So what are the greatest acting performances of all time? Throughout August 2019 we polled members and contributors to find out what they considered to be the greatest performances in film ever. As with all these types of polls the final list is not going to please everyone. Perhaps unsurprisingly (and a little disappointingly) the best of the American mainstream dominates here, with a high placing for Heath Ledger’s turn in The Dark Knight and a large representation from the New Hollywood era (with 5 entries for the first 2 Godfather films!). What stands out more than anything is the lack of female performances that make the top 100 (only 12!). Is Casablanca really Bogart’s best performance? Wasn’t Brando better in On the Waterfront than anything he did in the 70s? Let us know what you think.
1 Marlon Brando – The Godfather (1972)
Brando’s great comeback sees him playing Vito Corleone, the patriarch of a fictional New York crime family. After months of debate between directer Francis Ford Coppola and Paramount over Brando’s casting, the studio president Stanley Jaffe required him to perform a screen test. Coppola did not want to offend Brando and stated that he needed to test equipment in order to set up the screen test at Brando’s California residence. For make-up, Brando stuck cotton balls in his cheeks, put shoe polish in his hair to darken it, and rolled his collar. Coppola placed Brando’s audition tape in the middle of the videos of the audition tapes as the Paramount executives watched them. The executives were impressed with Brando’s efforts and allowed Coppola to cast Brando for the role if Brando accepted a lower salary and put up a bond to ensure he would not cause any delays in production. Brando received a net participation deal which earned him $1.6 million. His mesmerising performance revitalised a career that had gone into decline during the 1960s and brought him a best actor Oscar.
2 Robert De Niro – Raging Bull (1980)
Bringing him his second Oscar, De Niro stars as Jake LaMotta, an Italian American middleweight boxer whose self-destructive and obsessive rage, sexual jealousy, and animalistic appetite destroyed his relationship with his wife and family. The film had initially come about because De Niro read the autobiography upon which the film is based, became fascinated by LaMotta and showed the book to Martin Scorsese. As well as making uncredited contributions to the screenplay, De Niro remarkably gained approximately 60 pounds (27 kg) to portray LaMotta in his later post-boxing years (an act that has caused lasting damage to his health). It’s truly one of cinema’s most trans-formative and intense performances, born out of his incredible commitment to method acting.
3 Daniel Day-Lewis – There Will Be Blood (2007)
“Once his (Day-Lewis) Plainview takes wing, the relentless focus of the performance makes the character unique.” Glenn Kenny, Premiere
Day-Lewis delivers an intense and towering performance as a silver miner-turned-oilman on a ruthless quest for wealth during Southern California’s oil boom of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The performance earned him best actor awards from the Oscars, BAFTA, the Golden Globes, Screen Actors Guild, NYFCC and IFTA.
4 Ralph Fiennes – Schindler’s List (1993)
Fiennes was cast as Nazi war criminal Amon Göth (an SS second lieutenant) after Spielberg viewed his performances in A Dangerous Man: Lawrence After Arabia and Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights. Spielberg said of Fiennes’ audition that “I saw sexual evil. It is all about subtlety: there were moments of kindness that would move across his eyes and then instantly run cold.” Fiennes put on 28 pounds (13 kg) to play the role. He watched historic newsreels and talked to Holocaust survivors who knew Göth. In portraying him, Fiennes said “I got close to his pain. Inside him is a fractured, miserable human being. I feel split about him, sorry for him. He’s like some dirty, battered doll I was given and that I came to feel peculiarly attached to.” Fiennes looked so much like Göth in costume that when Mila Pfefferberg (a survivor of the events) met him, she trembled with fear.
