The ability to act is often taken for granted. Sure, many of us played a character in a school play or pretend we’re someone else while screwing around in our daily lives, but there is no comparison to what the pros do. Truly fleshing out whatever character you take on with the added pressure of knowing millions of people will view and judge your work is a staggering feat. Add to that the many staffers, peers, and hangers-on who find their way onto the set, as well as the fact that you must mutter the same lines again and again, in take after take, and it almost seems insurmountable. Luckily for modern filmgoers, there are some truly impressive women who make it all seem easy.
When putting this list together we looked at the best of the best actresses working today. We needed to apply a cut-off date so we chose to limit ourselves to women who’ve performed on television or movies in the last two years. That meant that an actress like Jodie Foster, who otherwise would have been a shoo-in was not eligible. Although we have the utmost respect for the people who perform on stages around the world, we did not take plays and other such acts into account. That is because we don’t have the ability to see those shows ourselves which made us feel any attempt to rank their work would be an act of pure speculation.
15. Halle Berry
An actress who sometimes doesn’t receive the respect she deserves, Halle came to prominence by playing supporting characters in many of the most memorable films of the nineties. The Last Boy Scout, Boomerang, Executive Decision and Bulworth, are a few examples of films from that era that she made far more entertaining and beautiful. After the turn of the millennium, however, she proved what she was truly capable of when given a chance to play more pivotal roles. Starting the century off by bringing Storm to life in the first X-Men film, she became a mainstay of mainstream films. It was her work in one film in particular that showed off how good she actually can be. Playing a widowed woman in Monster’s Ball, she provided the role with the type of tangible sorrow that few performers ever could and her intimate scene in the film was guttural and fearless. If she’d only been given more weighty roles like that in the years since she certainly would have found herself far higher here.
14. Jennifer Lawrence
The lead actor in The Hunger Games franchise, as well as the latest actress to play Mystique in the X-Men films, Jennifer has proven herself a capable action film lead several times in the past. A far as acclaim goes, she has enjoyed more than her fair share due to impressive performances in well-reviewed films like Winter’s Bone, Silver Linings Playbook, American Hustle, and Joy. A four-time Academy Award nominee who won once and three-time Golden Globe winner, at least eighty-one separate awards have been sent her way at the age of twenty-five. One of the more charming celebrities alive today, she owes her legion of fans, in large part, to her persona and action films but it is her more nuanced work that landed her on this list.
13. Amy Adams
A former co-star of the previous entry, Amy acted in several lesser known films in her younger years, before her magnificent performance in Junebug made cinephiles stand up and take notice. Extremely likable in movies like Catch Me If You Can, Enchanted and The Muppets, to name just a few, she easily could have gone down the easier romantic comedy route but has chosen to challenge herself. Nominated for five Academy Awards, for her work in the aforementioned Junebug, as well as Doubt, The Fighter, The Master and American Hustle, she clearly has several arrows in her acting quiver. Likely to finally take home the Gold statue at any time, this artist seems poised to be one of the most respected actors of her generation.
12. Natalie Portman
A star from the moment she appeared on screen in her film debut, Léon: The Professional, at the young age of twelve, despite her tender age, Natalie was able to come off as mature far beyond her years. A cinema mainstay pretty much ever since, dramatic movies like Garden State, Closer, The Other Boleyn Girl and most of all Black Swan, would not have been half as good without her work. Also capable of playing lead characters in immense franchises like The Marvel Cinematic Universe and Star Wars, there appears to be nothing that she can’t pull off. An Academy Award, BAFTA, Golden Globe, Independent Spirit, and SAG award winner to name just a few, who are we to disagree with so many critics? Especially when we couldn’t agree more.
11. Kathy Bates
If you need better evidence of the disparity in the way that aging actresses and actors are treated by the system than the current career of Kathy Bates, you haven’t been paying attention. Terrifying in Misery, fierce and lovable in Titanic, formidable in Primary Colors, and hilarious in Waterboy, she seems to be incapable of giving anything but a glorious performance wherever she goes. Yet, she hasn’t received a lead role in a major motion picture in years which is simply appalling. Still, her roles in the last three seasons of American Horror Story have made that series far better, which goes to prove that she hasn’t lost a step. She needs nothing more than to receive the type of roles that male acting greats who are aging get. As we await her hopefully upcoming resurgence, we still hold her up as an example of the consummate acting pro.
10. Marion Cotillard
A French actress, word of Marion’s skills in her chosen profession has spread far, far past her homeland’s borders. An Academy Award, BAFTA, Golden Globe, and two-time César Award winner, films like La Vie en Rose, Two Days One Night, Rust and Bone, A Very Long Engagement and Pretty Things, made her a critic’s darling. Meanwhile, her work in mainstream movies like Inception, Contagion, The Dark Knight Rises and the upcoming Assassin’s Creed, has made her into an international superstar. Incredibly multi-faceted, we look forward to seeing each of her new parts and to witness her amass, even more, respect as an actress.
9. Anne Hathaway
First coming to prominence with her leading role in the modern day fairytale The Princess Diaries, anyone who mistook her for a lightweight teen star was sorely mistaken. Utterly heartbreaking in her most acclaimed role to date, Les Misérables for which Anne won at least thirty-five awards, including the industry’s most coveted, that role alone could have ensured her placement here. Then you add her work in Havoc, Brokeback Mountain, The Devil Wears Prada, Rachel Getting Married and Interstellar to the list, and the fact that she didn’t take the top slot speaks to her awesome competition. There seemed to be a bit of a backlash against her once, which seemed to be a response to how much praise was being heaped upon her but if you allow something that silly to color your view, you are being silly.
