The Fifty Greatest Modern Actresses

The 49 greatest modern actresses not named Meryl in film history, ranked by overall career, acting range, and movie resume. Films that best typify each thespian’s prowess are loosely ranked within.

  1. Meryl Streep (born 1949): Sophie in Sophie’s Choice, Joanna Kramer in Kramer vs. Kramer, Miranda Priestly in The Devil Wears Prada, Karen Silkwood in Silkwood, Sister Aloysius Beauvier in Doubt, Julia Child in Julie and Julia, Karen Blixen in Out of Africa, Linda in The Deer Hunter, Helen in Ironweed, Francesca Johnson in The Bridges of Madison Country, Margaret Thatcher in The Iron Lady, Clarissa Vaughn in The Hours, Susan Orlean in Adaptation, Kay Graham in The Post, Sarah and Anna in The French Lieutenant’s Wife, Lindy in A Cry in the Dark, Suzanne Vale in Postcards From the Edge, Kate Gulden in One True Thing, Donna in Mamma Mia!, Roberta in Music of the Heart, Jill in Manhattan, Violet Weston in August: Osage County.
  2. Judi Dench (born 1934): Queen Victoria in Mrs. Brown, Queen Elizabeth in Shakespeare in Love, Barbara Covett in Notes on a Scandal, M in The James Bond Franchise, Armande Voizin in Chocolat, Philomena in Philomena, Iris Murdoch in Iris, Agnis Hamm in The Shipping News, Mrs. Laura Henderson in Mrs Henderson Presents, Miss Matty Jenkins in Cranford.
  3. Diane Keaton (born 1946): Annie Hall in Annie Hall, Kay Adams Corleone in The Godfather Trilogy, Erica Barry in Something’s Gotta Give, Mary in Manhattan, Louise Bryant in Reds, Bessie in Marvin’s Room, Theresa in Looking for Mr. Goodbar, Faith Dunlap in Shoot the Moon, Sister Mary in The Young Pope, Lenny Macrath in Crimes of the Heart, Kim Soffel in Mrs. Soffel, J.C. Wiatt in Baby Boom.
  4.  Susan Sarandon (born 1946): Sister Helen Prejean in Dead Man Walking, Annie Savoy in Bull Durham, Louise in Thelma & Louise, Michaela Odone in Lorenzo’s Oil, Janet Weiss in The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Reggie Love in The Client, Sally Matthews in Atlantic City, Jackie Harrison in Stepmom, Mimi Slocumb in Igby Goes Down, Bette Davis in Feud: Bette and Joan.
  5. Faye Dunaway (born 1941): Diana Christensen in Network, Evelyn Mulwray in Chinatown, Bonnie Parker in Bonnie and Clyde, Joan Crawford in Mommie Dearest, Vicki Anderson in The Thomas Crown Affair, Kathy in Three Days of the Condor, Wanda Wilcox in Barfly, Lou Andreas Sand in Puzzle of a Downfall Child, Julie Ann Warren in Hurry Sundown, Susan in The Towering Inferno.
  6. Jodie Foster (born 1962): Clarice Starling in Silence of the Lambs, Iris in Taxi Driver, Sarah Tobias in The Accused, Eleanor Arroway in Contact, Nell in Nell, Meg Altman in Panic Room, Erica Bain in The Brave One, Tallulah in Bugsy Malone, Madeleine White in Inside Man, Annabel in Freaky Friday, Addie Pray in Paper Moon.
  7. Ellen Burstyn (born 1932): Sara Goldfarb in Requiem For a Dream, Alice Hyatt in Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore, Chris MacNeil in The Exorcist, Lois Farrow in The Last Picture Show, Doris in Same Time Next Year, Edna in Resurrection, Jean Harris in The People vs. Jean Harris, Olive Frederickson in Silence of the North, Barbara Jackson in Pack of Lies, Shirley in Harry and Tonto, Margaret Barrish in Political Animals.
  8. Shirley MacLaine (born 1934): Aurora Greenway in Terms of Endearment, Madame Sousatzka in Madame Sousatzka, Fran Kubelik in The Apartment, Deedee in The Turning Point, Irma la Douce in Irma la Douce, Nicole in Gambit, Eve Rand in Being There, Ginnie Moorehead in Some Came Running, Martha Dobie in The Children’s Hour, Charity in Sweet Charity, Doris Mann in Postcards From the Edge, Meg Wheeler in Ask Any Girl, Ouiser Boudreaux in Steel Magnolias, Marjorie Nugent in Bernie.
