All of Meryl Steep’s Oscar-Nominated Performances, Ranked

20th Century Fox

Meryl Steep, the most Oscar-nominated actor in history, turns 70 on June 22. With an Emmy-worthy turn on the second season of “Big Little Lies” and a role in Greta Gerwig’s upcoming “Little Women,” that awards tally will likely get even bigger.
In celebration of the legendary star, we’re ranking all 21 of her Oscar-nominated roles. It’s a tough job, but if Meryl can master 8,000 accents, we thought we’d give it a go.21. “Into the Woods” (2014)

Disney

Meryl makes a memorably menacing witch in this adaptation of the Sondheim musical, but is this role really Oscar-worthy? Best Supporting Actress that year went to Patricia Arquette for her role that spanned 12 years in “Boyhood,” and we’re good with that.20. “Florence Foster Jenkins” (2016)

Paramount Pictures

There are no bad Meryl performances here, just ones that are slightly less amazing. This comedy, based on the real woman who became a media sensation despite being a terrible singer, is very much Meryl Lite. Singing badly is work for Meryl (who sings wonderfully in several films) and her character is dying of syphilis, but it’s just not her best film.19. “A Cry in the Dark” (1988)

Warner Bros.

While Meryl does a brilliant Australian accent in this true story, our biggest takeaway from this film is the infamous (and inaccurately quoted) line “a dingo ate my baby.” It’s also probably one of her least seen films, particularly since its original Australian title was “Evil Angels,” which sounds like a low-budget horror movie.18. “The Post” (2017)

20th Century Fox

As Washington Post publisher Kay Graham (the first woman to hold that title), Meryl has a number of great moments in this deft Steven Spielberg film as she makes the weighty decision whether to publish the explosive Pentagon Papers. But this is really more of a supporting role in an ensemble piece than the Best Actress category she was nominated in. The caftan, however, was everything.17. “Julie & Julia” (2009)

Columbia Pictures

Her performance as famous chef Julia Child? Magnifique! But it’s a bit of a soufflé compared to her more serious roles.16. “Music of the Heart” (1999)

Miramax Films

Meryl playing the violin? Sure. Nailing another very specific accent? Easy peasy. This is probably most notable (from an awards standpoint) for being the only Oscar nomination earned in a film directed by Wes Craven, who took a break from horror to direct this inspirational biopic about a violin teacher in Harlem.15. “Ironweed” (1987)

TriStar Pictures

As a terminally ill homeless woman who used to be a concert pianist and singer, Meryl turns in one of her most striking performances opposite an equally terrific Jack Nicholson. Too bad it’s in one of the bleakest films ever made. Yes, arguably even bleaker than “Sophie’s Choice.” Both she and Nicholson were nominated.14. “The French Lieutenant’s Woman” (1981)

United Artists

Meryl is a Pre-Raphaelite painting come to life in this epic romance — and the contemporary actress playing her in a dual role. In both, she’s carrying on a forbidden love affair with costar Jeremy Irons. The film received 5 Oscar nominations, including Meryl’s first Best Actress nomination. (She lost to Katharine Hepburn, who won her fourth Oscar for “On Golden Pond.” Meryl has since eclipsed Hepburn’s then-record 12 nominations, although Hepburn still has the most wins.)13. “Adaptation” (2002)

Sony Pictures

Chris Cooper won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his role as the title character from the nonfiction book “The Orchid Thief” by Susan Orlean. As a highly fictitious version of the author, Meryl snorts orchid dust and falls in love with her toes (and Cooper’s character). We love seeing her having so much fun in this meta-movie directed by Spike Jonze and written by Charlie Kaufman.12. “August: Osage County” (2013)

The Weinstein Company

Meryl leads the cast of this star-studded adaptation as the bitter, pill-popping matriarch of a family gathered to mourn the sudden death of her husband. She and Julia Roberts (who was also nominated) sink their teeth into the fight scenes… and how.11. “One True Thing” (1998)

Universal Studios

Bring all the Kleenex to this tearjerker about a mother dying of cancer and the daughter (Renée Zellweger) who reluctantly agrees to put her career on hold to be a caretaker.  It’s prime Meryl as the seemingly ditzy, over-the-top housewife who has far more depth to her than her daughter realizes.10. “Postcards From the Edge” (1990)