5 Robert De Niro – Taxi Driver (1976)
De Niro’s celebrated role sees him as a lonely Vietnam veteran, Travis Bickle, who while working as a taxi driver, descends into insanity as he plots to assassinate both a presidential candidate and the pimp of an underage prostitute. While preparing for his role as Bickle, De Niro was filming Bernardo Bertolucci’s 1900 in Italy. According to co-star Peter Boyle, he would “finish shooting on a Friday in Rome … get on a plane … [and] fly to New York”. De Niro obtained a taxi driver’s license, and when on break would pick up a taxi and drive around New York for a couple of weeks, before returning to Rome to resume filming 1900. De Niro apparently lost 35 pounds and listened repeatedly to a taped reading of the diaries of Arthur Bremer (who attempted to assassinate presidential candidate George Wallace). When he had time off from shooting 1900, De Niro visited an army base in Northern Italy and tape-recorded soldiers from the Midwestern United States, whose accents he thought might be appropriate for Travis’s character. It’s a masterful portrayal of one of American cinema most complex characters.
6 Maria Falconetti – The Passion Of Joan Of Arc (1927)
“That shaven head was and remains the abstraction of the whole epic of Joan of Arc.” Jean Renoir
Celebrated stage actress Falconetti was cast in the lead role by visionary Danish director T. H. Dreyer in what turned out to be her only major film role. He was initially unimpressed with seeing her perform in an amateur theatre but saw something in her he thought he could bring out. With a reputation as a tyrannical director, the filmmaker reportedly treated her harshly (although the rumours are disputed). The film’s narrative follows the records of the Rouen trial to focus on the spiritual and political conflicts of Joan’s last day as a captive of England. The film was instantly acclaimed by critics as a masterpiece although Falconetti, who always preferred the art of theater to cinema, said she never understood the positive reaction to the film’s acting. However, her iconic performance, often listed as one of the finest in cinema history, and her devotion to the role during filming, are considered legendary among film scholars.
7 Rutger Hauer – Blade Runner (1982)
“the perfect Batty – cold, Aryan, flawless.” Philip K. Dick
In Ridley Scott’s sci-fi classic, loosely based on Philip K. Dick’s novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? Hauer stars as the violent but thoughtful leader of a group of replicants (synthetic life forms) who having worked on space colonies, escape back to earth and are hunted down by a Blade Runner. Scott cast Hauer without having met him, based solely on his performances in the Paul Verhoeven movies Scott had seen (Katie Tippel, Soldier of Orange, and Turkish Delight). Hauer rewrote his character’s “tears in rain” speech himself and presented the words to Scott on set prior to filming.
8 Heath Ledger – The Dark Knight (2008)
In the second of Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy, Ledger starred as the anarchistic mastermind known as the Joker, who seeks to undermine Batman’s influence and throw the city of Gotham into anarchy. Some mocked Ledger’s casting when it first became public but Nolan had wanted to work with him on a number of previous projects (including unsuccessfully approaching him for the role of Batman in Batman Begins) and was agreeable to Ledger’s chaotic interpretation of the character. Ledger died on January 22, 2008, some months after he completed filming and six months before the film’s release from a toxic combination of prescription drugs, leading to intense attention from the press and movie-going public. Nolan dedicated the film in part to Ledger’s memory and the actor’s remarkable transformation was widely praised. It saw him posthumously awarded the Best Supporting Actor Oscar and changed the perception of what might be possible for actors to achieve in a superhero film.
9 Samuel L. Jackson – Pulp Fiction (1994)
Jackson starred as Jules Winfield the partner in crime of John Travolta’s Vincent Vega, who both worked for crime boss Marsellus Wallace. Quentin Tarantino wrote the part of Jules with Jackson in mind, but his first audition was overshadowed by Paul Calderón as Jackson had assumed the audition was merely a reading. Producer Harvey Weinstein convinced him to audition a second time, and his performance of the final diner scene won over Tarantino. Jackson received an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor and his “Ezekiel” recitation was voted the fourth greatest movie speech of all time in a 2004 poll.
