Tribute: Top 10 Max Von Sydow Roles


This week we received the news that Swedish actor with more than a hundred credits to his name Max Von Sydow passed away at age 90. Von Sydow is a film industry legend, remaining recognisable to audiences across the generations. Most surprising is the number of genre films he took major roles in. As a geek culture website we feel compelled to mark the ten roles we best remember him for.

10. VIGO THE CARPATHIAN

Ghostbusters II

The first on our list, and providing only the voice to a character played by Wilhelm von Homburg. Together the two performers combine to create the most powerful figure in the Ghostbusters franchise. Vigo is awesome.

9. CHIEF JUDGE FARGO

Judge Dredd

Don’t get us wrong, this is not a good movie. In fact, it’s bad. Judge Dredd really couldn’t wait to get his helmet off, something that the character has never done in almost 50 years of comics. One thing they did get wrong is the powerhouse figure of Judge Fargo, Dredd’s mentor and confidant. You want a powerful figure in a genre film, you get Max Von Sydow.

8. JESUS CHRIST

The Greatest Story Ever Told

Sure, why not play Jesus. Coming from the golden age of Biblical epics on the silver screen, the stacked cast of The Greatest Story Ever Told was aptly handled by Von Sydow in one of his earliest American films. As you may expect, Christ is a figure that will turn up later in this list.

7. DOCTOR KYNES

Dune

David Lynch’s…odd…interpretation of the sci-fi classic Dune may not be fondly remembered by fans, but some of the casting was on point. An example of this is Max Von Sydow’s calm and somewhat unearthly demeanour as the leader the Freman, the man who bridges the gap between the native people of Arrakis and the newly arrived noble house of Atreides. He does more with a few deadpan expressions than Sting does with his weird underpants.

6. KING OSRIC

Conan the Barbarian

There was a time when Arnie was best known for playing a giant, grunting barbarian. How times have changed. In Conan’s cinematic adventures he meets with King Osric, ruler of city of rogues. He’s a wise, quick witted king who earned his throne and has grown to resent it. He also bosses Arnie around.

5. THRE THREE-EYED RAVEN

Game of Thrones

We have always mentioned that Von Sydow is adept at creating an ethereal presence when he needs it. This makes him a great candidate for the Three-Eyed Raven of Game of Thrones. A ‘greenseer’ and one of the last links to the ancient Children of the Forest, the Raven becomes a guide to Bran Stark as he becomes a seer himself. A strange, spiritual character such as this is right in Von Sydow’s wheelhouse.

4. LELAND GAUNT

Needful Things

If you watch Rick and Morty you may have seen the episode Something Rickard This Way Comes, in which Rick runs afoul of an antique store owned by the devil. This Twilight Zone-esque trope is so familiar you can’t even remember where you first learned about it. Odds are it was in Needful Things, with the charming and sinister Leland Gaunt being played by Von Sydow. This is one of his most popular roles, being a great showcase for his talents and immense screen presence.

3. MING THE MERCILESS

Flash Gordon

One day, emperor of Planet Mongo – Ming the Merciless – decided to fuck with Earth by bombarding it with natural disasters. When football star Flash Gordon challenges Ming we get one of the greatest galactic epics ever committed to film. The cult classic, also fondly remembered for the soundtrack featuring Queen belting out an ode to Flash, brings us Max Von Sydow as an outright evil, powerful maniac and it is delightful.

2. ANTONIUS BLOCK

The Seventh Seal

This is a role that would undoubtably be the top spot if we weren’t so geek minded. Even if you don’t know the name of the movie or the plot, the image of a knight playing a game of chess with Death is iconic. This concept, playing Death for your life, transcends cinema and cements itself as part of the Grim Reaper’s lore. Von Sydow is equally iconic as a cool, collected and crafty knight who needs to keep Death at bay for just a little longer.

1. FATHER MERRIN

The Exorcist

Still one of the most infamous horror movies of all time, packed with shocking imagery and memorable quotes. At the top of the list of memorable quotes is, of course, “the power of Christ compels you!’ delivered by Max Von Sydow. Aged up to play the older priest it’s a powerful performance for every moment that he’s on screen. The image of Von Sydow standing on the foggy street being spotlighted by the glow from the window is the image he’ll be best remembered for.

Rest in peace.