Every year when award season starts, all eyes are on the dramatic actress. Who will win the Best Actress Academy Award, a new fresh face or an experienced audience favorite? Here is our list of the top 40 best dramatic actresses of all time!
Helen Mirren won the best actress Academy Award in 2006 for playing Queen Elizabeth II in the film The Queen. Mirren’s physical transformation into the famous Queen was mesmerizing to watch on screen as was her intense, stoic facade. This film role also reinvigorated the actresses career and led to many more big parts for her.
Amy Adams started off her film career in the comedy Drop Dead Gorgeous. However, Adams’ dramatic chops in powerful films like Doubt, Junebug, The Fighter, and American Hustle earned her industry respect and Academy Award nominations for best actress and best supporting actress in a feature film.
Elizabeth Taylor is one of the most famous actresses of all time. With her glamour and big screen presence, Taylor had many roles in film and many husbands as well! Notable performances include: Cat On A Hot Tin Roof, Butterfield 8, Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf?, and Cleopatra.
Bette Davis is famous for her beautiful eyes as well as her acting! Davis has starred in some of the most memorable films in history. This includes: All About Eve, Whatever Happened To Baby Jane? and Dangerous. Whatever Happened To Baby Jane? earned her an Academy Award nomination for best actress in a leading role.
Cate Blanchett is one of Hollywood’s most glamours actresses to date! Blanchett won the Academy Award for best actress in a leading role in 2013 for playing the mentally disturbed woman Jasmine in the film Blue Jasmine. Blanchett has also portrayed the famous actress Katharine Hepburn in the film The Aviator.
Jennifer Lawrence is one of the most in demand actresses today! She starred in the four Hunger Game films as well the acclaimed Silver Linings Playbook film which earned her the best actress in a leading role Academy Award in 2012. Lawrence was also nominated for Academy Awards for the films Winter’s Bone, Joy, and American Hustle.
What can be said about Meryl Streep’s career other than amazing! Streep’s career is synonymous with longevity as she has been acting for decades. Streep also has a record breaking 15 Academy Award nominations for acting with two wins, for her roles in the films Sophie’s Choice and Kramer vs. Kramer.
Kate Winslet became part of movie history when she starred in the mega blockbuster film Titanic in 1997, earning her an Academy Award nomination for best actress in a leading role. Winslet lost that year to Helen Hunt, but finally won the award in 2008 for her role in the film The Reader.
Nicole Kidman has one of the most recognizable faces in film. Kidman starred in popular films like: Far and Away, Moulin Rouge!, To Die For, and The Others. Kidman won the best actress in a leading role Academy Award for her portrayal of Virgina Woolf in the film The Hours.
Model-turned-actress Charlize Theron is one of the most beautiful women in the world, but the girl can also act! Theron starred as infamous female serial killer Aileen Wuornos in the 2003 film Monster. The role won her an Academy Award for best actress in a leading role.
Jessica Lange has had a long and fruitful career in both film and television. Lange has starred in the American Horror Story television series, earning her many Emmy awards. Lange has also earned Academy Award nominations for acting for the films Frances, Country, Blue Sky, Sweet Dreams, and Music Box.
Holly Hunter won the Academy Award for best actress in a leading role in 1993 for the film The Piano. Hunter played a mute, single mother who’s only voice is through her piano. Hunter was also nominated for yet another role as a single mother in the 2003 drama Thirteen.
Jodie Foster started acting as a young girl and by her teens she had many many movies under her belt. In 1988 Foster would win her first Academy Award for actress in a leading role for her performance in the film The Accused. Again, in 1991, Foster would win the award for her role in the film The Silence of the Lambs.
Kathy Bates won the Academy Award for best actress in a leading role for playing a over the top fan in the film Misery. The film was based on the best selling novel Misery by Stephen King. Bates also won best supporting actress nominations for the films Primary Colors and About Schmidt.
Long time rival of Bette Davis, Joan Crawford is an acclaimed actress in her own right with six best actress in a leading role Academy Award nominations. Crawford won the best actress in a leading role award for the film Mildred Pierce, but most people remember her for her role in Whatever Happened To Baby Jane? playing opposite Bette Davis.
Sally Field has been America’s sweetheart for as long as she’s been acting. Field has had a wide range of acting roles, from a flying nun to Mary Todd Lincoln. Field won the Academy Award for best actress in a leading role for the films Norma Rae and Places in the Heart.
Jane Fonda’s political activism has overshadowed her career for decades, but her acting resume is still impressive. Fonda has won the Academy Award for best actress in a leading role for the films Klute and Coming Home. Fonda has also recently starred in the television series Grace and Frankie with actress Lilly Tomlin.
Katharine Hepburn has won the most Academy Awards for best actress at four wins! The winning roles were for the films: Morning Glory, Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner, The Lion In Winter, and On Golden Pond. Hepburn not only won four Academy Awards, she was also nominated for a whopping 12 awards and comes in second to Meryl Streep in nominations.
Anne Bancroft won the Academy Award for best actress in a leading role in 1962 for her role in the film The Miracle Worker. Bancroft was also paved the way for the cougars of today with her role as Mrs. Robinson in the film The Graduate. The role also earned her an Academy Award nomination for best actress!
