The best female acting performances of all timeby bd74 | created - 09 Apr 2013 | updated - 05 Feb 2016 | Public
In no particular order, the greatest performances by actresses in leading roles.
Actress | Atonement
On January 30, 1937, renowned theatre actor Michael Redgrave was performing in a production of Hamlet in London. During the curtain call, the show's lead, Laurence Olivier, announced to the audience: "tonight a great actress was born". This was in reference to his co-star's newborn daughter, ...
2. Glenn Close
Actress | Fatal Attraction
Six time Academy Award-nominated actress Glenn Close was born and raised in Greenwich, Connecticut. She is the daughter of Bettine (Moore) and William Taliaferro Close (William Close), a prominent doctor. Both of her parents were from upper-class northeastern families.
Glenn was often seen on ...
Dangerous Liaisons; Fatal Attraction
3. Meryl Streep
Actress | Out of Africa
Considered by many critics to be the greatest living actress, Meryl Streep has been nominated for the Academy Award an astonishing 21 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 ...
4. Hilary Swank
Actress | Boys Don't Cry
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 ...
Boys Don't Cry
5. Emily Watson
Actress | Breaking the Waves
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 ...
Breaking the Waves; Hilary and Jackie
6. Deborah Kerr
Actress | The King and I
Deborah Kerr was born on 30 September 1921 in Helensburgh, Scotland, the daughter of Captain Arthur Kerr-Trimmer. She was educated at Northumberland House, Clifton, Bristol. She first performed at the Open Air Theatre in Regent's Park, London. She subsequently performed with the Oxford Repertory ...
Actress | Carol
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 ...
8. Jane Fonda
Actress | Klute
Born in New York City to legendary screen star Henry Fonda and New York socialite Frances Seymour Brokaw, Jane Seymour Fonda was destined early to an uncommon and influential life in the limelight. Although she initially showed little inclination to follow her father's trade, she was prompted by ...
9. Bette Davis
Actress | All About Eve
Ruth Elizabeth Davis was born April 5, 1908, in Lowell, Massachusetts, to Ruth Augusta (Favor) and Harlow Morrell Davis, a patent attorney. Her parents divorced when she was 10. She and her sister were raised by their mother. Her early interest was dance. To Bette, dancers led a glamorous life, but...
All About Eve; Now, Voyager; The Little Foxes; The Letter
10. Linda Fiorentino
Actress | Men in Black
Linda Fiorentino born March 9, 1958 or 1960 is an American actress. She has starred in the films Vision Quest (1985), Gotcha! (1985), After Hours (1985), Jade (1995), Men in Black (1997) and Dogma (1999). For her performance in The Last Seduction (1994), she won the New York Film Critics Circle ...
The Last Seduction
11. Gloria Swanson
Actress | Sunset Blvd.
Gloria Swanson went to public schools in Chicago; Key West, Florida; and San Juan, Puerto Rico. Her film debut was as an extra in The Fable of Elvira and Farina and the Meal Ticket (1915). From the following year on, she had leading roles in pictures for Keystone, then a year with Triangle, and, in...
12. Julie Christie
Actress | Doctor Zhivago
Julie Christie, the British movie legend whom Al Pacino called "the most poetic of all actresses", was born in Chukua, Assam, India, on April 14, 1941, the daughter of a tea planter, Frank St. John Christie, and his wife, Rosemary (Ramsden), who was a painter. Her family was of English, and some ...
13. Marion Cotillard
Actress | La môme
Academy Award-winning actress Marion Cotillard was born on September 30, 1975 in Paris. Cotillard is the daughter of Jean-Claude Cotillard, an actor, playwright and director, and Niseema Theillaud, an actress and drama teacher. Her father's family is Breton.
Raised in Orléans, France, she made her ...
La Vie en Rose
14. Elizabeth Taylor
Actress | Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
Elizabeth Rosemond Taylor was considered one of the last, if not the last, major star to have come out of the old Hollywood studio system. She was known internationally for her beauty, especially for her violet eyes, with which she captured audiences early on in her youth and kept the world hooked ...
Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?; Suddenly, Last Summer
15. Vivien Leigh
Actress | A Streetcar Named Desire
If a film were made of the life of Vivien Leigh, it would open in India just before World War I, where a successful British businessman could live like a prince. In the mountains above Calcutta, a little princess is born. Because of the outbreak of World War I, she is six years old the first time ...
Gone with the Wind
16. Ingrid Bergman
Actress | Notorious
Ingrid Bergman was one of the greatest actresses from Hollywood's lamented Golden Era. Her natural and unpretentious beauty and her immense acting talent made her one of the most celebrated figures in the history of American cinema. Bergman is also one of the most Oscar-awarded actresses, tied with ...
17. Liv Ullmann
Actress | Ansikte mot ansikte
Liv Ullmann's father was a Norwegian engineer who used to work abroad, so as a child she lived in Tokyo, Canada, New York and Oslo. In the mid-'50s she made her stage debut and in 1957 made her film debut. She really became successful, however, when she began to work for Swedish director Ingmar ...
Autumn Sonata; The New Land
18. Carol Kane
Actress | The Princess Bride
American stage, screen and television actress, and comedian Carol Kane (b. Carolyn Laurie Kane, June 18, 1952, in Cleveland, Ohio), was born to Elaine Joy (née Fetterman), a jazz singer and pianist, and Michael Myron Kane, an architect. Her family is Jewish (from Russia, Poland, and Austria). Due ...
19. Isabelle Adjani
Actress | Possession
Isabelle Yasmine Adjani was born in Gennevilliers, Hauts-de-Seine, a suburb of Paris, to Emma Augusta "Gusti" (Schweinberger) and Mohammed Adjani. Her father was a Kabyle Algerian, from Iferhounène, and her mother was a Bavarian German. She grew up speaking German fluently. After winning a school ...
The Story of Adele H
20. Geneviève Bujold
Actress | Dead Ringers
Genevieve Bujold spent her first twelve school years in Montreal's oppressive Hochelaga Convent, where opportunities for self-expression were limited to making welcoming speeches for visiting clerics. As a child she felt 'as if I were in a long dark tunnel trying to convince myself that if I could ...
Anne of the Thousand Days
21. Kim Stanley
Actress | Seance on a Wet Afternoon
Kim Stanley's movie roles were few and far between; she is perhaps best known for her stellar performances on stage, including successes on Broadway. But when she did step in front of the camera, nothing short of memorable resulted. Her repertoire in movies and on stage covered such diversity from ...
Seance on a Wet Afternoon
Actress | Central do Brasil
Arlette Pinheiro Esteves da Silva was born on 16th October 1929 in Rio de Janeiro. She adopted the name "Fernanda" because she thought it sounded good. "Montenegro" came after her family doctor.
In late 40s she was translating and adapting famous theater plays to radio. She begun her artistic life ...
Actress | Sans toit ni loi
Sandrine Bonnaire was born on May 31, 1967 in Gannat, Allier, France. She is an actress and director, known for Vagabond (1985), À nos amours (1983) and La Cérémonie (1995). She was previously married to Guillaume Laurant.
24. Sissy Spacek
Actress | In the Bedroom
As a kid, Sissy Spacek climbed trees, rode horses, swam, and played in the woods. She was born Mary Elizabeth Spacek on December 25, 1949, in Quitman, Texas, to Virginia Frances (Spilman) and Edwin Arnold Spacek, Sr., a county agricultural agent. Her father's family was of Czech and German origin.
Coal Miner's Daughter
25. Anne Bancroft
Actress | The Graduate
Anne Bancroft was born on September 17, 1931 in the Bronx, the daughter of Michael Italiano (1905-2001), a dress pattern maker, and Mildred DiNapoli (1908-2010), a telephone operator. She made her cinema debut in Don't Bother to Knock (1952) in 1952 and over the next five years appeared in a lot of...
