Top 10 Greatest Acting Performances in Movies

There are countless films with great acting performances, but fewer movies feature absolutely amazing performances like those listed here. This list goes through the top 10 all time greatest acting performances to ever recorded.
The Top Ten
1 Heath Ledger - The Dark Knight Heath Ledger - The Dark Knight Product Image

Heath Ledger literally transformed into this character. I've often challenged people to find Heath Ledger here. It is impossible: he simply is not here. Heath IS the Joker.

I am just one man's opinion, but I will go to my grave believing that this performance should be heralded as the single greatest acting achievement of all time. Nothing else even comes close. He completely steals the show by becoming invisible in the role.

Heath Ledger IS the Joker. His should be the first and last performance people think of when they consider the greatest acting performance of all time.

Every actor will eventually achieve a level of greatness that catapults them to another level. Heath somehow managed to shoot past this level and land on a level that is completely empty and devoid of other performances. He is completely and utterly alone here. No other performer has ever come this close to acting nirvana.

Unfortunately how he did it died with him. There is nothing here ...more

This is without a doubt the single best acting performance I have ever seen. I pride myself in having watched several all time great movies, with outstanding acting (Literally every movie on this list) however none can surpass Heath Ledger's depiction of the Joker. His performance in this film gives me goosebumps every single time I watch it. His mannerisms and raw psychotic emotions send a shiver down my spine! Every scene he is in makes me smile from sheer amazement of how incredible one human being can act. Kudos to Heath Ledger. Rest in peace, you deserve it.

Perhaps the greatest performance of all time. Ledger's Joker is such a brilliantly crafted character: the makeup, the walk, the voice and tone, the little habits such as the hand waiving and the creepy lip-licking and the menacing laugh. However, the one thing that still send shivers up my skin the Joker's exhilarating monologues. The number of characters that have immersed me deeply into movies I can count on my hand. This character is the crowning jewel of the Dark Knight, and is which I personally consider it to be one of the greatest movies of all time.

To call this a great performance is definitely a 110% correct! it is simply undeniable. But calling this piece the greatest of all time is not as bad of joke as it is merely an insult to some of the greatest performances ever. It is an insult to Daniel Day Lewis on my left foot or the Butcher in Gangs of New York, it is an insult to Sean Penn on Milk or Gary Oldman on..
Nearly any film his made really... To Marlon Brando as Vito Corleone... I mean I could go all they long...it ia simply ludicrous...and even after that rant Ican tell you his performance is amazing...but not close to the best of all time.

2 Jack Nicholson - One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest Jack Nicholson - One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest Product Image

The first time I witnessed an actor totally convince me that he was the character. It took me an entire year and two viewings of the movie to realize that Jack Nicholson was acting. I had assumed he was like McMurphy in every way.

Perfection, he carried nearly every scene in what might be the greatest indie movie of all time. This is his standout performance among all 12 of his Oscar-nominated performances and three Oscar wins. And since it was for Best Actor (not Best Supporting Actor in the case of Ledger's equally amazing Joker), I've give a slight nod to Jack.

Seeing that Heath Ledger in the Dork Nut is number 1 out of sympathy and has 9% more of the votes proves you guys know nothing about acting. Heath Ledger didn't play the Joker. He played a crazy guy with make-up. This performance blows that out of the water.

Perfect performance. Even Though he is not a method actor ( he may be), the performance was perfect. He is also the greatest actor of all time, better than daniel day lewis, de niro, pacino. Brando is good too!

3 Daniel Day-Lewis - There Will Be Blood Daniel Day-Lewis - There Will Be Blood Product Image

There are many actors who give great performances and bring characters to life. Then there are actors like Daniel Day-Lewis. He is the only actor living today, who can BE a character, and this character is showing the best of his talents. The most impressing accmopishment though, is not just how good this performance is, but how he made a character who is just an oil man so much more then what the character should have been. While Heath Ledger, Marlon Brando and Anthony Hopkins were given roles as The Joker, Head of the most powerful mafia family in New York and a genius cannibalistic psychopath, Daniel was given the role of an oil man.
See the movie and then the Oscar speech for the role. It's unbelievable to think that it's the same person.

