On Feb. 5, 2021, we lost one of our most celebrated actors, Canadian-born Christopher Plummer. He was 91. Born in 1929, Plummer enjoyed a decades-long career as both a leading man and a character actor, with numerous memorable roles across film, television, and the stage.
Plummer became a star with his performance as Captain Georg von Trapp in the smash hit Robert Wise musical drama from 1965, The Sound of Music, the winner of five Oscars – including Best Picture – which remains one of the most beloved Hollywood musicals to this day. In the decades that followed, Plummer put together a remarkable acting career in which he embodied a variety of characters and became known for being capable of displaying a wide range – from comforting warmth to ice-cold cruelty.
The legendary workhorse actor would reach the peak of his activity and acclaim in his 80s. In fact, all three of Plummer’s Oscar nominations – and his lone win, for Mike Mills’ lovely 2011 romantic comedy Beginners, came when he was an octogenarian. No other actor in the history of the Academy Awards has received three nominations after their 80th birthday.
Plummer was also known for the near-instant gravitas he could add to any role with simply the power of his presence, his composure, and, of course, his unmistakable voice. Filmmakers delighted in using that gravitas over the years, casting Plummer in the roles of Aristotle, Mike Wallace, Leo Tolstoy, Oedipus, Rudyard Kipling, Sherlock Holmes, Ebenezer Scrooge, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Caesar, and Kaiser Wilhelm II.
Here, then, is a nice starter kit to experience that gravitas for yourself.
Plummer’s most popular mainstream role by far came in this Best Picture-winning musical classic in which he portrayed Captain von Trapp, a single father whose strict household control over his seven children is upended by the arrival of spunky governess and conflicted nun Julie Andrews. His heartfelt climactic rendition of “Edelweiss” is just one of the film’s many iconic moments that left moviegoers spellbound.
Director John Huston’s rousing adventure classic offers sterling leading roles for Michael Caine and Sean Connery as former soldiers whose fortune-seeking escapades end up with one of them being mistaken for a god. Plummer anchors the proceedings as Rudyard Kipling, the actual writer of the 1888 source novella.
One of Plummer’s finest films from his native Canada is this wildly unpredictable gem in which he plays a dangerous criminal whose robbery of a Toronto bank (while dressed as Santa Claus) is undermined by crafty bank teller Elliott Gould. What follows is a tense game of cat and mouse, earning this film major cult status among fans of suspense cinema.
Plummer makes for a splendid Sherlock Holmes in this atmospheric thriller that finds the famed sleuth untangling the mystery of Jack the Ripper, with James Mason lending sturdy support as his trusty Dr. Watson. The intricate conspiracy leads them through encounters with a strange cast of characters, with Sherlock confronting the chilling truth in a subdued but haunting finale.
In this beloved romantic fantasy starring Christopher Reeve and Jane Seymour as lovers who transcend time itself, Plummer offers an acidic counterpoint. As William Fawcett Robinson, he’s the controlling manager whose focus on Seymour’s stage career in 1912 is just one of the obstacles facing our protagonists bound by a simple command, “Come back to me.”
The real-life battle between the tobacco industry and 60 Minutes plays out with nerve-wracking intensity in director Michael Mann’s drama featuring Russell Crowe and Al Pacino. Plummer convincingly embodies reporter Mike Wallace, who has a pivotal role in this story about journalism and the conduct of American corporations.
Ron Howard’s Best Picture-winning drama, also based on fact, depicts the struggle of Nobel laureate John Nash (Russell Crowe) and the impact of his mental illness on his life. Among a stellar cast, Plummer gets a fine spotlight as the doctor whose attempts to treat Nash are thwarted by his erratic patient.
Plummer earned his first Oscar nomination for his role as Leo Tolstoy, whose final days are charted in this memorable biopic. Helen Mirren stars as his wife, Sofya, who plays a key role in his struggle to retain control of his vital literary works for future generations.
An Oscar-winner for Animated Feature Film and the second animated feature in history to be nominated for Best Picture, this enchanting adventure directed by Pete Docter features Plummer as the voice of Charles F. Muntz, the explorer whose adventures inspire Carl Fredricksen and young companion Russell to travel to the jungles of South America.
Plummer won an Academy Award for Supporting Actor in Mike Mills’ charming comedic drama about a young man (Ewan McGregor) reflecting on his elderly father’s decision to come out of the closet, a process that has a ripple effect through the family. Sensitive and deeply moving, Plummer’s performance was lauded as one of the highlights of his career.
Plummer’s final Oscar nomination came with his portrayal of oil tycoon J. Paul Getty, whose kidnapped grandson sparks a family rift and a global hunt to Italy in this fact-based drama from director Ridley Scott. Bringing great complexity to his portrayal of one of the world’s richest men at the time, Plummer delivered a powerhouse role that also anchored the tension within the film from start to finish.
The linchpin holding together this twisty whodunit from Rian Johnson, Plummer shines here as Harlan Thrombey, the wealthy mystery writer whose demise from an apparent suicide ignites a firestorm among his possible heirs. The film is packed with juicy performances across the board, with Plummer providing wry wit and warmth as the patriarch whose final will is full of surprises.