10 Klaus Kinski – Aguirre, the Wrath of God (1972)
Kinski, who was maverick German director Werner Herzog’s first choice for the role, starred as Spanish soldier Lope de Aguirre, who leads a group of conquistadores down the Amazon River in South America in search of the legendary city of gold, El Dorado. Aguirre, which is now acclaimed as a landmark of world cinema, was the first of five collaborations between Herzog and Kinski who had met many years earlier when the then-struggling young actor rented a room in Herzog’s family apartment, and Kinski’s often terrifying and deranged antics during the three months he lived there left a lasting impression on the director. They had differing views as to how the lead role should be played as Kinski wanted to play a “wild, ranting madman”, but Herzog wanted something “quieter, more menacing”. In order to get the performance he desired, before each shot Herzog would deliberately infuriate Kinski. After waiting for the hot-tempered actor’s anger to “burn itself out”, Herzog would then roll the camera. They continued to clash throughout filming as Kinski’s infamous rages terrorized both the crew and the locals who were assisting the production. At one point, Kinski decided to leave the jungle location (over Herzog’s refusal to fire a sound assistant), only changing his mind after Herzog threatened to shoot first Kinski and then himself (according to the director this was purely a verbal threat to prevent the actor from leaving).
11 Peter Lorre – M (1931)
Peter Lorre’s career best performance, in Fritz Lang’s timeless classic, as the serial killer of children who is being hunted by both the police and the criminal underworld, caused an international sensation. M was Lorre’s first major starring role and before it he had mostly been known as a comedic actor. It boosted his career, even though he was typecast as a villain for years afterward in films such as Mad Love and Crime and Punishment. After fleeing from the Nazis he landed a major role in Alfred Hitchcock’s first version of The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934), picking up English along the way.
12 Orson Welles – Citizen Kane
Welles produced, co-scripted, directed and starred in the quasi-biographical film that examined the life and legacy of Charles Foster Kane (Welles), a composite character based in part upon American media barons William Randolph Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer, Chicago tycoons Samuel Insull and Harold McCormick, as well as aspects of the screenwriters’ own lives. Citizen Kane, after an initial lukewarm reaction, would go on to be particularly praised for Gregg Toland’s cinematography, Robert Wise’s editing, Bernard Herrmann’s music, and its narrative structure, but Welles’s charismatic and ultimately moving performance is also a huge part of what makes the film one of the greatest ever made.
13 Robert De Niro – The Godfather Part II
Having unsuccessfully auditioned for the part of Sonny Corleone in the first Godfather film (Director Francis Ford Coppola thought his personality came across as too violent), De Niro was cast in the prequel part of the second film as as Sonny’s father, Vito Corleone (first played by Marlon Brando). The film follows Vito from his Sicilian childhood to the founding of his family enterprise in New York City. De Niro spent time practicing Brando’s mannerisms and his amazing performance earned him a best supporting oscar.
14 Jean-Louis Trintignant – The Conformist
Trintignant delivers a superb and compelling performance, in Bernardo Bertolucci’s expressionist art film, as Marcello Clerici, who is so eager to fit in and find normality, that he agrees to a traditional marriage (despite having little regard for his fiance) and joins the Fascist secret police, finding himself ordered to assassinate his old friend and teacher, Professor Quadri, an outspoken anti-Fascist intellectual now living in exile in France.
15 Peter O’Toole – Lawrence of Arabia
O’Toole stars as army officer and diplomat, T. E. Lawrence in David Lean’s epic of epics. Lean’s first choice for the role was the then unknown Albert Finney. He was cast and began principal photography but was fired after two days for reasons that are still unclear. Marlon Brando was also offered the part, while Anthony Perkins, Montgomery Clift and Alec Guiness were briefly considered before O’Toole was cast. Lean had seen O’Toole in The Day They Robbed the Bank of England and was bowled over by his screen test, proclaiming, “This is Lawrence!” Pictures of Lawrence suggest also that O’Toole bore some resemblance to him, in spite of their considerable height difference. O’Toole’s looks prompted a different reaction from Noël Coward, who quipped after seeing the première of the film, “If you had been any prettier, the film would have been called Florence of Arabia”. O’Toole’s performance is often considered one of the greatest in all of cinema, topping lists from both Entertainment Weekly and Premiere.
