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The Top 10 Actresses of the Modern Era

June 28, 2008

Just as with the actors, here are the guidelines:

  1. The actress must be at or under the age of 60 at the time of the list compilation, and most of their work must have been made no earlier than 1980.
  2. Their performances must be varied in terms of style.
  3. Theater and television work are also considered, but the final tiebreaker is movie ticket sales.

We found it far more difficult to find even 10 women worthy of inclusion. We think this is due to cookie-cutter roles for women in the modern era. Several of the notables are more than likely capable of much greater performances, but are encumbered by poor roles for women and filmmakers/studios unwilling to expand such limiting factors.

It’s almost a reversal of the golden age of cinema in which you can find far more awesome actresses than actors. Back then, most men were typecast. I guess the worm has turned, but I’m not sure why there is a need for either to be undercut in such a way.

THE TOP 10 ACTRESSES OF THE MODERN ERA (1980-PRESENT)

Kathy Bates

I couldn't find a decent pic.

It’s hard not to like Kathy Bates. Even when she is playing a nasty character like she did in Misery, you almost end up liking here more than the supposed protagonist. Bates has also seemed to have continued to work well throughout her aging which cannot be said for a lot of actresses. She’s done voice acting, comedies, dramas, etc. You name it, she’s pretty much done it. One word of warning, although I love Kathy Bates, I never wanted to see her naked. If you agree with me on this, whatever you do, DON”T WATCH ABOUT SCHMIDT! My eyes still burn, but I couldn’t help but chuckle then and now when thinking about the scene. I guess I should have seen it coming, but I didn’t.

Cate Blanchett

She's pretty, but not Galadriel pretty.

Cate Blanchett has been everywhere the last several years. I still feel she was mildly miscast for Lord of the Rings (though she was solid enough in it I feel Theron makes more sense as I will explain later), but in everything else I’ve seen her in I cannot imagine anyone being more suitable for the role or any chance anyone could have outperformed her. It doesn’t hurt that she keeps landing in films that I enjoy like Bandits, LOTR, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, The Aviator, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, and even a small part in Hot Fuzz. Throw in incredible performances in films like I’m Not There, and she is bonafide awesomeness.

Sigourney Weaver

I still need to see Wall-E. 

As we’ve discussed in the comments, Sigourney Weaver definitely deserves to be on the top 10.  It’s kind of funny that she kicks Howard off the list, as they were both in The VIllage.  If I’m not mistaken, Weaver was the first truly bankable female action star thanks to the Alien fiilms.  She’s also handled comedies like Ghost Busters and Galaxy Quest with ease.  In short, she’s pretty much done it all, including voice-over work on stuff like Wall-E.

Laura Linney

I definitely like her the more I see her.

I love to see Laura Linney’s inclusion in films, but dread it at the same time. I can’t quite explain it. I think a lot of it has to due with her great performances as, shall we say, witchy women in films like The Truman Show and Driving Lessons. Yet, I know she can play women with whom I am sympathetic, even if begrudgingly so, like in Love Actually and John Adams. It might also partially be her voice, but at any rate she is a fine actress and she doesn’t shy away from small, meaty roles like she had in Mystic River and The Life of David Gale.

Audrey Tautou

Hard narrowing down which picture I liked most.

I would definitely like to see Tautou in more American films. We already know she can do it, as she was quite good in Dirty Pretty Things. It’s a shame Tom Hanks was cast in The Da VInci Code, because he didn’t really fit the description of the character, and the two of them had zilch in the way of chemistry. Now, most of the American audiences have that bitter taste in their mouth in regards to Tautou. The good news is, that she has done several awesome films already (Amelie, He Loves Me… He Loves Me Not, and A Very Long Engagement), and I can only hope that she will eventually make a transition to more American films.

Charlize Theron

She was aweome on Arrested Development.

