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The 25 Best Jack Nicholson Movies You Need To Watch

21 August 2014 | Features, Film Lists | by Neil Evans

best Jack Nicholson movies

Actors and actresses come and go. Some make an impression. Some do not. In relation to the machine that is Hollywood, this is the nature of the beast, the whole ethos of ‘this year’s model’ and all that.

Totally flying in the face of that attitude and philosophy, there is and will ever be only one Jack Nicholson. Born in 1937, nominated for twelve Oscars and winner of three, this is an actor that truly breaks all the ‘rules’ of Hollywood.

On a physical level, he’s not an oil painting. Some of the characters he plays makes you want to run in the opposite direction. However, there is something intelligent, charismatic and totally disarming in his style of acting.

In many of his roles, he has a brilliant ‘outsider’ quality. Namely, he lives life on his own terms and rules and quite simply doesn’t give a fuck what anyone else thinks. This has come to personify the man off-screen to a degree as well.

Here is a twenty-five film overview of what makes Jack Nicholson one of the finest actors, American or otherwise, to have walked the planet.


25. Anger Management (2003)

Anger Management (2003)

One of Adam Sandler’s better efforts, this is lifted and buoyed significantly by the presence of Jack. Playing his psycho maniac persona for laughs,

“Anger Management” was wonderful in the way that it introduced Jack to a younger generation of film goers, not necessarily the ones that have followed his career since the days of “Easy Rider”.

It also spawned the television series of the same name that Charlie Sheen went on to do after leaving “Two And A Half Men”.


24. The Witches Of Eastwick (1987)

The Witches Of Eastwick (1987)

A true ‘love it or hate it’ proposition, “The Witches Of Eastwick” gave Jack a plum role, one that every actor wants to play at some point in their career. That role? The Devil! Here, we know him as Daryl Van Horne, who comes to the aid of three talented, successful but bored women (Michelle Pfieffer, Susan Sarandon and Cher) in the small American town of Eastwick.

Flashy and a lot of fun, this sees Jack having an absolute whale of a time with a dream role. Beautifully crafted by Australian director George Miller, this is Hollywood entertainment at its most hugely enjoyable.


23. Goin’ South (1978)

goin south

Having made his debut as a director with “Drive, He Said” (1971), this is another directorial bow from Jack. This a fun comedy western, one that doesn’t take itself too seriously, hence its charm. Jack taps into the lighter side of his actor skillset, playing a third rate criminal in the wild west.

“Goin’ South” also features a great cast, including Christopher Lloyd and, in their screen debuts, Mary Steenburgen and John Belushi. Nothing deep and meaningful on the cinematic scale here, just something that has charm and some personality to it.


22. The Missouri Breaks (1976)

Missouri Breaks

Something of a box office flop upon release, Arthur Penn’s “The Missouri Breaks” remains a flawed but interesting film. A Western, it looks at survival during a time and set of circumstances that could break one’s bones on both a physical and spiritual level.

Featuring one of Marlon Brando’s more ‘out there’ performances, the film has a ragged, imperfect quality to it, but in a cinematic world where everything is polished to the point of being boring, this is what, for some reason, makes “The Missouri Breaks” all the more interesting.


21. Batman (1989)

Batman (1989)

A wildly divisive take on the world of Batman and Gotham City, this is Jack’s ‘rock star’ performance. You know, his cinematic equivalent of Mick Jagger or Freddie Mercury in full flight on stage as front men for, respectively, their bands The Rolling Stones and Queen.

Jack is nothing short of utterly magnetic and iconic as The Joker in Tim Burton’s take on the material. Comedic and utterly psychotic at the same time, one simply can’t take their eyes off him for every nanosecond he is on screen. This is the role that truly pushed the actor into ‘iconic’ status as far as the world in general was concerned.


20. The King Of Marvin Gardens (1972)

The King of Marvin Gardens (1972)

Again directed by Rafelson, this is a very different role for Jack, showing that for all his flashiness as an actor, he is capable of beautiful understatement and restraint. It is an underrated and compelling portrait of an estranged sibling relationship.

Also featuring two of the finest character actors of the generation, Bruce Dern and Ellen Burstyn, this is one that’s flown under the radar for years and is well worth checking out.


19. The Bucket List (2007)

The Bucket List

A small but charming and quite touching film from director Rob Reiner, with whom Jack had previously worked with on “A Few Good Men”. Jack plays a man with terminal cancer, who forms an unlikely friendship with fellow patient Morgan Freeman.

The two set about ticking off items on their ‘bucket list’, namely things you want to do before you die and ‘kick the bucket’. Never shallow or condescending, you really develop an empathy and feel for these two characters. There is a warm and touching chemistry between Freeman and Jack that really makes this fly.

“The Bucket List” was another late career gem from Jack before he entered semi-retirement, having not made another film since his small role in the James L. Brooks film “How Do You Know?” in 2010.


18. Prizzi’s Honour (1985)

Prizzi’s Honour (1985)

The second last film from great old school Hollywood director John Huston, this is a spiky and in your face comedy-drama about lovers and rival hitmen (Jack and the wonderful Kathleen Turner) who have been given jobs to kill each other.

With a great cast and material at their disposal, Jack and Turner have an absolute field day here. Several notches about your usual Mafia film, this showed that, despite his increasing years, Huston had talent to burn and a fantastic ability to get the best out of his cast, especially Jack.



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  • Sheffield

    I totally agree with the Top 3. Jack’s one of the best actors of the golden era of Hollywood. 🙂

  • Lean Anthony Avenir

    *Frank Costello re The Departed

  • Guffers

    Good article – it’s good to see The King Of Marvin Gardens get some attention, a strange, quietly unhinged film with a terrific understated performance from Nicholson – but I’m afraid I cannot agree that The Departed, “is infinitely better than the film it is based on [Infernal Affairs], hitting an emotional resonance and depth that the original lacked.” I much prefer the Hong Kong original and felt that Scorcese’s film was bloated and a pale imitation of his best work. I also found Nicholson and DiCaprio unconvincing: I thought Nicholson’s Costello was hammy and couldn’t believe that such a reckless character could have risen so high and hadn’t been blown away years ago, and DiCaprio was just trying too hard to come across all intense and tortured (and I do generally like him as an actor). Compare DiCaprio’s forced performance to Tony Leung Chiu-Wai’s subtle and effortless portrayal of an increasingly tired and desperate man trying to get the job done while retaining his true identity so he can get his old life back.

    But I know I am in the minority here!

  • Ted Wolf

    Some performances I enjoyed were Heartburn, Reds and his creepy doctor in Tommy.

  • Iam_Spartacus

    Why is the “You can’t handle the truth” scene referenced in The Postman?

  • karan

    i believe his performance in ‘about schmidt’ was superior than that of ‘the departed. nonetheless a good list

  • Andre Troesch

    The Pledge should’ve been on here somewhere

  • kinch’s edge

    It would have been nice to see The Passenger in the top 10, IMO.

  • nicoal

    The Pledge is not listed, but Anger Management is? Even As Good As It Gets was better than Anger Managment ffs.

  • Ruchit Negotia

    Better movie: chinatown> one flew over the cuckoo’s nest

    Jacks performance : chinatown< one flew over the cuckoo's nest

  • Ricardo Correia

    The Departed and The Shining do not belong in this list

  • Ricardo Correia

    1- One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Neste
    2- The Pledge
    3- The Last Detail
    4- About Schimidt’s
    5- The Passanger
    6- Five Easy Pieces
    7- Ironweed
    8- Reds
    9- Easy Rider
    10- Tearms Of Endearment