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The 10 Best Male Movie Performances of All Time

12 November 2017 | Features, Other Lists | by Vitor Guima

5. Al Pacino in “The Godfather: Part II” (1974)

“I know it was you Fredo” from The Godfather Part II

If you think that Marlon Brando as Vito Corleone is the best performance in the Godfather trilogy or the best in Brando’s career, this writer respects your opinion very much, but politely disagrees (check number four on this list).

In “The Godfather: Part II,” we keep following the story of Michael Corleone (Al Pacino), who now tries to expand the business of his family to Cuba, Las Vegas and Hollywood.

If in the first film of the trilogy we see Michael getting rid of his innocence (if there was innocence at first) and becoming the head of his family, in this movie we see how power is able to transform him into a person completely out of control.

From his angry temper to his cold decision to murder his brother, Pacino brings all the nuances necessary to make Michael Corleone one of the most complex characters in film. This is the best performance of Pacino’s career and surely one of the best in cinema history.


4. Marlon Brando in “On the Waterfront” (1954)

I Coulda Been a Contender - On The Waterfront (1954)

This movie that won eight Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director for Elia Kazan and Best Actor to Marlon Brando, is among the best made in the United States in the second half of the 20th century.

Marlon Brando is normally remembered as one the best actors of all time and Elia Kazan is one of the best in directing actors. The result could not be anything but outstanding.

“On the Waterfront” follows the story of Terry Malloy (Brando), a man who dreams about being a fighter and who works for the corrupt boss of the dockers union. One day, he witnesses his boss’s thugs killing a man and feels guilty about it. The thing is that he develops a relationship with Edie (Eva Marie Saint), the sister of the man he saw being murdered.

This film has many iconic scenes, but in particular, the car scene where Terry talks to his brother and the park scene where Terry takes Edie’s gloves show that we are seeing some of the best acting in history. “On the Waterfront” has the best performance in Brando’s career and should without a doubt be watched by any cinephile.


3. Takashi Shimura in “Ikiru” (1952)


How subtle, beautiful and brilliant is Takashi Shimura’s acting in Akira Kurosawa’s “Ikiru”?

Following the story of Kanji Watanabe (Shimura), “Ikiru” shows us a civil servant who has a very monotonous life until he discovers he has less than a year to live due to cancer in the stomach. After the initial shock, Kanji notices that even though he does not have much time, it doesn’t mean he can’t do significant things.

The humanistic approach in this film, directed by Japanese master Akira Kurosawa, is naturally alluring. Shimura’s quiet and profound performance is able to transmit all the pain of a man who sees his time is running out and, even with all the suffering, finds the will to live.

In one of Kurosawa’s greatest films, Shimura delivers one of the best and most beautiful performances in cinema history.


2. Charlie Chaplin in “City Lights” (1931)

city lights

When we watch this film, and especially when we watch its last scene, we can easily notice that we’re watching one of the greatest artists of the 20th century.

In this film, Charlie Chaplin is a tramp who falls in love with a blind woman who has financial trouble. With the support of a friend who is a wealthy tippler, he is able to help the woman he loves.

This “comedy romance in pantomime” (as described in the title sequence) that was written, directed and starred by Chaplin is surely one of the best films of his career (if not the best). The way he is able to control the mise en scène even when he is in front of the camera is truly extraordinary.

As mentioned above, when we watch the last scene of this film, when we see the tramp’s expression of true love and happiness, there is no doubt we’re watching one of the best performances of all time.


1. Jack Nicholson in “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” (1975)

One Flew Over The Cuckoo’S Nest (1975)

In this film that won five Oscars including Best Picture, Best Director (Milos Forman), Best Actor (Jack Nicholson), Best Actress (Louise Fletcher) and Best Adapted Screenplay (Bo Goldman and Lawrence Hauben), Jack Nicholson delivers the best performance of his career and one of the best in history.

On “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” we follow the story of McMurphy (Nicholson), a criminal who once again gets himself in trouble, but this time pleads insanity to escape labor duties in prison. He is then sent to a ward for mentally unstable people and witnesses the abuse suffered by the inmates in the hands of Nurse Ratched (Fletcher).

Nicholson is truly at his best on this film. Every expression, every line, every time he moves his mouth or his eyes in this film helps create one of the most intriguing characters we’ve seen in the history of cinema. As McMurphy, Nicholson completely takes over the screen (but does not totally steal the show because the other performances, particularly Louise Fletcher’s, are superb).

“One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” is a classic 70’s film that should definitely be watched again and again. And the performance by Jack Nicholson is simply astonishing. Is it the best of all time? Please, share your thoughts below.

