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The 25 Best Actresses of the 21st Century

30 April 2017 | Features, People Lists | by Andre Watkins

The 21st century has provided some of the greatest performances in film history by master actresses from around the world. The following is a listing of actors that have made some of the most memorable and acclaimed performances of the century thus far.

 

25. Jennifer Lawrence

Winter’s Bone, Silver Linings Playbook, The Hunger Games, American Hustle, Joy, Passengers

Winter’s Bone

Perhaps the most famous American actress of the 21st century, Jennifer Lawrence is the first actress born in the 1990’s to receive an acting Oscar. Lawrence’s highest grossing role has been her work as Katniss Everdeen in the “Hunger Games” series. Lawrence’s best work however, may be from the 2010 low-budget independent film “Winter’s Bone”.

In the film Lawrence portrays a teenage girl in the rural Ozarks searching for her missing father in order to prevent her family from being evicted from their home. “Winter’s Bone” won the Grand Jury Prize at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival and received four Oscar nominations including Best Picture. Lawrence starred in two additional Oscar nomination Best Pictures, 2012’s “Silver Linings Playbook”, and 2013’s “American Hustle”.

Lawrence received a Golden Globe nomination for “Winter’s Bone”, and won Golden Globes for “Silver Linings Playbook”, “American Hustle”, and “Joy”. Lawrence received a BAFTA nomination for “Silver Linings Playbook” and won the Best Supporting Actress BAFTA for “American Hustle”. Lawrence received Oscar nominations for “Winter’s Bone”, “American Hustle”, and “Joy”, winning the Best Actress Oscar in 2013 for her performance in “Silver Linings Playbook”.

 

24. Rachel Weisz

Enemy at the Gates, The Constant Gardener, The Fountain, The Lovely Bones, The Deep Blue Sea, Youth, The Lobster, Complete Unknown, The Light Between Oceans, Denial

Rachel Weisz in The Fountain

British Actress Rachel Weisz racked up awards in 2005 playing an activist married to a British embassy official in Fernando Meirelles’s “The Constant Gardener”. In more recent years Weisz has provided a strong showing in 2015’s “The Lobster” and “Youth”, along with three films of note in 2016 with “Complete Unknown”, “The Light Between Oceans”, and the role of historian Deborah Lipstadt who works to prove that Holocaust actually occurred in “Denial”.

Weisz received a Golden Globe nomination for her work in “The Deep Blue Sea”, and won the Golden Globe, SAG, BAFTA, and Oscar for Best Supporting Actress for her performance in 2005’s “The Constant Gardener”.

 

23. Kristen Stewart

Twilight, Camp X-Ray, Clouds of Sils Maria, Still Alice, Certain Women, Café Society, Personal Shopper

personal-shopper

Though she may be known primarily for her work in the commercial teen hit film series “Twilight”, Kristen Stewart has become an acclaimed actress in recent years for her work in independent and foreign language film.

Stewart’s recent notable work includes a performance alongside Julianne Moore in 2014’s “Still Alice”, two films with French director Oliver Assayas with 2014’s “Clouds of Sils Maria” and 2016’s “Personal Shopper”, and young lawyer teaching class on school law in Kelly Reichardt’s 2016 “Certain Women”.

Kristen Stewart won the BAFTA Rising Star Award in 2010. In 2015 Stewart won Best Supporting Actress at the Cesar Awards in France for her performance in Oliver Assayas’ “Clouds of Sils Maria”, making her the first American actress to win a Cesar Award.

 

22. Maggie Cheung

In the Mood for Love, Hero, Clean, 2046

Actress Maggie Cheung may have the smallest filmography of the actresses on this list, however her work in those few films warrants her inclusion. Cheung starred alongside Tony Leung in Kar-Wai Wong’s 2000 masterpiece “In the Mood for Love”.

In the film, Cheung plays Su Li-zhen, a secretary who moves into an apartment building with her husband at the same time as her neighbor Chow Mo-wan, a journalist. With their respective spouse away on work for long durations, the two neighbors form a bond after suspecting that their spouses are having an affair with each other.

“In the Mood for Love” has become the most acclaimed film of the 21st century, appearing as the #24 film of all time in the 2012 Sight & Sound critics’ poll. In 2015, the Busan International Film Festival ranked “In the Mood for Love” as the third greatest Asian film of all time on its “Asian Cinema 100” list, behind Yasujirō Ozu’s “Tokyo Story” and Akira Kurosawa’s “Rashomon”.

