The Top 20 Actresses of the Last 20 Years:

The IMDb Editors' Top Actresses list is based upon the overall importance and impact these women have had on the last two decades of film. Note that "Top" does not mean "Best" and we realize there are some painful omissions here but, after much wrangling, we came up with the following rankings.
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Julia Roberts
Actress, Notting Hill
Julia Fiona Roberts never dreamed she would become the most popular actress in America. She was born in Smyrna, Georgia, to Betty Lou (Bredemus) and Walter Grady Roberts, one-time actors and playwrights, and is of English, Irish, Scottish, Welsh, German, and Swedish descent. As a child, due to her love of animals...
“ She has dominated the landscape of the last two decades with hits such as Pretty Woman and My Best Friend's Wedding and took home the Oscar with Erin Brokovich and we still have a bit of a crush on her. ” - IMDb Editors
Meryl Streep
Considered by many critics to be the greatest living actress, Meryl Streep has been nominated for the Academy Award an astonishing 19 times, and has won it three times. Meryl was born Mary Louise Streep in 1949 in Summit, New Jersey, to Mary Wolf (Wilkinson), a commercial artist, and Harry William Streep...
“ She's been nominated for 16 Oscars (won two) and eight have been in the last 20 years. She grants humanity to even the most odious characters but can also can play light and hit it big as she proved with Mama Mia! ” - IMDb Editors
Cate Blanchett
Cate Blanchett was born on May 14, 1969 in Melbourne, Victoria, Australia, to June (Gamble), an Australian teacher and property developer, and Robert DeWitt Blanchett, Jr., an American advertising executive, originally from Texas. She has an older brother and a younger sister. When she was ten years old...
“ Could anyone else play Queen Elizabeth, Galadriel, Katharine Hepburn, and Bob Dylan? Perhaps the most versatile actress of the impressive, versatile lot. ” - IMDb Editors
Kate Winslet
Actress, Titanic
Ask Kate Winslet what she likes about any of her characters, and the word "ballsy" is bound to pop up at least once. The British actress has made a point of eschewing straightforward pretty-girl parts in favor of more devilish damsels; as a result, she's built an eclectic resume that runs the gamut from Shakespearean tragedy to modern-day mysticism and erotica...
“ Possibly the most fearless actress Winslet made Titanic's Rose DeWitt Bukater real and has never shied away from playing unpopular (sometimes painfully so) characters. ” - IMDb Editors
Jodie Foster
Alicia Christian Foster was born in Los Angeles on November 19, 1962. She is the daughter of Evelyn Ella "Brandy" (Almond) and Lucius Fisher Foster III, an Air Force lieutenant colonel and later real estate broker. Brandy had filed for divorce in 1959 after having three children with Lucius, but the exes had a brief re-encounter in 1962 which resulted in Alicia's birth...
“ Decent, smart and strong, Foster has imbued most of her characters with some smatterings of all three traits. She's also directed, creating the heartbreaking Little Man Tate, about a child prodigy, much as she was herself. ” - IMDb Editors
Nicole Kidman
Actress, Moulin Rouge!
Elegant blonde Nicole Kidman, known as one of Hollywood's top Australian imports, was actually born in Honolulu, Hawaii, while her Australian parents were there on educational visas. Kidman is the daughter of Janelle Ann (Glenny), a nursing instructor, and Antony David Kidman, a biochemist and clinical psychologist...
“ The creature most think of when they think of a glamorous actress Kidman seemed to will her persona into existence then was able to lampoon it in To Die For and Moulin Rouge. Her Oscar came for The Hours. ” - IMDb Editors
Sandra Bullock
Actress, Gravity
Sandra Annette Bullock was born in Arlington, a Virginia suburb of Washington, D.C. Her mother, Helga Bullock (née Helga Mathilde Meyer), was a German opera singer. Her father, John W. Bullock, was an American voice teacher, who was born in Alabama, of Irish, English, French, and German descent. Sandra grew up on the road with her parents and younger sister...
