The 10 Best Jennifer Connelly Movie Performances

best jennifer connerlly movies

Jennifer Connelly was born in New York’s Catskill Mountains on December 12, 1970. Most people recognize her from “Requiem for a Dream”, but she took part in many films before that. She is an only child and she was raised by her father Gerard and her mother Eileen in a religious Catholic household. She began modeling at 10, appearing on the covers of magazines like “Seventeen” and “Muppet Magazine”.

A casting director saw her and introduced her to Sergio Leone, who was seeking a young girl to dance in his gangster epic “Once Upon a Time in America”. Although the role was not big, she showed the director and the audience that she was talented, despite her young age. After some movies and video clips, she enrolled at Yale, and then transferred two years later to Stanford. She trained in classical theatre and improvisation.

Another role that made her more popular was in the film “Labyrinth”, a film where we see the iconic figure of David Bowie as the Goblin King. One of the most underrated films of her filmography is “Dark City”, a dystopian film with an Orwellian style and narrative. But the role that made her famous worldwide was the one in “Requiem for a Dream”. Her breakthrough performance was praised from both critics and audiences, and she proved she could handle such difficult roles.

She has won an Oscar for Best Actress in a Supporting Role, staring as Alicia Nash in “A Beautiful Mind”. In this film, she became acquainted with her co-star Paul Bettany and they were married in 2003. They also co-starred in the underrated biography of Charles Darwin, “Creation”. They have two children together and she has another child from a previous marriage. The order of appearance of the movies on this list is random.


10. Young Beborah in “Once Upon a Time in America” (Sergio Leone, 1984)

Once Upon a Time in America

We follow a gang of Jewish children immigrants growing up in Brooklyn, dealing with poverty and crime. They work for a local gangster named Bugsy; however, Noodles (Robert De Niro) and his friends have ambitions to strike out on their own. Noodles is the leader of the gang and he is in love with Deborah (a young Jennifer Connelly). But not everything goes according to plan. He is arrested and he is sentenced to 12 years in prison. When he gets out, he comes back to his old neighborhood.

The year is 1933. It is the year that the prohibition ended. His friends have not forgotten him, as he did not betray them all these years in prison. He quickly understands that the boys are not the same. They have become ruthless gangsters and they are not afraid to commit savage crimes. Noodles finds it difficult to adjust to the new situation where everything has changed and seems more brutal and cynical.

This is the swan song of Sergio Leone (director), one of the best directors of all time. Leone became famous for spaghetti westerns like “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966)” and “A Fistful of Dollars (1964)”. He tried to make an epic gangster movie like “The Godfather” and he succeeded. It is a masterpiece, full of flashbacks, close ups and unforgettable music by the master Ennio Morricone. The main idea for the screenplay is the autobiographical novel by Harry Grey, “The Hoods”.

Despite its long duration (229 minutes), the movie does not get boring as the stories of the heroes unfold. Unfortunately, when the movie was released in the US in June 1984, Warner Bros decided to cut the film to 139 minutes, so that it would be easier for the audience to watch it. The flashbacks became inconsistent and the movie was a commercial failure. The young Jennifer Connelly (12 years old), although she has little screen time, shows that she is a promising talent with great potential.


9. Sarah in “Labyrinth” (Jim Henson, 1986)


Young Sarah (Jennifer Connelly) is a typical teenager, and like most of the girls her age she feels confused. She thinks that her parents don’t care about her and they are being favorable to her baby brother Toby (Toby Froud). They are going out and they leave Sarah to babysit him.

Toby is restless and is crying all the time. Sarah, without meaning it for real, wishes that the goblins come and take him with them. Unfortunately, her wish comes true and Toby is abducted by some weird goblins and their master, who is called Jareth (David Bowie). Jareth makes a deal with Sarah: if she solves the labyrinth within the next 13 hours, she will take her little brother back.

If she won’t, he will turn him into a goblin forever. Sarah will start a self discovery journey in order to save Toby from becoming a goblin, and during her adventure she will learn some useful things about herself, like that she can’t always takes things for granted and she should sometimes search deeper to find a solution. She will also make some interesting friends, like the nice beasts Ludo and Hoggle who will become her guardian angels.

“Labyrinth” is a movie that mostly addresses children and young teenagers. It is a symbolical trip about the passing from childhood to adulthood. The film was nominated for the “Best Special Visual Effects” at the BAFTA awards. If we consider the year it was made (1986), the effects are pretty spectacular.

David Bowie is good but it seems difficult to imagine him as an actor, and even harder as a protagonist. The best parts of his acting are while he is singing during the movie. Jennifer Connelly realistically depicts the troubled teenager who is eager to grow up and become a responsible adult.


