Since 2001 Andy Serkis has solidified himself as a cinematic God, popularizing the art of motion capture and literally becoming some of the most iconic film characters of the past decade. With his new film “War for the Planet of the Apes” coming out this weekend I decided to honor the master himself with my list of the ten best Andy Serkis performance so far.
For this list I looked at Serkis’s filmography and chose some of his best and most iconic roles. From live action, to motion capture and animation and beyond no role was left out for consideration for this list as long as it was in film. These roles were ordered based on several factors including how iconic they have become, Serkis’s performance as a whole, and a little bit of my own personal judgment on these roles for some spice.
If you’d like to see Serkis in action once again, be sure to check out “War for the Planet of the Apes” this weekend and look for my review as well. Serkis stars in the film as Caesar, who may or may not be on this list. You’ll have to read to find out.
What are your favorite Andy Serkis performances? Did I leave any out? Let me know in the comments below! Enjoy the list.
10. David, “The Cottage”
Serkis plays one half of a pair of brothers in this dark horror comedy as the duo kidnap the stepdaughter of an underworld crime boss for ransom only to see their plans go completely wrong and out of control, sending them into a totally different horror story altogether. Serkis plays David, turning in an impressive performance as a leading man in his first notable appearance in a horror flick. Serkis shows his talent for acting outside of a motion capture suit by creating and supporting amusing banter between himself and Reece Shearsmith, the other half of the brother duo, in a performance that was lauded by critics and helped further Serkis’s budding carrier as a legitimate actor outside of his more artistic roles that are yet to come on this list. “The Cottage” could have easily become just another generic horror flick, but it’s partially because of Serkis’s commitment to his role that this film managed to ride the line between horror and comedy so effectively and present personality within an otherwise by-the-books horror story.
9. Spike, “Flushed Away”
The year 2006 proved to be a big one for Serkis as he starred in six different films that year, one being his first appearance in an animated feature called “Flushed Away”. The film saw a domesticated rat accidentally flushed into the world of sewer rats trying to stop the plans of an evil toad. The Toad, as the villain is simply called, comes with a pair of rat henchmen, Bill Nighy’s large and gentle Whitey and Serkis’s smaller and more vocal, intelligent, and whitty Spike. Serkis uses his tremendous voice talents to capture the creepy and despicable nature of this vicious rat-for-hire. While not necessarily show stealing, Spike is among the more memorable characters in the film and certainly stands out as one of the most prominent and notable villains in the story. So far this is one of only two of Serkis’s forays into animated voiceover work, but it’s a prime example of Serkis’s abilities and acting range that honestly the world of animation could use a little more of.
8. Mr. Alley, “The Prestige”
“The Prestige” was an exceptional hit in 2006 and starred a slew of big names that might have overshadowed Serkis’s performance in the film, if it weren’t for his ability to keep up, and in some cases overpower, his more notable counterparts on screen. Serkis plays Mr. Alley, an assistant to David Bowie’s Nikola Tesla, and Serkis himself said that he put a lot of thought into his characterization of what was essentially a side-character role and it shows. Serkis found it an honor to play alongside Bowie on the big screen and described his character as one who found a similar fascination with Tesla, calling Tesla a “maverick”. While the role of Mr. Alley could have easily been lost in the mix in an already overstuffed, albeit well balanced film Serkis proved he could make a simple character more than what he was meant to be and created memorability and personality, there’s that word again, for his part in this magic-themed caper proving that no part is too big or small for his acting abilities to shine.
7. Captain Haddock, “The Adventures of Tintin”
One of Serkis’s many motion capture performances, which you will certainly see more of as this list progresses, his turn in “The Adventures of Tintin” as Captain Haddock was a work of art. Serkis earned the role thanks to his reputation as a motion capture actor and not only performed the movements, but the voice and personality of this comical captain who helps the titular Tintin on his adventure. Serkis researched seamen culture and made the creative decision himself to give the character a Scottish accent, which he felt better suited the characters personality. Serkis proved to be a capable leading man, bringing his own touch to the character while also respecting the movie’s legendary source material. It’s also the only real human character Serkis has popularized through motion capture, departing from his normal non-human and animal-themed motion capture performances, showing that Serkis is not only good at pretending to be something else, he’s also good at capturing the nuances of a human performance while wearing his trademark suit as well.
6. Supreme Leader Snoke, the “Star Wars” franchise
When you decide the new master of evil in a legendary franchise is going to be a rather intimidating being of size and personality and created through motion capture what better man for the job than Andy Serkis right? J.J. Abrams seemed to think so with his continuation of the “Star War” franchise “Episode 7: The Force Awakens” in 2015 where we got our first look at this immediately iconic leader of the First Order. Notable in both stature and attitude, Serkis provides a more held back approach to this villain who seems to strike fear into everyone who stands before him, including the film’s main villain Kylo Ren. The only character on this list we really know little about at this point, Serkis did a lot with very little as he portrayed a master of evil who evoked confidence and charisma without the need for forceful language and attitude. Snoke knows his power and he knows that he intimidates and Serkis doesn’t try too hard to make this First Order political leader the epic villain he is destined to be. Serkis fits right in within the “Star Wars” universe and it will be entertaining to see the direction he takes this powerful force of evil in the future. Regardless of what’s to come, Serkis left a mark on audiences everywhere by providing vibrato for a villain who didn’t do much of anything but order his underlings around for the duration of the film. It takes an interesting approach and talent to embody a villain quite that intimidating.