16 Al Pacino – The Godfather
Relative newcomer Pacino starred as Michael Corleone, who transforms from reluctant family outsider to ruthless mafia boss in the first of Francis Ford Coppola’s classic gangster saga. Paramount executives disagreed with Coppola about the casting, (as they did in regards to Marlon Brando’s casting as Vito Corleone), thinking Pacino was too short for the role and wanted a popular actor, either Warren Beatty or Robert Redford. Producer Robert Evans wanted Ryan O’Neal to receive the role in part due to his recent success in Love Story. Pacino was Coppola’s favorite for the role as he could picture him roaming the Sicilian countryside, and wanted an unknown actor who looked like an Italian-American. Dustin Hoffman, Martin Sheen, and James Caan also auditioned. Caan was well received by the Paramount executives and was given the part of Michael initially, but Coppola still pushed for Pacino to play Michael and Evans eventually conceded, allowing Pacino to have the role of Michael as long as Caan played Sonny. Despite agreeing to play the part, Pacino was contracted to star in MGM’s The Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight, but the two studios agreed on a settlement and Pacino was signed by Paramount three weeks before shooting began.
17 Malcolm McDowell – A Clockwork Orange
McDowell stars as Alex, a juvenile delinquent and gang leader, in Stanley Kubrick’s controversial dystopian crime film. Author of the source material, Anthony Burgess publicly praised the central performance and “Alex DeLarge” is listed 12th in the villains section of the AFI’s 100 Years… 100 Heroes and Villains.
18 Monica Vitti – L’Avventura
Vitti stars as the best friend of a young woman who disappears during a boat trip in the Mediterranean in Michelangelo Antonioni’s internationally praised film. She plays the detached and cool protagonist drifting into a relationship with the lover of the missing woman. Giving a screen presence which has been described as “stunning”, she is also credited with helping Antonioni raise money for the production and sticking with him through daunting location shooting. L’avventura made Vitti an international star and her image later appeared on an Italian postage stamp commemorating the film.
19 Anatoly Solonitsyn – Andrei Rublev
“with Solonitsyn I simply got lucky” Andrei Tarkovsky
Andrei Tarkovsky’s masterpiece centres on the life of the Russian icon painter against the backdrop of a realistically portrayed 15th century medieval Russia. The film is composed of eight episodes sometimes following Rublev as a protagonist and sometimes just as witness to the events going on around him. Solonitsyn, who would go on to collaborate many times with Tarkovsky, was an unknown actor at a theater in Sverdlovsk when he first read the film script in the film magazine Iskusstvo Kino. He was very enthusiastic about the role, travelling to Moscow at his own expense to meet Tarkovsky and even declared that no one could play the role better than him. To Tarkovsky, Solonitsyn provided the right physical appearance and the talent of showing complex psychological processes. This powerful expressiveness manages to convey wisdom and contentment but also anxiety and an obsessive single mindedness.
20 Gloria Swanson – Sunset Boulevard
“one of the all time greatest performances.” Roger Ebert
Swanson stars as Norma Desmond, a former silent film star who draws a struggling screenwriter into her demented fantasy world, where she dreams of making a triumphant return to the screen. According to producer and co-writer Charles Brackett, director and co-writer Billy Wilder and he never considered anyone except Gloria Swanson for the role of Norma Desmond. Wilder, however, had a different recollection. He recalled first wanting Mae West and Marlon Brando for the leads. West rejected the offer out-right as she portrayed herself as a sex symbol through her senior years, and was offended that she should be asked to play a Hollywood has been. Having approached Greta Garbo, Pola Negri, Norma Shearer and Mary Pickford and got nowhere, Wilder asked George Cukor for advice. He suggested Swanson, one of the most feted actresses of the silent-screen era, known for her beauty, talent, and extravagant lifestyle. In many ways, she resembled the Norma Desmond character, and like her, had been unable to make a smooth transition into talking pictures. However, Swanson had gone on to work on talking pictures, accepted the end of her film career and then worked on radio, television and the stage. Though Swanson was not seeking a movie comeback, she became intrigued when Wilder discussed the role with her and was glad for the opportunity to earn a greater salary than she had been making in other mediums. However, she didn’t want to do a screen test, saying she had “made 20 films for Paramount. Why do they want me to audition?” Her reaction was echoed in the screenplay when Norma Desmond declares, “Without me there wouldn’t be any Paramount.” In her memoir, Swanson recalled asking Cukor if it was unreasonable to refuse the screen test. He replied that since Norma Desmond was the role for which she would be remembered, “If they ask you to do ten screen tests, do ten screen tests, or I will personally shoot you.” His enthusiasm convinced Swanson to participate, In a 1975 interview, Wilder recalled Swanson’s reaction with the observation, “There was a lot of Norma in her, you know.”