Author bio: Vítor Guima is a filmmaker, writer and musician from São Paulo, Brazil. Every day he watches a movie, reads a few pages from a book, listens to an album and freaks out with the feeling of not having enough time to see everything. You can follow him on Instagram on @ovitorguima.



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  • Mortimer

    Ok list. Ranking is highly debatable of course.
    I’ll add:
    Burt Lancaster – The Leopard
    Alec Guinness – The Bridge on the River Kwai
    Peter O’Toole – Lawrence of Arabia
    Peter Sellers – Dr Strangelove
    Malcolm McDowell – A Clockwork Orange
    Joaquin Phoenix – The Master

    • Ricardo Correia

      Sorry but O’Toole is horrendous in Lawrance Of Arabia

      • Mortimer

        He is little over the top in the 2nd half of the movie when he is going mad. But for the most part I think he was excellent as closeted gay with arrogant, messianic complex.

        Of entire supporting cast Jose Ferrer was the best in my opinion and he had the most limited screen time.

  • Ricardo Correia

    Never understood what people see in Pacino, I think he is terrible actor, never knows what to do with his eyes (always overacts) and generally is really unconvincing
    Love DDL but his performance in TWBB in my opinion is far from worthy of this list
    And Brando a is really bad in On The Waterfront

    • Mack

      your first judgement i saw a point. not terrible but maybe a bit overrated. still a bit off to think Pacino ‘terrible’. 2nd judgement I felt the same. it’s definitely one of the better performances of contemporary cinema. a weird one to have an issue with. your 3rd point however I thought “oh hahahaha he’s been joking the whole time. Got me!”

    • sailor monsoon


    • Gabriel Dvkx

      Damn! Shut the fuck up!

  • Ricardo Correia

    Per Oscarsson’s performance in Hunger is maybe cinema’s finest, should be in this list
    Duvall is brilliant in Tender Mercies, Nick Nolte is estupendous in Affliction and Philip Seymour Hoffman in Capote and Phoenix in The Master are also worthy of this list

  • Ricardo Correia

    Mastroianni has quite a few performances better than the one in La Dolce Vita (even though it is one of the best films of the 60s)

  • Gabriel Dvkx

    Top 5 for me:

    Robert De Niro – Raging Bull
    Edward Norton – American History X
    Marlon Brando – A Streetcar Named Desire
    Max von Sydow – The Seventh Seal
    Al Pacino – Scarface

    • Ricardo Correia

      Scarface and Norton ahahah

  • Abeetz

    Bogart…Casablanca; Treasure of The Sierra Madre;Caine Mutiny; Sahara???

    • Ricardo Correia

      Casablanca? lol

    • Kosta Jovanovic

      How about his best one, in a lonely place?

    • Spike Bowden

      My 2 favorite Bogart performances are Treasure of the Sierra Madre and The African Queen.

  • Ekraj Pandit

    My Choices (in no particular order):

    1. Buster Keaton in all of his silent movies
    2. Jacques Tati in all of his films
    3. Charlie Chaplin in all of his films
    4. Chishū Ryū in Ozu’s films
    5. Humphrey Bogart in In a Lonely Place and The Treasure of Sierra Madre
    6. Guru Dutt in Pyaasa, Kaagaz Ke Phool and, Sahib Biwi Aur Ghulam
    7. Mastroianni in La Dolce Vita and 8 1/2
    8. Michel Simon in L’Atalante and Boudu saved from drowning
    9. Ben Gazzara in Killing of Chinese Bookie and Husbands
    10. Daniel Day-Lewis in There will be blood

    • Ricardo Correia

      I must say you have some interesting picks right there, guess you are not a big fan of modern acting

    • grootrm

      Any more this millennia?

      • Ekraj Pandit

        Toni Servillo in The Great Beauty (2013)
        Joaquin Phoenix in The Master (2012)

  • Franco Gonzalez

    Daniel Day Lewis is not human

  • I can’t see nor find any arguments with this list.

  • Henry Alston

    It’s an excellent list but, somehow, I would have to find spots for Ray Milland’s performance in THE LOST WEEKEND and Andy Griffith’s turn in FACE IN A CROWD

  • Grace Skerp

    Toshiro Mifune (Kikuchiyo) The Seven Samurai

  • Nicolas Delattre

    Fine list. Maybe ‘Philip Seymour Hoffman’ for Capote ? His performance was amazing, such a strong and fascinating actor.

  • Tim O’Hare

    How about we end gender segregation and have a Best Movie Performances?

  • Anthony Lancaster