The 15 Greatest Nicole Kidman Movie Performances

DogvillePhoto Credit: Rolf Konow

Only a small number of actresses make as diverse and bold range of choices as Nicole Kidman. Her elegance, fearlessness and passion bring an incredible mix of old Hollywood with modern sensibility. She has spent the last two and a half decades swinging between extremely brave (e.g. she has never used a body double for her nude scenes) and fascinating choices with the best filmmakers on one side and nearly disastrous nonsense on the other side (‘’Australia’’, ‘’Bewitched’’, ‘’The Invasion”). Her capabilities are always majestic and one can hardly turn his eyes away from her.

Nicole stated she was fortunate because she realized from an absurdly young age that she wanted to become an actress. Additionally, she trained herself professionally for it; her first professional role was at the age of 14. Since then she has used and developed her talents to become wide known for her versatility and commitment and has constantly been seeking to work with intriguing film directors.

“I never feel like I’m in control. I like to relinquish control, and fit into somebody else’s world. And that’s just lately, but you never feel like you are making choices. You feel like they’re finding you in a strange way. It’s about responding to things rather than planning.”

Kidman has had a brilliant career of critically-acclaimed, internationally recognized and commercially successful films which means almost 80 awards (including an Academy Award for ‘’The Hours’’) and 120 nominations. She is the first Australian actress to be nominated for an Academy Award in a leading role more than once (and in consecutive years), and the first female Australian to win an Academy Award (for the Best Actress).

Undoubtedly, a reigning actress by profession and a philanthropist by heart (became Goodwill Ambassador for UNICEF in 1994 and 12 years later for UNIFEM), Nicole Kidman is truly a movie icon of our generation.

The list is chronologically ordered.


1. To Die For (Gus Van Sant, 1995)


The portrayal of a fame-hungry housewife who would do anything to become a TV personality is considered as one of Kidman’s first masterpieces. By showing her dark side in this satire comedy she gained recognition and proved herself a true thespian; however, her comic skill has always been unduly underrated. Since she desperately wanted this role, she directly called Gus Van Sant, spent three days in an inn watching only trashy TV shows, and ended up talking with full AmE accent during the whole filming.

The film revealed that she isn’t predestined to play sweet little girls, but also murderous and dead sexy ones. This wickedly sharp mix of black comedy and satire reminds us of TV’s damaging effects and the character of Suzanne Stone remains as one of the best examples of power-driven and fame-obsessed women on screen. Kidman was more than convincing in depicting this murderously ambitious, manipulative, and downright sexual weather girl.


2. The Portrait of a Lady (Jane Campion, 1996)


This is certainly one of the most underrated films in this list and it’s not the only case if one looks at Jane Campion’s movies. Kidman plays Isabel Archer, a beautiful but untamable woman, who inherits a large amount of money and is determined to fulfill her own desires. Her portrayal of a major literary heroine who is facing (Henry James’s) nineteenth century formalities is essentially controversial and audacious showing the earliest stages of feminism.

The strongest point is Nicole showing her cleverness and sadness, but for the first time in her career helplessness and powerlessness. She brings us the entire movie in one shot and that scene is at the beginning when she looks at the camera. Kidman was diagnosed with huge ‘’emotional stress’’ and spent 2 weeks in bed after she had finished with filming. Critics have started praising this film recently which proves that the 1996 audience wasn’t ready for it.


3. Eyes Wide Shut (Stanley Kubrick, 1999)

eyes wide shut mask

When director Stanley Kubrick died soon after finishing the film, critics and audience were eager to watch his last masterpiece and, as it happened before with Kubrick, this film polarized opinions. Undoubtedly, both Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman gave marvelous and haunting performances in this dark tale of emotional alienation and sexual obsession. Not only sexually explicit, but rich with atmosphere and visually stunning, this drama was focused on mutual trust and marital (in)fidelity.

