Here’s Your Perfect David Warner Genre Movie Marathon
We lost one of the legends of science fiction cinema recently. Here’s how to celebrate the geekiest films of the late, great David Warner.
You just can’t get away from David Warner. Whether you’re watching an episode of Babylon 5 or hearing his voice as Ra’s al Ghul in Batman: The Animated Series, there’s a ubiquity to David Warner that all true fans of superheroes, science fiction, and fantasy know without thinking about it. Yes, Warner did a lot of work that wasn’t sci-fi or fantasy, but his omnipresence within those genres is partly what made him so beloved. Warner passed away recently at the age of 80, and because he’s been in soooo many things we’ve all loved, it feels difficult to accept that he’s gone.
It would be impossible to list every single one of Warner’s projects, so instead here is a curated David Warner movie marathon, highlighting some of his greatest sci-fi and fantasy hits, and a few deep cuts you may not have seen.
Time After Time (1979)
Directed by Nicholas Meyer, this time travel romp famously stars Mary Steenburgen in her first role as a time traveler’s girlfriend, coming out ahead of Back to the Future III in 1990. But perhaps more relevantly, it stars David Warner as Jack the Ripper, who steals the time machine of H.G. Wells (Malcolm McDowell) and blasts to the 1970s to keep being bad. To my knowledge, nobody has linked Warner wearing reflective aviators in this movie to everything about American Psycho, but the lineage seems clear.
Time Bandits (1981)
So this Terry Gilliam masterpiece features a lot of great people in a hilariously weird movie. You’ve got Sean Connery; you’ve got Kenny Baker; you’ve got John Cleese; you’ve got Jack Purvis. It’s just bananas. But most importantly, you’ve got Warner as a character just called “Evil.” You see a running theme here? If you need some kind of underplayed sci-fi villain—not scenery chewing mind you, but subtle—you get David Warner.
In one of the most perfect sci-fi movies of all time, you get not one, not two, but three David Warners for the price of one. Not only does Warner play evil computer programmer Ed Dillinger in the “real world,” but he also plays the villainous program Sark, as well as uncredited voice-work for the Master Control Program itself. This means, basically, Warner is a triple-threat in Tron. When you think about that, it makes pretty much zero sense that he had nothing to do with Tron: Legacy. End of line.
Spymaker: The Secret Life of Ian Fleming (1990)
Oh, we’re getting really meta on this one. Although Warner was somehow never in a James Bond movie, he was in this biopic about the life of Ian Fleming, the creator of James Bond. In the movie, Warner plays Admiral Godfrey, basically Ian Fleming’s boss in Naval Intelligence. This makes Warner kind of like “M,” but to the “real” James Bond. It’s not a perfect movie, but Warner is perfect in it.
Star Trek V and Star Trek VI (1989 and 1991)
Although Warner’s Star Trek career is storied, it began with his role as the chain-smoking Federation ambassador St. John Talbot in Star Trek V: The Final Frontier. Although his next two Trek appearances were in heavy makeup, his Final Frontier role is wonderful because he’s a cynical human diplomat, who is heavily critical of the Federation in general.
Then, just a few years later in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, Warner turned around and played the most pivotal role in arguably all of Star Trek’s fictional history; that of Chancellor Gorkon, the peace-seeking Klingon who dares Kirk to do better by saying on his deathbed, “Don’t let it end this way…” Chills! On top of that, Warner also got the immortal zinger in this one when Gorkon says, “You have not experienced Shakespeare until you have read him in the original Klingon.”
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze (1991)
Somehow, the same year in which David Warner rocked The Undiscovered Country, he also played Professor Jordan Perry in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II. This character is 100 percent a hero and works side-by-side with the Turtles to, you know, unlock the secret of that ooze. Hilariously, because Warner is one of the few actors who plays a human, he gets top-billing in this movie, just behind Paige Turco, who played the second cinematic April O’Neil.
The Lost World (1992)
You might know about the 1925 adaptation of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Lost World. Or you may have heard of the 1960 version. You’ve certainly heard of the 1997 film, The Lost World: Jurassic Park. But what you may have missed is the 1992 adaption of the Doyle novel in which John Rhys-Davies plays Professor Challenger. Who is Warner in this movie? Glad you asked. He’s Professor Summerlee, a rival professor of Challenger’s who goes on the expedition to the dinosaur island without Challenger, but then, later they team up.
Wing Commander (1999)
Okay, so if you somehow missed this Freddie Prinze Jr. and Matthew Lillard sci-fi team-up, you’re forgiven. If you’re confused as to the relationship between this movie and the popular video game series of the same name, don’t be. Wing Commander was a loose big screen adaptation of those games in which Prinze Jr. played Christopher Blair (played by Mark Hamill in the games) and Lillard played Maniac (played by Tom Wilson in the games).
It’s a weird movie that tried to be a kind of reboot/origin story of characters whom only hardcore Wing Commander fans would know or care about. But most bizarrely was the fact that the role of Admiral Tolwyn was played by Warner. As with all things science fiction, Warner nails this part. What’s weird is that in the games Wing Commander III and Wing Commander IV, this part was famously played by Malcolm McDowell. Of course Warner starred opposite McDowell in Time After Time while both were starships passing in the night since McDowell starred in the Star Trek movie after The Undiscovered Country: Star Trek: Generations.
In other words, replacing McDowell with Warner in Wing Commander would be a little like if The Hobbit movies had replaced Ian McKellen with Patrick Stewart. It’s both so right and so wrong at the same time.
Planet of the Apes (2001)
Look, Tim Burton’s Planet of the Apes starring Marky Mark is not great. It’s just not. That said, it has a great twist-ending, and Warner’s turn as Senator Sandar brings an air of legitimacy to the movie. It may not be his most famous role, but if you need an excuse to rewatch this Apes, Warner is the best excuse a sci-fi fan needs to watch something ever.
BONUS TV: Penny Dreadful (2014)
This list was designed to be a movie marathon, and so, many of David Warner’s great TV appearances—from Star Trek: The Next Generation to Doctor Who—are excluded. But, if you did want to dip into some more contemporary Warner action in genre TV, you can’t miss him in Penny Dreadful. Somehow everyone forgot that in this series, Warner played the original version of Van Helsing. Yes, he’s not around for the whole series, but saying why that is would be a spoiler!