An Acting Centurion
In December of 2022, Liam Neeson’s name went up on cinema screens for the 100th time, consolidating one of the most impressive resumes in acting history. Of course, not many actors — let alone people — can boast of such an eclectic career. But, then again, not many people can compete with the man known for his particular set of skills.
Liam Neeson’s prolific career means he could be the most famous actor born on the Emerald Isle, along with other legends such as Daniel Day-Lewis, Saoirse Ronan, and Michael Fassbender. Born in Ballymena, Northern Ireland, the little boy named after a local Catholic priest went on to achieve A-List superstardom.
Such was Neeson’s success on screen that he received an OBE (Most Excellent Order of the British Empire) in Queen Elizabeth’s 2000 list of honors. He also won others, including an honorary doctorate from Queen’s University, Belfast, and the Outstanding Contribution to Cinema Award from the Irish Film and Television Academy (IFTA).
Neeson began his illustrious film career in 1980, having been inspired to become an actor through unorthodox means. Curiously, he became infatuated with Unionist parliamentarian Ian Paisley. It was the Calvinist firebrand’s manifesto speeches and stirring oratory presence in his rallies that found Neeson looking in on awe.
Skills, Skills, and More Skills.
Acting talents aside, the esteemed actor already had quite a list of real-life skills to boast of before appearing on stage. For instance, he joined a boxing club aged nine, winning multiple bouts before retiring at 17. But it doesn’t end there.
After enrolling in university to study computer science, Neeson found he was a good soccer player. He even had trials for Bohemian F.C., getting a game against Dublin’s Shamrock Rovers, though no professional contract was forthcoming.
Neeson did not only have sporting skills but also became a trained teacher (which would come in handy for many of his biggest roles) and even worked for Guinness. It is hard to find a weakness in this man’s skill set.
Fans will enjoy the walking meme factory that Liam Neeson has now become in light of his iconic role in Taken. One that sums up this Hollywood regent is as follows: “I’ve trained Jedi; I’ve trained Batman; I’ve even played Zeus. Now why on Earth would you want to kidnap my family?”
Here are 23 films that showcase Liam Neeson’s particular set of skills, ranked in order of merit.
23. Sex Scientist Skills, Kinsey (2004)
In 2004 (or, 4 B.T. — Before Taken), Liam Neeson found another skillset to show off — that of a pioneering sexual research professor.
A Sex Research Professor
His role in the movie Kinsey was a bold choice; Alfred Kinsey was a real-life professor famous for his work on the human sexual spectrum. However, his work attracted criticism for its sensitive nature, so Neeson had to tread carefully with this one.
This movie has a memorable line: “You're a capable hiker and camper and a champion swimmer,” he says when courting his wife-to-be Clara as a student. “And you are the one girl in a million who's as interested in insects as I am.”
22. Horror Movie Director Skills, The Dead Pool (1988)
There is no end to the number of skills this man demonstrates, and Liam Neeson has a large part in Clint Eastwood’s final Dirty Harry installment, The Dead Pool. Featuring our favorite Northern Irishman in his first action feature film, he plays an English horror movie director.
An English Horror Movie Director
His character, molded on Clive Barker of Hellraiser and Candyman fame, is involved in a deadly sweepstake called the Dead Pool, in which wealthy people bet on which celebrities will pass away next.
Neeson pulls off a perfect English accent as director Peter Swan, no doubt helped by Neeson’s proximity to the country. So, being a horror director underground high-roller with a perfect accent? Check.
21. Artistry and House Renovation Skills, Made in Italy (2020)
In 2020, the entire world became fixated on watching T.V. shows, movies, and anything else they could pass the time during the pandemic. Thankfully for them, our favorite action dad released a feel-good comedy that year.
A Father-son Dramedy
Made in Italy is somewhere between the story of Life as a House and A Good Year. Neeson’s soft skills come into play for this father-son dramedy about redemption, art, and restoration of family ties.
Neeson plays an artist estranged from his son, who is going through a painful divorce, so a road trip to Italy to restore and sell their old villa in Tuscany beckons. The restoring an old memory as a metaphor for life is obvious, though the movie still allows Neeson to show off two new skills for the resume.
20. Gallant Medieval Knight Skills, Excalibur (1981)
In this fantasy caper, we see the stoic, honorable, and brave Gawain serving his uncle, King Arthur, who seeks to unite the land by sending his knights on a quest for the holy grail.