  9. Jane Fonda (born 1937): Sally Hyde in Coming Home, Bree Daniels in Klute, Kimberly Wells in The China Syndrome, Chelsea Thayer Wayne in On Golden Pond, Gloria in The Shoot Horses Dont They?, Judy Bernly in 9 to 5, Lillian in Julia, Jane Harper in Fun With Dick and Jane, Alex Sternbergen in The Morning After, Grace Hanson in Grace and Frankie, Barbarella in Barbarella, Brenda Morel in Youth.
  10. Glenn Close (born 1947): Alex Forrest in Fatal Attraction, Marquise de Merteuil in Dangerous Liaisons, Patty Hewes in Damages, Albert Nobbs in Albert Nobbs, Sarah in The Big Chill, Iris Gaines in The Natural, Jenny Fields in The World According to Garp, Cruella de Vil in 101 Dalmatians, Joan Castleman in The Wife, Eleanor in The Lion in Winter, Sunny von Bulow in Revearsal of Fortune.
  11. Vanessa Redgrave (born 1937): Julia in Julia, Leonie Delt in Morgan: A Suitable Case for Treatment, Ruth Wilcox in Howard’s End, Mary Queen of Scots in Mary Queen of Scots, Olive Chancellor in The Bostonians, Jane in Blow-Up, Peggy Ramsay in Prick Up Your Ears, Miss Bentley in A Month by the Lake, Isadora Duncan in Isadora, Clemme Churchill in The Gathering Storm, Sister Jeanne in The Devils, Guenevere in Camelot.
  12. Kate Winslet (born 1975): Rose in Titanic, Clementine in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Hanna Schmitz in The Reader, April Wheeler in Revolutionary Road, Mildred Pierce in Mildred Pierce, Joanna Hoffman in Steve Jobs, Sarah Pierce in Little Children, Marianne Dashwood in Sense and Sensibility, Young Iris Murdoch in Iris, Madeleine in Quills, Juliet Hulme in Heavenly Creatures, Orphelia in Hamlet.
  13.  Julianne Moore (born 1960): Alice Howland in Still Alice, Amber Waves in Boogie Nights, Carol White in Safe, Cathy Whitaker in Far from Heaven, Maude Lebowski in The Big Lebowski, Sarah Miles in The End of the Affair, Jules in The Kids Are Alright, Laura Brown in The Hours, Sarah Palin in Game Change, Charley in A Single Man, Julian in Children of Men, Havana Segrand in Maps to the Stars, Linda Partridge in Magnolia, Clarice Starling in Hannibal.
  14. Emma Thompson (born 1959): Margaret Schlegel in Howard’s End, Gareth Peirce in In the Name of the Father, Miss Kenton in The Remains of the Day, Elinor Dashwood in Sense and Sensibility, Professor Sybil Trelwney in The Harry Potter Franchise, PL Travers in Saving Mr Banks.
  15. Annette Bening (born 1958): Carolyn Burnham in American Beauty, Nic in The Kids Are All Right, Julia Lambert in Being Julia, Dorothea Fields in 20th Century Woman, Jean Harris in Mrs Harris, Myra Langtry in The Grifters, Sydney Wade in The American President, Queen Elizabeth in Richard III, Virginia Hill in Bugsy, Sue Barlow in Open Range, Dierdre Burroughs in Running with Scissors, Dianne Feinstein in The Report.
  16. Helen Mirren (born 1945): The Queen in The Queen, Supt. Jane Tennison in Prime Suspect, Soyfa in The Last Station, Mrs. Wilson in Gosford Park, Queen Charlotte in The Madness of King George, Elizabeth I in Elizabeth I, Alma Reville in Hitchcock, Col. Katherine Powell in Eye in the Sky, Hedda Hooper in Trumbo.
  17.  Cate Blanchett (born 1969): Jasmine in Blue Jasmine, Katherine Hepburn in The Aviator, Elizabeth I in Elizabeth & , Elizabeth: The Golden Age, Jude Quinn in I’m Not There, Carol Aird in Carol, Sheba Hart in Notes on a Scandal, Galadriel in The Lord of the Rings Franchise, Meredith Logue in The Talented Mr. Ripley, Phyllis Schlafly in Mrs. America, Lucina Leplastrier in Oscar and Lucinda, Daisy in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.
