But Charlton Heston's greatest role was in real life -- as a passionate, articulate spokesman for the Second Amendment.
Heston, who died Saturday at age 84, gave his time and his notoriety to an issue -- gun rights -- that has been debated for decades. Millions of others have shared his views on the freedom to own firearms, but no single person has been quite the living embodiment of that freedom.
Heston became president of the National Rifle Association in 1998, and it couldn't have happened at a better time. The NRA at the time was wracked with internal problems, and it was squarely in the sights of the Clinton administration and many anti-gun members of Congress. But under Heston's leadership, the NRA's membership grew to 4 million members.
Heston argued his position with the intensity he poured into his most famous cinematic roles. Perhaps most famous is his speech at the 2000 NRA convention, during which he held a musket over his head and dared the Democrat-run administration to take his gun "from my cold dead hands."
That famous declaration was a rallying cry in an important election year, in which about half of voters were from gun-owning households. Gun owners backed George W. Bush 61 percent to 36 percent. Gun non-owners went for Democratic challenger Al Gore 58-39.
You can agree or disagree with his stance on guns -- and we most definitely agree -- but there is no denying his pivotal role in promoting the right to bear arms. He will be missed.