Cheung received a Best Actress Cesar Award nomination, and won Best Actress at the 2004 Cannes Film Festival for her performance in Oliver Assayas’ 2004 “Clean”. Cheung became the first Asian actress to win a prize at the Cannes Film Festival.

 

21. Penelope Cruz

Blow, Vanilla Sky, Volver, Elegy, Vicky Cristina Barcelona, Broken Embraces, Nine, To Rome with Love

Volver

Penelope Cruz’s 21st century work may best be represented by her work with two directors known for creating films with female driven stories, Pedro Almodovar and Woody Allen. Cruz received critical acclaim for her work with Almodovar for the films “Volver” and “Broken Embraces”, winning Best Actress at the 2006 Cannes Film Festival for her performance in “Volver”.

Cruz starred alongside Javier Bardem and Scarlett Johansson in Allen’s “To Rome with Love”, and provided an entertaining supporting role in “Vicky Cristina Barcelona”.

Cruz received a BAFTA nomination for “Volver”, and won the Best Supporting Actress BAFTA for “Vicky Cristina Barcelona”. Cruz also received Oscar nominations for “Volver”, “Vicky Cristina Barcelona”, and “Nine”, winning the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress in 2009 for “Vicky Cristina Barcelona”, becoming the first Spanish actress to receive an Academy Award.

 

20. Judi Dench

Chocolat, Iris, Pride & Prejudice, Mrs Henderson Presents, Casino Royale, Notes of a Scandal, Quantum of Solace, Nine, Jane Eyre, The Shipping News, My Week with Marilyn, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, Skyfall, Philomena

With a career spanning six decades, Dame Judi Dench has established herself as one of the important actress in British theatre and cinema. Dench’s 21st century filmography includes acclaimed performances in films including “Notes on a Scandal”, “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel”, “Mrs Henderson Presents”, “Pride & Prejudice”, “Iris”, and “Philomena”.

Dench received 21st century Oscar nominations for her performance in “Chocolat”, “Iris”, “Mrs Henderson Presents”, “Notes on a Scandal”, and “Philomena”. Dench received BAFTA nominations in the 21st century for her work in “Chocolat”, “The Shipping News”, “Iris”, “Mrs Henderson Presents”, “Notes on a Scandal”, “My Week with Marilyn”, “Skyfall”, and “Philomena”, winning the BAFTA for Best Actress in 2002 for “Iris”.

 

19. Rooney Mara

The Social Network, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Ain’t Them Bodies Saints, Side Effects, Her, Carol, Lion, The Discovery

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Perhaps one of the most up and coming actresses of the 21st century, Rooney Mara has already established herself among film aficionados appearing in films for acclaimed directors including David Fincher, Steven Soderbergh, Spike Jonze, Todd Haynes, and Terrence Malick. Mara’s most acclaimed performance to date may be that of an aspiring photographer who finds herself in a love affair with another woman in 1950s New York in 2015’s “Carol”.

Mara received Golden Globe and Oscar nominations for her role in “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”, and BAFTA, SAG, Golden Globe, and Oscar nominations for her performance in “Carol”. Mara won Best Actress at the 2015 Cannes Film Festival for her performance in “Carol”.

 

18. Scarlett Johansson

Ghost World, Lost in Translation, Girl with a Pearl Earring, A Love Song for Bobby Long, Match Point, The Black Dahlia, Scoop, The Prestige, Vicky Cristina Barcelona, We Bought a Zoo, The Other Boleyn Girl, The Avengers, Under the Skin, Her, Lucy, Hail Caesar, Ghost in the Shell

Under The Skin (2014)

Scarlett Johansson’s 21st century filmography includes starring in two Best Picture Oscar nominated films “Lost in Translation”, “Her”, starring in multiple critically acclaimed films including “The Prestige” and “Under the Skin”, and becoming the highest-grossing actress of all time in North America.

Johansson has worked with acclaimed directors including Sofia Coppola, Woody Allen, Joel and Ethan Coen, Christopher Nolan, Jonathan Glazer, and Spike Jonze. In recent years Johansson’s work has delved more into the sci-fi genre of film with performances in “Her”, “Under the Skin”, “Lucy”, and “Ghost in the Shell”.

Johansson’s performance as an alien inhabiting the form of a young woman in Jonathan Glazer’s 2013 “Under the Skin” was particularly memorable as many scenes were ad-libbed with non-actors in Scotland, giving her performance as an alien preying upon unsuspecting men a particularly haunting feel. “Under the Skin” was included among the best films of 2014 by several critics and publications including the website rogerebert.com which named it as the top film of the year among its critics.