In the Alice Harford role, Kidman is both cold and sexy, dark, a bit kinky, but emotionally naked all the way (considered as one of the most astonishing performances in Kubrick’s movies). Even though she is not on screen as much as Cruise, every time she appears we are brought into a new, mystery world full of surprises. Alice is both cruel and eloquent; she cuts her husband’s heart easily when she confesses of her sexual fantasy and she does it without mercy. And, not to forget her final line which makes this film so memorable.


4. Moulin Rouge! (Baz Luhrmann, 2001)

Moulin Rouge

A beautiful courtesan named Satine (portrayed by fiery Nicole Kidman) enters a love affair with a poor poet (played by Ewan McGregor) in this visually stunning and good old-fashioned love story. She is a glamorous heroine, a dancer and a singer, both passionate and innocent, and thus it’s easy to understand why McGregor’s character falls in love with her. Their love/passion is seen on and off the stage in the famous Parisian cabaret (the soundtrack includes songs by Nirvana, Elton John, the Beatles, David Bowie, Queen, etc.).

Baz Lurhman offered Kidman the opportunity to vary her performance style throughout the film and she did it so easily shifting between the scenes of fantasy, darkness, burlesque and tragic. This film offers almost a complete display of Kidman’s versatility and capacity, and it’s impossible not to admire her dazzling and sensitive performance even if you’re not a musical fan.

Not to mention that she hurt her knee badly at one point during rehearsals and later also broke two ribs, but none of these prevented her from complete and unconditional commitment to art.


5. The Others (Alejandro Amenabar, 2001)


At first, Kidman was not sure whether to play in this film since it explores such dark places and she even suggested Julianne Moore for the role of Grace Stewart. Luckily, she was convinced by both the producers and the director and almost ten years later she confessed it’s one of her favorites among all the movies in her acting career.

Kidman is at her finest as an overprotective mother living with her two children in the haunted countryside mansion after WWII while her husband is at war. The story is driven by her outstanding performance, keeping the audience on edge while patiently building tension and amplifying the creeping terror. The major twist has been used for so many times in other movies later but it’s Kidman’s extraordinary performance that deeply affects us every time. To conclude, one of the best horror films with one of the best performances in a horror film.


6. The Hours (Stephen Daldry, 2002)

The Hours

The film chronicles Virginia Woolf’s increasing depression and dissatisfaction with her life while trying to write her new novel ‘’Mrs. Dalloway’’ in 1920s, and how the novel affects the lives of two women (a pregnant housewife in 1951 and a lesbian publisher in 2001). The script was inspired by the Pulitzer-winning novel written by Michael Cunningham, the supporting cast included Julianne Moore and Meryl Streep, and when you include Nicole Kidman as a main protagonist acting tremendously, a masterpiece is born.

Kidman had prosthetics applied to her nose which made her barely recognizable but still she managed to convey her wrestle with depression, frustration, and anguish while she alienates from her husband, family, and friends. Her transformation went so far that she changed bodily movements, granted the character with numerous tics and lowered her voice down, but far more striking is the desperate stare into the void. A magnificently effective performance showing struggles with voluptuous sadness and existential crisis that unravel through Nicole’s interpretation.


7. The Human Stain (Robert Benton, 2003)


The script is adapted from the Philip Roth’s famous novel, and it’s about a 70-years old former college professor (with a huge secret!), played by Anthony Hopkins, who enters a love affair with Kidman that will change both of their lives. Kidman as Faunia Farley, the young woman whose life has been full of misery and sadness, gives an excellent performance at bringing that emotionally damaged and troubled character to life.

Faunia has escaped her abusive stepfather first and later the same husband, and had loved ones taken from her in tragic settings. What makes their relationship emotional for audience is that he doesn’t give up on her. The passion they share was criticized, but Kidman admits that people who only function on physical level might have very shallow relationships that can’t last for long. Kidman was also criticized for being too sophisticated to play a cleaning lady/janitor/farmhand but she is believable in this role, and it’s a performance of astounding bravery.