“ Calling her "America's Sweetheart" may seem unfair but it is precisely Bullock's winning screen personality that has kept her around for the last two decades, culminating in an Oscar for The Blind Side ” - IMDb Editors
Halle Berry
Halle Berry was born in Cleveland, Ohio. Her father, Jerome Jesse Berry, was African-American, and worked as a hospital attendant. Her mother, Judith Ann (Hawkins), who is Caucasian, has English and German ancestry, and is a retired psychiatric nurse. Halle has an older sister named Heidi Berry...
“ 1) Bond girl 2) First African American actress to win Best Actress (for Monster's Ball). 3) Super-hero franchise. Who else can claim that? ” - IMDb Editors
Emma Thompson
Emma Thompson was born in London on April 15, 1959, into a family of actors - her father was Eric Thompson, who has passed away, and her mother, Phyllida Law, has co-starred with Thompson in several films (her sister, Sophie Thompson, is an actor as well). Her father was English-born and her mother is Scottish-born...
“ Thompson cut a huge swath through much of the '90s in films such as Sense and Sensibility, Remains of the Day and In the Name of the Father. She's recently transitioned into the sensible matron, be it an unorthodox one, like Nanny McPhee, or a pragmatic one, as her headmistress in An Eduction. ” - IMDb Editors
Angelina Jolie
Actress, Maleficent
Angelina Jolie is an Oscar-winning actress who became popular after playing the title role in the "Lara Croft" blockbuster movies, as well as Mr. & Mrs. Smith, Wanted, Salt and Maleficent. Off-screen, Jolie has become prominently involved in international charity projects, especially those involving refugees...
“ Put the tabloids aside and recall that she is an Oscar-winner (Girl, Interrupted) and nominee (The Changeling) And she was also grievously overlooked for her role in A Mighty Heart. She's also starred in some butt-kicking franchise attempts (Lara Croft, Mr. and Mrs. Smith, Wanted) and has the kind of star-wattage that can get films made (Salt). ” - IMDb Editors
Julianne Moore
Julianne Moore was born Julie Anne Smith in Fort Bragg, North Carolina on December 3, 1960, the daughter of Anne (Love), a social worker, and Peter Moore Smith, a paratrooper, colonel, and later military judge. Her mother moved to the U.S. in 1951, from Greenock, Scotland. Her father, from Burlington, New Jersey, has German, Irish, German-Jewish, and English ancestry...
“ Nominated for four Oscars playing everything from a motherly porn star to a repressed housewife Moore may be up for another one with . The Kids are All Right. ” - IMDb Editors
Susan Sarandon
Susan Sarandon was born Susan Abigail Tomalin in New York City, New York, to Lenora Marie (Criscione) and Phillip Leslie Tomalin, a television producer and advertising executive. She is of Italian (mother) and English, Irish, Welsh, and German (father) descent. Soon after the 1968 Democratic convention...
“ Nominated for five Oscars she won one for her role as Sister Helen Prejean in Dead Man Walking. She was Louise in Thelma & Louise and now plays the Mom in everything from Speed Racer to Leaves of Grass. ” - IMDb Editors
Helen Mirren
Actress, The Queen
Dame Helen Mirren was born in Queen Charlotte's Hospital in West London. Her mother, Kathleen Alexandrina Eva Matilda (Rogers), was from a working-class English family, and her father, Vasiliy Petrovich Mironov, was a Russian-born civil servant, from Kuryanovo, whose own father was a diplomat. Mirren attended St...
“ She has such regal bearing now, despite her earlier, randier roles (Caligula, The Cook, The Thief..., Excalibur, anyone?). Mirren is the picture of reserve and determination, the vertible iron fist in the velvet glove. Nominated for four Oscars and won one for The Queen. ” - IMDb Editors
Gwyneth Paltrow
Actress, Se7en
A tall, wafer thin, delicate beauty, Gwyneth Kate Paltrow was born in Los Angeles, the daughter of noted producer and director Bruce Paltrow and Tony award-winning actress Blythe Danner. Her father was from a Jewish family, while her mother has German, and some English and Irish, ancestry. When Gwyneth was eleven...
