The Best Patrick Stewart Performances, Ranked

Star Trek The Next Generation patrick stewart performances

When Paramount announced Patrick Stewart as the next captain of the USS Enterprise, Trekkies raised an eyebrow with Spock-like incredulity. The patrician actor felt a far cry from William Shatner’s James T. Kirk, and not just because he did not attempt to cover his bald head.

After a couple seasons of Star Trek: The Next Generation, fans realized how lucky they were. Stewart brought dignity to the role, a regal power and depth of feeling that allowed him to play not only a starship captain, but also a conniving Roman prefect, a brutal Axis officer, and the leader of the mutant population. Whether on stage or screen, Patrick Stewart embodies power, sometimes portraying inspiring heroes and other times playing the most sinister villains. Join us as we celebrate the greatest Patrick Stewart performances.

1. Star Trek: The Next Generation (1987 – 1994)

Star Trek: The Next Generation
Image Credit: Paramount Pictures.

For all of the swashbuckling action in the original Star Trek, the series has always worked best as a philosophical debate. That aspect came to the fore with the sequel series Star Trek: The Next Generation, thanks to Stewart as Captain Jean-Luc Picard. Under Picard’s leadership, Star Trek went where the franchise had never gone before, debating the rights of androids, talking down warmongering officials, and forming a bond with his crew. To this day, Picard remains the model Star Trek captain, overshadowing even Kirk, and the most iconic of Patrick Stewart performances.

2. Logan (2017)

Patrick Stewart in Logan (2017)
Image Credit: 20th Century Fox.

Some might argue that Stewart made a lateral move when he shifted from Star Trek to the X-Men franchise to play Professor Charles Xavier, the kindhearted headmaster of a school designed to train young mutants. But when he made his final appearance in the role (give or take a cameo) in 2017’s Logan, Stewart revealed the full depth of the character. Set several decades after the other X-Men films, Logan finds Xavier slipping into dementia, which — thanks to his powerful mutant mind — makes him a danger to anyone around him. Stewart allows Xavier to face his fate in the most human way, with bitterness and anger in one moment and vulnerability and honesty in the next. Of all Patrick Stewart performances in movies, the Academy should have taken note here.

3. Jeffery (1995)

Patrick Stewart in Jeffery (1995)
Image Credit: Orion Classics.

Directed by Christopher Ashley, the film adaptation of the play by Paul Rudnick Jeffery retains many of its stage elements. Throughout the film, Jeffery (Steven Weber) addresses the camera when sharing his frustrations about being a sexually active gay man during the AIDS crisis. That fourth-wall-breaking approach sometimes undercuts the serious stakes of Jeffery’s situation, including his romance with an HIV-positive man called Steve (Michael T. Weiss), but it suits Stewart, who plays Jeffery’s older friend Sterling.

As Sterling, Stewart tosses off witty lines about passing fashion trends and his partner Darius’s (Bryan Batt) anxieties. But when it comes time to deliver a heartbreaking and angry monologue about the cost of the disease, Stewart does not shrink from the challenge, capturing all the righteous rage at another person gone too soon. 

4. Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (2005)

Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (2005)
Image Credit: Toei Company.

As impressive as full-body Patrick Stewart performances can be, Stewart’s greatest tool as a thespian is his booming baritone. So it should come as no surprise that Stewart has several voice acting credits in his filmography, none better than Hayao Miyazaki’s Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind. Stepping in for Japanese voice actor Gorō Naya and original American performer Hal Smith,

Stewart voices Lord Yupa, the legendary sword master who trained Nausicaä (Alison Lohman in the second American dub). The animation from Miyazaki and his team demonstrates Yupa’s skill with a sword, but Stewart’s voice acting communicates the warrior’s honor. 

5. The Lion in Winter (2003)

Patrick Stewart in The Lion in Winter (2003)
Image Credit: Showtime.

By 2003, Stewart had decades of experience performing English kings and nobles. That level of comfort goes to good use in the 2003 TV movie adaptation of the 1966 play by James Goldman, The Lion in Winter. As Henry II, Stewart plays a monarch who approaches questions of his successor with disastrous arrogance.

Under a wig that gives him an impressive gray mane, Stewart gives Henry II a cocky grin when cavorting with his underage lover (Julia Vysotskaya) and jousting with Elenor (Glen Close), the wife he had once imprisoned. But as rivalries between his sons intensify, Henry struggles to hold his family and kingdom together, letting Stewart emphasize the tragedy of his character. 

