Weird History
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Famous Actors Who Played Famous Kings, Ranked By Regality

September 3, 2020 2.3k votes 275 voters 3.5k views28 items

List RulesVote up the actors who really nail their performance as historical kings.

At least as far back as Shakespeare, kings have made for meaty dramatic roles, and actors have lined up to play them. We've gathered some of the most memorable screen kings from almost 90 years of movies and television. Emperors and pharaohs are also eligible, but we draw the line at dictators (hence, no Julius Caesar). Napoleon, who crowned himself, is a bit of an edge case, but in light of the surfeit of other performances we've left him off too. Mythological or legendary kings don't qualify, so no King Arthur either.

Read on, and vote up your favorite actors who have played kings!

  • Jonathan Rhys Meyers As Henry VIII In 'The Tudors'
    Photo: Showtime

    Showtime's hit costume drama The Tudors gave us probably the sexiest Henry VIII, though it wasn't a particularly accurate portrayal of the King in his later years, when he had an ulcerous wound on his leg and had become obese. Jonathan Rhys Meyers received two Golden Globe nominations for Best Actor.

    • Age: 43
    • Birthplace: Drimnagh, Republic of Ireland
  • Early in his career, Joaquin Phoenix played Marcus Aurelius's sinister, conniving son Commodus in the 2000 Ridley Scott epic Gladiator, which won the Best Picture Oscar for that year. Phoenix was nominated for a Best Supporting Actor Oscar, and received equivalent nominations from BAFTA and the Screen Actors Guild.

    • Age: 41
    • Birthplace: Río Piedras, Puerto Rico, Puerto Rico
  • Peter O'Toole won a Golden Globe for Best Actor, and was nominated for the Oscar, for his performance as England's King Henry II in the 1968 film The Lion in Winter. O'Toole had previously played a younger, and less introspective, version of the same king in the 1964 film Becket - and got the same award/nomination combo that time around, too.

    • Age: Dec. at 81 (1932-2013)
    • Birthplace: Connemara, Republic of Ireland
  • Syrian actor Ghassan Massoud almost stole Ridley Scott's Crusades-era epic Kingdom of Heaven - despite its huge and distinguished cast - with his magnetic turn as Saladin, the legendary Islamic conqueror and founder of the Ayyubid dynasty.

    • Age: 62
    • Birthplace: Damascus, Syria