“ She took a big long break during the last ten years to have a life but Paltrow appears here nonetheless. She won an Oscar for her only nomination in Shakespeare in Love and recently has been the sanity check of Robert Downey Jr.'s Iron Man. Who else could pull off playing a character named Pepper Potts? ” - IMDb Editors
Hilary Swank
Hilary was born in Lincoln, Nebraska, to Judith Kay (Clough), a secretary, and Stephen Michael Swank, who served in the National Guard and was also a traveling salesman. Her maternal grandmother, Frances Martha Dominguez, was of Mexican descent, and her other roots include German, English, and Scottish...
“ One of our editors uses the mnemonic to recall how to spell her first name: "One 'L', two Oscars." When she's on, she's on. ” - IMDb Editors
Cameron Diaz
A tall, strikingly attractive blue-eyed natural blonde, Cameron Diaz was born in 1972 in San Diego, the daughter of a Cuban-American father and an Anglo-German mother. Self described as "adventurous, independent and a tough kid," Cameron left home at 16 and for the next 5 years lived in such varied locales as Japan...
“ From her smokin' hot first appearance in The Mask, to Something About Mary to Charile's Angels to Shrek, Diaz has more than earned her place here. ” - IMDb Editors
Renée Zellweger
Renée Kathleen Zellweger was born on April 25, 1969, in Katy, Texas, USA. Her mother, Kjellfrid Irene (Andreassen), is a Norwegian-born former nurse and midwife, of Norwegian, Kven (Finnish), and Swedish descent. Her father, Emil Erich Zellweger, is a Swiss-born engineer. The two married in 1963. Renée has a brother named Drew Zellweger...
“ She had us at "Hello" with The Whole Wide World and then her turn as Jerry Maguire's wife. She won an Oscar for Cold Mountain and, amazingly, drew everyone's eyes off of Catherine Zeta-Jones during the Chicago finale. She's pulled off a coup embodying Bridget Jones. ” - IMDb Editors
Meg Ryan
Blond-haired, blue-eyed with an effervescent personality, Meg Ryan was born Margaret Mary Emily Hyra in Fairfield, Connecticut, to Susan (Duggan), an English teacher and one-time actress, and Harry Hyra, a math teacher. She has Polish, Irish, and German ancestry ("Hyra" is a Polish surname, and "Ryan" is her maternal grandmother's maiden name)...
“ There was a time, the '90s, to be precise, when every screenplay in town that another actress got had Ryan's fingerprints on it (meaning she'd already been shown it first and had passed on it). ” - IMDb Editors
Jennifer Aniston
Actress, Friends
Jennifer Aniston was born in Sherman Oaks, California, to actors John Aniston and Nancy Dow. Her father is Greek, and her mother was of English, Irish, Scottish, and Italian descent. Jennifer spent a year of her childhood living in Greece with her family. Her family then relocated to New York City where her parents divorced when she was nine...
“ She conquered TV and has since become a one-woman cottage industry creating rom-coms but has also tried to stretch herself with unsuccessful but at least interesting indies. ” - IMDb Editors
Judi Dench
Actress, Skyfall
Judi Dench was born in York, England, to Eleanora Olive (Jones), who was from Dublin, Ireland, and Reginald Arthur Dench, a doctor from Dorset, England. She attended Mount School in York, and studied at the Central School of Speech and Drama. She has performed with Royal Shakespeare Company, the National Theatre...
“ Nominated for 6 Oscars (she won for her shortest appearance, as Queen Elizabeth in Shakespeare in Love) and as "M" in the most recent iteration of the Bond series. ” - IMDb Editors