Charlize Theron is an example of a woman who was no doubt originally cast for her beauty, but also backs it up with fine acting skill. So much so in fact, that she deliberately made herself ugly to take on the persona of a murderer in Monster. It’s hard to believe it’s her. Meanwhile, she’s also done action (The Italian Job), comedy (Arrested Development), and of course other dramas (In the Valley of Elah). I consider it a travesty that she wasn’t cast as either Galadriel in LOTR or as The White Witch in the Narnia films. She fits the character descriptions perfectly (given minor hair adjustments as necessary) as she is both tall and lovely, and can act very well.

Emma Thompson

Hard to find a pic not in character.

As awesome as the casting has been for the Harry Potter films, it could be argued that no one is more perfectly cast than Emma Thompson. Given a role that could so very easily be overacted or become completely cliched, Thompson makes Trelawney believable. My only complaint is that she is hardly on screen, but that’s a testament to the strength of the cast and Thompson’s willingness to be second fiddle in terms of billing. I suppose it’s possible that she completely stinks in all those girly films like Sense and Sensibility (which I see no reason to watch), but I find that extremely hard to believe after consistently strong performances in films like Love Actually and Stranger Than Fiction.

Rachel Weisz

I first saw her in The Mummy.

I love Rachel Weisz. So, I’m fairly biased in my inclusion of her to the top 10. However, I think she is worthy of the top 10 despite that bias. I cannot believe they would dare make a third Mummy movie, and worse yet, not include Weisz? Why not just have her character die off when they realized she couldn’t do the film? She was good in Enemy at the Gates (though as a whole I hate the movie despite the awesome cast), Constantine (which I really enjoyed), and The Fountain (trippy, but entertaining).

Kate Winslet

She's bloody loving it.

Kate Winslet is without a doubt my favorite actress. I love several of the others on the list, but all pale in comparison to how awesome Winslet is. If for no other reason, her performance as herself in Extras, is grounds for inclusion on the list. It was easily the funniest episode of a show in which every episode was funny. Winslet is so awesome that even her involvement with Titanic (which has 3 people from the top 20 in it) doesn’t diminish her overall aura of magnificence. Not even a movie with Johnny Depp (Finding Neverland, though I refuse to watch it) can fade that brilliance. How can it with her performance in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind? Because of her, I even watched, AND ENJOYED, a chick flick (The Holiday). As I said before, Sam Mendes is one lucky man.

Reese Witherspoon

What the heck, Phillippe?

Like Howard, I think Witherspoon would be best served by a few more films under her belt. Then again, she has been around for quite some time, and I traditionally just haven’t given her films much thought. She was quite strong in Walk the Line, and from the bits and pieces of her previous work, she has sufficiently shown her range. It doesn’t really affect her rankings, but I’ve liked her a lot more since that idiot, Ryan Phillippe left her. I’m not saying she is perfect or anything, but what kind of douche bag leaves someone like her? It would be like leaving Jennifer Aniston or Uma Thurman.

HONORABLE MENTIONS:

Halle Berry, Minnie Driver, Anna Faris, Carla Gugino, Bryce Dallas Howard, Scarlett Johansson, Virginia Madsen, Francis McDormand, Brittany Murphy, Gwyneth Paltrow, Amanda Peet, Michelle Pfeiffer, Natalie Portman, Parker Posey, and Uma Thurman.

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29 Comments leave one →
  1. June 29, 2008 8:18 pm

    Shoulda put Sigourney Weaver in there…I would say she almost owned the 80’s as far as big films

  2. June 29, 2008 8:30 pm

    Yeah, I am less than certain with Howard especially and Withserspoon too. I can definitely see slapping someone else in the top 10, and I’m fine with Weaver. She’s pretty good, and has pretty much run the gamut in terms of style.

  3. Brent permalink
    June 30, 2008 7:05 pm

    Witherspoon is not too bad…maybe a bit underacted. I didn’t know the other actress, but it seems that women actors aren’t just as big as men are. I never realized a bias, but it must be there in some sort. Or maybe I’m just not much a movie buff…

    Well, I liked Witherspoon in her chick flicks. She seems to have a very infectious personality. Sweet Home Alabama was a good one…chick flicks though.