Hands down deserves to be top ten best performances of all-time, if not first! Come on, Orlando Bloom has three in top 5? Did he make this list?

The way Day-Lewis portrays Daniel plainview's gradual slip into greed and insanity is so captivating at times during the film I forget that this is merely a facade of epic proportions by day-Lewis and begin to believe I am watching a real person.

Nothing comes close to this level of acting, this is definition of a one man movie!

4 Robert De Niro - Taxi Driver Robert De Niro - Taxi Driver Product Image

This man, Robert De Niro is one of the greatest actors. Period. To go from Johnny Boy, to Vito Corleone, to Travis Bickle, to Jake La Motta is insane. I believe this performance is the utmost captivating, Bickle is insane, sympathetic, and creepy all at once, we watch this lonely insomniac grow, and slowly unhinge toward his darker capabilities. Terrific...

I have never seen an acting performance like this. The way De Niro plays Travis is the perfect mix of madness, deranged, allure and chilling. At his prime, GOAT next to Brando. Only he could play the Don the way Brando perfected it.

No one competes with DeNiro. He is the greatest.

He is an acting God!

5 Marlon Brando - The Godfather Marlon Brando - The Godfather Product Image

Second time I was convinced that the actor was the character. I thought Marlon Brando was the exact same as Don Corleone, Quite a shock when I found out he wasn't.

Wow. I just can't believe that this incredible piece of actin has been out voted by a pretty boy in a pirate suit. To be fair, I love Pirates of the Caribbean but Orlando Bloom doing okay in the same role for three movies does not make him fit to surpass perhaps the most appropriately done for the film acting performance ever. Marlon Brando made The Godfather. For him to be passed is ridiculous.

A groundbreaking performance by the acclaimed Brando at the time. This film in which is considered the 'greatest' by some, is perfected with character progression and development by Brando and also Al Pacino.

This is by far the greatest performance on film, Marlon Brando has given his all in this role. He well deserved oscar win, for one of the greatest actors in history

6 Tom Hanks - Forrest Gump Tom Hanks - Forrest Gump Product Image

Heath Ledger was good as the Joker, but he is quite overpraised. Tom Hanks, on the other hand, proved in Forrest Gump that performances don't need gritty intensity all the time to be great.

Tom Hanks is known by many as one of the greatest actors to ever be on film, although I don't think this is completely true I would definitely put him on my top 10 list.

Tom Hanks is my second favorite actor ever. The Green Mile is my favorite film by him, but Forest Gump is easily his best performance.

Tom Hanks was brilliant as Forrest Gump! Life is like a box of chocolate indeed!

7 Anthony Hopkins - The Silence of the Lambs Anthony Hopkins - The Silence of the Lambs Product Image

This IS acting. To be able to create the most infamous villain of the late 20th century, with the british pressure actually naming a real serial killer after his character, with only 16 minutes of screen time is a true accomplishment. The creepiest portrayal of a serial killer since Norman bates, and given that he created a character that was scarier than Freddy Krueger or Jason voorhees even when incarcerated, their is no contest

And the Oscar should've gone to... Without hardly ever raising his voice, Hopkins knew how to send a chill down your spine and make your heart pound out of your chest. Fantastic performance!

16 minutes, he was only in this film for sixteen minutes but he stole every scene. Twenty five years later, we're still talking about him. He made one of the biggest marks in cinema history in only sixteen minutes.

Great movie and great acting. The scariest film I know!

8 Malcolm McDowell - A Clockwork Orange Malcolm McDowell - A Clockwork Orange Product Image

One of the greatest performances of all time. McDowell manages to find a middle ground between insane and charming, a charisma that is a pleasure to watch.

He was so good, people thought he was actually crazy and was type cast for much of his career since. Fantastic acting, improvisation and narration

This one gets overlooked far to often, while agree with your #1 Alex should be in the top 10

9 Eli Wallach - The Good, the Bad and the Ugly Eli Wallach - The Good, the Bad and the Ugly Product Image

With a ton of energy, tenacity, pure luck, emotional investment and pitch perfect comic timing, Tuco was almost literally a role to die for. He was Wallach's hardest role, but it was by far his most rewarding.