5. Ian Dury, “Sex Drugs and Rock N’ Roll”
It would be tough for any actor to take on an iconic biographical role. In 2009 Serkis had his chance to show he could do such material justice as he stepped into the shoes of icon Ian Dury in “Sex, Drugs and Rock n’ Roll”. The film followed Dury’s rise to fame and his struggles with the results of polio as a child. With such a legacy and high expectations on his shoulders Serkis fearlessly jumped into Dury’s life and presented the world a tasteful representation of a man who epitomized an era as a new wave musician. “The Guardian” went so far as to call Serkis’s performance “mesmerizing” and who could blame them? Serkis captured the intriguing and complex man that was Ian Dury perfectly in look, mannerism, and even in his voice. There’s a certain amount of commitment that it takes for any actor to truly embody another person’s life and being the way Serkis did in this biopic. It’s no surprise, considering his history of dedication with his motion capture performances, that Serkis was able to pull it off with amazing results.
4. Ulysses Klaue, the Marvel Cinematic Universe
Serkis seems to be a man of many franchises, so it was inevitable he would join the Marvel Cinematic Universe eventually. He finally did so in 2015’s “Avengers: Age of Ultron” when he portrayed classic Black Panther villain Ulysses Klaue, a black market arms dealer who Ultron pays for a load of indestructible Vibranium. Serkis seems to have a knack for playing villains if he finds the right part and here he is absolutely perfect, portraying Klaue with an unabashed ego and sense of superiority to those around him, even Ultron. Klaue comes off as fearless and cocky and even after losing an arm still feels like one of the most confident men in the room. Like Snoke, this is a role we will see more of in the future as Serkis brings the villain to his comic book roots to take on the Black Panther in February and early previews of the film already promise that we will see the same charisma and strange sense of overconfidence that made this a standout cameo-esque role in the second team-up film in the MCU continuity.
3. King Kong, “King Kong (2005)”
If you want to understand just how truly talented Andy Serkis is this is the performance and film to view as Serkis plays not one, but two parts in this film, portraying a member of the ship’s crew as well as the giant titular ape itself. Serkis showed the world just how magical motion capture could be in his second major role utilizing the growing special effect method. Director Peter Jackson had worked with Serkis before in “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy and knew what he had in an actor when he cast Serkis to bring the giant legendary ape to life. Serkis worked in the London Zoo with real gorillas to perfect the part, giving the giant ape a truly animalistic feel rather than the more human-like approach of previous, and subsequent, incarnations of the character while preserving the more sentimental parts of Kong’s personality. Serkis made Kong feel real and in some ways more human in emotion alone than his human counterparts. It’s truly a magnificent performance to behold that today stands as one of the finest examples of what motion capture can achieve, presented by the king of motion capture himself.
2. Caesar, the “Planet of the Apes” franchise
After finding success and the titular Kong in “King Kong” it was no surprise that Andy Serkis was tabbed to portray another famous ape in the reboot of the “Planet of the Apes Franchise”, “Rise of the Planet of the Apes”. Serkis took on the role of Caesar, the ape who would go on to lead a rebellion for his species and change the world around him after being born from a mother who was the target of pharmaceutical experiments to cure Alzheimers. Serkis created a character so human, yet so non-human that it blurred the line between the two species, which, in essence, is an underlying theme of the franchise as a whole. Caesar is the driving character behind the entire franchise as the leader of the rebellious apes and one of the few who, at least at the start, understands human emotion and the way humanity has abused the earth around them for their own gain. As with many of Serkis’s characters, Caesar is fascinating in his character development and growth and in how he is portrayed through spectacular effects and a clear understanding of both human and ape mannerisms and physiology. Serkis may have wowed the world with his portrayal of a life-like giant ape in “King Kong” but it was with this performance that he perfected his craft and to this day it remains one of his most iconic character portrayals…second really only to one.
1. Gollum, “The Lord of the Rings” and “The Hobbit” franchises
In 2001 Peter Jackson debuted the first entry in what was destined to be a cinematic phenomenon. That was the year the first “The Lord of the Rings” film debuted and with it came the first real introduction the public masses had to a man who would redefine the way non-human characters were created on screen. Andy Serkis debuted his talents as a motion capture artists in the original trilogy of films portraying numerous characters, but mainly gaining attention as the iconic Gollum. The corrupted Hobbit obsessed with the One Ring was so lifelike and fleshed out over the course of not only three primary films, but also a trio of prequels, that this role alone made Serkis a household name for his ability to literally lose himself within the body and soul of a totally different being. Serkis presented fluid movements and a spot-on character portrayal that made Gollum a scene stealing antihero fighting an inner battle of his own while a war for the ages rages on around him. Few originally knew the man behind the creature and for many they were shocked to realize this performance was not just CGI production, but an actual rendering of real acting that took place and was regenerated movement for movement to create this iconic miniature mental case. To this day it is not only Serkis’s iconic role, but one of his most praised performances and the one that helped him legitimize the art of motion capture that has gone on to become a staple in films ever sense.