The Pumpkin Eater
26. Judy Davis
Actress | The Dressmaker
Judy Davis was born April 23, 1955 in Perth, Western Australia. She was educated at Loreto Convent and the Western Institute of Technology, and graduated from the National Institute of Dramatic Art (NIDA) in 1977. She came to prominence as Sybylla Melvyn in the film adaptation of Miles Franklin's ...
My Brilliant Career; Impromptu
27. Olivia Colman
Actress | Tyrannosaur
Olivia Colman was born on January 30, 1974 in Norwich, Norfolk, England as Sarah Caroline Olivia Colman. She is an actress, known for Tyrannosaur (2011), The Lobster (2015) and Hot Fuzz (2007). She has been married to Ed Sinclair since August 2001. They have three children.
28. Kerry Fox
Actress | Shallow Grave
Kerry Fox was born on July 30, 1966 in Wellington, New Zealand. She is an actress and writer, known for Shallow Grave (1994), An Angel at My Table (1990) and Bright Star (2009). She is married to Alexander Linklater. They have two children.
An Angel at My Table
29. Sally Field
Actress | Forrest Gump
Sally Margaret Field was born in 1946 in Pasadena, California, to actress Margaret Field (née Morlan) and salesman Richard Dryden Field. Her parents divorced in 1950 and her mother then married stuntman Jock Mahoney, and they had a daughter, Princess O'Mahoney. She also has a brother, Richard Field...
30. Giulietta Masina
Actress | Le notti di Cabiria
Born in San Giorgio di Piano, Giulietta Masina spent part of her teenage years living with a widowed aunt in Rome, where she cultivated a passion for the theater and studied for a degree in Philosophy. She began her career on the radio with the program "Terzoglio" (1942), about the adventures of ...
Nights of Cabiria
31. Julianne Moore
Actress | The Hours
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 ...
Far from Heaven
32. Diane Keaton
Actress | Annie Hall
Diane was a California native who studied Drama at Santa Ana College before dropping out to study at the Neighborhood Playhouse in New York. After appearing in summer stock for several months, she got her first major stage role in the Broadway rock musical "Hair". As understudy to the lead, she ...
33. Krystyna Janda
Actress | Przesluchanie
Krystyna Janda was born on December 18, 1952 in Starachowice, Swietokrzyskie, Poland. She is an actress and director, known for Przesluchanie (1982), Pestka (1995) and Rewers (2009). She was previously married to Edward Klosinski and Andrzej Seweryn.
34. Glenda Jackson
Actress | Women in Love
Few in modern British history have come as far or achieved as much from humble beginnings as Glenda Jackson has. From acclaimed actress to respected MP (Member of Parliament), she is known for her high intelligence and meticulous approach to her work. She was born to a working-class household in ...
Mary, Queen of Scots
Actress | The Lion in Winter
Born May 12, 1907 in Hartford, Connecticut, she was the daughter of a doctor and a suffragette, both of whom always encouraged her to speak her mind, develop it fully, and exercise her body to its full potential. An athletic tomboy as a child, she was also very close to her brother, Tom, and was ...
Suddenly, Last Summer
36. Shirley Booth
Actress | Come Back, Little Sheba
Character actress Shirley Booth could play everything in all facets of show business, whether it was a smart-mouthed cashier on radio's "Duffy's Tavern", the sassy maid on TV's Hazel (1961) or the pathetic woman in Come Back, Little Sheba (1952). For those who only know her through her sitcom, it ...
Come Back, Little Sheba
37. Juliette Binoche
Actress | The English Patient
Juliette Binoche was born in Paris, France, to Monique Yvette Stalens, a director, teacher, and actress, and Jean-Marie Binoche, a sculptor, director, and actor. Her mother was born in Czestochowa, Poland, of French, Walloon Belgian, and Polish descent, while her father is French. Juliette was only...
Three Colors: Blue
38. Norma Shearer
Actress | The Divorcee
She won a beauty contest at age fourteen. In 1920 her mother, Edith Shearer, took Norma and her sister Athole Shearer (Mrs. Howard Hawks) to New York. Ziegfeld rejected her for his "Follies," but she got work as an extra in several movies. She spent much money on eye doctor's services trying to ...