Irish actor Pierce Brosnan has been a fixture of film and television for over 40 years. With his effortless suaveness and sophistication, he’s been an indelible screen presence who’s played everyone from 007 to Doctor Fate, though some of his best performances tweak the expectations the audience has for the man who embodied gentleman spy James Bond across four films. He’s also sporadically been gifted the opportunity to explore his exceptional comedic chops.
From action movies to family fare to icy political thrillers to musicals, Brosnan has explored almost every genre, often to great success (sometimes less so, but he tends to choose strong, worthy material regardless). Even when he’s playing the jobber, he’s managed to make every project personal. “You have to invest yourself in every character that you portray,” Brosnan told Entertainment Wise. While it was difficult to narrow the list down, here are the 15 best Pierce Brosnan performances, ranked from best to worst.
A true oddity from 1992, “The Lawnmower Man” very loosely adapts a Stephen King novella originally published in the “Night Shift” collection. Bizarrely, the film adaptation elides all the gristle and cosmic invocations of King’s story, instead focuses on concerns around at-the-time cutting-edge virtual reality technology and the dangers it poses. Mostly remembered for its dated computer graphics (as seen in Jan Hammer-scored CG fantasia “Beyond The Mind’s Eye”), “The Lawnmower Man” is a low point in Pierce Brosnan’s pre-Bond career, but has its own specific charms.
Brosnan plays a computer scientist named Lawrence Angelo, but he’s no stuffy nerd since he rocks long hair, has cool clothes, smokes, and drinks an irresponsible amount of whiskey. His dream is to develop a virtual reality simulation abetted by mind-enhancing drugs for the U.S. military. Things go expectedly awry when he elects to test his methods on a human subject (Jeff Fahey, who plays the titular landscaper), who goes from a loner with an intellectual disability into a godlike figure with telepathic and telekinetic powers. It’s a pretty rotten movie, but it is fun seeing Brosnan once again in scumbag mode. Also featured are Dean Norris (“Breaking Bad”) and a young Austin O’Brien (“The Last Action Hero”).
In 1997, moviegoers were treated to one of the great cinematic doppelganger wars when “Volcano” took on “Dante’s Peak” (see also: “Antz” vs. “A Bug’s Life” and “Armageddon” vs. “Deep Impact”). Though the former is the superior blockbuster, “Dante’s Peak” is nevertheless a blast (pun intended). Pierce Brosnan stars as Harry Dalton, a volcanologist for the United States Geological Survey. Linda Hamilton co-stars as the mayor of the eponymous Washington State town.
Does “Dante’s Peak” strain scientific credulity? You bet. Our heroes drive an SUV across a lava spill, to name just one example. Yet Brosnan is a dependable lead amidst all the mayhem that goes down in one of his first post-Bond leading roles. “Dante’s Peak” is a disaster film, and affords Brosnan the opportunity to flex one of his signature strengths as an actor: believably depicting physical pain on screen (he grunts with the best of them). While hardly essential viewing, “Dante’s Peak” remains a decent late-’90s diversion, the kind of nearly-anonymous fare you’d find yourself sucked into on a weekend afternoon of channel surfing. “Volcano” still has the superior tagline, though: “The coast is toast.”
“Mamma Mia!” is an adaptation of the Broadway jukebox musical of the same name, which features the music of Swedish band ABBA. It was a box-office smash when it hit screens in 2008. Pierce Brosnan’s joined here by an all-star cast that features Meryl Streep, Amanda Seyfried, Christine Baranski, Julie Walters, Colin Firth, Stellan Skarsgard, and a young, pre-MCU Dominic Cooper. In the narrative of this vibrant, sun-soaked film, Seyfried’s Sophie has invited three possible candidates for her mother’s (Streep) mystery paternity to a fictional Greek isle where Streep maintains an idyllic, if rustic, homestead. The clock is ticking before Sophie walks down the aisle with Cooper’s Sky.
Brosnan is a man of many talents, but singing is not one of his strong suits. Of the cast, he is the weakest link vocally, which is a shame because he gets the most musical numbers of the male leads. It’s a pity to see him so outgunned by Streep in what are supposed to be highly-charged emotional scenes, but his chemistry with her and the other would-be-fathers-of-the-bride is still incredibly charming. It’s disappointing that he doesn’t exactly hold his weight in terms of singing, as his character is crucial to both Streep and Seyfried’s arcs. In the 2018 sequel “Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again,” he gets far less to do and fewer characters to bounce off of, but this also blessedly means less of his underwhelming vocal performances.