8. Gloria Harper in “The Hot Spot” (Dennis Hopper, 1990)

THE HOT SPOT, Jennifer Connelly, 1990, (c) Orion

Harry Madox (Don Johnson) arrives at a small town without any ambitions. He seems like he doesn’t have any expectations from life and soon he realizes that this town is the definition of boredom. “In this life you gotta take what you want,” is his motto and he quickly tries to put it to use. He goes to a random place that sells cars and, pretending to be a salesman, he sells one to a customer.

The owner of the place, the stiff George Harshaw (Jerry Hardin), is impressed by his capabilities and he hires him. Rather quickly, he discovers that the only boss that Harry listens to is himself. He is not afraid to get fired and is not eager to take the insignificant tasks that George orders him. The only thing that he likes in his job is looking at the 19-year-old Gloria Harper (Jennifer Connelly), who also seems to be attracted to him.

She seems very innocent and beautiful at the same time in his experienced eyes. His bosses’ wife, Dolly (Virginia Madsen) is very beautiful, too. She also likes Harry but she is the exactly opposite of Gloria: mean and vulgar. Harry has bigger plans than being a salesman for his whole life and he puts into practice his plan to rob the local bank. But not everything goes according to plan…

“The Hot Spot” is the sixth movie that the famous actor Dennis Hopper directs after his legendary debut behind the camera with “Easy Rider” (1969). He creates an easygoing character who adjusts to life as the circumstances change and doesn’t seem to have a big plan.

Another great performance by Jennifer Connelly who portrays without any exaggeration the young and innocent girl who is seduced by the charming stranger who comes to town in order to find better luck. Her psyche is perfect for the role and despite her young age during the film (20 years old). she shows to the audience that she could handle difficult roles without diminishing the quality of her performance.


7. Emma Murdoch in “Dark City” (Alex Proyas, 1998)

Dark City

John Murdoch (Rufus Sewel) wakes up in a hotel without having any memories of how he got there or even who he is. There is a woman lying dead in the room and John quickly runs out of there. He has flashbacks of his previous life but his memories come back fragmented and he is not sure of his identity. In the meantime, his wife (Jennifer Connelly) is worried about him because it has been three weeks since he left their home, because he found out that she had an affair.

A series of murders have alarmed the police and John is one of the main suspects. He realizes that after he woke up, he has some abilities that seem extraordinary. He can move things with his eyes, something that is called tuning, and it will prove very useful for his survival. But he is feeling very confused. Why is it always night in this city and who are these weird people following him? Do they want to harm him? Has he really lost his mind or is he the only sane person in this “dark” city?

Director Alex Proyas has created a dystopian and atmospheric film that is full of questions about life, memory and conscience. It is full of references from philosophical and psychoanalytical themes that have been questioned for many years.

What is conscience? Why do we have it in the first place? How are memories shaped and is it possible that we share a collective memory, like the collective unconscious of the famous psychoanalyst Carl Jungs’ theory? “Are we in fact more than the mere sum of our memories?” Dr. Schreber (Kiefer Sutherland) asks without knowing the definite answer.

Jennifer Connelly delivers a top notch performance as the wife of the protagonist who loves him and is willing to do anything to discover the truth about her husband.


6. Emma Darwin in “Creation” (Jon Amiel, 2009)


Charles Darwin’s book “On the Origin of Species” has been recently voted the most influential book ever written, hailed as “the supreme demonstration of why academic books matter” and “a book which has changed the way we think about everything”. The movie shows the way Charles Darwin (Paul Bettany) wrote this book and focuses on the internal turmoil he felt because of his wife’s (Jennifer Connelly) and society’s beliefs about the way man and animals were created.

But director Jon Amiel didn’t just create another biographical film that simply depicts the facts of this significant figure. Through the excellent use of flashbacks, we see Darwin and his relationship with his beloved daughter Annie (Martha West). She is a clever girl, different from the other children of her age, and Darwin is so proud and happy to show her his theory and conclusions about human life.

Her sudden illness and death changes him forever. He feels guilty about her death and starts developing psychosomatic symptoms and even hallucinations. What would have happened if she had been treated another way? Is his wife blaming him for her death? Instead of talking about it with her, they just keep hiding it under the rug.

Psychoanalysis or modern psychotherapy and drugs had not been invented during his era and he tries to face his symptoms with other means, like hydrotherapy. But his mental anguish is so strong that it will require something much more drastic. Not only does he have to deal with his guilt about his daughter’s death but he also has to deal with his dilemma about writing and publishing a book that will change the foundations of humanity forever.

Everyone, including his wife, believes that God is the sole Creator and no one dares to argue against that. But during his trips, as a young student, the conclusions he made have all been against that prevailing theory. Despite feeling nauseated while travelling, Darwin sacrificed his well being in order to satisfy his curiosity and to complete his theory. He will have to go for another time against his sensitive nerves, so that he can prove that not everything is according to God’s plan.

Paul Bettany depicts an excellent Darwin before and after his daughter’s death. Having been married in real life to Jennifer Connelly, they both give top notch performances. She is also great, battling between her love with him and her deep faith to God. Which one is going to prove stronger?