  18. Julia Roberts (born 1967): Erin Brockovich in Erin Brockovich, Vivian Ward in Pretty Woman, Anna Scott in Notting Hill, Julianne Potter in My Best Friend’s Wedding, Shelby in Steel Magnolias, Heidi Bergman in Homecoming, Dr. Emma Brookner in The Normal Heart, Barbara Weston in August: Osage County, Tess Ocean in Ocean’s Trilogy, Joanne Herring in Charlie Wilson’s War, Darby Shaw in The Pelican Brief, Laura Burney in Sleeping With The Enemy, Isabel Kelly in Stepmom, Maggie Carpenter in Runaway Bride, Daisy in Mystic Pizza.
  19.  Nicole Kidman (born 1967): Virginia Woolf in The Hours, Grace in The Others, Satine in Moulin Rouge!, Grace Margaret Mulligan in Dogville, Alice Harford in Eyes Wide Shut, Becca Corbett in Rabbit Hole, Ada Monroe in Cold Mountain, Suzanne Stone in To Die For, Celeste Wright in Big Little Lies, Sue Brierley in Lion, Anna in Birth, Martha in Hemingway & Gellhorn, Evie Stoker in Stoker.
  20. Maggie Smith (born 1934): Jean Brodie in The Prime of Mrs. Jean Brodie, Diana Barrie in California Suite, Violet Crawley in Downton Abbey, Constance Trentham in Gosford Park, Charlotte Bertlett in A Room With a View, Professor Minerva McGonagall in The Harry Potter Franchise, Aunt Augusta in Travels With My Aunt, Desdemona in Othello, Miss Shepard in The Lady in the Van.
  21.  Frances McDormand (born 1957): Marge Gunderson in Fargo, Milded in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri, Olive Kitteridge in Olive Kitteridge, Elaine Miller in Almost Famous, Abby in Blood Simple, Mrs. Pell in Mississippi Burning, Glory Dodge in North Country, Linda Litzke in Burn After Reading, Dot in Raising Arizona.
  22.  Kathy Bates (born 1948): Anne Wilkes in Misery, Evelyn Couch in Fried Green Tomatoes, Dolores Claiborne in Dolores Claiborne, Libby Holden in Primary Colors, Roberta Hertzel in About Schmidt, Bobi Jewell in Richard Jewell, Bettina in Six Feet Under, Helen Kushnick in The Late Shift, Mama Boucher in The Waterboy.
  23.  Sissy Spacek: Loretta Lynn in Coal Miner’s Daughter, Carrie in Carrie, Ruth Fowler in In the Bedroom, Holly in Badlands, Babe Magrath in Crimes of the Heart, Beth Horman in Missing, Rose in The Straight Story, Margie Fogg in Affliction, Mae Garvey in The River, Nita in Raggedy Man, Mae Tuck in Tuck Everlasting.
  24. Natalie Portman (born 1981): Nina Sayers in Black Swan, Alice in Closer, Mathilda Lando in Leon: The Professional, Jackie Kennedy in Jackie, Evey Hammond in V For Vendetta, Lena in Annihilation, Sam in Garden State, Marty in Beautiful Girls, Padmé in The Star Wars Prequels, Anne Boleyn in The Other Boleyn Girl.
  25.  Viola Davis (born 1965): Abileen Clark in The Help, Mrs. Miller in Doubt, Rose Maxson in Fences, Annalise Keating in How to Get Away With Murder, Veronica in Widows, Nancy Birch in Prisoners.
  26. Amy Adams (born 1974): Louise Banks in Arrival, Sister James in Doubt, Camille Preaker in Sharp Objects, Peggy Dogg in The Master, Sydney Prosser in American Hustle, Charlene Fleming in The Fighter, Susan Morrow in Nocturnal Animals, Giselle in Enchanted, Ashley Johnsten in Junebug, Lynne Cheyney in Vice, Margaret Keane in Big Eyes, Julie Powell in Julie and Julia, Amy in Her.
  27.  Tilda Swinton (born 1960): Karen Crowder in Michael Clayton, Eva Khatchadourian in We Need to Talk About Kevin, Minister Mason in Snowpiercer, Orlando in Orlando, Eve in Only Lovers Left Alive, Katie Cox in Burn After Reading, The Ancient One in Doctor Strange, Lucy/Nancy Mirando in Okja, The White Witch in The Chronicles of Narnia Franchise, Margaret Hall in The Deep End.
  28. Jessica Lange (born 1949): Carly Marshall in Blue Sky, Julie in Tootsie, Frances Farmer in Frances, Blanche DuBuis in A Streetcar Named Desire, Big Edie in Grey Gardens, Angelique in All that Jazz, Joan Crawford in Feud: Bette and Joan, various roles in American Horror Story, Ann Talbot in Music Box, Patsy Cline in Sweet Dreams, Cora Papadakis in The Postman Always Rings Twice, Leigh Bowden in Cape Fear, Jewell Ivy in Country.