8. Nicole Kidman
An Australian actress who once seemed to be more famous for her marriage to Tom Cruise than her profession, Nicole has since earned her spot as a part of the cream of the acting crop. Starting out in films like Days of Thunder, Far and Away and Batman Forever, her career went into another stratosphere after the release of To Die For. Playing a small time news anchor with delusions of grandeur, her character in that film used her feminine wiles and manipulative personality to enrapture a group of teens, while her acting did the same to audiences. Moving on to lead roles in highly respected films like Eyes Wide Shut, Moulin Rouge, The Hours, Cold Mountain and Rabbit Hole, among others, she makes every movie she’s in a great deal better.
7. Naomi Watts
An actress who is unbelievably gorgeous, she easily could have relied on her looks to become a star and perhaps could have had a more lucrative career, but Naomi has opted to go another route. A winner of the Global Achievement Award handed out by the Australian Film Institute, the accolade is meant to signify an actor making an impact on the world and she sure deserves it. A two-time Academy Award nominee who routinely receives nominations and awards, fantastic reviews have been handed her way far more often than not. Mulholland Drive, The Ring, 21 Grams, We Don’t Live Here Anymore, Eastern Promises, The Impossible, Adore and Birdman, all serve as reminders of what Naomi can do and why she was included here.
6. Charlize Theron
Celebrity, heroine, action star, Oscar winner, and all around bada** are but a few of the ways in which Charlize could be described which certainly makes her superb as an actress in our view. As she seems poised to follow a new path in her career in the wake of her awe-inspiring performance in Mad Max: Fury Road, we are confident that she will improve any genre she helps invigorate. First showing her potential in 2 Days in the Valley, she went on to be great in The Cider House Rules, The Italian Job, and several others in the years since. Her most mind-bogglingly transformative and great performance came when she played Aileen Wuornos in Monster, an achievement that deserves to be held high in the annals of film history.
5. Viola Davis
We’re not sure that any actor has ever been more convincing at crying on screen than Viola Davis. Relatively unknown for the first years of her career, everything changed for her when she was cast in the film Doubt, as a mother whose son may be suffering molestation at the hand of a priest. Appearing in the film for a very small portion of its runtime, she stole the film from actors like Amy Adams, Meryl Streep and Phillip Seymour Hoffman, which is a feat that nobody expected. Showing that she wasn’t a flash in the pan, she has since anchored The Help and How to Get Away with Murder. Filled to the brim with the ability to emit an indomitable will and inner strength even when her character’s actions appear weak, she should be on every casting director’s shortlist.
4. Julianne Moore
From the moment, we saw Julianne bring Amber Waves, an elder stateswoman of the p*rn industry, to life in Boogie Nights, we believed her career would be one to follow and boy, we were right. Any attempt to explain what makes her special would have to include mentions of The Big Lebowski, Magnolia, Hannibal, The Hours, Children of Men, Chloe, The Kids Are All Right, and of course Still Alice. Awarded nominations and awards handed out by the Oscars, BAFTAs, Cannes Film Festival, Critic’s Choice, Golden Globes, MTV Movie Awards, and SAGs, she clearly has, even more, accolades in her future.
3. Cate Blanchett
An actress who was nominated for two Academy Awards in the year 2007, for her parts in Elizabeth: The Golden Age and I’m Not There, amazingly her stature has only improved in the years since. Nominated for seven Oscars total, Cate has taken home two of them for Blue Jasmine and The Aviator, on top of winning Australian Academy Awards, BAFTAS, Golden Globes and many others. Immensely beautiful and elegant in real life, she is remarkably capable of playing down and dirty roles as well. Also accomplished in playing parts in box office behemoths like The Lord of the Rings series and the How to Train Your Dragon movies, she holds a place in many cinema goers’ hearts. When you’re the person who gets tapped by Martin Scorsese, one of the best filmmakers of all time, to play Katharine Hepburn, it’s clear you’re exceptional.
2. Meryl Streep
Do we really have to explain why Meryl made our list? Well, we have some space here so we might as well add our respects to the chorus of other voices who’ve already done so. A star of some of the most respected films of all time, she has appeared in The Deer Hunter, Kramer vs. Kramer, Sophie’s Choice, Silkwood, Defending Your Life, Adaptation, The Hours, Doubt, Julie & Julia and The Iron Lady. She has been nominated for twenty-nine Golden Globes, Fourteen British Academy Film Awards, thirty-seven People’s Choice Awards, and many, many others. One of the greatest odes to her has to be the fact that she has received nineteen Academy Award nominations which makes her the actor with the most Oscar noms ever.
1. Kate Winslet
One of a few actors who seem capable of surpassing the incredible amount of nominations Meryl has received, alongside Cate Blanchett and Naomi Watts, Kate’s career shows no sign of slowing. Earning seven Academy Award nominations already at the young age of forty, she seems to truly love her work as evidenced by her interviews, which may help her in the longevity department. Looking at the past and present now instead of her future, she has already appeared in huge movies like Titanic and Contagion. The dramatic genre is where she has really made her mark, which has made movies like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Little Children, Revolutionary Road and Steve Jobs, possible. Frankly, we really have no idea how you could see this actress at work and not respect her skills.