    Definitely S. Weaver is a lock for that list. She has done a tone of movies, and quite varied.

  4. Brent permalink
    June 30, 2008 7:08 pm

    Kate Blanchet rocked in LOTR…her acting job was outstanding. I don’t Theron could have pulled it off acting wise. Look wise, yea, she is a lock, but Blanchet did very well. One of my favorite scenes is that one with her and Frodo in the garden. It is hard to imagine Theron doing that in her place.

  5. Brent permalink
    June 30, 2008 7:10 pm

    The actress who played Eowyn (Miranda Otto) did an outstanding job with that character too…just had to mention it. She was the best actress in the bit. Course, there were only like, what 3 women in the whole series…ah well, so what!

  6. June 30, 2008 7:17 pm

    Which illustrates the problem for actresses: the good roles are limited.

    What have you seen Theron in? I’m not prepared to say she is better than Blanchett, but she is awesome. She won an Oscar for Best Actress in a Leading Role with Monster, and was nominated in the same category for North Country. She definitely could have handled the scenes in LOTR with ease as the role is relatively easy lifting for actresses of Blanchett’s and Theron’s caliber.

  7. Brent permalink
    June 30, 2008 7:21 pm

    Rachel Weisz-yes, quite hot and fun in the Mummies…never saw any other movies. Halle Berry should be a top 10 lock. Michelle Pfeifer has a done a ton of movies too. I guess most folks would put your favorite (who seems to be absent from your list) dare I say, Nicole Kidman…

    Well, at any rate…you are the movie expert…I bow to expertise in all movie matters, except that you say that Star Wars is better than Lord of the Rings. Besides that, you know your junk!

  8. June 30, 2008 8:31 pm

    Yeah, and the American Film Institute agrees with me on the Star Wars > LOTR. So, I feel reassured in that opinion.

    As you say, Nicole Kidman has a spot on the five actresses I hate the most. Objectively, I think she is overrated anyway. Which, as I think of it, is one of the reasons I dislike her.

    I’m not sure why you think Halle Berry is a lock in the top 10. I like her and all, and I think she is possibly the hottest woman on the planet, but she lacks awesome roles. She has shown talent before though, and as I mentioned in their respective descriptions I could see dropping either Howard or Witherspoon. Howard especially as she hasn’t had many roles of any sort. Am I missing a role? I’m more than happy with swapping Berry for Howard if you can make a case for it.

  9. Webby permalink
    July 1, 2008 10:58 am

    I agree that Star Wars is better. Especially since apostles have quoted it. hehe Eowyn was my least favorite character of the LOTR series. I just can’t stand the woman for some reason unknown to me. I agree with Brent that Cate did a great job in LOTR. I can understand the whole “she’s not pretty enough to be Galadriel”. Cate is certainly pretty in her own rite. Sigourney Weaver did own the 80’s. Plus there are those Alien movies that she did.

  10. July 1, 2008 11:06 am

    Yeah, but the Aliens movies were mostly done in the 80s. Weaver is definitely awesome. She also did comedies like Dave and Galaxy Quest. I think I will take Howard off the top 10 and add Weaver instead. I might do that later today.

  11. April 27, 2009 8:58 pm

    Im so glad you put Audrey Tautou on this list. She’s an amazing actress an one of my faves. Now only if she could get THE role of a lifetime in America,she could really go far.

    I really hate how all the good actress’s are so under rated. An that includes Audrey T. But also Zooey Deschanel,AnnaSophia Robb. There a little more on the quirky side but thats what makes them so great!

  12. April 28, 2009 2:54 am

    Yeah, Zooey Deschanel is one of my favorites. I’ve seen Anna Sophia Robb in Bridge to Terabithia, but that’s it. I want to see that Witch Mountain remake though as it looked to be better than the original.

    As for Tautou, we are definitely in complete agreement.

