In 2015, at the age of 83, we lost an icon who brought joy to countless lives around the world. Transcending generations, Leonard Nimoy’s quintessential role as Spock became an iconic one to say the least. He was revered by sci-fi geeks everywhere and in many ways, set the standard for levels of fandom that could often grow into obsession. While he played the character across dozens of episodes of the original show, spin-offs, and many of the films, there was a lot more to Nimoy’s acting career than his super fans would have you believe.
The late actor’s filmography began all the way back in 1951 and included appearances in dozens of films and hundreds more in TV shows right up until three years before his death. Not just an actor who relied on his character’s fame, Nimoy was a great performer no matter what the role was. As a terrific performer, he earned himself many prestigious award nominations over the course of a majestic career. While he sadly isn’t with us anymore, his legacy tells the tale of a true screen legend. With this in mind, here’s a look back at Leonard Nimoy’s best performances across film and television.
By 1965, the talents of Leonard Nimoy had already led his career to leading roles and even behind the camera work as a producer. The indie drama Deathwatch was one such project as Nimoy acted in it and produced the film, which was based on a French play. Playing a prisoner named Lefranc, Nimoy’s character and his cellmate are both non-violent criminals who fight to align themselves with a harder man to survive incarceration.
What ensues is a brilliant tale that highlights some important themes as the men look up to their stronger mate and seek his favor. Ultimately, Lefranc’s actions lead him to live a life of deep regret as he’s forced to reassess everything he thought he knew about who he wanted to be as a person.
14 A Woman Called Golda
By the 1980s, Leonard Nimoy was already an established icon for his many portrayals of Spock by then. In 1982, he appeared in the made for TV biopic of the Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir. The film was led by the iconic Ingrid Bergman while Nimoy played Meir’s husband, Morris Meyerson.
A Woman Named Golda received a ton of acclaim for its depiction of a multi-layered historical figure and the intricacies of her life and legacy. The film received seven Primetime Emmy Award nominations with Nimoy being nominated for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Limited Series or a Special. Both he and Bergman were exceptional in it.
13 Invasion of the Body Snatchers
Now seen as a cult classic, the 1978 science-fiction horror Invasion of the Body Snatchers wasn’t as well received when it first released. However, over time, the true brilliance of the film has been contemporaneously reassessed, and is now regarded as the best remake of all time.
A remake of the 1956 classic, this rendition and others told a similar story of a city besieged by invisible enemies that turn out to be body snatching aliens. Nimoy played Dr. David Kibner in the film. Set in San Francisco, Kibner is a celebrity psychiatrist who becomes wrapped up in the events plaguing the city. The film has since been honored with a host of awards, with Nimoy and its other major stars also subsequently being honored for it.
12 The Big Bang Theory
The Big Bang Theory has become one of the most beloved and successful sitcoms around with a huge following and a spin-off. Arguably the main character from it, Sheldon Cooper, and his friends are the biggest fanboys you’ll ever meet as they geek out on everything from comic books and iconic films to every major science-fiction franchise around. Sheldon, in particular is obsessed with Leonard Nimoy’s most iconic character Spock and the actor because of it.
His fandom often led to Leonard Nimoy and Spock receiving mentions and even tying into the plot lines of various episodes in the show. This all builds to an iconic episode where Sheldon and his best friends Leonard Hofsteder receive Spock toys as gifts. Sheldon’s guilt when he breaks his own and then tries to swap it with Leonard’s causes him to have hilarious dreams where his toy speaks to him in Spock’s voice. Well, guess what, though uncredited, the show was so huge at that point that when they needed an actor to play Spock’s voice, it was Leonard Nimoy himself who actually played the role!
11 Transformers: Dark of the Moon
The Transformers franchise has grown into an epic movie world with fans across the globe. Back in 2011, when Transformers: Dark of the Moon released, the film became another great installment with more of the iconic action sequences that fans love so much. Throughout the franchise’s history, one of its most legendary characters has always been the famous leader of the Autobots, Optimus Prime.
In this film, fans were thrilled when another famous character debuted on-screen. This time it was Sentinel Prime, who was the Autobots’ leader before Optimus. Since Optimus Prime has always been iconic for his deep, booming voice, Sentinel Prime needed one that could match its intensity. Fans everywhere were delighted when it was Leonard Nimoy who was chosen to voice Sentinel Prime – a role he absolutely nailed.
10 Never Forget
The Holocaust remains one of the darkest chapters in human history. An event that shattered millions of lives, its legacy never seems to lose relevance in reminding us of just how evil humanity can be. Never Forget was a hard hitting TV film that told the story of Mel Mermelstein, an American holocaust survivor who faced a new battle decades later.
The sole survivor when his family were killed at Auschwitz, Mermelstein now lives in California with his wife and their four kids. A hate group and holocaust deniers challenge Jews to prove that the atrocities at Auschwitz really occurred. Mermelstein and his family, at great cost to their personal lives, take on the challenge in court and begin a painful battle against the hatred they face. Nimoy was brilliant in the film, his performance made more poignant since he’s always been an active member of the Jewish community.
Having become a legend of science-fiction, Leonard Nimoy’s appearances always sent fans into rapture when he chose the genre over others. Fringe was a popular science-fiction show that followed a Joint Federal Task Force supported by the FBI as they investigated paranormal events.
Its popularity saw it run for five seasons and 100 episodes.Between 2009 and 2012, Nimoy played Dr. William Bell on the show. Bell was a scientist who discovers a way to travel back and forth between a parallel dimension. However, this soon begins to take a physical toll on his body and mind. The roll was a perfect fit for the actor who was best known for playing a science officer, and he was excellent in it.