  29. Julie Christie (born 1940): Diana Scott in Darling, Lara in Doctor Zhivago, Fiona Anderson in Away From Her, Contance Miller in McCabe & Mrs. Miller, Laura Baxter in Don’t Look Now, Phyllis Mann in Afterglow, Liz in Billy Liar, Clarisse/Linda Montag in Fahrenheit 451, Gertrude in Hamlet, Bathsheba in Far From the Madding Crowd, Jackie in Shampoo.
  30. Sally Field (born 1946): Edna Spalding in Places in the Heart, Norma Rae in Norma Rae, Mary Todd Lincoln in Lincoln, Mrs. Gump in Forrest Gump, M’Lynn Eatenton in Steel Magnolias, Carrie in Smokey and the Bandit, Nora Walker in Brothers and Sisters, Miranda Hillard in Mrs. Doubtfire, Megan in Absence of Malice, Doris in Hello My Name is Doris.
  31. Gena Rowlands (born 1930) Mabel Longhetti in A Woman Under the Influence, Gloria Swenson in Gloria, Myrtle Gordon in Opening Night, Allie Calhoun in The Notebook, Betty Ford in The Betty Ford Story, Jeannie Rapp in Faces, Minnie in Minnie and Moskowitz, Marion in Another Woman.
  32. Liv Ullmann (born 1957) Elisabet Vogler in Persona, Jenny Isaksson in Face to Face, Marianne in Scenes From a Marriage, Maria/Mother in Cries and Whispers, Kristina in The Emigrants, Kristina in The New Land, Alma Borg in Hour of the Wolf, Eva Rosenberg in Shame.
  33.  Elizabeth Moss (born 1982): Peggy Olson in Mad Men, June Osborne in The Handmaid’s Tale, Robin Griffin in Top of the Lake, Anne in The Square, Zoey Bartlet in The West Wing, Sophie in The One I Love, Cecilia Kass in The Invisible Man, Becky Something in Her Smell.
  34.  Olivia Coleman (born 1974): Queen Anne in The Favourite, Godmother in Fleabag, Queen Elizabeth II in The Crown, Ellie Miller in Broadchurch, Hannah in Tyrannosaur, Angela Burr in The Night Manager.
  35.  Laura Linney (born 1964): Sammy in You Can Count on Me, Wendy Byrde in Ozark, Clara McMillen in Kinsey, Cathy Jamison in The Big C, Annabeth Markum in Mystic River, Joan Berkman in The Squid and the Whale, Janet Venable in Primal Fear, Wendy Savage in The Savages, Abigail Adams in John Adams.
  36. Scarlett Johansson (born 1984): Charlotte in Lost in Translation, The Female in Under the Skin, Samantha in Her, Nicole in Marriage Story, Olivia Wenscombe in The Prestige, Nola Rice in Match Point, Christina in Vicky Cristina Barcelona, Griet in Girl With a Pearl Earring, Black Widow in The Avengers Franchise, Rosie in Jojo Rabbit, Lucy in Lucy.
  37.  Charlize Theron (born 1975): Aileen Wurnos in Monster, Imperator Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road, Josey Aimes in North Country, Candy Kendall in The Cider House Rules, Stella Bridger in The Italian Job, Lorraine Broughton in Atomic Blonde, Megyn Kelly in Bombshell, Marlo in Tully, Mavis Gary in Young Adult, Britt Ekland in The Life and Death of Peter Sellers.
  38. Holly Hunter (born 1958): Ada McGrath in The Piano, Jane Craig in Broadcast News, Ed in Raising Arizona, Grace Hanadarko in Saving Grace, Melanie Freeland in Thirteen, Tammy Hemphill in The Firm, Penny in O Brother Where Art Thou?, Beth in The Big Sick.
  39. Michelle Williams (born 1980): Marilyn Monroe in My Week with Marilyn, Cindy in Blue Valentine, Randi Chandler in Manchester by the Sea, Gwen Verdon in Fosse/Verdon, Alma in Brokeback Mountain, Jen Lindley in Dawson’s Creek, Wendy in Wendy and Lucy, Gail Harris in All the Money in the World.
  40. Reese Witherspoon (born 1976): June Carter in Walk the Line, Tracy Flick in Election, Elle Woods in Legally Blonde, Cheryl Strayed in Wild, Melanie Smooter in Sweet Home Alabama, Madeline Mackenzie in Big Little Lies, Vanessa Lutz in Freeway, Bradley Jackson in The Morning Show, Jennifer in Pleasantville, Annette Hargrove in Cruel Intentions.
