While you can’t call him one of the greatest ever actors, there are some Michael Caine movies everyone should see. Michael Caine is a very English actor. With his London accent, he has never aspired to roles that take him outside of characters that he cannot portray naturally, and this is what, in my mind, makes him one of the all time greats. You will not find him trying accents that are alien to his tongue, but you will find him playing anything from a hard-nosed criminal to a pageant stylist to the lead in a Muppet movie. The Michael Caine movies are probably among the most eclectic set you could probably attribute to any one actor and here’s just a few from his more than 100 movies. (No spoilers!)
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1 The Italian Job
Containing one of the lines most quoted from Michael Caine movies – “You’re only supposed to blow the bloody doors off!” – The Italian Job was the absolute perfect vehicle to showcase the Londoner’s talents. In my opinion, this original version knocks the socks off the 2003 version. The scenes of the Mini Cooper screeching around Turin are memorable but the ending is a total cliffhanger – one of the best Hollywood “will it or won’t it” endings ever.
2 The Cider House Rules
When I devoured the book of The Cider House Rules (John Irving is one of my most favorite authors), I never pictured Michael Caine as Dr. Wilbur Larch. (I didn’t picture Tobey Maguire as Homer Wells either and still don’t – not the best casting!) Caine’s performance, however, captured the laudanum addicted abortionist orphanage doctor perfectly, and he deservedly won the Oscar for Best Actor in a Supporting Role.
For those who love romantic comedy, French cinema, or just a wealth of charisma on screen, do yourself a favor and indulge in some Gérard Depardieu movies. The iconic French actor, known for his charm and unique acting style, offers a delightful mix of dramatic and comedic performances that are sure to make you say "Oh la la!"
Zulu was Michael Caine’s first leading role and boy, what an epic to kick off an epic career. In these days of dirty modern warfare when our troops fight against land mines, IUDs and snipers with high caliber rifles, Zulu takes us back to a time when a different kind of courage was needed (not better, just different). It tells the true story of the Battle of Rorke’s Drift (in South Africa) in 1879, when 100 British troops held strong against more than 4,000 Zulu warriors. It’s a heroic story not to be missed.
4 Get Carter
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By the time this was made in 1971, other, previous Michael Caine movies had shown us how capable he is of playing the hard man – especially the role of British spy Harry Palmer, a role he reprised several times. Get Carter had a lot of sock factor back in the early 1970s. We wouldn’t bat an eyelid today, but back then the scenes of violence and sex in this story of a London hoodlum and his quest to find his brother’s killer were way too gritty and lifelike for some people’s tastes.
5 Educating Rita
I think much of the US audience found Julie Walters’ harsh Liverpudlian accent difficult to cope with and this film never received the acclaim it deserved across the pond. In a kind of Pygmalion tale, Educating Rita is the story of a jaded English Professor and his student Rita, who is a housewife and hairdresser who wants to change her life through learning. He is irascible, she is feisty. He is a disillusioned drunkard. She is thirsty and pushy. They are the perfect foil for each other. Does it have a happy ending? You’ll just have to watch it to find out.
6 The Quiet American
One of the most unassuming Michael Caine films, The Quiet American was a surprise hit with the critics and earned the star a nomination for the Oscar for Actor in a Lead Role (Adrien Brody took the award home for The Pianist). Based on the novel by British writer Graham Greene, The Quiet American is the story of an older reporter’s battle against a young pup (Brendan Fraser) for the affections of a Vietnamese beauty.
7 Miss Congeniality
I couldn’t really leave this off the list, could I? Whether you’re a fan of fluffy comedies or not, you cannot help but admire an actor with talents that allow him to move effortlessly between such diverse roles. Forget the hard men, forget the fast talking cockneys; in Miss Congeniality, Caine plays Victor Melling, a stylist to beauty pageant contestants. He turns tomboy Gracie Hart (Sandra Bullock) from a very ugly duckling into a very graceful and beautiful swan. Caine imbues Victor with the right amount of “camp” in the right shade of pink.
I could go on with more but I have to stop there. Some of the Michael Caine movies are questionable (Jaws IV: The Revenge, On Deadly Ground), while others are hugely entertaining and a true testament to his craft (Hannah and Her Sisters, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels), but you can’t deny he is masterful. If there's one thing missing from his CV it's that they couldn't find a small part for him in the Harry Potter movies! He would have made a most malevolent Death Eater or a kindly old professor. Are you a fan? What are you favorite Michael Caine movies?
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