The Top 20 Actresses of the Last 20 Years

How I rank the top 20 actresses: the number of critically acclaimed roles with positive reviews from critics, the number of Academy Award nominations (acting only), and the number of Oscar won
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1.
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...
“ 6 Oscar nominations - 1 win

Most memorable role: as Clementine Kruczynski in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004) ” - Henry
 
2.
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...
“ 5 Oscar nominations - 1 win

Most memorable role: as Queen Elizabeth I in Elizabeth (1998) ” - Henry
 
3.
Emily Watson
Actress, Corpse Bride
Emily Watson was born and raised in London, the daughter of Katharine (Venables), an English teacher, and Richard Watson, an architect. After a self-described sheltered upbringing, Watson attended university for three years in Bristol, studying English literature. She applied to drama school and was rejected on her first attempt...
“ 2 Oscar nominations - 0 win

Most memorable role: as Jackie in Hilary and Jackie (1998) ” - Henry
 
4.
Laura Linney
Laura Leggett Linney was born in New York City on February 5, 1964, into a theatre family. Her father was prominent playwright Romulus Linney, whose own great-grandfather was a congressman from North Carolina. Her mother, Miriam Anderson (Leggett), is a nurse. Although she did not live in her father's house (her parents having divorced when she was an infant)...
“ 3 Oscar nominations - 0 win

Most memorable role: as Sammy Prescott in You Can Count on Me (2000) ” - Henry
 
5.
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...
“ 8 Oscar nominations - 0 win

Most memorable role: as Francesca Johnson in The Bridges of Madison County (1995) ” - Henry
 
6.
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...
“ 4 Oscar nominations - 0 win

Most memorable role: as Cathy Whitaker in Far from Heaven (2002) ” - Henry
 
7.
Penélope Cruz
Known outside her native country as the "Spanish enchantress", Penélope Cruz Sánchez was born in Madrid to Eduardo Cruz, a retailer, and Encarna Sánchez, a hairdresser. As a toddler, she was already a compulsive performer, re-enacting TV commercials for her family's amusement, but she decided to focus her energies on dance...
“ 3 Oscar nominations - 1 win

Most memorable role: as Maria Elena in Vicky Cristina Barcelona (2008) ” - Henry
 
8.
Angelina Jolie Pitt
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...
“ 2 Oscar nominations - 1 win

Most memorable role: as Mariane Pearl in A Mighty Heart (2007) ” - Henry
 
9.
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...
“ 6 Oscar nominations - 1 win

Most memorable role: as Queen Victoria in Her Majesty, Mrs. Brown (1997) ” - Henry
 
10.
Nicole Kidman
Actress, Moulin Rouge!
Elegant redhead 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...
“ 2 Oscar nominations - 1 win

Most memorable role: as Virginia Woolf in The Hours (2002) ” - Henry
 
11.
Frances McDormand
Actress, Fargo
Frances Louise McDormand was born on June 23, 1957 in Chicago, Illinois. She was adopted by Canadian-born parents Noreen Eloise (Nickleson), a nurse from Ontario, and Vernon Weir McDormand, a minister from Nova Scotia, who raised her in the suburbs of Pittsburgh. She earned her B.A. in Theater from Bethany College in 1979 and her MFA from Yale in 1982...
“ 3 Oscar nominations - 1 win

Most memorable role: as Marge Gunderson in Fargo (1996) ” - Henry
 
12.
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...
“ 4 Oscar nominations - 1 win

Most memorable role: as Elinor Dashwood in Sense and Sensibility (1995) ” - Henry
 
13.
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...
“ 4 Oscar nominations - 1 win

Most memorable role: as The Queen in The Queen (2006) ” - Henry
 
14.
Annette Bening
Annette Bening was born on May 29, 1958 in Topeka, Kansas, the youngest of four children of Shirley (Ashley), a soloist and church singer, and Arnett Grant Bening, an insurance salesman. She has German and English ancestry. Her family moved to California when she was young, and she grew up there. She...
“ 3 Oscar nominations - 0 win

Most memorable role: as Julia Lambert in Being Julia (2004) ” - Henry
 
15.
Joan Allen
Actress, Face/Off
Joan Allen was born on August 20, 1956 in Rochelle, Illinois, the youngest of four children. She is the daughter of homemaker Dorothea Marie (Wirth) and gas station owner James Jefferson Allen. Her mother's family was German, and her father had English, Scots-Irish, and German ancestry. She attended Rochelle Township High School where she was voted most likely to succeed...
“ 3 Oscar nominations - 0 win

Most memorable role: as Laine Hanson in The Contender (2000) ” - Henry
 
16.
Helena Bonham Carter
Helena Bonham Carter is an actress of great versatility, one of the UK's finest and most successful. Bonham Carter was born May 26, 1966 in Golders Green, London, England, the youngest of three children of Elena (née Propper de Callejón), a psychotherapist, and Raymond Bonham Carter, a merchant banker...
“ 1 Oscar nomination - 0 win

Most memorable role: as Kate Croy in The Wings of the Dove (1997) ” - Henry
 
17.
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...
“ 3 Oscar nominations - 1 win

Most memorable role: as Vivian Ward in Pretty Woman (1990) ” - Henry
 
18.
Natalie Portman
Natalie Portman was born Natalie Hershlag on June 9, 1981, in Jerusalem, Israel, to a Jewish family. She is the only child of Avner Hershlag, an Israeli-born doctor, and Shelley Stevens, an American-born artist (from Cincinnati, Ohio), who also acts as Natalie's agent. She left Israel for Washington...
“ 1 Oscar nomination - 0 win

Most memorable role: as Mathilda in The Professional (1994) ” - Henry
 
19.
Keira Knightley
Keira Christina Knightley was born in the South West Greater London suburb of Richmond on March 26th 1985. She is the daughter of actor Will Knightley and actress turned playwright Sharman Macdonald. An older brother, Caleb Knightley, was born in 1979. Her father is English, while her Scottish-born mother is of Scottish and Welsh origin...
“ 1 Oscar nomination - 0 win

Most memorable role: as Elizabeth Swann in Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003) ” - Henry
 
20.
Reese Witherspoon
Actress, Walk the Line
Laura Jeanne Reese Witherspoon was born on March 22, 1976 at Southern Baptist Hospital (now Memorial Medical Center) in New Orleans, Louisiana. She is the second child of Mary Elizabeth "Betty" (Reese) and Dr. John Draper Witherspoon, Sr. Her father was a military surgeon specializing in ear, nose and throat...
“ 1 Oscar nomination - 1 win

Most memorable role: as June Carter in Walk the Line (2005) ” - Henry
 
21.
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...
“ Honorable Mention

2 Oscar nominations - 2 wins

Most memorable role: as Maggie Fitzgerald in Million Dollar Baby (2005) ” - Henry