With a career over four decades long, Kenneth Branagh continues to solidify his place as one of the greatest of all time in front of and behind the camera. His acting career started at age 23 when he joined the Royal Shakespeare Company before forming his own company, the Renaissance Theatre Company. His career on the stage would translate seamlessly to screen. Writing, directing, and serving as a leading man, Branagh earned Oscar nominations for each of those crucial functions on a film set.
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Audiences know him as iconic detective Hercule Poirot in his adaptations of the Agatha Christie works, while others remember him as Gildeory Lockhart from Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. From adaptations to historical dramas dominating the box office, Branagh’s career is deemed a success in the eyes of Rotten Tomatoes critics. He’s collaborated with some of the biggest names in the industry and continues to find success with each project he stars in or helms.
10 ‘Cinderella’ (2015)
Image via Disney
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 84%
Using some old-fashioned Disney magic, Branagh’s Cinderellasucceeded as one of the first installments in the Disney princess live-action genre. Lily James stars as the beloved scullery maid whose cruel stepmother and stepsisters keep her from achieving in life, but with a bit of magic, Cinderella manages to catch the eye of a dashing stranger. The movie features Cate Blanchett as the wicked stepmother and Helena Bonham Carter as the fairy godmother.
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Branagh’s take was a fresh perspective on the coming-of-age tale while remaining faithful to the original Disney source material, captivating audiences of new and old. Helming the Disney project demonstrated Branagh’s range as a filmmaker and allowed audiences to feel confident that their beloved Disney princess was in good hands.
9 ‘Belfast’ (2021)
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 86%
This film would earn Branagh his first Oscar after eight nominations. Written and directed by Branagh, Belfast is the story of a young boy from a working-class family in 1960s Belfast as he navigates growing up after everything he understood about life changes. Jamie Dornan, Caitríona Balfe, Jude Hill, and Lewis McAskie star as the family of four at the heart of this delicate drama.
Belfast is yet another impressive example of Branagh’s skill behind the camera and with the writer’s pen. Of the film’s seven nominations, Branagh’s win for Best Original Screenplay was the only golden statue taken home. Winning his Oscar for this film was a full circle moment as Branagh’s film captures and celebrates his childhood home in a beautiful coming-of-age story.
8 ‘A Month in the Country’ (1987)
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 86%
Featuring a young Colin Firth and Branagh, A Month in the Country served as an excellent preview of the critically acclaimed careers the actors were about to embark upon. The pair star as two soldiers fresh from World War I who spend the summer recovering in Yorkshire village.
While the film is short and simple, the performances from Firth and Branagh alongside their co-star Natasha Richardson made it an unexpected gem hidden within British cinema. Demonstrating range and emotion, A Month in the Country became a jumping-off point for Branagh just a few years before one of his most acclaimed Shakespeare adaptations hit the big screen.
7 ‘Rabbit-Proof Fence’ (2002)
Image via Becker Entertainment
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 88%
In this adaptation of Doris Pilington’s Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence, Branagh steps into the villain role. The novel and movie are based on the true story of three Aboriginal girls forcefully removed from their families to be trained as servants as part of an Australian government policy in 1931. The young girls manage to escape and travel 1,500 miles to get home as they use the rabbit-proof fence as their guide. Branagh is A.O. Neville, the man who signed the decree to remove the young girls from their family.
Compelling and unflinching, Rabbit-Proof Fence is a historical drama featuring a dark spot in Australia’s history. Critics and audiences praised Branagh’s masterful performance as the adversary who wholeheartedly believes he’s doing the right thing. While the feature earned no mainstream award recognition, it remains a solid installment on Branagh’s resume.
6 ‘Much Ado About Nothing’ (1993)
Image via BBC Films
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 90%
Adding to his triple-threat presence in cinema, Branagh makes bringing the works of William Shakespeare to the screen look like a breeze. Bringing this comedy to life, he writes, directs, and leads the cast of Much Ado About Nothing, the tale of Benedick (Branagh) and Beatrice (Emma Thompson) as they are the subjects of a matchmaking scheme by the lovers Hero (Kate Beckinsale) and Claudio (Robert Sean Leonard).