  41.  Hilary Swank (born 1974): Brandon Teena in Boys Don’t Cry, Maggie Fitzgerald in Million Dollar Baby, Ellie Burr in Insomnia, Alice Paul in Iron Jawed Angels, Betty Anne Waters in Conviction, Holly in PS I Love You.
  42. Sandra Bullock (born 1964): Leigh Anne Tuohy in The Blind Side, Anne in Speed, Ryan Stone in Gravity, Jean in Crash, Ellen Roark in A Time to Kill, Gracie Hart in Ms Congeniality, Malorie in Bird Box, Margaret Tate in The Proposal, Lucy in While You Were Sleeping.
  43. Helena Bonham Carter (born 1966): Bellatrix Lesteange in The Harry Potter Franchise, Marla Singer in Fight Club, Helen Schlegel in Howard’s End, Mrs. Lovett in Sweeney Todd, Queen Elizabeth in The King’s Speech, Kate Croy in The Wings of the Dove, Jenny in Big Fish, Olivia in Twelfth Night.
  44. Emily Watson (born 1967): Bess McNeil in Breaking the Waves, Maggie in The Boxer, Jackie Du Pré in Hilary and Jackie, Angela McCourt in Angela’s Ashes, Elsie in Gosford Park, Reba McClane in Red Dragon, Lena Leonard in Punch Drunk Love, Ulana Khomyuk in Chernobyl, Janet Leach in Appropriate Adult.
  45. Naomi Watts (born 1968): Cristina Peck in 21 Grams, Betty/Diane in Mulholland Drive, Marla in The Impossible, Anna in Eastern Promises, Ann Darrow in King Kong, Rachel in The Ring, Valerie Plame in Fair Game, Kitty Fane in The Painted Veil.
  46.  Jessica Chastain (born 1977): Maya in Zero Dark Thirty, Cecilia Foote in The Help, Mrs. O’Brien in The Tree of Life, Molly Bloom in Molly’s Game, Madeline Sloane in Miss Sloane, Anna Morales in A Most Violent Year, Samantha in Take Shelter.
  47. Sigourney Weaver (born 1949): Ellen Ripley in The Alien Franchise, Dana Barrett in Ghostbusters, Dian Fossey in Gorillas in the Mist, Katharine Parker in Working Girl, Dr. Grace Augustine in Avatar, Paulina Escobar in Death and the Maiden, Ellen Mitchell in Dave, Janey Carver in The Ice Storm, Elaine Barrish in Political Animals.
  48.  Sharon Stone (born 1958): Ginger McKenna in Casino, Catherine Tramell in Basic Instinct, Ellen in The Quick and the Dead, Lori Quaid in Total Recall, Gwen Dillon in The Mighty.
  49. Jennifer Lawrence (born 1990): Ree in Winter’s Bone, Tiffany in Silver Linings Playbook, Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games Franchise, Mother in Mother!, Raven/Mystique in The X-Men Franchise, Rosalyn Rosenfield in American Hustle, Joy in Joy.
  50. Emma Stone (born 1988):  Sam in Birdman, Mia in La La Land, Billie Jean King in Battle of the Sexes, Abigail in The Favourite, Olive in Easy A, Skeeter Phelan in The Help, Jules in Superbad, Wichita in Zombieland, Hannah in Crazy Stupid Love.

Bubble: Toni Collette, Lupita Nyong’o, Isabelle Adjani, Regina King, Laura Dern, Margot Robbie, Juliette Binoche, Angela Bassett, Judy Davis, Marion Cotillard, Carey Mulligan, Winona Ryder, Anjelica Houston, Michelle Pfeifer, Halle Berry, Kim Basinger, Angelina Jolie, Edie Falco, Jane Alexander, Gwyneth Paltrow, Anne Hathaway, Dianne Wiest, Lorraine Bracco, Saoirse Ronan, Robin Wright, Octavia Spencer, Julianna Margulies, Anna Karina, Rachel Weisz, Isabelle Huppert, Brie Larson, Jennifer Connelly, Allison Janney, Lily Tomlin, Kyra Sedgwick, Kathy Baker, Florence Pugh, Renee Zellweger, Nastassja Kinski, Catherine Keener

Note: Actresses must have appeared in at least one significant 21st century feature film to be considered “modern.”  Just missed: Julie Andrews, Anne Bancroft, Sophia Loren, Jeanne Moreau, Claudia Cardinale, Bibi Anderson

*Best Actress/Supporting Actress Academy Award winning performances appear underlined.

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