Grace Kelly may have been the most beautiful woman to ever appear on the silver screen and she had the acting skills to back it up! Kelly won the best actress in a leading role Academy Award in 1954 for her role in the film The Country Girl. Kelly was also nominated for her role in the film Mogambo for best supporting actress.
Barbara Stanwick has one of the most unique faces in film, both beautiful and devious at times! Just see her act in the film Double Indemnity, playing the part of a housewife-turned-murder-conspirator. The role earned her an Academy Award nomination for best actress in a leading role.
Who could ever forget the poster girl for old school southern beauty, Miss Scarlett O’Hara! Vivian Leigh played the part perfectly and won the Academy Award for best actress in a leading role for the film Gone With The Wind, a film that is considered by many to best one of the best films of all time!
Olivia de Havilland
Also another Gone With The Wind award winning actress, Olivia de Havilland earned an Academy Award nomination for best supporting actress. De Havilland lost the award to yet another Gone With The Wind woman, Hattie McDaniel who won for playing the role of Mammy in the film.
Vanessa Redgrave is still one of the most notable dramatic actresses to appear on film. With five Academy Award nominations for acting and one win for best supporting actress for her role in the 1977 film Julia, Redgrave is a critic’s favorite. Redgrave is still an active actress today!
There was a time when you could not say award show without Laura Linney being part of the list of nominees. The time was the early 2000s and Linney was at the top of everyone’s list with nominated performances in films like Kinsey, Mystic River, and The Savages.
Tilda Swinton is known for her unusual beauty and surprising dramatic performances. Swinton has been nominated for best actress in a supporting role for the film Michael Clayton in 2007. Swinton also earned praise for her role as grieving mother in the film We Need To Talk About Kevin.
Judi Dench has been in more award winning films than most can recall! Dench’s shocking dramatic performances in film have earned her six Academy Award nominations for best actress and one win for her role in the film Shakespeare in Love. Judi Dench continues to be one the classic actresses of a certain age still winning awards in film!
Annette Bening is one of those actresses whose performances can go unnoticed for years and then all of a sudden everyone is talking about her! Think of the film American Beauty, for which Bening earned an Academy Award nomination for best actress in a leading role.
Anjelica Huston is best known for her performance in the 1985 film Prizzi’s Honor, a film for which Huston won the Academy Award for best actress in a supporting role. Anjelica Huston also earned a lot of praise for performance as the mother in the popular film The Royal Tenenbaums!
With six Academy Award nominations in acting, two of which she won, Maggie Smith maybe one of the hardest, and longest, working dramatic actresses in film and television. In recent years Smith has been widely praised and recognized for her role in Downton Abbey for which she has earned and won Emmy awards!
Glenn Close has been nominated for six Academy Awards for best actress, but has never won! However, Glenn Close did win multiple Emmy Awards for best actress in a television drama for her role in the popular series Damages! Close’s big screen credits include The Big Chill and Fatal Attraction.
Angela Lansbury is one of the most respected actresses in film and television. From her award winning role in the popular television series Murder She Wrote to her voice acting as the teapot in the Disney animated film Beauty and the Beast, Angela Lansbury proves that a woman can do it all!
Most famous for her role as Dorothy in the classic film The Wizard of Oz (a performance that won her the Academy Award’s Juvenile Award in 1940), Judy Garland is a timeless film treasure. Garland went on to win a Lifetime AchievementAward: the Golden Globe Cecil B. DeMille Award.
Jessica Chastain is a newer face on the dramatic actress scene, but Jessica has already been nominated for her stellar skills! Chastain was nominated for Academy Awards in both the best actress in a leading role and best actress in a supporting role for her performances in the films Zero Dark Thirty and The Help, respectively.
Helena Bonham Carter
Helena Bonham Carter has longtime been the go-to gal for quirky or creepy female roles. Think of the Tim Burton films Alice Through The Looking Glass, Dark Shadows, and Big Fish. Bonham Carter’s most recent critically acclaimed performance and Academy Award nomination for best supporting actress was for The King’s Speech.
Vera Farmiga has had a hot Hollywood career in recent years. With an Academy Award nomination for best supporting actress for the 2009 film Up In The Air, to her performance as Norma Bates in the hit television series Bates Motel, Farmiga has the chops to go from big screen to small screen at any time.
Viola Davis’ popularity soared in 2011 with her Academy Award nominated performance in the film The Help. Davis earned a nomination a few years earlier for her record breaking short appearance in the film Doubt. Currently, Viola Davis stars in the hit drama series How To Get Away With Murder on ABC.
Chloë Sevigny may have one of the most mispronounced last names in Hollywood, but her career is anything but. Sevigny was nominated for a best supporting actress Academy Award for her brilliant dramatic performance in the indie film Boys Don’t Cry. Most recently, Sevigny has starred in the hit television series American Horror Story.
Winona Ryder was one of the most popular female dramatic actresses of the 1980s and 1990s. With starring roles in movies like Heathers and Beetlejuice, Ryder was a fresh face on film. Ryder’s popularity was solidified with Academy Award nominations for her performances in Little Women and The Age Innocence.
Natalie Portman has been acting since she was just a young girl in the film The Professional. Portman went on to become one of the biggest female stars in Hollywood playing parts in the Star Wars franchise as well as earning an Academy Award for best actress in a leading role for her performance in Black Swan.