Every person (or, at least, every film enthusiast, I really should say) can, typically, name the one actor whose talent never ceases to dazzle them. In addition, they can also, likely, name a certain filmmaker whose work and directorial style they admire over anyone else. Sometimes, a movie fan’s choice of a favorite actor and a favorite director can end up being the same person, such as in the case of Sir Kenneth Branagh.
The Northern Ireland native came to prominence in the late 1980s and early ‘90s as one of the most acclaimed and respected actors of his generation for giving performances in movies that, many of which, he also helmed himself. He is still known to juggle both talents at once with some recent favorites (such as his second Agatha Christie adaptation, Death on the Nile), while sometimes taking a moment to focus on one duty at a time and, often, with wonderful results either way. See for yourself by taking a look at our picks for Kenneth Branagh’s best movies on streaming, available for a digital rental, or for purchase on physical media, starting with one of his definitive efforts from both behind and in front of the camera.
Henry V (1989)
After facing ridicule from the French King Charles VI (Paul Scofields), the young, vengeful ruler of England (Kenneth Branagh) aspires to conquer the country of France for himself, resulting in horror on the battlefield and turmoil in his own soul.
Why it’s one of Kenneth Branagh’s best movies: Kenneth Branagh earned Academy Award nominations both for directing and playing the lead of Henry V - the first of several adaptations of the work of William Shakespeare that he would star in (and often helm himself), and his directorial debut, as well.
An imaginative young boy (Jude Hill in his debut role) and his working class mother (Catríona Balfe) and father (Jamie Dornan) struggle with the decision of abandoning their home or staying to endure the violent, politically fueled strife affecting their Northern Irish town in the late 1960s.
Why it’s one of Kenneth Branagh’s best movies: After more than 30 years in the business, Kenneth Branagh earned his first Academy Award win for penning his semi-autobiographical screenplay for Belfast - a beautiful, inspirational, star-studded family drama set against the backdrop of an otherwise tumultuous period in history.
Much Ado About Nothing (1993)
A young woman (Kate Beckinsale in her film debut) and her soon-to-be husband (future House cast member Robert Sean Leonard) conspire to play matchmaker for a conceited curmudgeon (Kenneth Branagh) and his frequent sparring partner (Emma Thompson).
Why it’s one of Kenneth Branagh’s best movies: For his next Shakespeare-inspired film after Henry V, screenwriter and director Kenneth Branagh leads an A-list ensemble (also including Denzel Washington, Michael Keaton, and Keanu Reeves) in Much Ado About Nothing - a wonderfully told rendition of one of the Elizabethan writer’s most lighthearted and romantic plays.
Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1994)
An ambitious scientist (Kenneth Branagh) achieves his dream of defying human mortality by creating an original being (Academy Award winner Robert DeNiro) with the use of spare body parts and successfully giving it life, but quickly comes to loathe his creation and leaves it to fend for itself.
Why it’s one of Kenneth Branagh’s best movies: A year after Much Ado About Nothing, Kenneth Branagh tried his hand at directing and leading the cast of another film inspired by a groundbreaking author’s literary classic, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein - a comparatively more accurate adaptation of the seminal novel than Universal’s 1931 monster movie from a screenplay by co-written by Frank Darabont.
Murder On The Orient Express (2017)
A renowned private investigator with a thick French accent and an even thicker mustache (Kenneth Branagh) boards a train where he is soon and unexpectedly called into action when one of its passengers suddenly turns up dead, leaving the the surviving travelers in suspicion.
Why it’s one of Kenneth Branagh’s best movies: Much later in his career, Kenneth Branagh tried his hand at directing an adaptation of one of the most iconic novels by Agatha Christie, as well as assuming the role of the influential mystery writer’s most famous character, Detective Hercule Poirot, with the star-studded Murder on the Orient Express, which was enough of hit to spawn Branagh’s dream follow-up, Death on the Nile, in 2022.
An accomplished war general (Academy Award nominee Laurence Fishburne) is manipulated by a scheming Ensign (Kenneth Branagh) into believing that his secret marriage to a senator’s daughter (Irène Jacob) is threatened by her infidelity with his lieutenant (Nathaniel Parker).
Why it’s one of Kenneth Branagh’s best movies: While not writing, directing, or having any noted input from the behind the camera in this Shakespeare adaptation, Kenneth Branagh gives one of his best and most chilling performances as Iago, the villain of Othello - the thrilling debut of screenwriter and director Oliver Parker.
