The following list of the best actresses of the 2010s was always going to be a subjective choice on my part. That said, I’ve taken into account a variety of factors and chosen the actresses I thought had the biggest influence throughout the decade. While critical acclaim or Oscar wins and other awards helped shape the following list, I’ve also taken into account things like box office success, the versatility of the roles actresses played, how consistently they worked throughout the decade and last but not least what cultural impact they had, if any.
But first here are some of the honourable mentions for those actresses I wish I honestly had the room to squeeze into the following list.
Big shoutout to Nicole Kidman, who just missed the cut. It truly pains me that I couldn’t find a spot for this Oscar winning actress, but despite some solid performances in The Paperboy (2012) and The Beguiled (2017) and her Emmy winning performance in HBO’s Big Little Lies, it just wasn’t enough to get her across the line.
Marion Cotillard, who gave one of the performances of the decade in Rust and Bone (2012), also misses out because other than The Immigrant (2013) and Two Days, One Night (2014) she has for the most part flown under the radar during the decade.
My commiserations to Michelle Williams, Margot Robbie, Tilda Swinton, Octavia Davis, Scarlett Johanson and Charlize Theron as well.
Anyway, without further ado, here are the pick of the bunch in Part 1 of ‘The 12 Best Actresses of the 2010s’.
12. Cate Blanchett.
Notable Performances: Blue Jasmine (2013), Carol (2015) and Truth (2015).
It could be argued that Cate Blanchett’s decade was saved by two stunning performance that came midway through the decade. The first was her Oscar winning performance as socialite Jasmine Francis in Woody Allen’s black comedy-drama Blue Jasmine (2013), in which Blanchett’s extraordinary moving performance reminds us what pain and loss feels like in a world crashing down around us. Interestingly, Blanchett’s other Oscar-worthy performance saw her playing another unhappy socialite this time around embarking on an affair with a younger woman (Rooney Mara) in Carol (2015).
While she managed to have her name associated with some of the biggest grossing films of the decade, in particularly, Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit trilogy, great roles were few and far between for Cate Blanchett. However to her credit Blanchett always managed to pop up on our radar when it matters the most, incidentally keeping Nicole Kidman at bay from squeezing in at number twelve.
11. Emily Blunt.
Notable Performances: The Adjustment Bureau (2011), Looper (2012), Edge of Tomorrow (2014), Sicario (2015) and A Quiet Place (2018).
Since starring opposite Meryl Streep in 2006’s The Devil Wears Prada, the English actress Emily Blunt has gone on to prove that she is one of the decades most versatile actresses with roles in films such as Salmon Fishing In The Yemen (2011), The Five-Year Engagement (2012) and The Huntsman: Winter’s War (2016). Moreover, last year her appearance as a pregnant mother fighting to keep her family alive in 2018’s horror smash A Quiet Place, and as the iconic Mary Poppins in Mary Poppins Returns, earned her critical acclaim beyond her wildest dreams.
In short, Blunt has this extraordinary knack of completely immersing herself in her roles without fear or favour. If we are to look at one example that exemplifies how good Blunt is as an actress, I highly recommend you check out Denis Villeneuve‘s Sicario (2015), a brilliant taut thriller about the cross border US – Mexican drug wars. As FBI agent Kate Macer, Blunt plays the film’s moral compass, the complete opposite of what you might expect to find in a seasoned, hard-nosed veteran sniffing out the bad guys and breaking all the rules. That said, Blunt brings to her role a credible character that is both resilient and vulnerable, someone we can all relate to.
It goes without saying Emily Blunt is a thrill to watch onscreen whether she is playing an action hero in Edge of Tomorrow (2014) or a troubled woman in The Girl On A Train (2016). She is truly a cut above the ordinary making her easily one of the best actresses of the decade. The only thing that alludes her are big awards wins but in my opinion she’s done enough to earn her place here.
10. Viola Davis
Notable Performances: The Help (2011), Fences (2016), Widows (2018) and How to Get Away with Murder (2014- ).
While most of Viola Davis’ roles in her three-decade career have been supporting in nature, you can’t help but be impressed by her hunger to be one of the hardest working actresses going around. In that time she has seen and felt how hard it is for a black performer to succeed in an industry dominated by white actors. Even when she earned critical appraise for her breakout role in 2011’s The Help it did not afford her the range of roles she had hoped. Little did she know she was well on the way in turning into one of the most influential actresses of the decade; in the process becoming the first black actress to achieve the Triple Crown of Acting (a term used to describe actors who have won Academy Award, Emmy Award and Tony Award during their acting career.)
In summary, Viola’s Davis’ Supporting Actress Academy Award win came for her performance in Fences (2016) as the heartbroken wife of troubled husband Troy Maxson, played by Denzel Washington. In the same role, previously in 2010 on a Broadway stage, she also earned a Tony Award for August Wilson’s screenplay version of Fences. But importantly away from the stage and big screen, Viola Davis is arguably most recognised by television fans in the critically acclaimed series How To Get Away With Murder (2014- ) as Professor Annalise Keating, who takes under her wing a group of interns, who all get mix up in a murder mystery. It’s fair to say Davis’ role as the self-destructive Keating made her a household name, keeping her consistently on our radar. It also earned her an Emmy for best leading actress, which helped opened the door to a variety of opportunities for Davis, among them her first recognised film lead role in 2018’s acclaimed heist film Widows.
