Skip to content


The 25 Best Actresses of the 21st Century

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

8. Natalie Portman

Closer, V for Vendetta, My Blueberry Nights, The Boleyn Girl, Brothers, Black Swan, No Strings Attached, Knight of Cups, Jackie, Song to Song

Natalie Portman burst onto the film scene at the age of 13 in Luc Besson’s 1994 crime thriller “Leon: The Professional”. Her 21st century work has teamed her with acclaimed directors like Terrence Malick, Pablo Larrain, Darren Aronofsky, Wes Anderson, Kar-Wai Wong, Mike Nichols, and George Lucas.

Portman’s performance in Aronofsky’s 2010 “Black Swan” won her rave reviews from critics, and the film received a Best Picture Oscar nomination at the 2011 Academy Awards. In 2016 Portman portrayed Jacqueline Kennedy following the assassination of her husband President John F. Kennedy in Pablo Larrain’s film “Jackie”, to which she receive further critical praise and award season recognition.

Portman received both BAFTA and Oscar nominations for her work in “Closer” and “Jackie”, winning both the BAFTA and Oscar for Best Actress in 2011 for her performance in “Black Swan”.


7. Kate Winslet

Quills, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Finding Neverland, Little Children, The Reader, Revolutionary Road, Carnage, Contagion, Labor Day, Divergent, Steve Jobs, The Dressmaker

The Reader

Widely considered one of the best actors of her generation, Kate Winslet’s career has spanned over two decades with work ranging from period dramas, comedy and sci-fi, international productions, and the second highest grossing film of all time.

Among her 21st century work, her performance as a former guard at a Nazi concentration camp on trial for war crimes in “The Reader” won her international acclaim, and an Oscar for Best Actress. Winslet also starred alongside Jim Carrey in 2004’s “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind”, a film often cited as one of the top films of the 21st century.

One of the most awarded actresses of the 21st century, Winslet received an honorary Cesar Award in 2012. For her 21st century work Winslet received BAFTA nominations for “Iris”, “Finding Neverland”, “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind”, “Little Children”, and “Revolutionary Road”; winning the BAFTA for “The Reader”, and “Steve Jobs”.

Winslet is the youngest person to receive six Oscar nominations, receiving nominations in the 21st century for “Iris”, “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind”, “Little Children”, and “Steve Jobs”; winning the Best Actress Oscar in 2009 for her performance in “The Reader”.


6. Naomi Watts

Mulholland Drive, The Ring, 21 Grams, King Kong, Eastern Promises, Funny Games, The Impossible, St. Vincent, Mother and Child, Diana, Birdman

Mulholland Drive Watts

Naomi Watts gained international attention for her performance in David Lynch’s 2001 film “Mulholland Drive”. In the film, Watts portrayed a bright-eyed, naive actress who moves to Hollywood to fulfill her dreams of stardom.

Watts’ performance was hailed by critics, and “Mulholland Drive” has since appeared as one of the top films of the 21st century on several critics and film site lists. Watts solidified her acting prowess with additional acclaimed performances in “21 Grams”, “Mother and Child”, “The Impossible”, and 2015 Best Picture Oscar winner “Birdman”.

Watts received a BAFTA nomination for her performance in 21 Grams along with Oscar nominations for both “21 Grams” and “The Impossible”. Watts received SAG Award nominations for “21 Grams”, “The Impossible”, “St. Vincent”, and was part of the SAG ensemble win for “Birdman” in 2015.


5. Julianne Moore

The Shipping News, Far from Heaven, The Hours, The Forgotten, Children of Men, Savage Grace, I’m Not There, A Single Man, Chloe, The Kids Are Alright, Crazy Stupid Love, Being Flynn, Maps to the Stars, Still Alice, Freeheld

Still Alice

Julianne Moore established herself as an elite actress in Hollywood in the late 1990’s with her performances in films such as “Boogie Nights”, “Magnolia”, “The Big Lebowski”, and “The End of the Affair”.

Known for her roles portraying sensitive, troubled women, Moore’s filmography includes working with some of Hollywood’s most elite directors including Paul Thomas Anderson, Robert Altman, Todd Haynes, Steven Spielberg, the Coen Brothers, Gus Van Sant, Ridley Scott, and Alfonso Cuaron. Moore received accolades particularly throughout 2014 for her performance as a professor diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in “Still Alice”.

Moore received Golden Globe nominations for her work in “Far from Heaven”, “A Single Man”, “The Kids Are All Right”, and “Maps to the Stars”, winning the Golden Globe for Best Actress for “Still Alice”. Moore also won Best Actress at the Cannes Film Festival in 2014 for her performance in “Maps to the Stars”. Moore received Oscar nominations for “The Hours” and “Far from Heaven”, winning the Best Actress Oscar in 2014 for “Still Alice”.


4. Tilda Swinton

Michael Clayton, Julia, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, I Am Love, We Need to Talk About Kevin, Burn After Reading, Moonrise Kingdom, Only Lovers Left Alive, Snowpiercer, The Grand Budapest Hotel, A Bigger Splash, Hail Caesar, Doctor Strange

With a career spanning back to the mid 1980’s, British Actress Tilda Swinton gained international prominence in the 21st century and has become one of the most notable actresses of the past few years starring in both independent, foreign language, and mainstream films.

Notable performances from Swinton include a famous rock star “A Bigger Splash”, a vampire in “Only Lovers Left Alive”, an unfulfilled wife in “I Am Love”, a mother struggling to love her strange child in “We Need to Talk About Kevin”, a commander on a train holding the last remnants of humanity in the thriller “Snowpiercer”, and an immoral lawyer in “Michael Clayton”.

