The 10 Best Frances McDormand Movie Performances

5. Mississippi Burning

This film is a 1988 crime drama directed by Alan Parker. It stars Gene Hackman and Willem Dafoe as two FBI agents in 1964 that go to a small mississippi town to investigate the disappearance of 3 civil rights workers.

The film is loosely based on real life events and is incredibly disturbing and intense. It’s probably one of the most brutal and realistic portrayals of racism in the 60’s that you can see without actually watching footage of racially charged violence.

McDormand plays Mrs. Pell, the wife of the bigoted and evil deputy. Her choice of spouse, however, does not reflect the opinions of her own. McDormand’s performance as this character is pretty fantastic. It’s a very serious role and also a very sad role.

Mrs. Pell is a very open and accepting character that was born and raised in a place where they were taught differently. She was nominated for a “Best Supporting Actress” Oscar for this role but lost to Geena Davis for her performance in ‘The Accidental Tourist.’


4. Blood Simple

‘Blood Simple’ is a 1984 crime thriller starring Frances McDormand, John Getz, and M. Emmet Walsh. It’s the oldest film on this list but overall one of the best. Directed by the Coen brothers, this film is about an unhappy wife who flees into the arms of her husbands employee.

When her husband finds out he hires a shady man for hire to follow them. As you would expect, things go south pretty quickly. Although McDormand isn’t present in some of the more iconic scenes, she’s on screen very often and she’s pretty fantastic especially considering this is her debut performance.

It’s an intense, gripping, and darkly comedic thriller that doesn’t end up the way you’d ever expect. This is probably McDormand’s least comedic role of any of her collaborative efforts with the Coen brothers. She just knocks this role out of the park and it’s no wonder that she only bigger and better roles after.


3. Burn After Reading

Probably one of the funniest films on this list, 2008’s ‘Burn After Reading’ stars Frances Mcdormand, John Malkovich, and Brad Pitt. It’s directed by the Coen brothers and is about the memoirs of an ex-CIA analyst falling into the hands of civilians who think that they may be able to blackmail the analyst for a reward.

It’s a very wacky film with a lot of intertwining subplots that don’t end up how you expect or hope. It’s not one of the Coen brothers highest rated films, but it’s definitely not their worst and is a really great comedy in the vein of something like ‘The Big Lebowski.’

McDormand plays Linda Litzke, a middle aged single woman that’s easily coerced by her friend and co-worker Chad (Brad Pitt) into blackmailing an ex CIA-analyst (John Malkovich). What Chad doesn’t realise, is that these personal memoirs actually have no information about the CIA and they aren’t worth anything to anyone except the analyst. This results in both a mildly confusing comedy, and an amazing performance by McDormand.


2. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Martin McDonagh has only made 3 feature length films but already has created something that many consider to be an instant classic. ‘Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” is the most recent, and one of the best, films on this list. The 2017 film is an excellent drama starring Frances McDormand as Mildred Hayes, a hard as nails but kind hearted mother whose daughter was raped and murdered on the side of the road.

This event takes place seven months prior to the film’s beginning. Woody Harrelson plays Bill Willoughby, the Sheriff of Ebbing Missouri, who has yet to make any advancements in the case. Due to Willoughby’s unproductiveness, Mildred decides to get their attention by putting provocative messages on three billboards just outside of the town.

The title may be long and a little annoying to say, but it really explains the cause of a majority of events that happen throughout the film. The film is many things. It’s depressing, thrilling, intense, and even funny at times.

This means that the actors really had to do well in order to portray these characters convincingly. Fortunately, every lead performance in the film is really quite amazing, especially McDormand’s. At the time of the writing of this article, McDormand has been nominated for “Best Actress” for this role in the 2018 Oscars and already won the “Best Actress in a Drama Motion Picture” Golden Globe.

McDormand gets a lot of screen time too, and every second she’s visible she’s incredibly convincing and believable. Her ability to act, in combination with Martin McDonagh’s incredible screenplay, is why her performance in this film is so amazing. Hopefully she wins the Oscar this year because she truly deserves it for this fantastic performance.


1. Fargo

Fargo (1996)

It’s not hard to tell that this 1996 snowy crime drama is special. ‘Fargo’ was nominated for 7 Academy Awards and 4 Golden Globes in 1997. And has spawned an extremely successful television spin off on FX. Anyone who has seen the original film, however, never forgets 1 thing: Frances McDormand as Marge Gunderson.

The character of Marge Gunderson isn’t even introduced into the film until it’s already 33 minutes in (⅓ of the way through the film). That being said, the time that we spend with Marge for the rest of the film McDormand’s performance, in combination with the excellent writing of her character, results in one of the most cared about and admirable characters in the last 25 years.

Even though ‘Fargo’ may be considered a comedy by some, it’s a very intense and gripping thriller where McDormand is able to show her ability to be both funny and serious. The mastery of the minnesota accent was just icing on the cake and further solidified Marge as an amazing and hilarious character. She learned the accent by hanging around the actress that played “Hooker #1” and referred to it as “Minnesota nice.”

As those who’ve seen the film know, Marge Gunderson is pregnant throughout the film. To emulate this, McDormand wore a pregnancy pillow filled with birdseed. She said that she didn’t attempt to move in a “pregnant” way but it just happened because of her attempts to compensate for the added weight. She also spent time with a pregnant cop from St. Paul, Minnesota to research the role. McDormand was originally hesitant about playing a pregnant cop, but once she started working on it she said it was “one of the best gifts [she’d] ever been given.”

Author Bio: Joseph Stanger is a film buff and student currently enrolled at Central Washington University. He spends most of his free time watching movies, and he hopes to one day become a full time film critic. You can follow him on his Letterboxd