The 25 Best Actresses of the 21st Century
17. Charlize Theron
Monster, North Country, Young Adult, In the Valley of Elah, The Road, Prometheus, Mad Max: Fury Road
After appearing in several supporting roles in the early 21st century, Charlize Theron broke out as an elite actress with her portrayal of a prostitute who becomes a serial killer in the 2003 film “Monster”.
Film critic Roger Ebert hailed her performance as “one of the greatest performances in the history of the cinema”, and Theron received critical praise and award season recognition for her work. In 2015 Theron starred in George Miller’s acclaimed “Mad Max: Fury Road”, a film which received 10 Oscar nominations including Best Picture, and was placed on several critics and publications top 10 films of the year.
Theron received BAFTA nominations for her work in “Monster”, and “North Country”, along with Golden Globe nominations for “North Country” and “Young Adult”, winning the Golden Globe for Best Actress with “Monster”. Theron received an Oscar nomination for “North Country”, and won the Best Actress Oscar in 2004 for her performance in “Monster”.
16. Meryl Streep
Adaptation, The Hours, A Prairie Home Companion, The Devil Wears Prada, Mamma Mia, Doubt, Julie & Julia, The Iron Lady, The Manchurian Candidate, August: Osage County, Into the Woods, Suffragette, Florence Foster Jenkins
Considered by many critics as one of the greatest actresses of all time, Meryl Streep’s stellar film career has not missed a step during the 21st century. Streep’s 21st century work includes critically acclaimed performances in films such as “Adaptation”, “The Devil Wears Prada”, “Doubt”, “The Iron Lady”, and “Florence Foster Jenkins”.
Streep has received more Golden Globe and Oscar nominations than any actor or actress, with 30 Golden Globe nominations, of which she has won 8, and 20 Oscar nominations, of which she has won 3. During the 21st century Steep has received BAFTA nominations for her work in “Adaptation”, “The Manchurian Candidate”, “The Devil Wears Prada”, “Doubt”, “Julie & Julia”, “The Iron Lady”, and “Florence Foster Jenkins”, winning the Best Actress BAFTA for “The Iron Lady”.
Streep received Oscar nominations for her work in “Adaptation”, “The Devil Wears Prada”, “Doubt”, “Julie & Julia”, “The Iron Lady”, “August: Osage County”, “Into the Woods”, and “Florence Foster Jenkins”. Streep won the Best Actress Oscar in 2012 for her performance as English Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in “The Iron Lady”.
15. Jessica Chastain
Take Shelter, The Tree of Life, The Help, Lawless, Zero Dark Thirty, The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby, Interstellar, A Most Violent Year, The Martian, Crimson Peak, Miss Sloane
An actress whose career began in the 21st century, Jessica Chastain has worked with several acclaimed directors including Jeff Nichols, Terrence Malick, Kathryn Bigelow, Christopher Nolan, Ridley Scott, and Guillermo del Toro.
Chastain’s breakout performance came in Malick’s 2011 “The Tree of Life” where she played the nurturing mother of a young boy Jack as reaches adolescence. “The Tree of Life” won the Palm d’Or at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival and has since received wide acclaim as one of the top films of the 21st century. The 2012 Sight & Sound critics’ poll listed “The Tree of Life” as the #4 film of the 21st century.
Chastain received BAFTA and Oscar nominations for her work in “The Help” and “Zero Dark Thirty”. Chastain received Golden Globe nominations for her performance in “The Help”, “Zero Dark Thirty”, “A Most Violent Year”, and “Miss Sloane”, winning the Best Actress Golden Globe for “Zero Dark Thirty”.
14. Michelle Williams
Brokeback Mountain, I’m Not There, Wendy and Lucy, Synecdoche New York, Mammoth, Blue Valentine, Shutter Island, My Week with Marilyn, Manchester by the Sea, Certain Women
Michelle Williams’ 21st century filmography has been comprised by work with a large amount of lower-budget independent films including “Brokeback Mountain”, “Wendy and Lucy”, “Blue Valentine”, “Mammoth”, “My Week with Marilyn”, “Certain Women”, and “Manchester by the Sea”.
Williams’ performance alongside Ryan Gosling as a young married couple and the evolution towards the breakup of their marriage in 2010’s “Blue Valentine” particularly stands out among her filmography. New York Time critic A.O. Scott described her performance as, “Ms. Williams and Mr. Gosling are exemplars of New Method sincerity, able to be fully and achingly present every moment onscreen together”.
Williams received BAFTA nominations for her work in “Brokeback Mountain”, “My Week with Marilyn”, and “Manchester by the Sea”. Williams received both Golden Globe and Oscar nominations for her work in “Brokeback Mountain”, “Blue Valentine”, “My Week with Marilyn”, and “Manchester by the Sea”, winning the Golden Globe in 2012 for “My Week with Marilyn”.
13. Charlotte Gainsbourg
Lemming, The Science of Sleep, I Do, I’m not There, Antichrist, The Tree, Melancholia, Nymphomaniac: Vol. I-II
Charlotte Gainsbourg won her first film award at the age of 15 for Most Promising Actress at the 1986 Cesar Awards, and has lived up to that promise with her work over the years.
Gainsbourg may be most recognized for her 21st century work with Danish director Lars von Trier, starring in the director’s last 3 films, “Antichrist”, “Melancholia”, and “Nymphomaniac: Vol. I-II”. Her performance as the adult ‘Joe’ in von Trier’s 2013 “Nymphomaniac” was particularly daring as she portrayed the life of a sex addict spiraling further into the depths of her addiction.