6. I, Claudius (1976)

Patrick Stewart in I, Claudius (1976)
Image Credit: BBC2.

Based on the books by Robert Graves, the BBC miniseries I, Claudius recounts the first decades of the Roman empire, told through the eyes of Emperor Claudius (Derek Jacobi). Stewart enters the series in episode four as Sejanus, a Prateran commander who assassinates Caesar Augustus's would-be heir Postumus (John Castle), allowing for the rise of Tiberius (George Baker). Stewart plays Sejanus as a complex man, whose ambitions to move beyond the army make him some powerful enemies, whose love for the married Livilla (Patricia Quinn) gets mingled in intrigue, and who never apologies for his affection toward his children. 

7. X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014)

James McAvoy and Patrick Stewart in X-Men: Days of Future Past
Image Credit: 20th Century Fox.

After the disastrous third entry X-Men: The Last Stand, Stewart seemed to retire from the part of Charles Xavier, letting James McAvoy play a less mature and less bald version of Professor X in 2011’s X-Men: First Class. But Stewart teamed with McAvoy to play an elderly Xavier who meets his disillusioned former self via time travel shenanigans in X-Men: Days of Future Past. As convoluted as that plot sounds, Stewart and McAvoy make the encounter sing, as the younger actor rages against the burden of responsibility placed upon him and the older actor offers reassuring advice. 

8. Antony and Cleopatra (1974)

Patrick Stewart in Antony and Cleopatra (1974)
Image Credit: ITV.

In 1974, television audiences in the US and the UK were treated to a recording of Antony and Cleopatra as performed by the Royal Shakespeare Company. In addition to Richard Johnson as Antony and Janet Suzman as Cleopatra, the play featured Patrick Stewart in the part of Domitius Enobarbus. Even when watched through a shoddy television production, the passion in Stewart’s performance still comes through. When regret overtakes Enobarbus in Act IV, Stewart’s desperation resonates beyond any shortcomings in the medium. 

9. Extras (2005)

Patrick Stewart in Extras (2005)
Image Credit: HBO.

English comedian Ricky Gervais made his name with awkward, uncomfortable humor when he created The Office with Stephen Merchant. The duo takes that approach to Hollywood with their follow-up series Extras, in which Gervais plays a background actor struggling to make the big time. When Gervais’s Andy Millman talks to Patrick Stewart about getting into screenwriting, the elder actor responds with excitement and describes a script that he wrote.

The fictional Stewart’s script revolves around his character using his psychic powers to disintegrate the clothes of any woman he sees, a concept that suits a teenage boy more than a classical thespian. Stewart throws himself into the self-mockery, poking fun at his persona with the greatest of spirits. 

10. Green Room (2015)

Green Room (2015) Patrick Stewart, Macon Blair
Image Credit: A24.

Stewart has played more than a few villains in his day, but few feel as chilling as Darcy, the proprietor of a punk club in the Pacific Northwest. In the movie Green Room, written and directed by Jeremy Saulnier, punk group The Ain’t Rights meet Darcy after agreeing to play at his club, not realizing that it catered to White Supremacists. After witnessing a murder, the band — led by Pat (Anton Yelchin) and Sam (Alia Shakwat) — stays cloistered in the titular green room while Darcy does his best to get them out and dispose of them. Trading his usual English accent for a flat affect, Darcy’s passionless voice betrays his ruthless tactics. 

11. A Christmas Carol (1999)

Patrick Stewart in A Chirstmas Carol (1999)
Image Credit: TNT.

Whether it’s George C. Scott, Alister Sim, or Albert Finney, actors tend to play Ebenezer Scrooge with an edge, leaning into his domineering personality at the start of Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol. However, few manage to scare like Stewart, who took on the part in a TV movie for TNT. Directed by veteran stage figure David Jones, A Christmas Carol extends from the one-man shows that Stewart had been doing on Broadway for years. Alongside Richard E. Grant as Bob Cratchit, Stewart storms across the screen and waves his cane like a saber, making one of the more menacing versions of the old miser. 

12. Star Trek: Picard (2023)

Star Trek Picard (2020) Patrick Stewart
Image Credit: CBS Studios.

