The 13 Greatest Method Acting Performances in Movie History


Lately, method acting has become a more popular technique among both known and aspiring actors. Through a harsh process of research and personal experimentation, performers delve into their characters to think and act like them to perfection.

The Method was first called “the System” by Konstantin Stanislavsky, and later was further developed by Lee Strasberg. “The Lee Strasberg Method”, as it was called, trains actors to use their imagination and emotions to conceive of characters with unique and original behavior, creating intense and realistic performances.

Method acting is sometimes underrated as the results are only seen as the tip of the iceberg. Only few people know the challenges some actors have to face to become their characters, some of them ending in diseases or even death.

Even if method acting is a controversial strategy, the fact is that several performances arising from this technique are often considered as some of the best in film history.

Today, we list the 13 greatest method acting performances.


13. Joaquin Phoenix in Walk the Line (2005)


It is known that Joaquin Phoenix, a Puerto-Rican born actor who became a more familiar face after his performance as Emperor Commodus in “Gladiator” (2000), is one of the best actors of our generation. Putting charisma and a lot of emotions to his characters, Phoenix always gets the best of himself in his performances.

In the well-known biopic “Walk the Line” (2005), Phoenix plays famous musician Johnny Cash. Besides taking six months to learn how to sing, play guitar and thoroughly study the composer’s life, he did not allow others to address him by another name than JR, the real name of the famous singer.

The results: huge praise from the critics and people who knew Cash personally, and an Academy Award nomination.


12. Jack Nicholson in One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975)

One Flew Over The Cuckoo’S Nest (1975)

Jack Nicholson claimed that he is the actor who has used method acting the most times. He may sound pretentious, but he also has a record (along with Daniel Day-Lewis and Walter Brennan): Nicholson has three Academy Awards for acting and dozens of nominations.

For his role in the classic film “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” (1975), Nicholson, along with the rest of the cast, spent several months confined in a mental institution. They all received actual group therapy and each member of the professional cast and crew inevitably worked closely with at least two or three real mental patients. Nicholson improvised some parts of the film.

This is the second of only three films to win every major Academy Award, including Best Picture and an Oscar for Nicholson.


11. Charlize Theron in Monster (2003)


Charlize Theron, aside from being an incredibly beautiful woman, is also an excellent actress. She has participated in challenging films and various types of roles.

Letting go of all of her beauty in “Monster” (2003), Theron plays real life prostitute and serial killer Aileen Wuornos. She had to gain 33 pounds and use prosthesis on different parts of her body and face, along with a set of false teeth. Her shocking transformation earned her the Oscar for Best Actress in 2004.


10. Hilary Swank in Boys Don’t Cry (1999)

Boys Don't Cry (1999)

Hilary Swank is one of those actresses who didn’t have to wait to be found. The talented actress has won two Academy Awards through her career.

In her audition for the role of Brandon Teena, a female-to-male transgender murdered in 1993 and the main character in “Boys Don’t Cry” (1999), Swank showed up in her then husband’s clothes and a cowboy hat and landed the role. Several weeks before that, she spent entire days pretending to be a man. She even confused her relatives by resembling her look-alike male cousin.

Swank eventually earned her first Academy Award for Best Actress for this role.


9. Dustin Hoffman in Marathon Man (1976)

Marathon Man (1976)

One of the most well-known method actors. Dustin Hoffman has won two Academy Awards for Best Actor. Since his performance as Ben Braddock in “The Graduate” (1967), Hoffman has become one of the most influential actors of the last half-century. Always devoted to his characters, Hoffman puts a great deal of effort into every one of his performances.

Hoffman’s method gave birth to one of the most famous method acting stories of all time, revolving around his intense preparation for “Marathon Man” (1976). The story: After successfully portraying his character’s strong body with months of intense training, Hoffman refused to sleep for several days at a time to better portray his character’s deteriorating frame of mind.

However, when he saw his partner Laurence Olivier sitting comfortably in a chair, he asked how he was able to make his performance so real. Olivier told Hoffman, “Dear boy, it’s called acting.”


8. Al Pacino in Serpico (1973)


Legendary actor Al Pacino is known to intensely immerse himself in his roles. With a career of more than 50 films, Pacino has created all kind of performances.

In Serpico (1973), Pacino plays Frank Serpico, a real life undercover cop who exposes corruption in the force. Pacino spent a lot of time hanging around with the real Serpico. Rumor has it that Pacino was so heavily invested in the part that while he was driving offset, he saw a truck spewing exhaust. Pacino pulled the driver over and attempted to make an arrest. The real Serpico said that Pacino understood the character better than himself.