The Best Alec Guinness Movies, Ranked

Sir Alec Guinness (1914-2000) is a legend. Recognizable to most nowadays for his iconic portrayal of Obi-Wan Kenobi in the Star Wars films, Guinness was admittedly not a fan of his most recognized role and wished to be more associated with some of his other works. Luckily, there are several films, many of which are some of the most iconic ever made, that had Guinness’ involvement. Let’s take a look at some of the best films from one of the UK’s most well-revered actors.


6 The Lavender Hill Mob (1951)

In this 1951 comedy from Ealing Studios, Guinness plays Henry Holland, the mastermind of a gold bullion robbery in London. The movie begins with Holland living the high life in Rio de Janeiro and telling the story of how he pulled off the robbery to a fellow Brit. When Holland recruits an accomplice who runs a foundry, he hits on the perfect way to smuggle the stolen gold: they’ll melt it down and recast it as Eiffel Tower paperweights that could be found in any souvenir shop in Paris. Of course, this being a comedy, things go wrong when our criminals head to Paris and discover that a language mix-up has caused six of the paperweights to be sold prematurely, causing Holland and his accomplices to race like mad to get them back. The film ends with a fun little surprise involving the Brit who tells Holland his story to, but you’ll have to see the film for yourself to see what it is. A wonderfully humorous caper, this film earned Alec Guinness his first Academy Award nomination for Best Actor, which he’d lose to Gary Cooper for High Noon.

5 Kind Hearts And Coronets (1949)

Another Ealing Studios comedy and much like the Lavender Hill Mob, is framed with a criminal detailing his crimes. In this case, the criminal is Louis D’Ascoyne Mazzini, played by Dennis Price. The D’Ascoyne family are heirs to a dukedom, but Mazzini is disinherited because his mother married an Italian opera singer beneath her social standing. Since the dukedom can be inherited by descendants of female heirs, Mazzini plots to kill all nine members of the D’Ascoyne family ahead of him in succession, all nine of which are played by Alec Guinness. Admittedly, some of the nine have rather small roles, but how many actors have played nine roles in a film and made each one as unique and memorable as Guinness does here? Probably not many. The film is darkly hilarious, as one could expect when the plot involves killing nine people.

4 A Passage To India (1984)

David Lean’s final film centers around an Indian named Dr. Aziz Ahmed (played by Victor Banerjee), who plans to escort two British women, Adela Quested (Judy Davis) and Mrs. Moore (Peggy Ashcroft, who won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her performance) to the Marabar Caves, based on the real life Barabar Caves in India. When Adela Falsely Accuses Dr. Ahmed of rape, the trial further exasperates the growing tensions between the British and the local Indians. Guinness plays a supporting role in this film as Hindu Brahmin professor Narayan Godbole, who is a bit of an eccentric. The film is a grand epic, as only David Lean can do, and a fantastic swansong to a fantastic career.

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3 Lawrence of Arabia (1962)

This Best Picture winner for 1962, the second-longest film to win that coveted prize, details the life of British adventurer TE Lawrence (played by Peter O’Toole) as he assists the Arabs in their revolt against the Ottoman Empire during World War I Alec Guinness plays Prince Faisal, who after the war, would become King of Iraq from 1921 to 1933. During the events of this film, Faisal is a valuable ally that Lawrence needs to recruit to his cause. Soft-spoken, but commanding great authority, Guinness shines in the scene in the tent where Lawrence convinces Faisal to join the revolt. The stars of the film might be Peter O’Toole and David Lean’s masterful direction, but all the supporting players are outstanding, including Alec Guinness.

2 Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope (1977)

What is there to say about Star Wars that hasn’t already been said? It’s Guinness’ most iconic role, earning him the third of his four Oscar nominations for acting. While he admitted some of the dialogue was “fairy-tale rubbish,” he still agreed to do it, finding appeal in the story’s morals. Still ever the professional, Guinness brought his all to the role, and all of the major players, such as Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, and Carrie Fisher all spoke highly of Guinness’ courtesy and professionalism on and off set. The money the film netted him didn’t hurt, either. Everybody knows how iconic Star Wars has now become, and Alec Guinness played a huge part in that, helping to develop Obi-Wan Kenobi into one of the most beloved and respected mentors in movie history.

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1 The Bridge On The River Kwai (1957)

Arguably Alec Guiness’ second most iconic film, David Lean’s 1957 masterpiece not only walked home with Oscar for Best Picture and Best Director, but a well-deserved Best Actor win for Alec Guinness as well. Guinness plays Colonel Nicholson, a British POW hero in a camp in Thailand by the Japanese during World War II. The camp’s commander, Colonel Saito (played by Sessue Hayakawa), orders Nicholson and his men to build a railway bridge over the titular river, which will help connect Bangkok and Rangoon. Nicholson, upset at the poor job the POWs are doing at building the bridge, inspires the men to do the job properly, hoping the bridge will stand as a testament to British building ingenuity. Of course, those hopes are dashed when a commando raid led by Commander Shears (William Holden) is tasked with blowing the bridge up. Guinness’ performance is nothing short or outstanding. His scenes with Hayakawa are a highlight, but the end when the bridge is about to be destroyed and Nicholson looks on in horror, saying “What have I done?” show just how masterful Guinness’ performance is. There is no doubt about it. The Bridge On the River Kwai is not only Alec Guinness’ best performance, but his best film as well.

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