We’ve Been Blessed With Too Many Talented Actresses To Count, But Here Are The 30 Best In Our Eyes
30. Hilary Swank
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Hilary Swank could teach all actors a lesson about the art of picking good scripts. Her portrayal of Brandon Teena — a transgender young man who was murdered in Nebraska in 1993 — was the first of Swank’s roles to make a major impact on film-goers and critics alike. Swank picked up more than twenty awards for this role, including a Best Actress Golden Globe and Oscar. She would go on to earn another Oscar for her role in Clint Eastwood’s film Million Dollar Baby.
29. Jodie Foster
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Jodie Foster has been a working actress for over half a century. Foster’s breakthrough role came with Martin Scorsese’s psychological thriller Taxi Driver (for which she received an Academy Award nomination at the age of 14). With every role she plays, she is able to bring an immense vulnerability with it. Foster would go on to win two Oscars for her roles in the legal drama The Accused and as Detective Clarice Starling in Silence of the Lambs. Foster’s unpredictable career is the result of an actor steering a course that’s thoroughly her own.
28. Julianne Moore
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This Oscar-winning actress has been a cinematic muse for the like of Todd Haynes, Paul Thomas Anderson, Alfonso Cuaron, and The Coen Brothers. Moore became a darling of independent cinema with her appearances in Short Cuts and Safe. Then in 2004, she was cast as the lead in 2014 film Still Alice. Playing a middle aged professor diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, this was one of the best roles of Moore’s illustrious career. She would eventually go on to snag that elusive Best Actress prize.
27. Julia Roberts
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For the past three decades, Julia Roberts has been the most iconic American movie star around the world. That smile! That face! In the late ’80s and ’90s, Roberts made hit after hit with Steel Magnolias, Pretty Woman, and My Best Friend’s Wedding. Awards-wise however, Steven Soderbergh’s biography of the consumer crusader Erin Brockovich marks the pinnacle of Roberts’ film career to date. She made the most out of that juicy role, and showed many that her range as an actress surpassed simply being a rom-com darling.
26. Kathy Bates
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Kathy Bates was a 42-year-old stage actress when she as suddenly thrust into film stardom. She won an Oscar for her role in the haunting film Misery. It was highly unusual at the time for an actress with very limited film credits to take on a lead role and then proceed to win the industry’s highest honor. However, Bates did just that. This seasoned actress has seen much success on the small screen in the last decade — earning herself Emmy Awards for her work on Two and a Half Men and of course, American Horror Story.
25. Diane Keaton
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Diane Keaton is one of those incredible actors who can shift from comedy to drama without missing a beat. As the recipient of the 2017 American Film Institute life achievement award, Keaton has been nominated for eight Golden Globes and two Oscars (winning one for her role in Woody Allen’s iconic film Annie Hall). Whether she’s spoofing it up in a wacky satire, bringing a historical figure to full-blooded life or exploring the recognizable challenges of parenthood or marriage, Keaton is one of the screen’s greatest comic actors.
24. Angela Bassett
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Throughout the years, Angela Bassett has played tons of roles that have made us reflect on iconic women in history. A graduate of the Yale School of Drama, the formidable Bassett has been making a name for herself in films and on television since the mid-1980’s. From Spike Lee’s movies to a couple of sensational biopics (What’s Love Got to Do With it), it’s Bassett’s iconic filmography that continues to be so timeless.
23. Glenn Close
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Glenn Close was 35 at the time of her big screen debut in 1982’s The World According to Garp. However, she quickly made up for lost time by racking up three back-to-back supporting actress Oscar nominations for Garp, The Big Chill, and The Natural. But it wasn’t until the 1987 psychological thriller Fatal Attraction hit theaters that Close was launched into superstardom. Holding the record for most Oscar acting nominations without a win, Close has given us some of the most incredible and compelling screen performances of all-time.
22. Natalie Portman
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Natalie Portman, who has been making movies since she was a child, has proven time and time again that is she is one of the greatest actors of our time. She has incredible versatility — able to go from rom-coms to dramas to action films, flawlessly. Whether she is playing a mentally disturbed ballerina (Black Swan) or the first lady of the United States (Jackie), Portman continues to push the boundaries and cement her status as a truly remarkable artist.
21. Marion Cotillard
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French actress Marion Cotillard was practically an unknown to American audiences when she won hearts, minds, and a well-deserving Oscar for her performance as legendary French singer Edith Piaf in La Vie en Rose. From then on, she has been part of Hollywood blockbusters (Inception, Dark Knight Rises) and sublime art house cinema. An international star, Cotillard has worked with A-list directors such as Tim Burton, Ridley Scott, and Jean-Pierre Jeunet. The actress’ understated performances are duly empowering and heartbreaking. She’s undeniably one of the finest actors of our time.
