In addition to doing films in the United Kingdom, Lee did movies in Mainland Europe: he appeared in Count Dracula, where he again played the vampire count, The Torture Chamber of Dr. Sadism, Castle of the Living Dead and Horror Express.
Since the mid 1970s, Lee has eschewed horror roles almost entirely. Ian Fleming, author of the James Bond spy novels and Lee’s stepcousin, had offered him the role of Dr No in the first official Bond film. Lee accepted, but the producers had already cast the role. In 1974, Lee finally got to play a James Bond villain when he was cast as the deadly assassin Francisco Scaramanga in The Man with the Golden Gun.
In 1982, Lee appeared in The Return of Captain Invincible. In this film, Lee plays a fascist who plans to rid America (and afterwards, the world) of all non-whites. Lee sings on two tracks in the film (“Name Your Poison” and “Mister Midnight”), written by Richard O’Brien (who had written The Rocky Horror Picture Show seven years previously) and Richard Hartley.
In 1985, he appeared in Howling II: Stirba – Werewolf Bitch. In 1998, Lee starred in the role of Muhammad Al Jinnah, founder of modern Pakistan, in the film Jinnah. While talking about his favourite role in film at a press conference, he declared that his role in Jinnah was by far his best performance.
Lee played Saruman in the The Lord of the Rings film trilogy. In the commentary, he states he had a decades-long dream to play Gandalf but that he was now too old and his physical limitations prevented his being considered. The role of Saruman, by contrast, required no horseback riding and much less fighting. Lee had met Tolkien once (making him the only person inThe Lord of the Rings film trilogy to have done so) and makes a habit of reading the novels at least once a year. Lee’s appearance in the third film was cut from the theatrical release. However, the scene was reinstated in the extended edition.
The Lord of the Rings marked the beginning of a major career revival that continued in Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones (2002) and Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith (2005), in which he played Count Dooku. His autobiography states that he did much of the swordplay himself, though a double was required for the more vigorous footwork.
Lee has also become a regular in many of Tim Burton’s films, five times since 1999. He had a small role as the Burgomaster in the film Sleepy Hollow (1999), Lee then went on to voice the character of Pastor Galswells in Corpse Bride (2005), and play a small role in the Burton’s reimagining of the Roald Dahl tale Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005). His part was cut from Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007). He voiced the Jabberwocky in Burton’s adaptation of Lewis Carroll’s classic book Alice in Wonderland (2010). In 2012, Lee marked his fifth collaboration with Tim Burton by appearing in his film adaptation of the gothic soap opera Dark Shadows.
In 2011, Lee appeared in The Resident and the critically acclaimed Hugo, directed by Martin Scorsese. Lee will be reprising the role of Saruman for the Lord of the Rings prequel film The Hobbit.
In 2001, Lee was appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) and was knighted in the Queen’s Birthday Honours in 2009. In 2011, Lee was awarded the BAFTA Academy Fellowship by Tim Burton.