Why We All Loved Alan Rickman

A look back at Alan Rickman's genre-spanning career.
A look back at Alan Rickman's genre-spanning career.
Columbia Pictures

The world is reeling from the sad news that British actor and director Alan Rickman has died at the age of 69. His fans and co-stars have taken to social media to share their grief and to reminisce about their favorite roles in his career. Whereas some performers find a niche fan base and stick to it, the magic of Rickman was that he somehow managed to beguile the masses across gender and age groups with ease. Here, we take a look at how he managed to do that.

He Scared Us
There's something about a villain played by Alan Rickman that was truly terrifying. Cinematic history is full of monsters and bad guys who were terrifying and fierce, but there's something especially scary about a mad man with power, something Rickman played perfectly in films like Die Hard and Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. As Hans Gruber, Rickman set the tone for the rest of the Die Hard films with his tongue-in-cheek delivery and over-the-top persona. And who could forget one of the great cinematic threats of all time, when Rickman as Sheriff of Nottingham screams at Robin Hood that he wants to "cut his heart out with a spoon." When asked why he'd choose a spoon? "Because it's dull, you twit; it'll hurt more." 

He Won Over Children
By establishing himself as the perennial bad guy early in his career, he was the perfect choice to play Severus Snape in the eight Harry Potter films. When the first several movies were shot and released, the world (and Rickman himself) did not yet know where Snape's true allegiance lie. What we got on the screen as a result was again the ultimate antagonist, but always with a glint of something more in his eyes. Children who grow up discovering the magic of Hogwarts in books and on film fall in love with Snape in great part due to Rickman's deft portrayal.  

He Made Us Laugh
With his signature deep voice and off-kilter delivery, it's no surprise Rickman thrived in funny roles as well. Whether it was his portrayal as a washed-up actor in Galaxy Quest or as the voice of God in Dogma, Rickman brought a sense of prowess to his comedic turns that made them all the more absurdly funny. It was almost as if he knew he could do every type of role and wanted to keep the world guessing. It worked and he earned a reputation for being as funny on screen as he was intimidating.

He Brought Love to Life
Even more surprising have been his ability to make love on screen seem real and true and tangible. In Truly, Madly, Deeply he lived a love so strong that even death could not end it, and the result is a story that is equal parts moving and funny. Moreover, Rickman defined love in the Austen era (and beyond) as Colonel Brandon in the exceedingly beautiful Sense and Sensibility. When a young and foolish Kate Winslet rebuffs his affections early on in favor of the dashing young Willoughby, don't pretend that your heart doesn't break right along with Rickman's on screen. His pain is palpable (something he'd echo years later as Snape) and he plays out the ultimate dilemma where we must choose between lust and a deep, lasting connection. He represents the latter in all its glory and our hearts are healed right along with his.

If you're looking to sit and remember his great career, that's plenty to get started. Whether you're in the mood to laugh, cry, or be a little frightened, the list is full of great movies and that sweet double bass that no one will ever replicate. And that is why we all loved Alan Rickman, and will continue to do so. Always.

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