Gainsbourg received European Film Award nominations for her performance in “Antichrist”, “Melancholia”, and “Nymphomaniac”. Gainsbourg received 21st century Cesar Award nominations for “I Do”, and “The Tree”. Gainsbourg won Best Actress at the 2009 Cannes Film Festival for her performance in “Antichrist”.
12. Viola Davis
Doubt, The Help, Won’t Back Down, Prisoners, Fences
Viola Davis’ career breakthrough occurred with her supporting performance alongside Meryl Streep in the 2008 film “Doubt”. In the film, Davis played a mother whose son receives questionable attention from a Catholic priest. Although her screen time clocked in at a total of 8 minutes, Davis received critical acclaim and accolades for her performance. Davis’ critical acclaim continued with her performances in 2011’s “The Help”, and 2016’s “Fences”.
Davis received a BAFTA nomination for her performance in “The Help”, and won the Best Supporting Actress BAFTA for “Fences”. Davis also received Oscar nominations for both “Doubt” and “The Help”, winning the Best Supporting Actress Oscar in 2017 for her performance in “Fences”.
11. Nicole Kidman
Moulin Rouge, The Others, The Hours, Dogville, Cold Mountain, The Stepford Wives, Birth, The Interpreter, The Golden Compass, Rabbit Hole, The Paperboy, Australia, Nine, Stoker, Grace of Monaco, Queen of the Desert, Secret in Their Eyes, Lion
Widely considered among the best actresses of her generation, Nicole Kidman has remained one of the most active and consistent actresses of the 21st century. Kidman has appeared in a wide variety of film genres working with directors from Stephen Daldry in “The Hours”, to Lars von Trier in “Dogville”, Jonathan Glazer in “Birth”, Chan-wook Park in “Stoker” to Werner Herzog in “Queen of the Desert”.
In the 21st century Kidman received Golden Globe nominations for her work in “The Others”, “Moulin Rouge!”, “The Hours”, “Cold Mountain”, “Birth”, “Rabbit Hole”, “The Paperboy”, and “Lion”, winning for her work in “Moulin Rouge!” and “The Hours”.
Kidman received BAFTA nominations for “The Others”, “The Hours”, and “Lion”, winning the BAFTA for Best Actress in 2003 for “The Hours”. Kidman also received Oscar nominations for her work in “Moulin Rouge!”, “The Hours”, “Rabbit Hole”, and “Lion”, winning the Oscar for Best Actress for her performance in “The Hours”.
10. Juliette Binoche
Code Unknown, Chocolat, The Widow of Saint-Pierre, Jet Lag, Cache, Summer Hours, Certified Copy, Clouds of Sils Maria
Already an Oscar recipient in the 1990’s from “The English Patient”, and critic’s favorite from the “Three Colors Trilogy”; French actress Juliette Binoche continued her outstanding career in the 21st century with multiple critically acclaimed films.
These films include the Best Picture Oscar nominee “Chocolat”, and a film widely considered by critics as one of the top pictures of the 21st century, Michael Haneke’s 2005 “Cache”. Binoche has alternated between French and English language roles during the 21st century, working in films with acclaimed directors including Oliver Assayas’ “Summer Hours” and “Clouds of Sils Maria”, Michael Haneke’s “Code Unknown” and “Cache”, and Abbas Kiarostami’s “Certified Copy”.
Binoche received both Best Supporting Actress BAFTA and Oscar nominations in 2001 for “Chocolat”, and received Best Actress Cesar Award nominations in the 21st century for “The Widow of Saint-Pierre”, “Jet Lag”, and “Clouds of Sils Maria”. Binoche won Best Actress at the 2010 Cannes Film Festival for her performance in “Certified Copy”.
9. Amy Adams
Catch Me If You Can, Junebug, Echanted, Charlie Wilson’s War, Sunshine Cleaning, Doubt, Julie & Julia, The Fighter, The Master, Her, American Hustle, Big Eyes, Arrival, Nocturnal Animals
With a filmography almost entirely comprised of 21st century work, Amy Adams is among the highest-paid actresses in the world and one of the most award nominated actresses of the 21st century.
Adams has collaborated with many highly acclaimed directors including Paul Thomas Anderson, David O. Russell, Denis Villeneuve, Spike Jonze, Tim Burton, Steven Spielberg, and Mike Nichols.
Adams has starred in three Oscar nominated Best Picture films, “Her”, “The Fighter”, and “Arrival”. Adams had a particularly noteworthy year in 2016, starring in two critically acclaimed films, “Arrival” and “Nocturnal Animals”. Adams performance in “Arrival” as a linguistics professor tasked with deciphering the language of alien visitors brought her further critical acclaim with BAFTA, SAG, and Golden Globe Best Actress nominations.
Adams has received BAFTA nominations for her work in “Doubt”, “The Fighter”, “The Master”, “American Hustle”, “Big Eyes”, and “Arrival”. Adams has received Oscar nominations for her performance in “Junebug”, “Doubt”, “The Fighter”, “The Master”, and “American Hustle”. Adams has won two Golden Globes for her work in “Big Eyes” and “American Hustle”, and received Golden Globe nominations for “Enchanted”, “Doubt”, “The Fighter”, “The Master”, and “Arrival”.