RELATED: 10 Great Adaptations of Shakespeare’s Most Underrated PlaysThe star-studded cast also includes Denzel Washington, Keanu Reeves, and Michael Keaton. Critics and audiences hold Branagh’s ability to adapt Shakespeare in the highest regard as this 90s feature continued the success of his prior track record bringing the Bard’s famous work to movie lovers.
5 ‘Dunkirk’ (2017)
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 92%
By this point in his career, Branagh was no stranger to historical films. Starring in Christopher Nolan’sDunkirk, Branagh is the fictional composite character Commander Bolton. The movie is based on the battles and evacuations of World War II when the allied groups of Belgium, Britain, and France were surrounded by the German Army on the beaches of Dunkirk. In the film, Bolton is responsible for overseeing the boarding and evacuation of the soldiers aboard the water vessels.
Of its eight Oscar nominations, Dunkirk took home three of the technical awards, including Best Sound Mixing, Best Sound Editing, and Best Film Editing. Like all of Nolan’s films, the elements of time and intersecting plots are featured in this war drama, making it one of the best in the genre and one of Nolan’s best films.
4 ‘Oppenheimer’ (2023)
Image via Universal Pictures
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 93%
Branagh joined Christopher Nolan’s star-studded cast of historical figures to portray onscreen the development and use of the atomic bomb by the United States during World War II, led by J. Robert Oppenheimer (Cillian Murphy). Oppenheimer is based on the book American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimerwritten by Kai Bird and Martin J. Sherwin. In a supporting role, Branagh stars as Niels Bohr, a Danish physicist and Nobel Prize winner who was somewhat of a mentor to Oppenheimer.
While Branagh’s onscreen time is brief, his two major scenes were crucial in the development of Oppenheimer’s character and the advisement of the bomb. This blockbuster and cinematic icon marked the third time Nolan and Branagh would step on set together.
3 ‘Hamlet’ (1996)
Image via Columbia Pictures
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 95%
A true connoisseur of Shakespeare’s work, Branagh continued to dazzle with his adaptations. He stars as the titular Prince of Denmark in this adaptation and tale of murder, betrayal, and family ties. Branagh wrote and directed the feature, earning an Oscar nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay (previously called Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material Previously Produced or Published).
RELATED: The 13 Best Movies That Adapt Shakespeare’s ‘Hamlet,’ Ranked According to IMDbBrangah’s nomination was just one of five that Hamlet earned from the Academy. Critics and audiences agreed that this adaptation lived up to the source material’s standards and brought Shakespeare’s greatest tragedy to the screen. Branagh’s Hamlet features a whole cast of star-studded cameos and co-stars such as Judi Dench, Billy Crystal, Kate Winslet, Richard Attenborough, and more.
2 ‘Henry V’ (1989)
Image via BBC
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 98%
Once again, Branagh steps into the world of Shakespeare—writing, directing, and leading the cast as the titular character Henry V is a gritty adaptation of the reign of the heroic yet ruthless king of England as he begins to stake a claim to France. The feature co-stars Emma Thompson as Princess Katherine de Valois, Henry’s eventual queen.
Branagh’s leading role and portrayal were hailed as bold as he made the source material and character accessible to new audiences. The feature earned Branagh Oscar nominations for Best Actor and Best Director. Henry V only took home one Oscar statue for Best Costume Design. Henry V introduced Branagh’s craft to the cinematic world as he directed the feat at the age of 29.
1 ‘Conspiracy’ (2001)
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 100%
This peek-behind-the-curtain TV movie is yet another installment in Branagh’s filmography that displays his masterful skills in the historical and war genres. An HBO project, Conspiracyis the dramatized version of the events of the Wannsee Conference in January 1942, where German military leaders met to decide how to handle the “Final Solution to the Jewish Question” now that the United States had entered World War II. Branagh stars as Reinhard Heydrich, the man who organized the conference and was tasked with changing the minds of a group of outliers opposing the idea of concentration camps.
Audiences diving back into the straight-to-home movie will recognize other familiar faces like Stanley Tucci, Tom Hiddleston, and Colin Firth. The feature haunted audiences as they became a fly on the wall to one of the most historic meetings, moving audiences to a rollercoaster of emotions. Conspiracy took home two Primetime Emmy wins of its ten nominations, one of which went home with Branagh for Lead Actor in a Miniseries or Movie.
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