Top 10 Greatest Acting Performances in Movies

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

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 to learn. Future actors cannot watch this performance and learn how to become better in their roles. All they can do is marvel at it each time they watch and wonder at its pure perfection. This isn't acting. It is transcendence.

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

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. Since it was for Best Actor (not Best Supporting Actor as in the case of Ledger's equally amazing Joker), I give a slight nod to Jack.

Seeing that Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight 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 makeup. This performance blows that out of the water.

3 Tom Hanks - Forrest Gump

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 Forrest Gump is easily his best performance.

4 Daniel Day-Lewis - There Will Be Blood

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 truly BE a character, and this character showcases the best of his talents.

The most impressive accomplishment, though, is not just how good this performance is, but how he made a character who is just an oil man so much more than 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.

5 Robert De Niro - Taxi Driver

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 intensity. At his prime, he's the GOAT next to Brando. Only he could play the Don the way Brando perfected it.

6 Anthony Hopkins - The Silence of the Lambs

This IS acting. To be able to create the most infamous villain of the late 20th century, with the British press 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, there is no contest.

And the Oscar should've gone to... Without 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!

7 Marlon Brando - The Godfather

Wow. I just can't believe that this incredible piece of acting has been outvoted 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, which is considered the 'greatest' by some, is perfected with character progression and development by Brando and also Al Pacino.

8 Malcolm McDowell - A Clockwork Orange

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 typecast for much of his career since. Fantastic acting, improvisation, and narration.

This one gets overlooked far too often. While I agree with your number 1, Alex should be in the top 10.

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

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

As far as sound movies go, this performance is number one.

The most underrated performance ever!

10 Christoph Waltz - Inglourious Basterds

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

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

This is the best performance in a Tarantino movie.

The Contenders
11 Al Pacino - Scarface

The number of times Al Pacino has appeared on this list is a testament to what a great actor he is.

12 Stefán Karl Stefánsson - Polite People

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

13 Anthony Perkins - Psycho

Not even nominated for an Oscar. Ridiculous.

14 Ralph Fiennes - Schindler's List

One of the best supporting performances.

15 Toshiro Mifune - Seven Samurai

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

16 Samuel L. Jackson - Pulp Fiction

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.

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

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

19 John C. Reilly - Chicago
20 Al Pacino - The Godfather

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

If you rewatched The Godfather, the real star is Al Pacino. 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. Moreover, he should have won Best Actor instead of Brando.

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

21 Tim Robbins - The Shawshank Redemption

One of the greatest acting performances of all time, Robbins's mind-blowing and just perfect portrayal of Andy Dufresne is unquestionable.

22 Tom Hanks - Saving Private Ryan
23 Tom Hanks - Cast Away
24 Tom Hanks - Philadelphia

Nice to see you at least put the best actor around in your top 100. Where on earth is Forrest?

A very fine acting performance

25 Vivien Leigh - Gone With the Wind

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

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