Johansson received Golden Globe nominations for her work in “Lost in Translation”, “Girl with a Pearl Earring”, “A Love Song for Bobby Long”, and “Match Point”. Johansson also received a BAFTA nomination for “Girl with a Pearl Earring”, and won the BAFTA for Best Actress in 2003 for her performance in “Lost in Translation”.

 

 

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  • Mortimer

    All in all, solid list. In my opinion Cate Blanchett should be in the Top 2 and Rooney is better actress than Scarlett.

  • Nicolas Delattre

    I agree with the list and Mortimer’s comment. In my opionion Chastain should be higher, too. Her performance in Tree of Life was amazing. Also, no Kirsten Dunst, really ?

  • An

    Anne Hathaway should be in here. Her performances in Rachel Getting Married, Brokeback Mountain and Love and Other Drugs are amazing.. And Les Mis!!

    • Special_One

      Really? Amazing? In Brokeback Mountain and Love and Other Drugs? In Brokeback Mountain all she does is fuck Jake Gyllenhaal and ride a horse. In Love and Other Drugs there’s not even a horse.

      • An

        That last phone call scene in Brokeback is amazing, it implies that she killed him and that her character was a wolf in sheep’s clothing. And The shaking scenes in Love and other drugs are great, she successfully portrayed early Parkinson’s. Anyway, that’s my opinion 🙂 you are entitled to yours, no hate here.

        • Special_One

          “That last phone call scene in Brokeback is amazing, it implies that she
          killed him and that her character was a wolf in sheep’s clothing”

          Haha, what? Did you even watch the movie? That’s not what the scene implies at all.

          • An

            She definitely knew about what was happening between them and in an interview Ange Lee said that she was a “predator”, I think she was complicit of the crime.

          • Special_One

            Of course she knew. She knew for a number of years, why would she suddenly have him killed? The predator part is obvious in the movie, you don’t need an interview for that. But it’s not a literal predator, it has to do with the gender role reversal where she is the one hitting on Gyllenhaal’s character, and essentially being the “man” in the relationship.

  • Trent Eon

    Melissa Leo would not be out of place on this list. I’ve been a fan since her Homicide days.

  • Adrian

    I find Emily Watson missing here.

  • Ricardo Correia

    Kristin Scott Thomas?
    Leaving and I’ve Loved You So Long are reason enough for her to be on the list

  • I only see 2 members of my beloved Bullet Club in that list. Where’s Jena Malone? Olivia Thirlby? Anne Hathaway? Ellen Page? Evan Rachel Wood?

    What about Maggie Gyllenhaal? Greta Gerwig? Elle Fanning? Kirsten Dunst? This list is booty.

    • Allister Cooper

      Eva Green and Mila Kunis…

    • Dunst and Gyllenhaal most definitely should be on here. Probably Hathaway too. I think Page would’ve been on here if her career arc continued – super talented actor but isn’t getting the offers like she was before.
      I think Thirlby being off is fine, even though I’m a very big fan. Gerwig’s tailor-made for Baumbach flicks, but she’s not better than the women on this list.
      Give it time and Jena Malone will be a shoe in for these types of lists.

      • Thank you for showing respect for my boo, Jena. I’m hoping for her to do a film w/ Scar-Jo 3:16, PO’TMAN MOTHAFUCKA, Page, Hathaway, Thirlby, and Wood as I think it would fucking awesome. They’re my Bullet Club.

  • ttt

    Susan Sarandon
    Rebecca Hall
    Noomi Rapace

  • cristina willigs

    Kristen Stewart?? Really?!!

    • Allister Cooper

      Yeah, XD. I myself was looking for Mila Kunis!

      • Izzy S.

        Kunis can’t act.

    • She’s an incredible actress and has been in several fantastic projects. So yes, Kristen Stewart, really!

    • Nadia

      I presume you haven’t watched Cloud of Sils Maria, Personal Shopper or Café Society?

  • Allister Cooper

    Eva Green, where is she…

  • Izzy S.

    Where the HECK is BRIE LARSON???!!!!!

    You’re telling me that Jennifer Lawrence and Scarlett Johansson are on here, BUT BRIE LARSON ISN’T???!!!!! https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/a3e8a49868cbcce41f9092ac07b17d76c233df0d1d59dd21bb66ec55e48fcebb.jpg

    • Special_One

      Brie Larson isn’t even in the top 100. Not even close.