When Stewart returned to the role of Jean-Luc Picard in 2020, almost two decades after the character’s last appearance in the movie Star Trek: Nemesis, he had no desire to repeat the past. As a result, the first two seasons of Star Trek: Picard indulged in a mean-spiritedness that turned off Trekkies. When Stewart lifted his objections for the final season, which reunited the main cast of Star Trek: The Next Generation, fans got what they wanted, and the actor turned in some of his best work. Stewart finds new notes of vulnerability and resolve in the well-worn character, underscoring the full weight of a man who spent the better part of his life among the stars. 

13. The Doctor and the Devils (1985)

Patrick Stewart in The Doctor and the Devils (1985)
Image Credit: 20th Century Fox.

Based on the play by Welsh poet Dylan Thomas, The Doctor and the Devils tells a gothic tale about grave robbers who murder people to make them into cadavers they sell to local doctors. Stewart enters late into the film as Professor Macklin, adding a bit of levity to the movie. The pompous Macklin fails to inspire his students like rival Dr. Rock (Timothy Dalton), the primary customer of the murderous Fallon (Jonathan Pryce) and Broome (Stephan Rae). While Macklin’s bluster cannot keep him from falling prey to Rock’s associates, Stewart has fun playing up the character’s lack of self-awareness. 

14. X-Men (2000)

Halle Berry, Hugh Jackman, and the cast of X-Men live action movies
Image Credit: 20th Century Fox.

In the pages of Marvel Comics, Professor Charles Xavier sometimes acts like a benevolent educator committed to the dream of humans living with mutants like himself and sometimes like a revolutionary willing to use his powers to force the sometimes antagonist groups together. Stewart tends to play the former version of Xavier in the 2000 movie X-Men, allowing not even a shadow of mistrust in the character. Lest that sound boring, Stewart makes the infallible professor a powerful screen presence, especially when sparing with his friend Ian McKellan as rival Magneto. 

15. Fall of Eagles (1974)

Patrick Stewart in Fall of Eagles (1974)
Image Credit: BBC1.

Created by novelist and producer John Elliot, Fall of Eagles chronicles a seventy-year period during the last days of the ruling dynasties of Germany, Austria-Hungary, and Russia. Stewart appears in the middle episodes as V.I. Lenin, the revolutionary who goes on to become the chairman of the Russian Communist Party. Stewart does not buckle under the weight of such a notorious figure, taking pleasure in spouting his revolutionary ideas to anyone who will listen. 

16. The Prince of Egypt (1998)

Prince of Egypt (1998)
Image Credit: Dreamworks SKG.

It feels almost too easy to cast Patrick Stewart as the voice of Pharaoh Seti, the Egyptian ruler who adopts Moses (Val Kilmer) in the Biblical animated tale The Prince of Egypt. As Seti, Stewart must relate both the kindness of a man who acts like a father to the Hebrew Moses, while also representing the power of the Egyptian empire, who enslaves Moses’s people. Stewart excels at both during his small role, setting the stage for the future clash between the grown Moses and Seti’s successor, Ramses (Ralph Fiennes). 

17. Dune (1984)

Dune (1984)
Image Credit: Universal Pictures.

Not many people look back at the 1984 adaptation of Frank Herbert’s Dune with admiration, least of all director David Lynch. However, in light of the respectful recent version from Denis Villeneuve, the first take on Dune garners love for its oddball decisions. One such decision includes casting Stewart as Gurney Hallick, the singing War Master of House Attriedes. According to behind-the-scenes reports, Stewart got the part because Lynch confused him for another performer. Whatever the reason, Stewart sinks his teeth into the role, launching into battle with a song on his lips and a pug in his arms.  

18. Robin Hood: Men in Tights (1993)

Patrick Stewart in Robin Hood_Men in Tights (1993)
Image Credit: 20th Century Fox.

At the end of the fun but self-important Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, Sean Connery arrives as King Richard, who comes to oversee the marriage between Robin and Maid Marian. Of course, Mel Brooks needs to poke fun at the idea in his parody Robin Hood: Men in Tights, pulling in the man most audience members knew as Captain Picard. Stewart retains the regal character that he honed on stage in the Royal Shakespeare Company. But he also has a wink in his eye, befitting the zany comedy world that he entered. 

19. Lifeforce (1985)

Patrick Stewart in Lifeforce (1985)
Image Credit: Cannon Picture Group.

