Whether he’s celebrating with some jazz alongside Jeff Goldblum on the set of Jurassic World: Dominion, or at home on his New Zealand vineyard, we at Cineworld want to wish a very happy 73rd birthday to Sam Neill (14th September). As a present, we’re looking back at six of the actor’s most distinguished roles.
1. The Hunt for Red October (1990)
The first movie appearance of Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan (played here by Alec Baldwin) was also Sam Neill's first proper role outside of Antipodean cinema – yes, we are choosing to forget about Omen III: The Final Conflict. Playing Soviet submariner Captain Borodin, Neill is under the leadership of Sean Connery’s Commanding Officer Marko Ramius, who attempts to defect to the USA in a brand-new nuclear submarine. As with most below-the-surface thrillers, the atmosphere is tense and claustrophobic as deceit and danger lurk around every corner. Much credit must be given to Neill for actually attempting a Russian accent, unlike his Scottish co-star.
2. The Piano (1993)
While it was Holly Hunter and fellow Kiwi Anna Paquin who scooped Oscars for their roles in this Palme d’Or-winning drama, Neill’s performance as wealthy landowner Alisdair Stewart is critical to the film's powerful appeal. When Stewart's mute wife Ada (Hunter) falls in love with Harvey Keitel’s George Baines while playing her piano, Neill delivers as the angry, jilted husband in a fierce supporting role that complements his co-stars’ beautiful love story.
3. Jurassic Park (1993)
One of the most successful movies of all time thrust Neill, Velociraptors, genetic engineering and theme park safety into the global consciousness. Playing the rugged, anti-social paleontologist Dr Alan Grant, whose dream of meeting dinosaurs is ruined by child-sitting duties and a disgruntled park employee, Neill shines in one memorable scene after another – his first glimpse of a dinosaur while John Williams’ incredible score plays is one of the most awe-inspiring in all of cinema. The seismic excitement of his return alongside original co-stars Laura Dern and Jeff Goldblum in the upcoming Jurassic World: Dominion is proof of a generation’s affinity with Neill and his fossil-obsessed character.
4. Event Horizon (1997)
Neill steals the show in Paul W.S. Anderson's grisly space chiller, in which a group of astronauts set out to find a missing vessel. After locating it and learning of its ability to cross the space-time continuum, the gore and blood begin to flow... Though Event Horizon was a box-office flop, it has since become a cult hit – so much so that it's currently being remade into an Amazon Prime series.
5. The Zookeeper (2001)
Do not confuse the pick of the many small, independent films that Neill has appeared in during his 45-year career with the Kevin James comedy of the same name. Set in an unknown Eastern European country torn apart by civil war, The Zookeeper is a brutal yet beautiful drama that sees Neill’s Jonah Ludovic as the guardian of a zoo caught in the middle of the fighting. The film was a hit at both the Toronto and Fort Lauderdale film festivals, the latter of which awarded Neill the Best Actor gong for 2001.
6. Hunt for the Wilderpeople (2016)
Another film that shows off the creative talent and idyllic setting of Neill's home country, Taika Waititi’s Hunt for the Wilderpeople is New Zealand’s highest-grossing movie of all time. Focusing on Neill’s Uncle Hector and his nephew Ricky, played by Julian Dennison, this dark comedy follows the pair as they bond in the wilderness while on the run from authorities. The wonderful chemistry between Neill’s crabby but caring Hec and the mischievous vulnerability of Ricky is the highlight of Waititi’s most affecting film, and reaffirms that we’d all like Sam as our unofficial awesome uncle.
Which of Sam Neill's roles is your favourite? Let us know at @Cineworld – and tweet Mr Neill a happy birthday while you're at it @TwoPaddocks.