21 Jack Nicholson – One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest
“Nicholson is everywhere; his energy propels the ward of loonies and makes of them an ensemble, a chorus of people caught in a bummer with nowhere else to go, but still fighting for some frail sense of themselves. … There are scenes in Cuckoo’s Nest that are as intimate—and in their language, twice as rough—as the best moments in The Godfather … [and] far above the general run of Hollywood performances.” Reviewer Marie Brenner
Nicholson plays Randle Patrick McMurphy in Milos Forman’s film (an adaptation of Ken Kesey’s novel) about a man who end ups inside an asylum as a way of avoiding jail for statutory rape. McMurphy tries to take charge and goes about manipulating both the other patients and the staff. Hal Ashby, who had been an early consideration for director, suggested Nicholson for the role even though he had never played this type of role before. Production was delayed for about six months because of Nicholson’s schedule, but producer Michael Douglas later stated in an interview that “that turned out to be a great blessing: it gave us the chance to get the ensemble right”. The part is the one that allows the actor to show his full range, moving from quieter restrained moments to full on rages. Forman allowed Nicholson to improvise throughout the film, including most of the group therapy sequences. He was rewarding with an Oscar for best actor and the performance is seen as one of American cinema’s most legendary.
22 Robert De Niro – Once Upon A Time In America
De Niro gives an emotionally haunting performance as David “Noodles” Aaronson one of a group of Jewish ghetto youths who rise to prominence as Jewish gangsters in New York City’s world of organized crime. For some this was the ultimate De Niro performance, a revelation even given what had come before.
23 Dennis Hopper – Blue Velvet
“You have to let me play Frank Booth. Because I am Frank Booth!” Hopper to Lynch upon reading the script
The role of the gas-huffing, obscenity-screaming villain Frank Booth in David Lynch’s neo-noir mystery thriller brought about a career resurgence for Hopper. He was the biggest name in the film, having starred in and directed Easy Rider (1969). Hopper, said to be far from Lynch’s first choice (Michael Ironside has stated that Frank was written with him in mind), accepted the role after Harry Dean Stanton and Steven Berkoff both turned it down because of the violent content in the film. Few actors have thrown themselves into a part as Hopper does here, showing no inhibition with a performance that had left an imprint on popular culture, with countless tributes, cultural references and parodies.
24 Al Pacino – The Godfather Part II
“arguably cinema’s greatest portrayal of the hardening of a heart” Newsweek magazine
Pacino delivers another strong performance as Michael Corleone, who is now the new Don of the Corleone crime family, protecting the family business in the aftermath of an attempt on his life. Many believe Pacino’s performance to be his finest acting work, and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences was criticized for awarding the Academy Award for Best Actor that year to Art Carney for his role in Harry and Tonto. In 2006, Premiere issued its list of “The 100 Greatest Performances of all Time“, putting Pacino’s performance at #20. Later in 2009, Total Film issued “The 150 Greatest Performances of All Time“, ranking the performance in fourth place.
25 James Stewart – Vertigo
Stewart stars as John “Scottie” Ferguson, a former police detective who is forced into early retirement because an incident in the line of duty has caused him to develop acrophobia (an extreme fear of heights) and vertigo (a false sense of rotational movement). Scottie is hired by an acquaintance, Gavin Elster, as a private investigator to follow Gavin’s wife Madeleine (Kim Novak), who is behaving strangely. Hitchcock blamed the film’s mixed contemporary reaction on the 49-year-old Stewart looking too old to play a convincing love interest for the 24-year-old Kim Novak, but it was arguably Stewart’s performance that was most complimented in early reviews. After the films more recent re-evaluation, (Vertigo is now seen as one of cinema’s great masterworks), critics have noted that the casting of James Stewart as a character who becomes disturbed and obsessive ultimately enhances the film’s unconventionality and effectiveness as suspense, since Stewart had previously been known as an actor of warmhearted roles.