After the success of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Poltergeist, director Tobe Hooper signed a three-movie deal with Cannon Pictures to make big-budget movies. Of those three films, Lifeforce best combined Hooper’s wild ambitions and Cannon’s Hollywood pretensions. Written by Alien screenwriter Dan O’Bannon and Don Jakoby, Lifeforce follows a female alien (Mathilda May) who drains the life force from her victims. One of those victims includes Dr. Armstrong, a smarmy physician who gets entangled in a plot to capture the alien. Although he never condescends to the material, Stewart leans into the trashy aesthetic of the film, all the way through to his memorable death scene. 

20. Macbeth (2010)

Patrick Stewart in Macbeth (2010)
Image Credit: BBC Four.

Stewart has plenty of experience putting unique spins on Shakespeare’s classics, including the production of Macbeth aired on BBC Four in 2010. Director Rupert Goold sets this version of the tragedy in 1960s Romania, with Stewart playing the would-be king as a pretender in a fascist state that mirrors the reign of fascist Nicolae Ceaușescu. Despite the updated trappings, Stewart does not hold back from the beauty of the language, playing up the high drama of the tale alongside Kate Fleetwood, who won a Tony Award for her take on Lady Macbeth.  

21. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (1979)

Patrick Stewart in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (1979)
Image Credit: BBC 2.

The spy novels of John le Carré could not be further removed from the glossy world of espionage imagined by Ian Flemming. Like its 2011 successor, the 1979 BBC adaptation of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy captures the mundanity of the spy business, in which company men like Bill Smiley (Alec Guinness) go about their business like the average cubicle drone.

Stewart adds some spice to the proceedings as Soviet agent Karla, a role he revisits for the sequel series Smiley’s People. Stewart’s malevolent take on Karla veers closer to classic Bond villainy than any other part of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, while still maintaining the show’s sober tone.  

22. The Plague Dogs (1982)

The Plague Dogs (1982)
Image Credit: Embassy Pictures.

English children can bond over the shared trauma of watching Watership Down, the animated adaptation of the Richard Adams novel of the same name. Watership Down director Martin Rosen’s second go at an Adams work may not share the same level of infamy, but not because it has a softer tone. The story of two dogs escaping a research lab, The Plague Dogs offers an unflinching look at the horrors of vivisection. Stewart lightens that weight a bit when his character, Major John Awdry, refuses to shoot the hero dogs, but his small part doesn’t off-set all of the movie’s horrors. 

23. Charlie’s Angels (2019)

Patrick Stewart in Charlie’s Angels (2019)
Image Credit: Sony Pictures Releasing.

Hollywood has often called on Stewart to provide quick gravitas in the form of a cameo, something the 2019 reboot of Charlie’s Angels could have done. Instead, director and writer Elizabeth Banks let Stewart indulge his playful side as Bosely, the assistant to the Angels' mysterious benefactor Charlie and point person to the Angels. Stewart’s appearance underscores the movies’ fun take on the 70s TV property, reminding viewers that a Hollywood blockbuster about behind-kicking ladies should be a good time. 

24. The Kid Who Would Be King (2019)

Patrick Stewart in The Kid Who Would Be King (2019)
Image Credit: 20th Century Fox.

For his follow-up to the excellent sci-fi film Attack the Block, writer and director Joe Cornish turns in the children’s romp The Kid Who Would Be King, in which kids from inner-city London form the new Knights of the Round Table. The new heroes come together at the behest of Stewart’s Merlin, who summons them to fight Arthur’s old enemy Morgan Le Fay (Rebecca Ferguson).

Stewart fits the bill as the wise old wizard, but Cornish has a tween audience in mind and soon switches him out for Angus Imrie as a younger, more gawky version of Merlin. However, Stewart makes the most of his limited screen time to sell the classical stakes of the adventure. 

Author: Joe George

Title: Pop Culture Writer

Expertise: Film, Television, Comic Books, Marvel, Star Trek, DC

Bio:

Joe George is a pop culture writer whose work has appeared at Den of Geek, The Progressive Magazine, Think Christian, Sojourners, Men's Health, and elsewhere. His book The Superpowers and the Glory: A Viewer's Guide to the Theology of Superhero Movies was published by Cascade Books in 2023. He is a member of the North Carolina Film Critic's Association.