My first memorable encounter with John Hurt was in Bob Clark's Judd Nelson hotshot lawyer comedy, From the Hip, where he played the creepy client on whom the tone of the movie shifts. He was scary. After that I kept a wary eye on his character whatever movie he happened to pop up in. He just had that thing that made you pay attention. Happy he kept working up to the end of his life - he always seemed to be at the height of his powers.
Some more of my favorite Hurt performances include his turn as a hired killer and consummate professional in Stephen Frears' The Hit. His hitman Braddock endures the trials of his hotheaded punk partner, Tim Roth, as well as Terrance Stamp as the vexingly unconcerned quarry he's been charged with retaining and dispatching for the gangsters who employ him It's a long, bad day, roadtrip flick and Hurt's irritated cool is a big reason it works as well as it does.
He has the role of the bad man holding Roth's leash again in Michael Caton-Jones' Rob Roy, this time fopping out and oozing sinister sleaze so vile all the perfume and powder in her majesty's kingdom couldn't cover the stench.
And his bounty killer Jellon Lamb in John Hillcoat's hellish outback 'western' The Proposition may not be the main character in terms of plot, but he seems to have been screenwriter Nick Cave's favorite vehicle to take us in to the heart of darkness, break the moral compass and give voice to the madness.
Of course he had great warmth to convey as well and I suspect his turn as the gentle fatherly figure Broom in Guillermo Del Toro's Hellboy movies is the beating heart beneath the wisecracking that makes them (especially HellboyII: The Golden Army) such a pleasing mix of elements.