20. Julie Andrews
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“Oh Mary Poppins! Julie Andrews started singing at a very young age. So young, in fact, that at age 13 she became the youngest performer ever to give a Royal Command performance for then British monarch King George VI. After many performances on the British stage, Andrews was cast as the lead in one of the biggest and most acclaimed productions in Broadway history, My Fair Lady. Seeing her appeal for the screen, Disney would go on to cast her as the lead role in the 1964 film, Mary Poppins. Her role as the magical nanny would go on to garner her the Best Actress Oscar. It would also further cement Andrews as one of the most beloved performers to date.
19. Nicole Kidman
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Nicole Kidman is one of the most honored actresses currently working in both film and television. Despite her magnetism and classic movie star looks, Kidman has demonstrated a defiant career path over the past two decades. To date, Kidman has been nominated for four Academy Awards — including a win in 2002 for her performance in The Hours. She is consistent throughout her career in selecting challenging, subversive work whilst giving some of the most extraordinary on-screen performances.
18. Penelope Cruz
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It’s taken Hollywood a long time to figure out what to do with the often underrated talents of Penelope Cruz. She is not only an icon of elegance and seduction, but she’s also an incredible actress who has proven her talent through a variety of roles played in movies all over the world. Cruz has received three Oscar nominations throughout her career. Cruz would go on to win the Oscar for Vicky Christina Barcelona — making her one of the seven actors to win an Oscar for a Woody Allen film.
17. Kate Winslet
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It’s amazing and terrifying to think that Kate Winslet has been a movie star for over 20 years now. That’s one entire Ansel Elgort ago. Breaking out with a stunning performance in Heavenly Creatures, she followed that up with high profile film Jane Austen, Thomas Hardy. Winslet then went on to star in what become one of the biggest movies of all-time (Titanic). Rather than capitalize on her A-list status with more blockbusters, Winslet chose to make movies she wanted with directors she admired. She finally won an Oscar for The Reader in 2008 after six previous nominations. Winslet continues to remain one of the most wide-ranging and risk taking actors in cinema history.
16. Charlize Theron
Image Source: NY Times
It should go without saying that Charlize Theron is one of the bravest, most versatile, most talented actresses of her generation. From playing an unhinged wife in The Devils Advocate to transforming into a terrifying serial killer for her Oscar winning role in Monster, Theron has proven to be an immensely gifted performer with an indelible presence, a remarkable range and a dogged dedication to her craft. After an illustrious 20-plus-year career, Theron shows no signs of slowing down.
15. Maggie Smith
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With the combined fan power of Downton Abbey and Harry Potter, as well as the success of the Marigold Hotel franchise, Maggie Smith’s visibility has increased with age. Acclaimed for comedy, drama, and tragedy, Smith has had an extensive 60-year career on stage, film, and television. She has appeared in over 50 films — winning two Oscars for her performances in The Prime of Jean Brodie and California Suite. A prominent figure in British culture, she was made a Dame by Queen Elizabeth II in 1990 for her services to the performing arts.
14. Frances McDormand
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Nobody does angry quite like Frances McDormand. As one of the most versatile actors of her generation, McDormand has a unique ability to extract palpable and immediately relatable performances while also keeping herself grounded. She has won two Best Actress Oscars for her performances in the Coen Brothers’ Fargo and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. A power player within independent cinema, McDormand’s career is awash with compelling, multi-layered characters in equally dynamic and unique films.
13. Judi Dench
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It’s difficult to think of an actress who more gracefully embodies the term “national treasure” than Judi Dench. With a television and film career encompassing almost six decades and well over 100 performances, the actress continues to choose projects that defiantly reject the expected roles for a woman growing older on screen. She is a four time BAFTA Award winner, and a seven-time Oscar nominee. She won an Oscar for her role as Queen Elizabeth I in Shakespeare in Love. With the force of her personality and the undimmed blaze of her intelligence, Dame Judi Dench is one of the most brilliant actresses to ever grace the stage and screen.
12. Viola Davis
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Oh, how I love me some Viola Davis. For years, Davis has captivated audiences with her portrayals of strong and complex characters. Davis has the explosive ability to embody another person to their very soul. In 2017, she became the first African-American woman to win an Oscar, an Emmy, and a Tony — the triple crown of acting. Davis continues to be an astonishing performer to watch. She can command the screen like few others can.
11. Judy Garland
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If you love musicals, then there is a pretty good chance that you are a fan of Judy Garland. No female star of classic Hollywood shown as brightly in musicals as Judy, who often held her own against co-stars like Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire. They called her “the little girl with the big voice.” Garland was an extreme talent with an unbridled energy poured into each and every performance. She quickly rose to icon status in the late 1930’s for her performance as Dorothy Gale in The Wizard of Oz. A tremendously talented singer, dancer, and actor, Garland was one of the greatest (and most tragic) stars of classic Hollywood.
10. Cate Blanchett
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Cate Blanchett is one of the greatest actresses in cinema history. A master performer who elevates any film she appears in, she brings a ferocious intelligence to each role she chooses. This leading lady has been nominated for seven Academy Awards — with two wins for The Aviator and Woody Allen’s Blue Jasmine. Blanchett has played everyone from Elizabeth I to Bob Dylan. Is there anything the luminous Australian actress can’t do?
