Actors have the ability to stun a crowd, bring them to tears with laughter, or make us question our existence after having our hearts ripped out. Suffice it to say, someone somewhere gave actors too much power over us common folk.
Sometimes, though, we watch an incredible performance totally oblivious to the fact that we may be watching someone’s last. What began as a performance that audiences loved soon became one that would be remembered forever along with the actor who portrayed the character.
It’s pretty difficult to choose just one performance from these actors but the job had to fall to someone. These roles may not have been their last ones but they were certainly the best and most remembered ones. Below are 15 actors and actresses who made a name for themselves with standout roles that will always belong to them.
15 Heath Ledger - The Dark Knight
There’s no way that I can start this list without mentioning Heath Ledger’s iconic performance in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight.
Ledger prepared for the role of The Joker by barricading himself in a hotel while maintaining a collage of pictures and keeping a journal. In 2007, Ledger told Empire that he also tested different voices and laughs in order to nail the iconic villain. In 2008, Ledger passed away from an accidental overdose due to his prescription medication.
Ledger has plenty of great roles under his belt but The Joker is easily one of his most notable. He brought the maniacal nature of the classic villain to the big screen and the part hasn’t been bested since. His dedication earned him an Oscar after his death.
14 James Avery - Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air
James Avery warmed his way into the hearts of audiences everywhere as Uncle Phil on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air from 1990-1996.
Throughout his career, Avery starred in several TV movies and made appearances in various sitcoms after Fresh Prince wrapped up. Though he had parts in shows such as Amen and The Real Ghostbusters, Avery was a staple in the homes of 90’s kids everywhere as Uncle Phil. His knowledge, sass, and meaningful speeches earned him the role as head of the household – not just in his home but in ours, even if it was just for that half hour.
Avery passed away at the age of 65 during open heart surgery, prompting several former co-stars to express their respect.
13 Michael Clarke Duncan - The Green Mile
Michael Clarke Duncan may have seemed like he could whoop someone’s ass (which he most definitely could) but he was also one of the kindest and most respected actors.
His undeniable kindness radiated from his best performance as John Coffey in The Green Mile. Clarke Duncan starred as a character wrongfully accused of murder and placed on death row. Though, Coffey possessed a gift which allowed him to resurrect people and animals while also healing them of various ailments. His powerful role landed him an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor in 1999. The role also landed him nominations for a Golden Globe and NAACP Image Award.
John Coffey was a magical character who reduced audiences to tears. But, the real magic of Clarke Duncan is what brought the character to life.
12 Don Rickles - The Roast Of Sinatra/Toy Story
For those of us who were born in the ‘90s, Don Rickles is perhaps best known for voicing our favorite little grouch in Andy’s room, Mr. Potato Head in Toy Story. But, the 90-year-old actor was making jokes way before the millennials caught wind of him.
Rickles had been entertaining crowds for decades on stage as a stand-up comedian. He was well-known for insulting those in the crowd or poking fun at late night talk show hosts who were brave enough to have him. You knew the guy was fearless when he roasted the Frank Sinatra at a comedy roast in the ‘70s.
It’s hard to pinpoint what Rickles’ best performance is in his long career but fans loved the comedian best for his stand-up work.
11 Mary Tyler Moore - The Mary Tyler Moore Show
Debuting in the 60s as Dick Van Dyke’s wife, Mary Tyler Moore soon began her career as the ray of sunshine on daytime television.
Tyler Moore began her career on The Dick Van Dyke Show for five years before branching off and starring in her own TV show, The Mary Tyler Moore Show. The show focussed on the everyday life of a working woman. The show centered on Mary Richards, a newly single woman who gets hired as an associate producer at a local news station. What made Tyler Moore such an icon was that her characters often broke free of the stereotypical gender norms associated with women at the time. Mary Richards was no different and audiences everywhere loved her.
10 Carrie Fisher - Star Wars
In 2016 fans lost one Carrie Fisher, one of their greatest icons, at the age of 60.
She starred in several films outside of Star Wars but her role as Princess Leia is the performance she’s best known for. Fisher brought … When people started commenting on Fisher’s weight gain and her “aging poorly” after she reprised her role as Leia in Star Wars: The Force Awakens, she immediately shot back on Twitter. Fisher also retweeted Ines Coelho who wrote, “Men don't age better than women, they're just allowed to age." It was her feminism and strength that not only made Leia a force to be reckoned with but those traits were two of the ones we loved most in Fisher.
9 Robin Williams - Good Will Hunting
Robin Williams was one of those actors that everyone adored. A bunch of us watched him growing up and relied on him to make our days a little brighter. While his comedic roles livened up the big screen, his serious roles were the ones that truly left a lasting impact.
Playing the role of Sean McGuire, Williams brought his beloved comedy to the role while also maintaining the seriousness that made it one of his best performances. It’s pretty well-known at this point that when McGuire disclosed to Will Hunting (Matt Damon) how his wife used to fart in bed, that the entire scene was ad-libbed and all laughs were genuine. Despite Williams’ natural humor, the intensity brought to the character was what made it memorable.
