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Why Father Cornelius From The Fifth Element Looks So Familiar

Every great science-fiction movie fan knows about The Fifth Element. Starring Bruce Willis, Milla Jovovich, and Gary Oldman, The Fifth Element tells the story of taxi driver and former special forces officer Korben Dallas (Willis), who finds the fate of Earth thrust on his shoulders when a woman named Leeloo (Jovovich) falls into his life. The film is set in the 23rd century, and in it, Oldman plays the villain Zorg, a powerful industrialist secretly working for the Great Evil, a celestial power trying to destroy Earth. 

Rounding out the main cast is Ian Holm, who portrays Father Vito Cornelius. A priest and expert on all things astrophysics, Cornelius has spent his life learning everything there is to know about the Great Evil, passed down for generations. He tries to warn Earth and others about the incoming threat, but no one really believes him, and he gives up. That is, however, until Dallas shows up at his home with an unconscious Leeloo in his arms.

While Holm's role as Cornelius is iconic, the talented actor, who died on June 19, 2020, has a huge résumé of memorable appearances. If you need help placing the familiar face, check out the biggest roles of Holm's long and successful career.

Ian Holm played an android named Ash in Alien

In 1979, Holm portrayed a character called Ash in Alien, the Ridley Scott-directed sci-fi horror film that spawned a huge franchise. Starring Tom Skerritt, Veronica Cartwright, and Sigourney Weaver (as Ellen Ripley), Alien focuses on the crew of the Nostromo, a commercial spaceship working for the Weyland-Yutani Corporation. When they are sent to investigate a distress signal on their way back to Earth, they encounter an extraterrestrial creature called a Xenomorph who goes on a rampage inside their ship, killing everyone in sight.

Holm's character Ash is the science officer of the crew. Unbeknownst to the others, Ash is also an android — a synthetic agent working for the corporation to ensure the Xenomorph makes it back to Earth, even if the crew doesn't. As Ripley and her fellow team members Lambert (Cartwright) and Parker (Yaphet Kotto) are fighting to survive against the alien, Ash attacks and tries to kill Ripley. The others save her by decapitating Ash, revealing his synthetic nature. After the incident, Ripley reactivates Ash's head in order to get more information on the creature and the corporation, who want to experiment on the alien and use it as a weapon.

Ian Holm took on the role of Sam Mussabini in Chariots of Fire

Not long after Alien, in 1981, Holm starred in the British historical drama Chariots of Fire. The film is based on the true story of Eric Liddell and Harold Abrahams, two British athletes who made history at the 1924 Olympics in Paris, France. Liddel (Ian Charleson), a devout Scottish Christian, and Abrahams (Ben Cross), a hardworking law student born to Jewish immigrant parents, share a passion for running. Overcoming personal differences and various prejudice, the two men make it onto the 1924 British Olympic team to represent their country in track and field.

In Chariots of Fire, Holm plays Sam Mussabini, an English coach who trains Abrahams to his Olympic gold medal. The real Mussabini was a very talented athletics coach, and he trained athletes to 11 various Olympic medals over the years — including Reggie Walker, a gold medalist at the 1908 Olympics, and Willie Applegarth, a gold medalist at the 1912 Olympics (via English Heritage).

Chariots of Fire was very well-received by critics and audiences. It won four Academy Awards, including Best Picture, and Holm was nominated for Best Supporting Actor for his role as Massabini. The movie also won the BAFTA for Best Film, with Holm winning for Best Supporting Artist.

Ian Holm is well-known for his work as Bilbo Baggins in The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit series

For most people, Holm's role as Bilbo Baggins in the Lord of the Rings universe is the most familiar. The extensive series of films — soon to include a television series on Amazon Prime Video — is based on the high fantasy book series by J.R.R. Tolkien, an English writer and academic who lived from 1892 to 1973 and was a good friend of C.S. Lewis, another renowned fantasy author. 

First appearing in The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, Holm's character Bilbo is a Hobbit of the Shire and the guardian of Frodo (Elijah Wood). He is also one of the bearers of the powerful One Ring, which he holds onto for years, finally giving it to Frodo at the request of Gandalf (Ian McKellen). Once the wizard realizes that the ring is forged by Sauron, he starts a quest to destroy it.

Bilbo is a supporting character in the initial Lord of the Rings trilogy, but his story is expanded on in the Hobbit films. The Hobbit recounts the quest of a young Bilbo helping a party of dwarves claim their mountain back from the greedy dragon Smaug. This adventure is where Bilbo first encounters the One Ring. In The Hobbit trilogy, released between 2012 and 2014, the younger version of Holm's character is played by Martin Freeman, with Holm returning as an older Bilbo for some key scenes. Playing the character of Bilbo over 13 years and four different movies, Holm definitely made his mark on the world of Tolkien's creation.