Pierce Brosnan’s second outing as James Bond doesn’t quite meet the pedigree of “Goldeneye” or “The World Is Not Enough,” but it does have Michelle freakin’ Yeoh in her first major Hollywood outing. Unfortunately, Brosnan can’t muster much in the way of chemistry with Yeoh and barely manages to keep pace with her in the action set pieces.
That being said, as far as Bond films go “Tomorrow Never Dies” is a solid and underrated installment, and also an eerily prescient one. The film’s villain, Elliot Carver (Jonathan Pryce), is a media mogul intent on using his vast resources to incite World War III as a means to expand his financial empire into Chinese markets. The movie has a classic Bond henchman in the Aryan he-man Stamper, Vincent Chiavelli as an assassin, Ricky Jay in a supporting role, and the best car chase of the Brosnan era. With “Tomorrow Never Dies,” Brosnan proved his debut in “Goldeneye” was no mere fluke, and that he had the goods to stick around for another seven years.
It’s always a blast to see Pierce Brosnan in an out-and-out comedy. Sure, his accent is dodgy and his character embodies a host of clichés, but Brosnan makes the most of his moments in this Netflix streamer. “Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga” follows two wannabe Icelandic pop stars named Lars (Will Ferrell) and Sigrit (an excellent Rachel McAdams) as they vie for the top spot in the multinational singing contest. Brosnan fills the role of the stern and disapproving father who, by the film’s end, has come to embrace his son’s artistic passion in lieu of his own blue-collar lifestyle.
Richard Jenkins outshines Brosnan when it comes to touching father-son reconciliation scenes with Will Ferrell in “Step Brothers,” but the one in “Eurovision” is affecting nonetheless. Special mention should also go to Brosnan’s great wig and beard in the movie’s opening flashback. Was Brosnan cast due to the film’s multiple ABBA references? It’s entirely possible, but thankfully he doesn’t do any singing in “Eurovision.”
Pierce Brosnan’s third Bond film may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but it holds up better than you may recall. Yes, the character of Dr. Christmas Jones (Denise Richards) drew some snickers at the time, and Bond’s parting dialogue in the film (“I thought Christmas only comes once a year.”) may be the most cringeworthy in the series’ history. That shouldn’t detract from the greatness of the movie’s other Bond Girl, Elektra King (Sophie Marceau), to say nothing of Robert Carlyle, an inspired choice for the villain, an international terrorist named Renard who feels no pain due to a bullet that’s permanently lodged in a very specific part of his brain.
To elaborate on the film’s storyline too much would be to spoil the fun of its third-act reveal, which is one of the best in Bond history. Had Brosnan ended his reign as 007 with this film, he’d have gone out on a relatively high note. “The World Is Not Enough” sees Brosnan at his most assured in the role, having perfected his particular vision for the character.
Following in the footsteps of his Bond predecessor Timothy Dalton, who appeared in Edgar Wright’s “Hot Fuzz,” Pierce Brosnan has a cameo in “The World’s End.” The culmination of Wright’s “Cornetto Trilogy” revolves around middle-aged alcoholic Gary King (Simon Pegg), who reunites his boyhood pals (Nick Frost, Martin Freeman, Eddie Marsan, and Paddy Considine) to complete a fabled 12-stop pub crawl known as The Golden Mile. Longstanding resentments are only the start of the lads’ troubles when they realize their quaint hometown of New Haven is ground zero for a takeover of Earth by body-snatching “blanks.”
At The Beehive, the ninth stop on their boozy odyssey, the crew encounters their childhood teacher Mr. Shepherd (Brosnan), who immediately reveals his sympathetic alliance with the alien invaders. Brosnan somehow simultaneously serves up paternal warmth, intelligence, and menace all within a single scene. His screen time is limited, but he makes a lasting impression. Now, if only Wright would recruit Daniel Craig for a future project. Given his recent streak of great comical performances, he’d fit right in.
“The Foreigner” heralded the long-overdue reunion of Pierce Brosnan with his “Goldeneye” director, Martin Campbell. The Jackie Chan-starring revenge flick has Brosnan in the role of Northern Ireland Deputy First Minister Liam Hennessey, a Machiavellian heavy playing the IRA and the British government against one another. Chan’s character, Ngoc Minh Quan, loses his daughter in an IRA bombing and sets out to find the identities of the killers. In classic action movie form, Quan turns out to be an ex-special forces member now living a quiet and humble life. What ensues is a series of DIY Rambo and Bourne-style violence-hacks from Quan, nestled within the gripping, overarching political game of cat and mouse.
