Since making her astounding debut at the age of 11 in Luc Besson’s 1994 action classic Léon: The Professional, Natalie Portman has carved out one of the most impressive careers in Hollywood history. Never settling into any particular niche, Portman has embraced comic films (including her biggest one yet as a new version of the title character in Thor: Love and Thunder) just as she has art films, and the results are always astounding.
The fact that films like V for Vendetta (2006), Brothers (2009), and Thor (2011) don’t even fit within the actor’s top ten on Metacritic is very telling. Furthermore, even some of her “lowest-rated” films have their merits, e.g. Where the Heart Is (2000), Hesher (2011), The Other Boleyn Girl (2008), and an early appearance in Tim Burton’s Mars Attacks! (1996).
10 Léon: The Professional (1994) — 64
Portman made her film debut just after hitting an age in the double digits, and the quality of the performance is comparable to titans of the industry with decades under the belt. Her work is astounding in Léon: The Professional, and the performance is every bit as impressive as the Oscar-winning turn delivered by Anna Paquin in her debut the prior year: The Piano.
Portman plays Mathilda, a girl whose family is slaughtered by a sadistic hitman (Gary Oldman) and his henchman, just as she’s returning home. Now, with the help of the friendly neighborhood hitman, Léon (Jean Reno), Mathilda sees the opportunity for redemption and revenge.
9 Closer (2004) — 65
As undervalued a movie as a whole as it is an underrated showcase for Portman, Closer is a gorgeous and gut-wrenching film riddled with masterclass performances from A-listers, but it’s Portman who owns the film with a performance that speaks volumes even when she doesn’t utter a word.
The plot follows four individuals, all of whom have their lives intertwine in ways both unexpected and eventually unpleasant. Portman portrays Alice, an American stripper who’s moved to London in search of something new. There, she meets Jude Law’s Dan, with whom she starts a whirlwind romance that ends in a novel and infidelity.
8 Garden State (2004) — 67
Helmed by Scrubs star Zach Braff (in his directorial debut), Garden State is a quirky little indie curiosity even if not all of it has aged like fine wine.
The plot follows Braff’s Andrew Largeman, a waiter and aspiring actor who must return to his New Jersey hometown after the death of his mother. Portman portrays what amounts to a Manic Pixie Dream Girl of Largeman’s past, who re-enters his life and changes it yet again.
7 Vox Lux (2018) — 67
Vox Lux mostly went under the radar, which is surprising considering it stars both Natalie Portman and Jude Law, both of whom turn in terrific work.
The film follows Portman’s Celeste, a multi-talented individual who’s been seen as a prodigy ever since her teens. Unfortunately, Celeste is also in the building during a school shooting, but her beautiful singing voice reaches the mourners at the collective memorial service. In time, she becomes a major pop star, but there are temptations on every side of her and it’s only a matter of time before a downfall takes place.
6 Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge Of The Sith — 68
George Lucas may be one of the best directors Portman has worked with, but Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace and Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones were met with nothing short of controversy if not outright disdain.
Time has shown the prequel trilogy to be far from the disaster many initially felt it was (especially with Disney+’s astounding Obi-Wan Kenobi), but even at the time, there was little doubt that not only was Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith a massive improvement over its two predecessors, but even just a rock-solid Star Wars film all it’s own. While most of the film’s big moments go to Anakin Skywalker or Obi-Wan, Portman’s Amidala gets a few poignant scenes in with the former.
5 Cold Mountain (2003) — 73
Before she worked with Law on Vox Lux, Portman collaborated with the actor on Cold Mountain. Most of the screentime belongs to Law, Nicole Kidman, and a phenomenal Renée Zellweger, but stars like Portman, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Giovanni Ribisi, and Donald Sutherland still get their time in the epic, period piece sun.
In Cold Mountain, Portman portrays Sara, a grieving widow and single mother who gives Law’s soldier, William Inman, shelter for an evening, to deadly results.
4 Heat (1995) — 76
Easily a contender for the most well-constructed and entertaining film of Portman’s career, Michael Mann’s Heat is a masterwork of a crime epic, featuring perfectly modulated performances from Al Pacino and Robert De Niro amongst many others.
Portman plays the troubled adopted daughter of Pacino’s Lieutenant Vincent Hanna, who is hot on the tail of master bank robber Neil McCauley (Robert De Niro).
3 Annihilation (2018) — 79
Portman portrays Lena, a biologist with combat experience who is part of a group of women sent into the mysterious, alien-like bubble called “The Shimmer” that’s now consumed miles of land in the United States. But it’s not just mutated animals and hazardous environments she has to worry about, but haunting memories of her deceased husband (Oscar Isaac), as well.
2 Black Swan (2010) — 79
The amount of chatter surrounding the release of Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan primarily had to do with the career-best devotion Portman devoted to the role of Nina Sayers AKA the White Swan. It was almost instantly obvious from the first trailer that Portman was gunning for an Oscar, and her work in Aronofsky’s film made her the biggest actor of 2010.
The film’s impact is bolstered by Aronofsky’s tight direction, some lurid cinematography by Matthew Libatique, and superb supporting performances from Vincent Cassel, Barbara Hershey, and Mila Kunis, but Black Swan is Portman’s ultimate showcase through and through.
1 Jackie (2016) — 81
Jackie netted Portman the most critical praise since her performance in Black Swan, if not more so. A relatively history-faithful look at the life of former First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy in the days leading up to and following her husband’s assassination.
The former First Lady’s life was just as interesting as nearly any of the Kennedys, but the decision to focus on the two days before and the two days after her husband’s assassination is particularly ingenious. The specific focus also gives Portman the opportunity to showcase the range of going from the top of the world to a grieving widow.
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