Columbia Pictures

Watching Meryl and Shirley MacLaine spar as complicated mother and daughter is comedy (and drama) gold. One of Meryl’s most enjoyable and underrated movies: She gets to play an actress in a career slump who’s stuck in a low-budget disaster that looks like “T.J. Hooker: The Movie.”  Based on Carrie Fisher’s novel, which is not so loosely based on her own relationship with mom Debbie Reynolds. We’re still surprised Shirley wasn’t also nominated.9. “The Deer Hunter” (1978)

Universal

The focus in this Best Picture winner is on the horrors faced by childhood friends during and after the Vietnam war: Christopher Walken deservedly won Best Supporting Actor for his role as shattered vet Nick. But the war takes its toll on his hometown sweetheart, Linda, as well, who tries to find comfort with Nick’s friend Mike (Robert De Niro). In her first major film role, Meryl proved she could go toe to toe with the best of them (and reportedly wrote much of her own dialogue for the underwritten character). It earned her her first Oscar nomination.8. “Doubt” (2008)

Miramax

Meryl is at her most formidable as Sister Aloysius Beauvier, the steely school principal of a Catholic school in 1960s New York who believes that Father Flynn (Philip Seymour Hoffman)’s relationship with an altar boy has crossed a line. Seeing these two Oscar-winning powerhouses face off is like the acting Olympics. She, Hoffman, Amy Adams, and Viola Davis were all nominated, as was director-playwright John Patrick Shanley’s screenplay.7. “The Iron Lady” (2011)

20th Century Fox/TWC

Very much like Helen Mirren in “The Queen,” Meryl almost disappears as one of the most famous women in history. At times, we have to blink twice to make sure it’s still her. She brings the late (and much hated) British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher to life so vividly and with such ferocity, it’s bracing. She collected her third Oscar for her performance. The makeup team also took home an Oscar.6. “The Devil Wears Prada” (2006)

20th Century Fox

Imperious fashion magazine editor Miranda Priestly is arguably Meryl’s most iconic (and most memed) role. Watching her destroy her underlings with a dismissive glance or a harsh word is pure joy. When Miranda proclaims, “There’s no one that can do what I do,” you could say she’s talking about Meryl the actress as well.  5. “The Bridges of Madison County” (1995)

Warner Bros.

In one of her most subtle (and heartbreaking) performances, Meryl plays Francesca, an Italian war bride in 1965 rural Iowa who unexpectedly meets the love of her life while her husband and kids are out of town. Who knew Clint Eastwood (who costars and directed) had so much romance in him? And who knew we could cry that hard in the scene where she watches Eastwood’s character drive out of her life forever as she fights the urge to follow him.4. “Kramer vs. Kramer” (1979)

Columbia Pictures

As a mother who walks out on her son and husband, and then returns for a bitter custody battle, Meryl’s conflicted character is like an exposed nerve. She won her first Oscar for this raw performance and there’s a reason we still rate it this highly, 40 years later.3. “Out of Africa” (1985)

Universal Pictures

Director Sydney Pollack didn’t think Meryl was “sexy enough” for this part at first: Thank goodness she convinced him otherwise. Her chemistry with Robert Redford is off the charts. This is maybe her most challenging accent, a Danish-born writer who is slowly picking up new cadences after years in Africa. She didn’t win Best Actress this time, but without her, the film never would have won a Best Picture Oscar.2. “Silkwood” (1983)

20th Century Fox

If winning Oscars gets people to see movies, then it’s a shame that this riveting biopic about nuclear whistle-blower Karen Silkwood didn’t win any of its 5 nominations. It’s not just physically harrowing — she undergoes three harsh decontamination showers on camera — but she creates one of her most indelible characters here. Karen starts off as a free spirit who doesn’t like authority (she flashes her boss at one point), and ends up as a woman who’s willing to risk everything for the truth.1. “Sophie’s Choice” (1982)

Universal

This is, without question, Meryl’s finest, most devastating performance. As a Polish Holocaust survivor who was forced to make an impossible choice in the camps to survive, she is transcendent, fragile and yet not completely broken. She learned Polish and German for the role and lost a significant amount of weight to convincingly portray the concentration camp scenes, but it’s not just her technical mastery or one big scene that stays with us. It’s the haunted look in her eyes that we’ll never forget.

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