It takes an exceptional performer to be able to brilliantly embody several characters in a film, these images often becoming essentials of the cinema. Tackling a role and making it your own is no easy task, which is why it’s hugely impressive when actors are able to bring many on-screen characters to life in the same project. Some of Hollywood’s most sensational and notable stars have managed to embody a host of diverse personas, with comedians like Mike Meyers, Peter Sellers and Eddie Murphy in various films further establishing their extraordinary acting skills.
While the concept is often used in the comedy genre, there have also been thrillers and dramas that feature performers in more than one role, with even the horror film Men starring Rory Kinnear as several people in a small country town. Whether you’re in the mood to watch British spy Austin Powers do battle against his nemesis Dr. Evil in the Austin Powers franchise, or watch the superb James McAvoy play the terrifying role of a man with dissociative identity disorder struggling with his 24 personalities in M. Night Shyamalan’s film Split, there is a diverse and colorful collection of images where the actors play multiple roles in the same movie. These are some of the best movies where an actor has played multiple characters.
8 Split (James McAvoy)
The brilliant James McAvoy portrays a man struggling with dissociative identity disorder in the 2016 psychological thriller Split, which follows his character Kevin Wendell Crumb and his 24 very different personalities as he kidnaps and imprisons a trio of teenage girls. While 23 of his personalities are seemingly harmless, his final personality known as the ominously named “The Beast” manifests as a terrifying and grotesque cannibalistic sociopath with inhuman strength and power. McAvoy is superb with the portrayal of each of Crumb’s distinct characters, perfectly taking on the identity of a 9-year-old boy named Hedwig and nurturer Patricia, among countless others. Critics praised the actor’s impressive performance, with many hailing it as the best of McAvoy’s impressive career.
7 Austin Powers Franchise (Mike Myers)
The hugely talented Mike Myers is famous for his eccentric characters and impeccable improvisational skills, both of which were in the limelight when he headlined spy action comedies in the Austin Powers franchise. Throughout the three episodes of the side parting series, Myers portrays many memorable and savage characters like the groovy and womanizing British spy Austin Powers, his infamous bald nemesis Dr. Evil, the obese Scottish henchman Fat Bastard and the Dutch supervillain Goldmember.
Myers came up with the character after he left saturday night live, after expressing, “After my father died in 1991, I was taking stock of his influence on me as a person and his influence on my comedy in general. Austin Powers was therefore a tribute to my father, who introduced me to James Bond, Peter Sellers, the Beatles, The Goodies, Peter Cook and Dudley Moore. Myers recently played nine characters in the recent Netflix series The Pentaverate.
6 The Mad Professor (Eddie Murphy)
Comedy superstar and stand-up legend Eddie Murphy starred in the 1996 sci-fi comedy The mad professor, a remake of the 60s classic by Jerry Lewis centering on the compassionate and intelligent professor Sherman Klump who studies a surprising but experimental weight loss treatment to fight obesity; after Sherman takes the drug himself, he develops a confident and mean alter ego named Buddy Love.
In the entertaining farce, Murphy portrays seven characters, consisting mostly of Sherman’s family, including his grandmother, older brother, and parents. The comedy won an Academy Award for Best Makeup, with special makeup effects artist Rick Baker saying that Murphy, “really brings things to life, and he never complains…he spent about 80 days in the chair of makeup. As much as I love makeup, even I would have complained in the end, but Eddie didn’t.
5 Sun (Ralph Fiennes)
In the 1999 historical drama Sun, the dynamic Ralph Fiennes portrays the main protagonist of three generations of a Hungarian Jewish family, depicting the Sors clan and their journey through the Austro-Hungarian Empire through the 1956 revolution and beyond. The emotional image was partially inspired by the life of Hungarian Olympian Attila Petschauer, who was a fencing champion of Jewish descent and was the basis of one of Fiennes’ characters.
Sun was praised for its honest portrayal of how history can ravage people and families, with Fiennes garnering praise for its powerful performances from three very different characters; the Associated Press wrote, “There’s no denying the rare ambition of a film with intelligence and empathy to burn: you expect a history lesson and come away impressed by the shifting hues of humanity.”
4 Monty Python and the Holy Grail (Michael Palin)
The beloved British classic from 1975 Monty Python and the Holy Grail features the members of the notorious surreal comedy troupe playing several hilarious roles while parodying the legend of King Arthur and his crusade to locate the Holy Grail. While each funny man takes on many characters in the picture, Michael Palin portrays five funny characters such as Lord of Swamp Castle, Sir Galahad the Pure, Dennis, leader of the knights who say Ni, and the upright head of the giant three-headed, among a host of others.
Since its initial release, the beloved Monty Python film became a highly revered comedy staple and garnered a large cult following, with the farce being ranked the fifth greatest comedy film of all time by Total Film magazine.
3 Cloud Atlas (Tom Hanks)
Based on the novel by David Mitchell, the epic 2012 sci-fi drama cloud atlas features a dazzling cast of Hollywood elite like Tom Hanks, Hugh Grant and Halle Berry, in which the actors play multiple roles across five centuries and how their actions and behaviors impact the world. America’s darling Tom Hanks is just one of the actors in the stunning photo that takes on many characters, appearing as Dr Henry Goose, a Cambridge hotel manager in the 1930s, and a man named Zachry from post-apocalyptic Hawaii in 2321 (among many others). From its premiere, cloud atlas polarized both critics and audiences, with some criticizing the intertwining stories and others praising the sci-fi drama for its visuals, ensemble performance, and overall ambition.
2 Dr Strangelove (Peter Sellers)
The revered Stanley Kubrick directed the 1964 dark comedy Dr Strangelove, a Cold War satire that chronicles the tension between the United States and the Soviet Union amid nuclear conflict during the uncertain period of history. Widely regarded as one of the greatest comedies ever made, it stars the talented Peter Sellers as a nuclear expert and former Nazi titular doctor, British RAF exchange officer Lionel Mandrake and the President of the States States Merkin Muffley.
The comedian was also supposed to play Air Force Major TJ “King” Kong, but he worried he couldn’t handle the character’s Texas accent and felt his workload was already heavy, so Slim Pickens took over the role. role. It is said that Sellers improvised most of his dialogue in Dr Strangelove, with Kubrick later commenting that the concept behind the performer taking on so many roles was that “everywhere you turn there’s a version of Peter Sellers holding the fate of the world in his hands.”
1 Coming to America (Eddie Murphy)
Beverly Hills Cop Star Eddie Murphy is no stranger to showing off his impressive abilities as a talented comedic performer, having performed multiple roles flawlessly in a plethora of hilarious pictures. For John Landis’ 1988 romantic comedy Coming to America, the famous comedian appears as Prince Akeem Joffer, the Prince of Zamunda who travels to America in search of a bride who will love him for who he is and not for his social status. In addition to portraying Akeem, Murphy also plays soul singer Randy Watson, Jewish hair salon customer Saul, and boutique owner Clarence.
Coming to America was a smash hit and critical acclaim, with Murphy’s delightful performance receiving critical acclaim; the New York Daily News wrote, “Murphy has given audiences the movie equivalent of a royal flush, and he’s now clearly the reigning king of comedy in Hollywood.” The star reprized all of her roles from the original pic for the 2021 sequel Come 2 America, which received mixed reviews from critics.
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