26 Anthony Perkins – Psycho
Perkins’ gives a chilling and genre-defining performance as Norman Bates, the shy proprietor of a secluded old motel who has murder in mind, in Alfred Hitchcock’s psychological horror/thriller masterpiece. The film boosted Perkins’ career and brought him international fame, but he soon began to suffer from typecasting. When he was asked whether he would have still taken the role knowing that he would be typecast afterwards, he said “yes”.
27 Charles Chaplin – The Gold Rush
In a film that Chaplin also directed and wrote, he stars as The Tramp who has gone prospecting for gold during the Klondike Gold Rush. The film contains many of Chaplin’s most celebrated comedy sequences, including the boiling and eating of his shoe, the dance of the rolls and the teetering cabin. Rightly acclaimed by many as Chaplin’s best performance as The Tramp.
28 Marlon Brando – Apocalypse Now
Brando stars as Colonel Kurtz, a highly decorated U.S. Army Special Forces officer with the 5th Special Forces Group who has gone rogue. Accused of murder and presumed insane, Kurtz runs his own military unit based in Cambodia and is feared as much by the U.S. military as by the North Vietnamese, Viet Cong and Khmer Rouge. By early 1976, Coppola had persuaded Marlon Brando to play Kurtz for a fee of $2 million for a month’s work on location in September 1976. He also received 10% of the gross theatrical rental and 10% of the TV sale rights, earning him around $9 million. Brando added to a host of issues on Francis Ford Coppola’s infamous production by showing up on set overweight and completely unprepared. Once arrived, Brando began working with Coppola to rewrite the film’s ending. At times, Dennis Hopper is said to have tormented Brando, leading Brando to refuse to be on the set at the same time as Hopper. The director downplayed Brando’s weight by dressing him in black, photographing only his face, and having another, taller actor double for him in an attempt to portray Kurtz as an almost mythical character. Ultimately, a brooding and magnetic Brando steals the film from under the noses of the some great actors and delivers a truly iconic performance.
29 Jean-Pierre Leaud – The 400 Blows
Leaud stars as 14 year old Antoine Doinel, a misunderstood adolescent in Paris who struggles with his parents and teachers due to his rebellious behavior. The 400 Blows is the first in a series of five films in which the charismatic Léaud plays the semi-autobiographical character. Leaud gives arguably the best performance you’ll ever see from a child actor, providing an intelligent yet innocent portrayal of the troubled but often humorous youth during his initiation into a callous adult world. It’s the birth of a future French icon.
30 Christopher Walken – The Deer Hunter
Walken stars as Corporal Nikanor Chevotarevich (“Nick”) one of a trio of Russian-American steelworkers whose lives were changed forever after fighting in the Vietnam War. He probably never matched this heartbreaking performance, which garnered an Academy Award, for Best Supporting Actor.
31 Gena Rowlands – A Woman Under the Influence
Rowlands stars a woman whose unusual behavior leads to conflict with her blue-collar husband (Peter Falk) and her wider family. Rowlands’s husband, the film’s director, John Cassavetes, was inspired to write A Woman Under the Influence when she expressed a desire to appear in a play about the difficulties faced by contemporary women. His completed script was so intense and emotional she knew she would be unable to perform it eight times a week, so he decided to adapt it for the screen. Rowland makes a huge impression, improvising much of her characters descent into madness and earning herself an Oscar nomination.
32 Morgan Freeman – The Shawshank Redemption
Having read the script Freeman stated he was amazed that he was being considered for the part. Freeman stars as contraband smuggler Ellis “Red” Redding, who is befriended by the central character, fellow prisoner Andy Dufresne, while incarcerated in Shawshank State Penitentiary. Freeman has described Red’s story as one of salvation as he is not innocent of his crimes, unlike Andy who finds redemption.