8 Mission: Impossible
Long before Tom Cruise ever made the Mission: Impossible films a global hit as a franchise, the original show, Mission: Impossible, was its popular precursor during the ’60s and ’70s. The show revolved around the fictional agency known as the IMF or Impossible Missions Force. Various characters played a part on it, each with differing skills sets and traits that made them popular.
Between seasons four and five, Leonard Nimoy joined the cast as he played a character called The Great Paris, whose real name was never revealed. Nimoy became a beloved part of the show, playing the role with his typical flair and screen presence. The Great Paris was a magician who used his skills like hypnosis, sleight of hand, mimicry, and disguises to entertaining effect. Nimoy played the character in 49 episodes of the show.
7 Star Trek III: The Search for Spock
With his other memorable roles mentioned, no Leonard Nimoy list would be complete without his iconic roles as his most famous character, Spock. Nimoy played the role countless times across the original show and many films in the Star Trek franchise. In what follows, we look at some of his turns as Spock in order of how they fared. As an interesting aside, Nimoy directed many of the films himself.
Starting with Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, the film centered around Spock when he was technically killed and his body shot into space in a casket. The movie was the third in the film franchise, but was surprisingly a little dull in a visual sense and even comes across as cheaply made at times, in comparison to the brilliance of earlier films. The story revolved around the crew of The Enterprise trying to find a way to return his body to his home world.
6 Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country
After the seconds Star Trek film was hailed as brilliant and saw fans reveling in their beloved show now being big screen darling, the films that followed in the earliest installments were always likely to struggle a bit to keep up. Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country was the sixth film and saw the Klingons seek help from the Federation when their moon explodes.
Spock’s brilliance was on full display in the film as fans were treated to him performing a Vulcan mind-meld which is a touch technique that allows a Vulcan to merge minds with another person. Nimoy was as gripping as ever in the role. However, the film itself was a little stodgy compared to others.
5 Star Trek V: The Final Frontier
In the fifth film, Star Trek V: The Final Frontier, Spock experiences family drama when the Enterprise is taken over by his half-brother. The reason is even more entertaining since he wishes to fly it to the middle of the Milky Way and meet God. Nimoy was again excellent in the role.
This time, Spock faces some intense pressure from his brother, Sybok, who forces him to confront his innermost struggles. In Spock’s case, this is rejection by his father for being too human. Spock is of course part of the Vulcan race, who are meant to be immune to human emotion and favor logical thought and actions alone.
4 Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home
Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home became one of the most fun films of the series. It saw the former crew of the USS Enterprise as exiles on Vulcan. After receiving a distress signal, they steal a starship to investigate. They find a probe has entered Earth’s orbit and disabled power everywhere. Worse yet, the oceans have evaporated.
Spock and the rest of the team travel back in time. Spock has figured out that now-extinct Humpback Whales will be able to use their songs as a way to communicate with the probe and send it away. The film is often referred to as “the one with the whales” and was a novel entry into the franchise that made it very enjoyable.
3 Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
The second film in the franchise, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan is widely regarded as the best film of all and the gold standard for Trekkies everywhere. The film is also regarded as having saved the franchise since the original show had been canceled by that point and the first film underwhelmed.
With a stellar performance from Nimoy and others, the film’s greatest achievement was how it built on the strong bond between Spock and Captain Kirk, setting the standard for the two iconic characters to cement themselves as fan favorites throughout. Here’s a little of what Empirehad to say about it.
“..the material was there to meet their new-found enthusiasm, Meyer leaning into the characters in a way that Roddenberry never really had. As much as it’s about ship battles, The Wrath Of Khan is about the interpersonal relationships and enduring friendships of the crew, particularly Kirk, Spock and McCoy, dealing with ageing and exhaustion and – by the end of the film – loss. Maybe that renewed focus on its actual people is the film’s greatest Star Trek legacy.
2 Star Trek Into Darkness
By the time the new age films came around, the legendary original cast members like Leonard Nimoy and William Shatner were far too old to keep appearing as their famed characters. It was time to hand the baton over to the new actors who would take their place, in this instance, Zachary Quinto and Chris Pine, respectively.
While Star Trek Into Darknessmay have seen Leonard Nimoy play his smallest role in a Star Trek film for a cameo role as Spock Prime, his appearance meant the world to fans around the globe. For a character and an actor who has meant so much to so many people for decades now, that cameo became Nimoy’s most poignant as it was his last role in a film and the last time he would ever appear as a version of Spock that wasn’t provided by archival footage. An amazing end to a truly legendary role, it was a fitting goodbye to the original Spock and Leonard Nimoy as the character.
1 Star Trek: The Original Series
Between 1966 and 1969, Leonard Nimoy and the other original cast members would immortalize themselves into science-fiction history with Star Trek. The original series broke boundaries and provided viewers with a groundbreaking look at what was possible in the world of television as it gave viewers the first look at the original characters who would go onto become so legendary around the world and birth one of the largest, most enduring, and popular franchises in the world.
For Nimoy and others, it would represent the turning point and become the basis that the rest of their careers were defined by. The show’s legacy and cultural influence remains relevant to this day, and it will forever go down as a historical show for its pop culture influence. Nimoy played Spock, the Enterprise’s Chief Science Officer, and defined the role in a way that can never be surpassed. He played Spock in the original show across 79 legendary episodes that provided the basis for all that came after with the other shows and the film franchise.