A Mythological Knight
There are many skills necessary for a mythological knight. In this adaptation of the famous legend, director/writer John Boorman has Gawain under a spell from Morgana, Arthur’s devious half-sister — and Merlin’s apprentice.
A spellbound Gawain alleges Guinevere is treasonous, so his furious uncle decrees he must pay with trial by duel. He subsequently loses to Lancelot, who fights in Arthur’s place. Neeson developed all the skills necessary for a knight: swordplay, horse-riding, and oath-keeping skills.
19. Intergalactic Loveable Bandit Skills, Krull (1983)
Krull is a space opera that uses elements of the sword and sorcery subgenre, resulting in a cult film and a dedicated following. With a parallel plot to Lord of the Rings and Star Wars, Krull remains an ‘80s classic.
A Space Opera
The movie is about a mythical quest and partly about revenge, set on the planet Krull, where two royal families are destroyed by an evil space monster known as the Beast and his battalion of Slayers, who plunder the planet and murder the two kings.
Liam Neeson plays Kegan, a mischievous yet charming bandit enlisted to serve alongside his Krullian gang and the surviving prince Colywn to rescue his princess from the Beast.
18. Greek God Skills, Clash of the Titans (2010)
Another of 2010’s Liam Neeson roles involved lots of regal posturing, long, silent stares into the clouds, and a bucket-load of divine power. Clash of the Titans features a stellar ensemble cast with Neeson as Zeus.
Neeson as Zeus
When Hollywood sends a casting call for Zeus, it would be foolish not to enlist Neeson as the Ruler of Mount Olympus — especially if Morgan Freeman is busy.
In this adventure, he spends much of the time ruling from above, staring deep into the eyes of his fellow gods and witnessing his son Perseus wage war on Hades.
Neeson also utters one of the best lines in movie history: “Release the Kraken.”
Hiding Skills, Silence (2016)
Silence is by no means Liam Neeson’s greatest movie, though it is with arguably America’s greatest director, Martin Scorsese. Having worked together on Gangs of New York, they teamed up for Scorsese’s passion project about missionaries in late 18th century Japan.
The True Story of Fallen Priests
Though he plays a support role in the film, Neeson adds much gravity to a grave theme based on the true story of fallen priests during the Martyrs of Japan event, in which missionaries and their converts were purged from an increasingly paranoid land.
Neeson’s presence is generally from afar or through flashbacks, so his key skill in this film — besides being an apostate — is hiding from the Tokugawa Shogunate.
16. Responsible Submarine Commander Skills, K-19: The Widowmaker (2002)
So far, Liam Neeson has appeared in 100 movies and shows no signs of stopping soon. Whether as a lead, support, or even a cameo, he has been such an adaptable actor.
A Captain of a Submarine
In K-19: The Widowmaker, Neeson was cast as Captain 3rd Rank Executive Officer Mikhail Polenin, the original captain of the submarine. Alongside a Russian accent and some serious, stern looks, he plays the ice to Harrison Ford’s fire, supporting his captain with dignified subordination.
He does, however, avert a mutiny through quick thinking and ultimately shows who the real captain of the submarine should be.
15. Private Detective Skills, a Walk Among The Tombstones (2014)
There is something about Liam Neeson’s face that is universal; it works in many acting formats. Neeson isn’t especially handsome but has a deep, humble expression and draws much gravitas with his eyes.
A Burnt-out Detective
For A Walk Among the Tombstones, Neeson is in the comfortable territory as a burnt-out detective who helps a local drug dealer find the men who raped and murdered his wife.
Neeson’s cold, obsessive screen presence makes for a convincing detective and showcases yet more of Neeson's formidable skills. He journeys into a modern Hades, a world of drug pushers, prostitution, and violent retribution — a perfect place for Liam Neeson to show his detective skills.
14. Scottish Clansman Skills, Rob Roy (1995)
Like its movie cousin of the same year, Braveheart, this yarn features a non-fictional account of Scottish history involving fights with English Redcoat soldiers, wealthy land barons, and neighboring Scottish clans.
An Account of Scottish History
Robert Roy MacGregor, chief of Clan MacGregor, fancies himself a cattle baron, so he secures a loan from his Lowland Marquess liege to ensure the future of his clan as cattle owners. Things get out of hand for our clansman only when the pesky English appears.
Liam Neeson is perfect for this role and showcases some decent swordsmanship, though chief among his skills here is his diplomacy and negotiation as a clan head.
13. Air Marshall Skills, Non-stop (2014)
Another leading role found Liam Neeson in the form of ex-NYPD and current U.S. Air Marshal Bill Marks, who is on an overnight flight from New York City to London. This high-octane mile-high thriller keeps the audience on edge and guessing what might happen next.