Freeman was cast at the suggestion of producer Liz Glotzer, who ignored the novella’s character description of a white Irishman, nicknamed “Red”. Freeman’s character alludes to the choice when queried by Andy on why he is called Red, replying “Maybe it’s because I’m Irish.” Freeman opted not to research his role, saying “acting the part of someone who’s incarcerated doesn’t require any specific knowledge of incarceration … because men don’t change. Once you’re in that situation, you just toe whatever line you have to toe.” Darabont was already aware of Freeman from his minor role in another prison drama, Brubaker (1980), while Robbins had been excited to work alongside the actor, having grown up watching him in The Electric Company children’s television show. Freeman described filming as tense, saying, “Most of the time, the tension was between the cast and director. I remember having a bad moment with the director, had a few of those.” Freeman referred to Darabont’s requiring multiple takes of scenes, which he considered had no discernible differences. For example, the scene where Andy first approaches Red to procure a rock hammer took nine hours to film, and featured Freeman throwing and catching a baseball with another inmate throughout it. The number of takes that were shot resulted in Freeman turning up to filming the following day with his arm in a sling and sometimes he simply refused to do the additional takes. Freeman’s commanding and poignant performance was a major factor in the critical acclaim the film received on release.
33 Jack Nicholson – The Shining
34 Marcello Mastroianni – 8½
Mastroianni plays a film director, Guido Anselmi, in Federico Fellini’s surrealist tale of one man’s struggles to make a science fiction film and deal with the problems of his marriage.
35 Bibi Andersson – Persona
36 Marlon Brando – On The Waterfront
37 Jean-Pierre Leaud – The Mother and the Whore
38 Anthony Hopkins – The Silence Of The Lambs
Sir Anthony has by far his most memorable screen role as psychopathic cannibal Dr. Hannibal Lecter. Despite limited screen time, his chillingly sinister presence is hard to forget and steals the movie.
39 Christoph Waltz – Inglourious Basterds
Austrian actor Waltz seemed to appear from nowhere when he took the role of Hans Landa in Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds. Despite being the major antagonist and a Nazi hunter of jews it’s hard not to enjoy his character even if at the same time we find ourselves despising his actions and what he stands for.
40 Brad Pitt – Fight Club
41 Kirk Douglas – Paths of Glory
42 Emily Watson – Breaking the Waves
43 Toshiro Mifune – Seven Samurai
44 Jack Nicholson – Chinatown
45 Casey Affleck – The assassination of the jesse james by the coward robert ford
46 Mickey Rourke – The Wrestler
47 Marilyn Monroe – Some Like It Hot
48 Daniel Day-Lewis – Gangs Of New York
While the epic period piece Gangs of New York was not the best reviewed of Martin Scorsese’s films, Daniel Day-Lewis’s terrifying turn as Bill The Butcher is right up there among some of the great performances in the filmmaker’s work. It stretches beyond the film’s narrative flaws.
49 Joe Pesci – Goodfellas
“…but I’m funny how, I mean, funny like I’m a clown, I amuse you? I make you laugh? I’m here to fuckin’ amuse you? What do you mean funny, funny how? How am I funny?” — Pesci as Tommy DeVito
One of a number of great performances by Pesci in the films of Martin Scorsese. Here he plays a charismatic gangster, Tommy DeVito (based on the notorious real life gangster Tommy DeSimone), who is prone to explosions of extreme violence. Pesci’s mannerisms and unique delivery of lines provide the film with arguably its most memorable moments, which is even more impressive when you consider that the film features an ensemble of quality actors, some of whom were at the peak of their powers. Perhaps the most iconic scene showing the frightening volatility that Pesci brings, sees DeVito breaking the bulls of the lead character Henry Hill (Ray Liotta) after the younger man casually calls him ‘funny.’ The scene draws on a similar incident from Pesci’s actual youth, with the actor improvising most of his dialogue in rehearsal.
50 Diane Keaton – Annie Hall
51 Ray Liotta – Goodfellas
52 Robert Mitchum – The Night of the Hunter
53 Humphrey Bogart – Casablanca
Bogart plays businessman Rick Blaine, a man who initially appears to only look after number one. However, he begins to transform from the selfish character he claims to be when confronted with the arrival of his romantic past in the form of Ingrid Bergman’s Ilsa Lund. Bogart delivers a performance of remarkable internal angst as his character is forced with the decision of sacrificing what he desires, for the greater good. It’s quite possible that an actor has never been able to look so wounded and yet so intelligently cool at the same time.
