The Best Movie Performances of All Time(?)

Peter O\'Toole in \

I was at home throwing out some old magazines earlier this morning, and came across the April 2006 issue of Premiere magazine, which featured their list of “The 100 Greatest Performances of All Time.” Their top choice? None other than the man pictured above – Peter O’Toole in Lawrence of Arabia.

Now, I love Peter O’Toole, and there’s no denying that his portrayal of Lawrence stands as one of the high watermarks of his extremely distinguished and memorable career.

But, the BEST movie performance EVER? Personally, I think not.

This sort of thing is, of course, highly subjective. No one can ever have the definitive word on it. Nevertheless, as a list whore from way back (looooooong before they ever became trendy and popular), I find these types of things endlessly fun to think about.

For instance, my list of The Best Movie Performances of All Time would start with these four from Marlon Brando, in this order:

  • Last Tango in Paris
  • On the Waterfront
  • A Streetcar Named Desire
  • The Godfather

Next up would be Orson Welles as the title character in Citizen Kane. After that, it becomes a virtual free-for-all. Here are some other favorites off the top of my head, in no order whatsoever:

  • Dustin Hoffman in Tootsie
  • James Stewart in It’s a Wonderful Life
  • James Stewart in Rear Window
  • Bette Davis in All About Eve
  • Vivien Leigh in A Streetcar Named Desire
  • Gene Wilder in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory
  • Christopher Reeve in Superman
  • Harrison Ford in Star Wars
  • Christopher Lloyd in Back to the Future
  • Robert De Niro in Midnight Run
  • Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell in His Girl Friday
  • Paul Newman in The Verdict
  • Paul Newman in The Color of Money
  • Peter Sellers in Being There
  • Holly Hunter in Broadcast News
  • Gene Hackman in Hoosiers
  • Laurence Olivier in Hamlet
  • James Dean in East of Eden
  • Jodie Foster in The Silence of the Lambs
  • Bert Lahr in The Wizard of Oz
  • F. Murray Abraham in Amadeus
  • Jeremy Irons in Dead Ringers
  • Robert Shaw in Jaws

Highly idiosyncratic, as you can see.

What are some of your favorite all-time performances? I’d love to hear what the blogosphere has to say about this. Let ‘er rip, people!


6 Responses to The Best Movie Performances of All Time(?)

  1. Hank says:

    Anthony Perkins PSYCHO
    Jack Nicholson The Shining
    Samuel L Jackson Pulp Fiction

    And many more

  2. Rebecca says:

    How could ANYONE leave out Vivien Leigh’s fiery performance in GWTW?
    Like the movie or not, it is a tour de force!!!! Her beauty and talent are unparalleled. I don’t believe there is a greater performance overall in film history, and I know my movies.
    I agree with a lot of your choices but James Dean’s three films should all be represented, as well as most of Audrey Hepburn’s delicate work…. at the very least Roman Holiday or Breakfast at Tiffany’s.
    Christopher Reeves and Harrison Ford, though “stars”, are not great actors by any stretch. Their faces are both terribly wooden. Modern-day Burt Lancasters and Charleton Hestons!
    I don’t agree that Brando’s Last Tango is one of his better performances.
    and where is Johnny Depp? He truly is much more than a pretty boy. A brilliant character actor with a leading man’s face. I think he prefers character roles and has from the beginning (Benny and Joon).
    Bette David should certainly be on this list. All About Eve, etc.
    Morgan Freeman in Shawshank Redemption.
    Vivien Leigh as Scarlett is still my TOP performance by any actor of either sex.
    It’s just CRAZY good!!! I have been watching it lately because it came on TCM and I recorded it. She is truly unique in film history.

  3. Rebecca says:

    PS – Oh and I do think that Tom Cruise has put forth some very excellent work and has been consistently underrated. Rainman. Born On the Fourth of July. Jerry Maguire is a complex role that he plays seamlessly. He is always very believable. And Sandra Bullock as well, is as naturally talented an actress as any. Her work is so good that she makes it look easy. The Blind Side should be on the list. Or Crash. Love Sandy!!! She is no lightweight.

  4. Ben says:

    Daniel day lewis – there will be blood….. dustin hoffman – kramer vs kramer……. danny aiello – do the right thing…… sean penn – mystic river…… hillary swank – million dollar baby…… mia farrow – broadway danny rose……. audrey hepburn – my fair lady…….. la vie en rose actress…… albert finney – murder on orient express…….. dustin hoffman – lenny…… nicholas cage – leaving las vegas….. joe pesci -my cousin vinny…… marisa tomei – my cousin vinny……. glengarry glen ross – ed harris, jack lemmon…… walter matthau – sunshine boys……. just to kill soh

  5. Rebecca says:

    I have to add Montgomery Clift in A Place In The Sun. And several of his other films. The Search starring Monty has a little known Czech child actor who is the best in history, by the name of Ivan Jandl.
    Natalie Wood in Splendor in the Grass delivers.
    (BTW, forgive my typos above – Bette Davis, not David! and Christopher Reeve not Reeves! typing too carelessly!)

    I enjoy these “lists” – they are fun to debate over. 🙂

  6. Rebecca says:

    Oh and how could I forget Barbra Streisand in Funny Girl??
    Brilliant work. One of the best.

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