Ex-NYPD Current U.S. Air Marshal
The mild-mannered Northern Irishman makes this role his own, demonstrating a calm head, strong intuition, and passenger safety awareness. Air Marshal skills are nothing for America’s leading middle-aged action man.
The premise is pure Neeson territory: a U.S. Air Marshal receives a text onboard a flight indicating that unless $150 million is paid into an offshore account, a passenger will die every 20 minutes. Most actors in the world would take one look at that plot and all agree on one thing: This is a job for Liam Neeson!
12. Action-Insurance Salesman Skills, The Commuter (2018)
Liam Neeson has played a cop numerous times, and The Commuter brings these crucial skills to the plate. The premise is pure Neeson, and this film can be safely stored in the action-dad category.
An Ex-cop Turned Insurance Salesman
An ex-cop turned insurance salesman takes the train to work in the city each morning until he loses his job one day. Coincidentally, he finds himself offered money by a mysterious stranger on the train.
He becomes marked in a game of death that plays out on a commuter train, which involves close combat, negotiation, and problem-solving skills. Thankfully, Neeson has skills like these in abundance.
11. Jail-breaking Mercenary Skills, The A-Team (2010)
For anyone who grew up in the golden age of American Reaganite T.V., The A-Team (in Britain at least) was a mainstay for any ‘80s child on a Saturday night. The show was fronted by George Peppard, the original John “Hannibal” Smith, the genius behind a group of rogue ex-military mercenaries.
A Group of Rogue Ex-military Mercenaries
Such a big role would always fall into Liam Neeson’s capable hands, especially as we were already aware of his particular set of skills two years prior. In this movie, he makes Hannibal his own, beginning with an impressive jailbreak, followed by a helicopter dogfight and a plane heist involving an escape via a parachuting tank—so many new skills to add to Neeson’s arsenal.
10. Separatist Leadership Skills, Michael Collins (1996)
For those unaware, Ireland endured years of turmoil with the Easter uprising against the British Crown in 1916. Ireland’s eventual secession in 1922 from Great Britain came with much bloodshed, ending years of English rule over the Emerald Isle.
A Revolutionary Irish Rebel Leader
Liam Neeson already had the requisite skills to be the revolutionary Irish rebel leader. Moreover, he grew up Catholic in a Protestant part of Northern Ireland, so he understood the religious and historical gravity better than most actors would.
As chief IRA counter-intelligence officer Michael Collins, Neeson shows off militant leadership with rousing speech delivery skills in his guerrilla war against his people’s oppressors. He was fantastic in this film, earning a Golden Globe nomination.
9. Ice Road Trucker Skills, The Ice Road (2021)
Neeson continued his middle-aged action-man journey — literally, in the case of The Ice Road. The movie follows the success of the History Channel’s Ice Road Truckers T.V. show, which charts the lives of several professional truckers who make the treacherous journey up the Dalton Highway in Alaska.
The Lives of Professional Truckers
Enter Mick McCann and his Iraq veteran brother Gurty, who work as truckers in North Dakota, before an altercation gets them fired. Neeson is perfect as the grizzled rig driver, looking after his shell-shocked brother in the race against time to deliver lifesaving parts to a collapsed mine in Manitoba.
8. Demolition and Bank Heist Skills, Honest Thief (2020)
In Honest Thief, Liam Neeson plays an ex-US Marine explosives expert (of course he does) nicknamed the “In-and-out-bandit.” He meets a girl and falls in love; his criminal past feels like a burden, so he confesses his crimes to the police.
An Ex-US Marine Explosives Expert
However, a pair of astute detectives catch the scent of $9 million and attempt to extort our bank robber genius. The film's producers saw the benefit of having Neeson’s character make grave threats down the phone, fight henchmen in close-quarter combat, and win the girl. Neeson and phone threats are now synonymous.
7. Cowboy Skills, Seraphim Falls (2020)
Liam Neeson once said his childhood in Ireland was steeped in Wild West mythology, as did most boys growing up during the ‘50s and ‘60s. In Seraphim Falls, he plays a Colonel out to track down a vagrant thief and murderer wanted across the state.
A Colonel Tracking Down a Thief and Murderer
With Pierce Brosnan as his antagonist, the pair of native Irishmen make for worthy adversaries. Of course, Brosnan’s character had no idea that Neeson would be tracking him down, so it is no surprise that they finally meet.