9. Saoirse Ronan.
Notable Performances: Hanna (2011), Byzantium (2012), The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014), Brooklyn (2015) and Lady Bird (2017).
Since her breakout role in 2007’s Atonement, as the young and foolish Briony Tallis, whose wild callous imagination led to a ruinous act, Saoirse Ronan went on to star in some of the most talked about films of the decade. That said, where do we even begin with our praise for Ronan, who has already three Oscar nominations to her credit at the age of twenty-five? How about her portrayal of a teenage girl on the cusp of adulthood caught between her final year in high school and college in Lady Bird (2017). Her performance as Lady Bird McPherson is so compelling that it ranks up there with some of the best coming-of-age films of all time. Moreover, Ronan’s radiant portrayal of Irish immigrant Eilis Lacey John Crowley’s Oscar-nominated romance Brooklyn (2015) had everyone talking how she’s matured into a steely performer.
Interestingly, Ronan has never been one of those child-actors who suffered the indignity of doing what Ronan once referred to as that ‘kiddie-acting thing’ i.e Macauly Culkin in Home Alone (1990). Instead, somewhat like her peer Dakota Fanning, Ronan has excelled at choosing challenging roles, such as a teenager assassin in Hanna (2011), or a two hundred year old vampire in Neil Jordan’s acclaimed thriller Byzantium (2012), or even a kidnapped victim suffering from Stockholm Syndrome in Stockholm, Pennsylvania (2015).
With a curious appetite for seeking out an array of different roles, even her latest incarnation as Mary Stuart in 2018’s Mary, Queen of Scots, acts as a wonderful example of of her desire to challenge herself as an actress. I have no doubt we will be seeing more of Ronan into the next decade and hopefully with an Oscar to her name.
8. Rooney Mara.
Notable Performances: A Girl With A Dragon Tattoo (2011), Side Effects (2013), Carol (2015) and Mary Magdalene (2018).
Many of us still remember Rooney Mara’s kick ass introduction as Mark Zuckerberg’s (played by Jesse Eisenberg) girlfriend and how she ceremoniously puts him back in his place after breaking up with him. Mara as Erica Albright in that moment, illustrated why David Fincher, who directed The Social Network, had so much faith in Mara, when he next directed Rooney in her breakout role as Elizabeth Salander in A Girl With A Dragon Tattoo (2011). As a relative unknown actress, her amazing interpretation of Salander won her acclaim and an Oscar nomination, despite at the time Sony fighting hard against her casting by Fincher.
Next, coming off of Dragon Tattoo, she starred in a string of acclaimed films in 2013 beginning with Ain’t Them Bodies Saints, followed by Side Effects and Her. The pick of the bunch was arguably Side Effects, a menacing noir psychological thriller directed by Steven Soderbergh.
For the better part of the decade, a lot like Michelle Williams, Rooney Mara flew under the public radar, choosing screen roles simply on merit. The big difference though between Williams and herself I believe was that many of us actually got see these lesser projects Mara appeared in like Lion (2016), Song To Song (2017) and Mary Magdalene (2018). When you are also able to go toe to toe with a great actress like Cate Blanchett in Carol (2015) as her onscreen love interest and in the process pick up a second Academy Awards nomination for your efforts, I believe its fair to say Mara is deserving of being considered one of the best actresses of the decade. And if that isn’t enough to convince you, check out her emotionally exhausting performance as a grieving widow in A Ghost Story (2017) which is nothing short of brilliant.
7. Natalie Portman.
Notable Performances: Black Swan (2010), Jackie (2016), Annihilation (2018) and Vox Lux (2018).
Natalie Portman has long been one of my favourite actresses ever since the late 1990s. In her 25-year career (so far), she has starred in critically acclaimed dramas and blockbuster franchises (The Star Wars prequels and Marvel’s Thor), but more importantly in the decade of our focus here, Portman has captivated audiences with some fearless and sensitive choices as an actress and aspiring filmmaker (both as a director and producer).
However, there are some that argue that Portman has been far from influential as an actress in the 2010s. Sure she won the Oscar for Best Actress for her haunting performance as Nina Sayers in Darren Aronfsky’s Black Swan (2010), and even earned herself an Oscar nomination and a Golden Globe win for her intelligent and poised performance as Jackie Kennedy in Jackie (2016); but other than that what has she really done that sees her so highly position (even ahead of Cate Blanchett) as one of the decades best actresses?
To answer that question we need not look no further than her directorial debut in A Tale of Love and Darkness (2015), Terrence Malick’s Song to Song (2017), Annihilation (2018), or even Vox Lux (2018) with Portman playing a mass shooting survivor who becomes a messed-up mother and star; as all rare examples of Portman’s ability to inhabit the characters that she plays. With the horror sci-fi Annihilation arguably the pick of the litter, which sees Portman play a biologist sent on a mission to investigate a disturbing phenomenon inside a mysterious zone called “the shimmer”, it’s the type of emotionally terrifying role that we hope she continues to pursue in the years to come.
Check back soon for Part 2 when we countdown the best actresses of the decade from 6 to 1.