My Week With Marilyn (2011)
A film student (Eddie Redmayne) strikes up an unexpected and intimate relationship with American movie star Marilyn Monroe (Michelle Williams) while working on the set of her new production, The Prince and the Showgirl, in late 1950s London.
Why it’s one of Kenneth Branagh’s best movies: Years after directing and leading adaptations of Shakespeare plays that were also previously directed by and led on film by fellow knight Laurence Olivier (namely Henry V and Hamlet), Kenneth Branagh portrayed the Academy Award winning actor himself (and to Academy Award-nominated acclaim) in My Week with Marilyn - director Simon Curtis and screenwriter Adrian Hodges’ adaptation of two memoirs by filmmaker Colin Clark.
The Road To El Dorado (2000)
A pair of fortune-seeking con artists (Kenneth Branagh and Academy Award winner Kevin Kline) stumble upon the chance the find the score of their lives when they come into possession of a map that leads to a legendary and rich city in 16th-Century South America.
Why it’s one of Kenneth Branagh’s best movies: Kenneth Branagh made his feature-length animated film debut with Dreamworks’ cult favorite adventure story, The Road to El Dorado - a fun throwback to the old school adventure films with Bob Hope and Bing Crosby that also features original songs by Elton John.
Harry Potter And The Chamber Of Secrets (2002)
Ignoring the warnings of his house elf (Toby Jones), a young wizard (Daniel Radcliffe) returns for a second year of studying the art of magic at his prestigious boarding school, where a series of eerie and dangerous events begin to happen.
Why it’s one of Kenneth Branagh’s best movies: As it was an unofficial rite of passage for most British actors at the time, Kenneth Branagh joined author J.K. Rowling’s Wizarding World for the first and last time as the arrogant, fame-seeking Hogwarts professor Gilderoy Lockhart in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets - the second installment of the phenomenal Harry Potter fantasy franchise from director Chris Columbus.
In the early years of the second World War, hundreds of thousands of British, Belgian, and French soldiers struggle to survive when they are left stranded on the coast of a port town in France where the German army threatens them at every turn.
Why it’s one of Kenneth Branagh’s best movies: In his first collaboration with writer and director Christopher Nolan, Kenneth Branagh plays a Royal Navy commander named Bolton who is tasked with rescuing the endangered soldiers at the titular French town in Dunkirk - one of Nolan’s most ambitious and technically marvelous efforts yet.
A godly and arrogant warrior (Chris Hemsworth) is stripped of his powers and banished to Earth by his father (Anthony Hopkins), where he falls in love with an astrophysicist (Academy Award winner Natalie Portman) and, meanwhile, his adoptive brother (Tom Hiddleston) vengefully conspires to assume control of their heavenly kingdom.
Why it’s one of Kenneth Branagh’s best movies: Among Kenneth Branagh’s most notable directorial efforts in which he does not appear onscreen is Thor - the fun, visually stunning, mythological tale that introduced the titular God of Thunder and the world of Asgard into the Marvel Cinematic Universe and skyrocketed Chris Hemsworth onto the A-List.
Constantly ridiculed and taken advantage of by her cruel stepmother (Cate Blanchett), a meek young woman (Lily James) receives a chance to break free of her dreary life when, with help from her fairy godmother (Helena Bonham Carter), she attends a royal ball held by a charming prince (Richard Madden) she met once before.
Why it’s one of Kenneth Branagh’s best movies: Another time that Disney enlisted Kenneth Branagh’s directorial talents with fun and visually stunning results was a live-action retelling of its own classic animated adaptation of Cinderella, which launched Lily James onto the A-List (when she was best known from the Downton Abbey cast) and gave moviegoers another great princess to root for.
Next in the pipeline for Kenneth Branagh is This Sceptered Island, a miniseries in which he will play British Prime Minister Boris Johnson at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. He has also joined the Oppenheimer cast, for what will be his third collaboration with Christopher Nolan.
Jason has been writing since he was able to pick up a washable marker, with which he wrote his debut illustrated children's story, later transitioning to a short-lived comic book series and (very) amateur filmmaking before finally settling on pursuing a career in writing about movies in lieu of making them. Look for his name in just about any article related to Batman.
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