54 Liv Ullmann – Persona
55 Bruno Ganz – Downfall
56 Russell Crowe – Gladiator
57 Tony Leung – In the Mood for Love
Well known for his work with director Wong Kar-wai, Leung once again delivers a performance of subtle brilliance as a husband who discovers that his wife has been cheating on him, and who later develops a romantic but ultimately platonic bond with the spouse of his wife’s lover.
61 Al Pacino – Scarface
Brian De Palma directs Pacino in one of his most famous post Godfather roles. The film depicts the rise and fall of immigrant drug lord Tony Montana and the performance is almost as transformative as Pacino’s legendary portrayal of Michael Corleone. The character moves from hope at arriving in a country of opportunity, the USA, onto a path of violence and self destruction as he maneuvers towards the top of the criminal ladder
62 Vivien Leigh – Gone with the Wind
63 Viggo Mortenson – The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring
64 Paul Scofield – A Man For All Seasons
65 Robert De Niro – The Deer Hunter
66 Bette Davis – All About Eve
67 James Stewart – Rear Window
While it’s Stewart’s performance in Vertigo that has probably had the most lasting impact, his role in Rear Window was arguably his most challenging. His character spends most of the film confined to one room and stuck in a wheelchair. Few actors could hold the audience’s attention in such a limited setting.
68 Brad Pitt – The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
69 Paul Newman – Cool Hand Luke
70 Orson Welles – Chimes at Midnight
71 Clint Eastwood – The Good, the Bad and the Ugly
72 Bruce Lee – Enter the Dragon
73 Tim Robbins – The Shawshank Redemption
74 Al Pacino – Dog Day Afternoon
75 Kevin Spacey – American Beauty
76 Charlie Chaplin – The Great Dictator
77 John Wayne – The Searchers
78 Clark Gable – Gone with the Wind
79 Marlon Brando – Last Tango in Paris
Brando stars opposite Maria Schneider in Bernardo Bertolucci’s hugely controversial drama that follows the romantic and violent relationship between Paul (Brando), who is suffering after the suicide of his wife, and Jeanne (Schneider). Brando brings a striking ambiguity to his role and his early monologue is probably one of the most outstanding moments in his career.
80 James Dean – Rebel Without a Cause
81 Edward Norton – American History X
82 Harrison Ford – Raiders of the Lost Ark
83 George C. Scott – Patton
84 Tatsuya Nakadai – Ran
85 Alec Guinness – The Bridge On The River Kwai
86 Sigourney Weaver – Aliens
87 Charlie Chaplin – City Lights
Chaplin delivers another dose of brilliant physical comedy but his face is able to convey so much more, from naivety to a rare sort of kindness.
88 Kevin Spacey – The Usual Suspects
89 Ewan McGregor – Trainspotting
90 Forest Whitaker – The Last King of Scotland
91 Henry Fonda – Once Upon a Time In the West
92 Guy Pearce – Memento
Pierce plays Leonard, a traumatized husband whose short-term memory deficit complicates his mission of vengeance against the man he thinks murdered his wife. The film is known for it’s ambitious back to front narrative, and it’s Pearce’s empathetic performance that pulls the audience into the mystery.
93 Gabriel Byrne – Miller’s Crossing
94 Ben Kingsley – Sexy Beast
Sir Ben gives one of his most intense performances as gangster Don Logan who is busy recruiting criminals for an underworld boss. The revelatory performance garnered Kingsley an Oscar nomination.
95 Denzel Washington – Malcolm X
Having already garnered acclaim for playing South African activist Steve Bilko, Spike Lee’s memorable biopic sees Washington take on the challenging role of the controversial Malcolm X. It’s much more than a impersonation as Washington delivers an expressive and passionate performance.
96 Michael Fassbender – Shame
97 Sam Shepherd – The Right Stuff
98 Gene Hackman – The Conversation
99 Dustin Hoffman – Midnight Cowboy
100 James Caan – The Godfather