The best kings of cinema through the ages
Find Kind Charles a bit boring? These kings of cinema will spice things up a bit...
Best movie kings
1. King George VI (Colin Firth, The King’s Speech)Watch now (Disney Plus)
The middle-aged mum’s favourite cinematic king may well be The King’s Speech’s depiction of King George VI. It sees a stammering man lacking in confidence forced to take the reins in order to reign, just as his country need him the most. The film sees the UK on the brink of declaring war in 1939. It’s genuinely stirring stuff, and one of the most human takes on a royal performance. And, geez, it was 13 years ago? This one’s going on the re-watch pile, with tissues at the ready for the odd tear.
2. Theoden (Bernard Hill, The Lord of the Rings)Watch now (NOW)
Sure, Aragorn II Elessar may be the "true" king of The Lord of the Rings series. But he’s a lot more fun as Agagorn the ranger, while Theoden is the far more interesting king. We first see him a broken and wizened figure, before he is returned to greatness — humbled, but still a true kingly figure. Nugget of the day: Bernard Hill, who plays Theoden, was originally considered for the role of Gandalf.
3. T'Challa (Chadwick Boseman, Black Panther)Watch now (Disney Plus)
Black Panther is the most inspirational cinematic king of recent years, fit for a whole new generation. Chadwick Boseman stars as one of the few Marvel characters that doesn’t rely on goofy livewire dialogue too much, letting him emanate a real quiet grandeur. It’s the real stuff of royalty. Sadly, this character will not be making a return, not as we know it, as Chadwick Boseman died of cancer in 2020. He had been diagnosed in 2016, two years before Black Panther was released.
4. King Leonidas (Gerard Butler, 300)Watch now (Prime Video)
This. Is. Sparta! You’ve heard that call even if you have never watched 300, Zack Snyder’s tale of an army of 300 holding back 100,000 invading Persians. Gerard Butler plays Leonidas, the warrior king of the Spartans. He reportedly spent fours hours a day in the gym for months to prepare for the role. But for a film that is ultra-stylised and packed with bare-chested dudes, Butler’s Leonidas is surprisingly nuanced. Well, a bit.
5. Mufasa (James Earl Jones, The Lion King)Watch now (Disney Plus)
How can the most memorable king of our childhoods have been a cartoon? Three words: James Earl Jones. His luxuriously textured baritone voice sang out from CRT TVs in the 90s and straight into our hearts. The Lion King’s Musafa (spoiler!) dies less than half-way into the movie, but his death is etched into cinematic history. Sean Connery was originally intended to voice this character. Thank the stars that didn’t happen.
6. Odin (Anthony Hopkins, Thor)Watch now (Disney Plus)
Veteran scenery chewer Anthony Hopkins commands the screen whenever he enters the stage as Odin in the Marvel movies. Father to Thor, king of Asgard, he is the royalty of ancient tales, to T’Challa’s more modern take on royal reponsibility. Hopkins kept his real Welsh accent for this film, and those Rs really cascade out of your speakers. We recently did a full Marvel re-watch and this can’t quite believe Odin only directly appears in the three first Thor films, such is his impact on the series.
7. Jareth (David Bowie, Labyrinth)Watch now (Netflix)
Drone on as much as you like about how The Man Who Fell to Earth is Bowie’s best role. His lycra codpiece take on Jareth, the Goblin King, is easily his most memorable. The hairdo, the dance moves, the overbearing sense of menace. Stick on As the World Falls on Spotify and gaze into Jareth’s undulating crystal balls. Ok, so the plot line about this evil king kidnapping a baby to lure and eventually seduce Jennifer Connely’s Sarah — who was 15 when the film was shot in 1985 — is extremely creepy. But these are good kingly performances, not "good guy" kings.
8. Henry V (Kenneth Branagh, Henry V)Watch now (ITVX)
Kenneth Branagh was just 29 when he directed and starred in this adaptation of Shakespeare’s play. And he was Oscar nominated in both roles. It’s enough to make you sick, isn’t it? This 1989 version is the best film adaptation of the play to date, a darker and grittier interpretation in which Branagh has to compete with such on-screen talents as Emma Thompson, Judi Dench, Derek Jacobi and the bellowing Brian Blessed.
9. King Ralph (John Goodman, King Ralph)Watch now (Amazon)
There was a strain of movies from the late 80s and early 90s in which unusual folks found themselves in unusual environments… with “hilarious” results. Coming to America is one of the greatest of these. But in King Ralph, a brash American played by John Goodman becomes King of the United Kingdom. Peter O’Toole bounces off him beautifully as the frightfully British Willingham. The film earns extra points for featuring a boogie woogie piano scene.
10. Hidetora Ichimonji (Tatsuya Nakadai, Ran)Watch now (ITVX)
Tatsuya Nakadai plays the King Lear-a-like Hidetora Ichimonji in Akira Kurosawa’s incredible Ran from 1985. The character is an aged supreme lord who decides to divide up his kingdom among his sons. He ends up betrayed and riven with madness. This is one of the best ever portrayals of the fall of a great king figure.
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