As far as sound movies go, this performance is #1.

10 Al Pacino - Scarface Al Pacino - Scarface Product Image

He is god of acting

The Contenders
11 Christoph Waltz - Inglourious Basterds Christoph Waltz - Inglourious Basterds Product Image

Anyone who has seen this movie must admire this performance. Waltz is just so natural in this role is not even funny.

Best supporting actor of all time. Funny, sadistic, crazy and scary.

This is the best performance in a Tarantino movie.

Best acting ever

12 Anthony Perkins - Psycho Anthony Perkins - Psycho Product Image
13 Stefán Karl Stefánsson - Polite People Stefán Karl Stefánsson - Polite People Product Image

He is number one

Stefánsson gives a wonderfully subdued performance in this unique comedy-drama.

14 Toshiro Mifune - Seven Samurai Toshiro Mifune - Seven Samurai Product Image

Brimming with endless energy, Mifune plays the tragicomic Kikuchiyo with a lot of depth and more candid emotion than anyone could ask for.

15 Ralph Fiennes - Schindler's List Ralph Fiennes - Schindler's List Product Image

One of the best supporting performances.

16 Al Pacino - The Godfather Al Pacino - The Godfather Product Image

He was better than Marlon Brando in his role, but still you can't give credit away from Brando in his role as the Don, he was so excellent. Both of these performances top ten. This movie launched Pacino's career and almost got him an oscar.

If you rewatched The Godfather the real star is Al Paccino. He does a fantastic job in the movie and he should have been nominated for best actor instead of best actor in a supporting role and he should have won best actor instead of Brando.

Pacino changed the way people acted. He perfected every role he had through the 70's and 80's. Acting in such a way we have not seen very often. Brando will always be the Don, but Pacino perfected it.

I reckon he is better than Marlon Brando, but he is still good in his role. Al Pacino puts on his best performance with such class.

17 Song Kang-ho - The Host Song Kang-ho - The Host Product Image
18 Denzel Washington - Malcolm X Denzel Washington - Malcolm X Product Image

No way Seth Rogen should be higher then Denzel and I love the guy. This work was pure genius

19 John C. Reilly - Chicago John C. Reilly - Chicago Product Image
20 Tim Robbins - The Shawshank Redemption Tim Robbins - The Shawshank Redemption Product Image

One of the greatest acting performance of all time, Robbins and his mind blowing and just perfect picture of Andy Dufresne is unquestionable

21 Samuel L. Jackson - Pulp Fiction Samuel L. Jackson - Pulp Fiction Product Image

Jackson plays Jules as the straight man to the more impulsive and slightly dim Vincent, a character who, when he's not intimidating his employer's targets, is very easy-going and introspective. Jackson performs with wit and profound maturity.

22 Leonardo DiCaprio - The Departed Leonardo DiCaprio - The Departed Product Image

Leo was extraordinary in this film, how he showed the anxiety and the constant fear his character facing is out of this world. One of my favorite films ever!

This is one of the best performances I have ever seen. I thought he should have easily won the Oscar for Best Actor that year but he wasn't even nominated!

Just definitely the full package. This character feels so real it is not funny. Leo can really maintain his realism in this movie.

The most legendary role of Leo DiCaprio. The realism in this character is so intense and he keeps you on the edge of your seat.

23 Jason Miller - The Exorcist
24 Vivien Leigh - Gone With the Wind Vivien Leigh - Gone With the Wind Product Image

As much as I love Marilyn Monroe as well as others on this list, I don't see how they are ranked about Vivien Leigh's legendary performance as Scarlett O'Hara.

Nobody comes close

25 Samuel Vincent - Torn: Dark Bullets

To the family man aspect of Pearce, Vincent brings his usual down-to-earth charm, which makes the fact that Pearce is a racist who doesn't know it all the more unsettling. At times Pearce does randomly shout but it's to show how unhinged he is. Other times he's soft-spoken and deadly, almost malevolent.
Vincent burns up the screen with quiet rage.

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