smith
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
Cast Peter Dinklage, Lena Headey, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau
Created by David Benioff, D.B. Weiss
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
Genre Action, Science Fiction, Thriller
Stars Christian Bale, Taye Diggs, Angus Macfadyen
Directed by Kurt Wimmer
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
Genre Adventure, Action, Thriller
Stars Pierce Brosnan, Sean Bean, Izabella Scorupco
Directed by Martin Campbell
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
Genre Adventure, Fantasy, Action
Stars Elijah Wood, Ian McKellen, Liv Tyler
Directed by Peter Jackson
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 needs 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.

Editors' Recommendations

Movie images and data from:
Shawn Laib
Shawn Laib is a freelance writer with publications such as Den of Geek,, Edge Media Network, diaTribe, SUPERJUMP…
These are the 13 best Brad Pitt movies, ranked
Does your favorite Brad Pitt movie make the list?
Brad Pitt staring across the table

If you were to look up the word "superstar" in the dictionary, it wouldn't be surprising if Brad Pitt's visage was strewn across the page. When you hear his name, it’s hard not to think of his chiseled abs, effortless charm, and distinctively beautiful face. Many may even immediately think of all the media surrounding his romantic entanglements with Angelina Jolie and Jennifer Aniston, but we’re definitely not here to talk about that.

Today, we are here to talk about the many strides Brad Pitt has made in his film career; from war movies to heist comedies, he's taken his physical beauty and made the most of it. While he may not have the reputation of Tom Hanks or Al Pacino, Pitt has become a great performer in his own right. In addition to his prolific acting career, Pitt is also a producer with more than 60 credits to his name. Clearly, there is much more to him than just what meets the eye, which is part of what makes him such a compelling screen presence.

Read more
Apple has a classical music app you’ve probably never heard of, and just purchased a record label to support it
Apple says it now has the most classical music of any streaming service
Portland, OR, USA - May 7, 2023: Apple Music Classical and Apple Music app icons are seen on an iPhone. Apple Music Classical is a brand-new standalone streaming app for classical music lovers


Amazon Music, Spotify, or Apple Music — whether you're grinding through your work commute or unwinding in your safe space at home, music is a part of that, and your favored streaming app is how you listen to it. Some of us like to rock out to get mentally psyched for the workday, and some want to soothe their souls on the way home. While classical music may not be everyone's first choice when planning a playlist, it's grown in popularity over the last few years. Through social media like Instagram and TikTok, classical music is getting recognized more and more, and Apple wants it to get even bigger with an app you may not know it already released.

Read more
She shed? Yoga studio? Man cave? For $11k, this incredibly nice Costco shed can be whatever you want – with a catch
Buy it by October 1 if you're interested
A person doing yoga outside of a she shed.

All adults want their own private space. She shed, man cave, reading nook, yoga studio, scream hut — whatever you want your personal bubble for, Costco wants to grant your wish. As if a Costco membership didn't already open doors to magical worlds, they offer a deal to take if you want a personal sanctuary in your backyard. If this sounds too good to be true, there are a few things to know before you run to your local Costco, but see if this fantastic offer could make your shed life goals happen for you.

What you want to know about the Gorilla Escape 12x10 Shed
Let's dive into the good stuff you care about.
The shed details

Read more