8 Doris Roberts - Everybody Loves Raymond
Though she had a career that stretched over 60 years, Doris Roberts’ performance as Marie Barone on Everybody Loves Raymond was her best.
Pushy. Rude. Matriarch. These are just some of the words that could define Marie as Ray Romano’s on-screen mother. For nine seasons fans of the show got to watch Roberts nail her role as the intrusive mother-in-law. Yet, through all the eye rolls and groans, we still loved her. Roberts brought an energetic spark to the role that had us laughing but wanting to ring her neck at the same time. She beautifully captured the best and worst parts of a devoted mother and when news broke of her death, co-stars and fans everywhere mourned the loss of a great actress.
7 Alan Rickman - Harry Potter
When fans found out that Harry Potter was being adapted to the big screen, we desperately wanted to ensure that the characters were properly cast. The decision to cast Alan Rickman as Professor Severus Snape was one to be remembered.
Rickman’s immense talent captured Snape’s complicated nature. His collected sternness and hidden love for Lily Potter made him a character we all hated in the beginning before we began to level with and root for him. Rickman maintained the quiet torment of a misunderstood character throughout each instalment, winning over the hearts of fans. We all may have been scared of him at first but Rickman brought out the humanity in the character. There’s a reason we all stood behind Harry’s decision to name his son after Snape.
6 Leonard Nimoy - Star Trek
Beam me up, Scotty! For 20 years, Star Trek fans relished in Leonard Nimoy’s ground-breaking performance as Mr. Spock.
For decades, Mr. Spock traveled through space alongside William Shatner and the two quickly became a loved duo people couldn’t wait to tune into. Nimoy dedicated himself to the role, not only playing Mr. Spock on television but also donning the role in the Star Trek films as well as loaning his voice to various Star Trek video games. He even reprised the role as Spock Prime in 2009’s Star Trek alongside Zachary Quinto (who also nailed the part).
Nimoy did a lot of great things during his career but he is best known for his role as Mr. Spock and we wouldn’t really have it any other way.
5 Gene Wilder - Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory
Gene Wilder had played several notable characters throughout his career but his performance as Willy Wonka in Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory is the one fans adored and remembered most.
Wilder took on the role as Wonka in 1971, impressing (and borderline terrifying) audiences with his whimsical performance. Adding to the role’s complicated charm, Wilder agreed to play the part under one condition: that he be allowed to toy with the crowd’s perception of him upon his first entrance. When Wilder was questioned on his request he responded with, “Because from that time on, no one will know if I’m lying or telling the truth.” It was exactly this confusion and eccentricity that made the candy man who he was.
4 James Garner
Much like Rickles, it’s hard to pinpoint just one of the best performances of James Garner. Garner has been acting since the 50s and made a name for himself right away after winning a Golden Globe for the Most Promising Newcomer in 1958.
Right from the beginning, Garner starred in various television programs and movies that garnered (Eh? Eh?) him much-deserved credit for his acting chops. Throughout this career, Garner was nominated for 15 Emmy awards and finally snagged one for his work in The Rockford Files. His work in countless shows and movies also earned him a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Whether it’s in Maverick or The Notebook (for all you millennials), Garner is just one of those actors who exuded talent throughout their career.
3 Shirley Temple
Let’s be real. No matter when you were born, you’ve heard the name Shirley Temple at least once in your life. Her bouncy curls and pinch-able cheeks made her a landmark in the 30s and for decades to come.
Temple earned her fame in the early 1930s when she starred in a small movie titled The Red-Haired Alibi. Her adorable demeanor paved the way for her to star in over 40 films throughout the 30s and 40s. Temple may not have had one specific role that was her definitive “best one” but her name soon became associated with the cute redhead who won America’s heart. At the very least, her best-known performances are Little Princess and Heidi, which parents have sworn by for decades.
2 Philip Seymour Hoffman - Doubt
When the world lost Philip Seymour Hoffman, Hollywood took a huge blow. One of the greatest actors of our time, Hoffman poured himself into each of his roles and reminded us constantly that he was a powerful force.
Sifting through his countless performances was a difficult task but one of his best performances has to go to his role in Doubt. Accompanied by equally talented actresses like Meryl Streep and Amy Adams, Hoffman played the role of Father Flynn. What makes this one of his best performances is how he managed to make audiences question throughout the film, “Is he guilty?” I felt pretty gross after watching this film because I often found myself absolving Father Flynn. The pull between his guilt and innocence speaks to Hoffman’s abilities.
1 James Gandolfini - The Sopranos
James Gandolfini spent the better part of his final years playing Tony Soprano on the HBO series, The Sopranos.
Gandolfini’s take on the mobster was an interesting one. Soprano needed to find the balance between his real life family and his mafia family. But, it wasn’t just the family struggles that were often portrayed in the show. Soprano dealt with mental health issues, which the show never shied away from showing viewers. Balancing the duties between both obviously weighs heavy on a man and Gandolfini’s finesse earned him objective praise from viewers and critics.
Throughout the duration of the show, Gandolfini won several awards including a Golden Globe, three Emmys, and a total of five SAG awards. The Sopranos went down as one of the best HBO shows to hit the network.
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