      • Izzy S.

        “Brie Larson isn’t even in the top 100. Not even close.”

        Are you actually retarded?

        • Special_One

          No, I don’t think I would be able to respond to your comment if I were. Brie Larson might be emotionally retarded though, that would explain a lot.

          • Izzy S.

            “Brie Larson is emotionally retarded.”

            Go fuck yourself.

          • Special_One

            Hmm, maybe I will. Thanks for the tip!

            That’s not how quoting works, by the way.

      • Izzy S.

        “Brie Larson is emotionally retarded.”

        Go f*ck yourself.

      • Izzy S.

        Yup, you’re actually retarded, or just high. If so, it’s time to return your drugs to Walter White.

        • Special_One

          Yes, as we all know, you get high off methamphetamine. I’m not so sure it looks good calling other people retarded, when every single post you’ve written suggests you’re not what anyone anywhere would consider above average intelligence.

          • Izzy S.

            Says the one who said that Brie Larson is not one of the 100 best actresses of all time.

          • Special_One

            I have to correct you there. I said she was not even close to being one of the 100 best actresses of the 21st century. If it was the best actresses of all time we were talking about I wouldn’t even have mentioned it, because she’s so obviously nowhere near that.

          • Izzy S.

            You’re definitely smoking something bad for you, or you are just retarded. Simple as that.

          • Special_One

            I like that you wrote “something” instead of making another reference to a drug you don’t know anything about. I feel like you’re learning.

  • AmazingAmy

    Kirsten dunst better replace stewart….
    And where is Annete Bening, Emily Watson, Helen Mirren, Greta Gerwig, Mulligan, Maggie Smith, Kristin Scott Thomas, Linney

    With all respect, Streep should be top three alongside Huppert and Blanchett.
    People found her overpraised but she is most consistent and one of strongest working actress today

    I bet that year later this list will changed again depend actresses that will shine this year.

  • Sahin Parvin

    Where the f is Julia Roberts???

    • Izzy S.

      Julia Roberts gave a memorable performance in Erin Brokovich. That is it.

      • Sahin Parvin

        Watch august:Osage county

  • Tristan Reed

    JENNIFER JASON LEIGH should be on this list!!!!

  • Micke

    Stewart but not Dunst? You gotta be kidding me.

    • austin yearwood

      Dunst is washed up and lives on past glory. Stewart is not everyone’s favorite actress and kinda plays herself but so did Marilyn friggin Monroe. But Stewart moves on and doesn’t rely on the fame of one movie. Dunst however relied too much on the fame of the Tobey Maguire Spider-Man trilogy. This list is actresses who put out the effort. Not for slackers, like your beloved Dunst.

      • Micke

        So… Do you know Kirsten personally?
        Also, Marylin Monroe did not play her self because it’s well known that she was a smart brunette rather than a ditzy blonde.

        And the thing is, Dunst *is* a great actress while Stewart just is not.

        Dunst was a rising star before Spider-Man but Stewart would have been nothing without Twilight.

        • austin yearwood

          Marilyn Monroe’ s name always frequently appears on “The Most Typecast Actors” lists of MANY websites! So get your facts together before restating your opinions. And if Dunst is SUCH great actress she should more popular than Stewart? Now, be a man and just admit that Kristen Stewart is not your cup of tea instead of being a whining little bitch.

          • Micke

            I wonder who the whiny little bitch is though. Do you even know what typecast means?

        • austin yearwood

          Dunst was a rising star before Spider Man. Boy, oh boy. Wasn’t she a crappy Mary Jane. Her ” Mary Jane ” was a sniveling brat, desperate for everyone’s approval. In the comic books, Mary Jane Watson is a fiercely independent, outspoken, sexually liberated young woman who didn’t “wait” all the damn time for Peter Parker to come to his senses. Pun intended. Now as for K Stew, she was no doubt between Panic Room and the first Twilight, a fading child star. But Bella Swan is a moody, sniveling little bitch in the novels, so that is what K Stew played. Stewart is also willing to be play not- so likeable characters( even if it means being hated on by random morons like you) where as Dunst is always trying to be the “lovable one”. Stewart respected the source material for her character. Dunst did not respect the material for her character. Dunst respect for Mary Jane went no further than dye her hair red and just put on the green eye- contacts. In my book, both Stewart and Dunst are typecast actresses (which you sound pretty stupid trying to put one over the other). For Taste of Cinema and their list they chose the more relevant typecast actress – which so ” tragically ” for your sniveling ass- Kristen Stewart. Now Mickey, have a great day and tell Minnie I said hi.