Neeson showed a good mix of cowboy skills in this film: horse-riding, gunslinging, and tracking skills. This character is a dark Neeson protagonist, ready to cross anybody to find his target.
6. Sniper Skills, The Marksman (2021)
Liam Neeson is in the late afternoon of a fine career, so leading roles in high-brow dramas or Academy Award vehicles are less forthcoming these days.
An Ex-US Marine Corps Scout Sniper
However, because Neeson’s skills are never-ending, he is still leading blockbusters at the ripe age of 70. Not many actors have the stamina or physical appearance to do this, which makes his achievements all the more special.
In The Marksman, Neeson stars as an ex-US Marine Corps scout sniper who helps a young man escape harassment from a Mexican border cartel.
5. Cartel Member Assassination Skills, Cold Pursuit (2019)
Due to Taken’s success, Neeson became somewhat typecast as an action dad out for vengeance. However, he is now at the point in his career where middle-aged support roles are the norm, so it’s remarkable that Neeson is still a leading man.
A Snowplow Driver
The premise of this film is Neeson's through-and-through: a local snowplow driver and community pillar goes mano-a-mano with a Denver drug cartel after they murder his son. Then, one by one, he starts picking off henchmen while inadvertently starting a cartel war.
This movie is not Neeson’s first action-dad role; one suspects it won’t be the last.
4. Subterranean Combat Master Skills, Batman Begins (2005)
Batman Begins is the first installment of Christopher Nolan’s highly regarded Batman trilogy. Liam Neeson’s menacing Ra’s al Ghul plays a prominent part in a film that charts the origin story of the Caped Crusader and his battle to overcome and eventually channel his rage.
Multiple Combat Disciplines
Neeson is in familiar territory here, having already shown his Jedi training skills in The Phantom Menace 25 years previously. His skills include multiple combat disciplines that he passes on to Bruce Wayne as he assimilates the youngster into his League of Shadows.
Without Ra’s al Ghul’s fearsome tough love, the Batman we know would not exist — deep voice and all.
3. Jedi Master Skills, The Phantom Menace (1999)
There are several factions of Star Wars fans. However, they are divided by generation, with most late-Millennials firmly in the prequel camp — many of whom were overjoyed at seeing Qui-Gon Jinn’s cameo in Obi-Wan Kenobi in 2022.
However, those born in the ‘90s will be familiar with Liam Neeson in his man bun and lightsaber. Being Obi-Wan’s mentor gives Neeson a good opportunity to shine. Qui-Gon even has such strength in The Force that he becomes a Force spirit, alongside Yoda and eventually the boy he considers to be the chosen one, Anakin.
2. Original Action-Dad Skills, Taken (2008)
Yes, of course, this makes the list. The movie connected to this list’s title is a shoo-in for a high finish. Taken sparked the current run of action dad movies spanning a decade, bringing Neeson a clutch of similar butt-kicking patriarch roles.
Transcending The Age Limit of an Action Hero
Liam Neeson is now a Hollywood trope, the architect of a new ‘action-dad’ genre, transcending the age limit of an action hero.
His renaissance is born of French underworld goon-stomping, mobster-baiting, kidnapped daughter-rescuing violent retribution — kind of like a thinking man’s Chuck Norris.
The phone call scene will always be the most famous, spawning a meme tsunami higher than the Eiffel Tower. Neeson also participated to spend four months in Paris, learning karate for the role.
Jeff Bridges dropped out of playing protagonist Brian Mills — though he remarked on Neeson being a better choice. It was always destined to be Neeson, the man with the very particular set of skills: skills acquired over a very long career, skills which make him a nightmare for screen enemies everywhere.
Wolf-fighting Skills, The Grey (2011)
Not many actors can claim to have fought a wolf, though none can claim to have fought a whole pack. So step forward, John Ottway, a divorced, suicidal, professional sharp-shooter, paid to kill gray wolves that threaten a remote Alaskan oil refinery.
Lead a Pack of Survivors Through The Frozen Wilderness
After a plane crash on the way home in the Alaskan wilderness, Neeson’s character takes charge of a deadly situation and must lead a pack of survivors through the frozen wilderness.
However, they are stalked by wolves, and Ottway goes from being a hunter to being hunted. Neeson shows his wolf-shooting and wolf-fighting prowess, and he demonstrates brave leadership skills.
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This article was produced and syndicated by Wealth of Geeks.
Film reviews, analysis and breakdown, sport, education, travel, food, current affairs, books - in my spare time I like to be outdoors in nature, in the waves, or on a golf course.