His big film break came as "angry young man" Arthur Seaton in Saturday Night and Sunday Morning.
However, it wasn't until years later - in 1963 - that he truly became a household name, thanks to his performance in "Tom Jones".
Displaying the versatility of a virtuoso, Finney portrayed Winston Churchill, Pope John Paul II, a southern American lawyer, an Irish gangster and an 18th-century rogue, among dozens of other roles over the years.
Tom Jones, with its bawdy humour and rollicking atmosphere, was a sizeable hit in the USA, and won four Oscars (including best picture); Finney received the first of his four best actor nominations, but lost to Sidney Poitier for Lilies of the Field. In 2001, he received a Best Actor Oscar nomination for his work on the film Erin Brockovich starring Julia Roberts in the title role.
Westworld star, and fellow Bond franchise alumnus, Jeffrey Wright called Finney "supreme" and "one of the absolute [greatest of all time]", saying he habitually watched Finney's Oscar-nominated performance in The Dresser before starting a new play.
He also turned down both a CBE and a knighthood.
He said: "I'm deeply saddened by the news of Albert Finney's passing".
Admirers of musicals may know him as the moneyed Daddy Warbucks from 1982's Annie; fans of the Coen Brothers will immediately recognize him as the Prohibition-era Irish gangster Leo O'Bannon from 1990's Miller's Crossing. His second wife in the 1970s was the French actress Anouk Aimee. The Academy nominated him for best supporting actor for Erin Brockovich (2000). Still, Finney declined to attend the Academy Awards ceremony - possibly damaging his chances at future wins by snubbing Hollywood's elite.
Finney also tried his hand at directing and producing and played a vital role in sustaining British theater.
Emmys: Outstanding lead actor for The Gathering Storm.