Brosnan is delicious as the self-interested-but-conflicted Hennessey, and Chan delivers some of the best action sequences of his later years. It’s also worth noting “The Foreigner” finally grants him one of the meatier Hollywood roles he’s long been asking for in interview after interview. “The Foreigner” deserves bonus points for allowing Brosnan to lean into his native Irish accent and the awesome electronic score from the ever-reliable Cliff Martinez, who elevates any project he’s associated with.
Controversies around director Roman Polanski aside, “The Ghost Writer” is a highlight of Pierce Brosnan’s post-Bond years. Brosnan based his performance as a duplicitous former British prime minister on Tony Blair (whom he derisively refers to as “a great actor”), and it’s one of his all-too-few turns as an outright villain. In many respects, this part is not dissimilar to Brosnan’s in “The Foreigner.”
Like the aforementioned film, “The Ghost Writer” is a twisty political thriller with a killer ending. Unlike “The Foreigner,” however, “The Ghost Writer” ranks among the glut of post-9/11 movies that set out to interrogate the role of Western nations and their 21st-century conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq. The plot taken from the Robert Harris novel directly, addresses the issues of extraordinary rendition and also (uncomfortably, in light of the film’s director) international jurisdiction. It shares the same conspiratorial atmosphere with “Frantic,” “The Ninth Gate,” and the great “Chinatown,” and features the same kind of in-over-their-heads protagonist as those films.
“Mrs. Doubtfire” is one of the first films to capitalize on Pierce Brosnan’s undeniable attractiveness. In Chris Columbus’ 1993 family comedy, he’s tasked with playing the straight man to Robin Williams’ broad performance as a divorced father who masquerades as a British nanny. Brosnan’s Stu is the ostensible (if well-meaning) antagonist, a handsome ex-lover of Williams’ ex-wife Miranda (Sally Field) who has come back into her life. As far as himbo foils go, it’s hard to do better than Brosnan at the peak of his handsomeness, and it’s a testament to his talent that he succeeds in imbuing Stu with real warmth and humanity, despite having to play the wet blanket to a going-for-broke Williams.
As Brosnan revealed to GQ, the movie’s infamous “drive-by fruiting” sequence was an on-set ad-lib that only took two takes to nail, a rarity for a film that notoriously required numerous takes for every scene due to Williams’ notorious penchant for relentless improvisation.
“Mars Attacks!” features Pierce Brosnan in one of his most outwardly comedic (and perfectly deadpan) turns. In director Tim Burton’s mean-spirited sci-fi spoof, he plays pipe-chomping anatomy professor Dr. Donald Kessler, a hilariously naïve optimist who believes the invading Martians come in peace. It’s hard to make an impression among a stacked cast that includes Annette Benning, Danny DeVito, Glenn Close, Jack Black, Michael J. Fox, Pam Grier, Martin Short, Natalie Portman, Jim Brown, his onetime “Goldeneye” co-star Joe Don Baker, Jack Nicholson in dual roles, and many more. And yet, Brosnan acquits himself well amidst these heavy hitters.
It helps that Burton and screenwriter Jonathan Gems give Brosnan one of the film’s standout sequences of demented lunacy, in which Kessler and the television host he’s been flirting with, Nathalie Lake (Sarah Jessica Parker), are abducted by the aliens and decapitated. Somehow still sentient, Kessler’s detached head continues to woo Lake, whose head has been grafted onto the body of her pet chihuahua. In the film’s uproarious climax, when the Martian mothership is under attack, their heads loll around in the wreckage, eventually colliding into a kiss.
When we first meet Pierce Brosnan in the opening frames of “The Matador,” he’s hungover in a hotel bed next to a one-night stand. He then proceeds to impulsively paint his toenails black. “The Matador” is possibly the most fun Brosnan has ever been on screen. His character here is another riff on the James Bond archetype, an alternate reality version of 007 who’s even more of a hard-drinking, chain-smoking lothario. Brosnan’s Julian Noble is also a shadow-world operator with an incredibly foul mouth who is somehow simultaneously seductive and abrasive. He’s a hitman with a heart of gold, the appetite of Dionysus, and the mouth of a sailor. Brosnan’s bisexual, globe-trotting freelance assassin’s chance encounter with dorky businessman Danny Wright (Greg Kinnear) at a Mexican hotel bar leads to an unlikely and consequential friendship.