          • Micke

            Yeah, you know… Dunst didn’t write the scripts for Spider-Man and also, there are at least three or four comic incarnations of MJ. I do agree that the MJ of Ramis Spidey-films is pretty bad but that’s like I’ve said not really Dunsts fault.

            The problem I have with Stewart is that she seems to be typecast in roles where I just don’t care for the character. Not even when she’s supposed to be likeable and relatable. Maybe she’s much like Jennifer Lawrence; great in the films I just haven’t seen.

          • austin yearwood

            I wasn’t always a fan of K Stew. As for her typecasting, I just got over it. She, herself knows this. That’s what I like about her though. She knows she’s a typecast. Even she has said ” If you don’t like my movies, don’t watch them”. So as far as Kristen Stewart is concerned, you’re just fighting a battle you HAVE ALREADY WON. Take Claire Danes. I don’t like her by the slightest. But it is not the end of the world when some magazine or fellow actors or random person on the street praises her as a great actress. I just take the comments with a grain of salt. As for Dunst, well. Here’s hoping to a great comeback!

  • Fuentes

    This is such a Western outlook on cinema. The majority of the list is composed of actresses from Hollywood. In order to make a strong and unifying claim as “Best Actresses of the 21st Century”, the writer of this piece should be intellectually obligated to specify in the title that his viewpoint is oriented towards a certain region or industry. For example, “25 best Hollywood Actresses of the 21 Century” would be a much fitting topic for this author.Taste Of Cinema keeps propelling these clickbait, half-cooked, amateur articles. I know, I know….Taste Of Cinema is not trying to be a serious, academic web outlet, with its loose vetting policy for writers, or its ‘top 10 list’ article form, but there are some good writers and articles here and sometimes I just wish there was more consistency in quality.

  • Fuentes

    This is such a Western outlook on cinema. The majority of the list is composed of actresses from Hollywood. In order to make a strong and unifying claim as “Best Actresses of the 21st Century”, the writer of this piece should be intellectually obligated to specify in the title that his viewpoint is oriented towards a certain region or industry. For example, “25 best Hollywood Actresses of the 21 Century” would be a much fitting topic for this author.Taste Of Cinema keeps propelling these clickbait, half-cooked, amateur articles. I know, I know….Taste Of Cinema is not trying to be a serious, academic web outlet, with its loose vetting policy for writers, or its ‘top 10 list’ article form, but there are some good writers and articles here and sometimes I just wish there was more consistency in quality.

  • T Brown

    Watching The Handmaid’s Tale this weekend, I can’t help but wonder when Elisabeth Moss will be added to the canon of greatest actresses of our time. I’ve seen many lists like this lately but have yet to see her talked about at the highest level. She may not have the right roles to show it yet but I hope that will change soon, she deserves more love.

  • Werner

    Kirsten Stewart? Is this a joke?

    • shane scott-travis

      You haven’t seen Stewart in Personal Shopper. She’s wonderful in it, her grief is wholly palpable and played with 100% conviction. If you’ve ever lost someone close to you, like a sibling, you will be instantly compelled by the honesty & heartbreak of her performance.

  • George Eskiadis

    Isabelle Huppert at #1 ? No.. that position belongs to Naomi Watts.I cant think of another actress who deserves more recognition. Where is Anette Benning (one of the most talented actresses , still going)??? you should do a top 50 and include talents like Blunt, Rapace, Mirren, Gerwig, Linney, Kunis, Malone, ER.Wood, M.Gyllenhaal, E.Fanning, Hall…the list is endless make the right choices 😉

  • brenda wiryo

    i almost believe this list until you fucking put kristen stewart in it

    • Gilles Ello

      You haven’t seen her films for Olivier Assayas.

    • shane scott-travis

      You haven’t seen Stewart in Personal Shopper. She’s wonderful in it, her grief is wholly palpable and played with 100% conviction. If you’ve ever lost someone close to you, like a sibling, you will be instantly compelled by the honesty and heartbreak of her performance.

  • Gilles Ello

    Where is Samantha Morton?

  • Nat

    Diane Keaton!!!! Helen Mirren!!! And these guys may or may not be top 25 but could easily replace some on the list (ahem Kristen, Scarlett).. Uma Thurman, Kirsten Dunst, Reese Witherspoon, Kelly MacDonald..

  • Dave Nosanaj

    Hilary Swank.