  13. Jessica W. permalink
    April 29, 2009 4:19 pm

    She’s such an original-An very funny. Well she was in a Grinch Stole Christmas & Willy Wonka. But she’s good for as young as she is. I think i just like her because of the roles she takes-Different & daring i like that.

  14. kip permalink
    January 29, 2010 6:55 pm

    You left out HELEN MIRREN!!!!

  15. January 30, 2010 1:53 am

    She was disqualified given the completely arbitrary terms of the rules as she was over 60.

  16. Ben permalink
    July 1, 2010 10:19 pm

    Can I request a list where they must be over 60?

    Mirren. Dench. Smith. I’m sorry for the anti-American attitude. I’d have said Streep, but I feel like you would be one of the people who think she’s overrated.

    But other than that, I love this list. Weaver is my all time favorite. I think Annette Bening would be a good candidate for consideration as well.

    • July 2, 2010 4:39 pm

      Clearly the under 60 thing was just an arbitrary cut-off. I dunno. Could be fun to do two more lists I guess. I will think about it.

      As for the anti-American attitude, unless it’s purposefully anti-American, it doesn’t count. I mean, look at my list, only four of the 10 are American. That’s just the way it goes. Clearly the three you mentioned are locks for the top 10. I do think Streep is overrated, but still worthy of a top 10 nod. The accolades people heap on her performances might be heavy-handed at times, but that doesn’t mean she is devoid of talent by any stretch.

      As I said, I would have to give it a tad more thought.

      • Ben permalink
        July 2, 2010 8:19 pm

        That’d be awesome if you did. First list I’ve found that I am 90% in agreement with.

  17. nina permalink
    July 3, 2010 4:50 pm

    Meryl Streep should be on this. Even though she’s been around for a long time, she still keep winning globes and oscars for modern movies..

  18. July 4, 2010 5:07 am

    I think I just missed her to be honest. I thought she was excluded from the list due to age, but upon further review, I think she was 59 at the time. I think I missed her because I’m not a big fan, and as stated earlier, feel she is overrated.

    That being said, she certainly has talent, and seems like a really decent person (not that that has anything to do with this list). I’m willing to admit when I’m wrong. She should have been in the top 10.

  19. November 4, 2010 1:54 am

    Rachel Weisz should have been always the leading lady of the Mummy movies because she really fits that role :

  20. November 10, 2010 2:32 am

    I’m not sure a third Mummy film, or a second for that matter, was a good idea with or without Weisz, but if it’s going to happen, Weisz should have been in it. At the very least, they should have killed her character.

  21. Sean permalink
    June 4, 2011 7:53 pm

    How about Demi Moore?

    And Charlize Theron is an absolutely terrible actress who lacks depth in her performances. She is bland, stereotypical, and boring to watch. I disliked her performance in The Italian Job. Her performance was so bad it almost ruined the entire film.

  22. June 4, 2011 10:16 pm

    Don’t agree with your assessment of Theron, but I certainly missed Demi Moore.

    • Sean permalink
      June 5, 2011 4:16 pm

      Yeah, Demi Moore was excellent in A Few Good Men. And maybe after I see Monster my opinion of Theron will change.

  23. KittyKat permalink
    July 2, 2011 4:51 pm

    You seem to be some sort of critic
    You could only say Emma was good in Harry Potter. SMH, Emma Thompson is a better actress than most of those others
    Shame.on.you

    • July 2, 2011 5:03 pm

      Clearly, everyone is a critic.

      If you’d have finished reading the blurb on her, you’d see I also commented on her performances in Love Actually and Stranger Than Fiction. She is an awesome actress, and that is why she is on my Top 10 Actresses list. Not sure why you think that means I consider her less of an actress than the others.

      Also, why no anti-American artist bitching here? Are you upset I only included four Americans?

  24. JalonWatts permalink
    July 10, 2011 11:30 pm

    Julia Roberts is the most flawless and stunning actress of all time. None of these actresses match up to her astonishingness. That is just stupid. Whoever the idiot was that made this list seriousely needs to get their brain checked.

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