9. Marilyn Monroe
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Yes, Marilyn Monroe is on this list. While she may not be the greatest actress of all-time, she certainly had her fair share of talent and intelligence. Monroe also always worked incredibly hard to bring her characters to life. She is one of the most iconic Hollywood stars of all-time; her face is instantly recognizable even to those who’ve never seen any of her films. Monroe was clearly more intelligent than she is given credit for, and her intelligence radiates on-screen through her captivating performances.
8. Audrey Hepburn
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Audrey Hepburn was among the most iconic and successful stars of the golden age of Hollywood. Best known for her film roles in Breakfast at Tiffany’s, My Fair Lady, and Roman Holiday. Hepburn epitomized a waif-like glamour — combining charm, effervescence, and grace. She would go on to win her only Oscar in Roman Holiday (starring alongside Gregory Peck). In the last 25 years of her all-too-brief life, Hepburn appeared in only four films. However, the sixteen she made between 1953-67 brought her five Oscar nominations and helped redefine cinematic charisma.
7. Helen Mirren
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Helen Mirren is a powerful, intimate, strong, versatile, and all around legendary actress. Her body of work spans a whopping five decades, and shows no signs of slowing down. She has had a long varied career that has earned her place as a holder of acting’s triple crown (winners of the Oscar, Emmy, and Tony) by playing a variety of British monarchs. Her Oscar came for playing the British Queen Elizabeth II in The Queen. With classical training, years of work on the London stage, an acclaimed television series, and dozens of films to her name, Mirren has proven herself an actress of talent, versatility, and unforgettable presence.
6. Jessica Lange
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Jessica Lange is in it for the long haul. During a film career spanning almost 40 years, she has thrilled and captivated audiences with the emotional breadth of her dramatic work. Though not among Hollywood’s most high profile stars, she has become one if its most respected dramatic actresses. She has won two Oscars for her performances in Tootsie and Blue Sky. She started as a damsel in distress in the 1976 remake of King Kong, and is currently wooing a new generation of fans on television in American Horror Story.
5. Elizabeth Taylor
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In her 50 year career, Elizabeth Taylor graced the screen with luminous beauty and glamour. By playing roles ranging from the Queen of the Nile to the neurotic wife of a college professor, she proved her talent was not merely skin-deep. Taylor might not have been a chameleon, but during her career she took on an impressive variety of roles. She won two Best Actress Oscars for two very different films: Butterfield 8 and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf! Her tenacity, adventures in immorality and profound talent made Liz Taylor the star other stars wanted to be associated with.
4. Bette Davis
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One of the greatest screen actresses of all time, Bette Davis used her iron will to forge a remarkable career that boasted two Academy Awards for Best Actress and ten nominations. A notorious perfectionist who clashed with her directors and co-stars, Davis was nonetheless decidedly professional. Davis’ acting range was astonishing and kept her in great demand throughout all of her six decades in show business. Although Davis proved she could do comedy well, it’s undeniable she was at the top of her game when playing in melodramas. She suffered numerous setbacks in her life. As such, Davis’ career was often parodied for her distinctive diction and over-the-top affections. Nevertheless, Davis remains one of classic Hollywood’s greatest and most iconic stars.
3. Vivien Leigh
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In 1999, the American Film Institute named Vivien Leigh one of the 25 greatest female stars in Hollywood history. Quite an honor considering she made only 19 films in a career that spanned over 30 years. Today, she is mostly remembered for her Oscar winning performances in Gone with the Wind and A Streetcar Named Desire. She was a prominent stage actress who dedicated the majority of her time to the theater. An incendiary talent, delicate beauty and nimble persona, Leigh remains one of the most fascinating actors of any generation. Her attitude, focus and determination are an inspiration — while her triumphs continue to be listed among the acting profession’s greatest moments.
2. Meryl Streep
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This list would mean nothing if the great Meryl Streep wasn’t at the top. Her talents are so overwhelming. Streep has 21 Oscar nominations — more than any other actor in cinema history. Over her nearly 50 year career, Streep has captivated audiences with her riveting on-screen presence. She has been a consistent Oscar contender since 1979, when she gained her first nod for her performance in The Deer Hunter. While she lost that year, Streep returned to the Oscars the next year to scoop up the Best Actress award for her role in Kramer vs. Kramer. In every role she undertakes, she is riveting to watch.
1. Katharine Hepburn
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Katharine Hepburn blazed the trail for intelligent actresses in Hollywood. She holds the record for most acting Oscars, and stars in several of the best comedies of all time. She was a movie star ahead of her time, and there’s been no one like her since. Over seven magnificent decades, Hepburn’s distinctive talent pioneered a new independence in Hollywood women. She commanded her own gifts on her own terms, and took that indomitable spirit into a matchless collection of endearing and captivating screen performances. It takes a certain kind of brilliance to exude elegance from the past and still be forward thinking. But that’s what you get with legendary stage and screen star Katherine Hepburn.