The film’s narrative picks up years later, with Brosnan effectively portraying his character’s existential breakdown after a lifetime spent killing for hire. He suddenly re-enters Danny’s modest domestic life; in a fun touch, Julian has clearly made a lasting impression on Danny, who now sports an identical mustache. Brosnan is heartbreakingly vulnerable in this second act turn, but never without a trace of lingering danger underneath the surface. His comic timing and delivery have also never been better, and the image of him striding through a hotel lobby in only a speedo and boots, cigarette and beer in hand, will be burned into your mind forever.
History could have worked out differently, but fortunately for 007 fans the stars aligned and Pierce Brosnan assumed the mantle of Ian Fleming’s iconic superspy in 1995’s “Goldeneye.” Following Roger Moore’s retirement from the role, longtime Bond producers Albert “Cubby” Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson were keen to cast the up-and-coming Brosnan for the part (the actor shared a screenshot of his audition on social media back in 2017). Brosnan was all set to step into Bond’s fineries when NBC renewed his contract for “Remington Steele.” Timothy Dalton took over instead for “The Living Daylights” and “License to Kill.” This may have ultimately been for the best. As Brosnan expressed in a 2020 live stream commentary on “Goldeneye” for Esquire UK, “In some respects, it was good because when you see photographs of me [back then], I’m this skinny looking dude with a mop of black hair and there weren’t enough miles on the face or character on the bone. [When “Goldeneye” came out] there was a certain maturity to me and confidence.”
By his own admission to GQ, portraying Bond was “pretty overwhelming” for Brosnan, but he comes off naturally in the part. Though not as distinctive as performances by Sean Connery or Roger Moore, Brosnan assays an ideal amalgamation of their respective takes on the hero. For a certain generation of fans, he is Bond.
In “The Tailor of Panama,” Pierce Brosnan plays an MI6 agent of a different stripe than Commander James Bond. Released between Brosnan’s final two appearances as 007, the film functions as something of a palette-cleansing intermission. Brosnan’s still in her majesty’s secret service as Andrew Oxnard, but he exhibits none of Bond’s dignity, class, or morality. He’s a smarmy snake in a rumpled suit who spends his nights in seedy brothels and pits warring factions against each other in a high-stakes game of chess by day.
Geoffrey Rush co-stars as Harold Pendel, a British ex-pat living in Panama who works as a tailor for all manner of high-end clientele (he allegedly received his training on the infamous Savile Row, where Bond canonically has his bespoke suits made). Jamie Lee Curtis plays his wife Louisa, who grows increasingly suspicious of the oily Oxnard, who ingratiates himself into the Pendels’ lives as part of a scheme to exploit Harold’s connections as a means of usurping control of the Panama Canal. All is not what it seems in this gripping yarn adapted from the novel by famed spy fiction master John le Carré (suffice to say, Oxnard has his own motivations, and Harold may be less than a little honest himself). Blessed by a stellar supporting cast and directed by the steady hand of John Boorman (“Point Blank,” “Deliverance,” “Excalibur,” and “Zardoz”), “The Tailor of Panama” is a must-see.
As with “The Matador” and “The Tailor of Panama,” John McTiernan’s 1999 remake of “The Thomas Crown Affair” weaponized Pierce Brosnan’s innate charm and embraces the baggage that comes with his association with Bond. In the 1968 original, the title role was played by Steve McQueen, and Brosnan manages the tall order of standing shoulder-to-shoulder with one of cinema’s greatest kings of cool.
As the businessman and master thief Crown, Brosnan commands the screen, and his scenes opposite Rene Russo are the most sexually charged of his entire career. In the discourse around 1999 — a year overflowing with landmark motion pictures — “The Thomas Crown Affair” is under-discussed. McTiernan’s direction is sleek and taught, and the script from Leslie Dixon and Kurt Wimmer is as clever as anything you’d see in a movie from the “Ocean’s” franchise. What the film ultimately dispels is the myth that playing Bond is like a straightjacket for leading men. Thomas Crown may be Bond-adjacent, demonstrating the same wit, eroticism, and mystery as 007, but is memorable as a screen icon in his own right.