Swinton won both the BAFTA and Oscar for Best Supporting Actress in 2007 for her performance in “Michael Clayton”. Swinton also received BAFTA nominations for “Burn After Reading”, and “We Need to Talk About Kevin”.


3. Cate Blanchett

Bandits, Veronica Guerin, The Gift, Heaven, The Missing, The Aviator, Babel, Notes on a Scandal, I’m Not There, Elizabeth: The Golden Age, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Hanna, Blue Jasmine, Knight of Cups, Cinderella, Truth, Carol

Cate Blanchett received international attention in the late 1990’s with her performance as Elizabeth I in “Elizabeth”. Her reputation as a fine actress continued to rise in the early 21st century with supporting roles in films such as “The Aviator”, “Notes on a Scandal”, and “I’m Not There”. Blanchett’s performance as a New York socialite brought to financial ruin in Woody Allen’s 2013 film “Blue Jasmine” won her rave reviews and awards.

Blanchett received Oscar nominations in the 21st century for her roles in “Notes on a Scandal”, “I’m Not There”, “Elizabeth: The Golden Age”, and “Carol”. Blanchett won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress in 2004 for the “Aviator”, and won the Best Actress Oscar in 2013 for “Blue Jasmine”.


2. Marion Cotillard

La Vie en Rose, A Very Long Engagement, Nine, Inception, Rust and Bone, From the Land of the Moon, The Immigrant, Two Days One Night, Macbeth, Allied

Two Days, One Night

After her international breakout role as the legendary French singer Edith Piaf in “La Vie en Rose”, Marion Cotillard has gone on to become one of the most versatile actresses in contemporary film with the ability to alternate flawlessly between French and English-language roles.

Along with her performance in “La Vie en Rose” Cotillard’s 21st century filmography includes roles as a whale trainer who becomes a double amputee in “Rust and Bone”, the wife of a famous film director in a singing role in the musical “Nine”, playing the role of Lady Macbeth in “Macbeth”, a factory worker trying to keep her job in “Two Days, One Night”, and a French spy during World War II in “Allied”.

Cotillard won France’s Cesar Award for Best Supporting Actress for her role in “A Very Long Engagement”, and won the Best Actress Cesar for “La Vie en Rose”. Cotillard also received Best Actress Cesar nominations for “Rust and Bone”, “Two Days One Night”, and “From the Land of the Moon”.

Cotillard received Best Actress Oscar nominations for her performances in “La Vie en Rose” and “Two Days, One Night”, and won the Best Actress Oscar, Golden Globe, and BAFTA for “La Vie en Rose”. Cotillard became the first and only actor to win an Oscar for a performance in French with her performance in “La Vie en Rose”.


1. Isabelle Huppert

The Piano Teacher, 8 Women, Ma mere, White Material, Special Treatment, Amour, Louder Than Bombs, Valley of Love, Things to Come, Elle

Things To Come

Arguably the most revered actress in international cinema, Isabelle Huppert’s acclaimed career has spanned 5 decades with a prolific filmography that spans numerous countries. Huppert’s performance in Michael Haneke’s 2001 “The Piano Teacher” is often cited among the greatest performances of the 21st century. In the film Huppert plays Erika, a middle aged unmarried piano teacher that lives with her mother in a state of emotional and sexual suppression. Erika meets a young student who becomes her pupil, and a volatile relationship soon occurs.

Along with The Piano Teacher, Huppert’s 21st century filmography includes a performance as a vivacious daughter in “8 Women”, a French woman attempting to save her coffee plantation amid racial turmoil in Africa in “White Material”, and a daughter coping with the deterioration of her parent health in the Oscar nominated Best Picture “Amour”.

Huppert may have had the best year of her career in 2016 with her performances two critically acclaimed films, Mia Hansen-Love’s “Things to Come”, and Paul Verhoeven’s “Elle”. In 2016, New York Times film critic A.O. Scott wrote, “Isabelle Huppert: great actress or world’s greatest actress? Once that is settled (in favor of the second option, of course), we can turn to more advanced Huppertiana.”

The most nominated actress for France’s Cesar Award with 16 nominations, Huppert received 6 Best Actress Cesar Award nominations in the 21st century, winning Best Actress in 2016 for “Elle”. Huppert won Best Actress at the 2001 Cannes Film Festival for her performance in “The Piano Teacher”.

Huppert also won the Golden Globe for Best Actress for “Elle”, and received her first Oscar Nomination in 2016 for Best Actress for her performance in “Elle”. A longtime collaborator with the acclaimed film director Michael Haneke, Huppert will star in Haneke’s upcoming 2017 film “Happy End”.

Honorable Mention:

Helena Bonham Carter (Big Fish, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Sweeny Todd, Harry Potter, Alice in Wonderland, The King’s Speech, Les Miserables, Suffragette), Laura Dern (I Am Sam, Inland Empire, Recount, The Master, The Fault in Our Stars, Wild, 99 Homes, The Founder, Certain Women), Annette Bening (Being Julia, Running with Scissors, The Face of Love, Mother and Child, The Kids Are All Right, Ruby Sparks), Saoirse Ronan (Atonement, The Lovely Bones, Hanna, The Grand Budapest Hotel, Brooklyn), Laura Linney (You Can Count on Me, Mystic River, Love Actually, The Squid and the Whale, The Savages, Mr. Holmes, Sully, Nocturnal Animals)



Pages: 1 2 3


Other Brilliant Movie Posts On The Web

Like Our Facebook Page and Get Daily Updates