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Top 10 Greatest Actresses of Our Time

Updated on March 12, 2014

Best Actresses

Hollywood can be a hostile environment for women. It's a male-dominated industry obsessed with good looks and youth, all things that can be emotionally damaging for any self-respecting woman. However, many women can become icons in Hollywood as a result of powerful and memorable roles. Although it does take desirable looks, good luck, and some charisma to get started as an actress, a good actress can use her skills and talent to become more than just a face in the industry.

It isn't easy but over the course of the last century, many women such as Katherine Hepburn, Ava Gardner, Bette Davis, Greta Grabo, Elizabeth Taylor, Lauren Bacall, and Marylin Monroe have become American icons and superstars as a result of the pictures; proving that it isn't just as a man's world after all. Now let's take a look at some of the most talent leading ladies working in today's Hollywood.

10. Kerry Washington

Beautiful, talented, and graceful, Kerry Washington has become one of the most recognizable women in Hollywood today and has excelled in both film and television. She got her start playing several small roles throughout the 1990s and early 2000s but in 2004 she became widely known for playing the wife of Ray Charles in the Oscar-winning biopic Ray. This led to roles in The Last King of Scotland (2006), I think I Love my Wife (2007), and a very memorable performance as an intelligent slave in the 2012 Quentin Tarantino film Django Unchained.

Recently she has received widespread critical acclaimed for her role as Olivia Pope in the ABC political drama series Scandal. Her role as a crisis manager who formally served as White House Communications Director for the President of the United States has scored so well with critics and viewers alike that the show is currently one of the most-talked about shows on social media sites such as Twitter. She is the first African-American woman to become the lead actress on a major network drama series since the 1970's.

09. Robin Wright

Robin Wright became famous for her role in The Princess Bride (1987) and for her very memorable role as Jenny in Forest Gump (1994). She then became well-known for her marriage to actor Sean Penn. Following a divorce from Penn, Wright landed a role that is breaking new ground in the entertainment industry and gaining her more traction than most actresses get for several roles. She plays the cold and calculating Claire Underwood on the Netflix political drama House of Cards, a woman married to the ruthless career politician Frank Underwood. Frank and Clair have a Macbeth-like thirst for power and will stop at nothing to defeat their political opponents. The role has won Wright a Golden Globe and an Emmy nomination for Best Lead Actress in a Drama Series. She is the first person to ever win a Golden Globe for a performance in an online-only web based series.

08. Nicole Kidman

Known for her powerful performances and intense realism, Nicole Kidman has been considered one of Hollywood's top performers for well over a decade now. After becoming a celebrity in the 1990s, she delivered several flawless performances in the 2000s such as the terminally-ill Satine in Moulin Rouge! (2001) and her Oscar-winning role as Virgina Woolf in The Hours (2002). Her other popular films include Cold Mountain (2003), The Interpreter (2005) and Australia (2008). Her career saw a sharp renewal in 2010 when she gave an emotionally-riveting performance in Rabbit Hole which scored her a third Oscar nomination for Best Actress.

07. Anne Hathaway

Anne Hathaway is known for a diverse set of roles as well as her glowing personality and stylish grace. At a relatively young age she has been able to captivate audiences with both powerful performances and box office hits. She played memorable roles in Brokeback Mountain (2005), The Devil Wears Prada (2006) and Becoming Jane (2007) where she played novelist Jane Austen. She received an Oscar nomination for Best Actress for her emotional role as a recovering drug addict in Rachel Getting Married (2008). Since then she has starred in massive blockbusters such as Alice in Wonderland (2010), The Dark Knight Rises (2012), and Les Miserables (2012) which resulted in an Oscar win for Best Supporting Actress.

06. Natalie Portman

Portman is another young actress known for her ability to play serious, hard-hitting roles as well as starring in box office hits. She got her start as a child actress playing an unusually dramatic role for a child in the 1994 crime drama The Professional where she plays an orphan who befriends a hitman. She has played in stark drama films such as Closer (2004), Goya's Ghosts (2006), and The Other Boleyn Girl (2008). She is also known for blockbuster hits such as the Star Wars prequel films, V for Vendetta (2006), and recently Marvel's Thor franchise. She won the Oscar for Best Actress for her psychological role as a stressed ballerina in Black Swan (2010). Portman may also be one of the smartest women in Hollywood, she earned a Psychology degree from Harvard and claims to speak six different languages including Hebrew, French, and German.

05. Kate Winslet

Kate Winslet is a wonderful actress known for her breathtaking performances and her versatility in choosing roles. Beginning her career as a child actress in British television she went on to become an international star as a result of her high profile role in the 1997 film Titanic which became one the highest grossing films of all time. She then went on to play memorable roles in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2003), Finding Neverland (2004), Little Children (2006) and Revolutionary Road (2008). She won the Oscar for Best Actress for her transformative role as a former Nazi in The Reader (2008). She is one of the most recent people to receive a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

04. Sandra Bullock

Sandra Bullock is known for her ability to switch back and forth between highly comedic roles and intensely dramatic ones. In the 1990s she rose to fame in popular films such as Speed (1994), The Net (1995) and A Time to Kill (1996). In the early 2000s she starred in popular comedy films Miss Congeniality and Two Weeks Notice. She also starred in the 2005 Best Picture Oscar winning film Crash. In 2009, Bullock's career went into overdrive. That year she continued to build on a reputation of mastering comedy and drama, comedy with the Rom-com The Proposal and drama with The Blind Side where she plays a southern woman who takes in a promising African American high school football player. This role won her an Oscar for Best Actress and brought new depth to her career. In 2013 she continued this trend starring in the successful buddy comedy The Heat as well as delivering a deeply personal performance in the groundbreaking Sci-fi film Gravity which scored her another Oscar nod for Best Actress.

03. Jennifer Lawrence

She's currently only 23 years old and is only known for a handful of roles. Despite this Jennifer Lawrence is quickly defining herself as one of the most stand-out performers the industry has seen in quite some time. Her flawless and deeply engaging performance in the 2010 film Winter's Bone led to her being the youngest person ever to be nominated for the Oscar for Best Actress. She then starred in successful blockbusters such as X-Men: First Class (2011) and The Hunger Games franchise films which has made her one of the most recognizable stars of the 2010s.

She became the second-youngest winner of the Oscar for Best Actress for her powerful performance in the 2012 romantic-comedy film Silver Lining's Playbook. The very next year she scored yet another Oscar nod, this time for Best Supporting Actress for her role as the unpredictable wife of a con artist in American Hustle. She is also known for being a very positive role model for young women by shattering many of the stereotypes associated with young Hollywood.

02. Cate Blanchett

Cate Blanchett brings a level of realism and depth to her roles that in unparalleled to most actresses in Hollywood. She first caught the attention of the international film community with her role as Elizabeth I of England in the 1998 film Elizabeth. This film won her a BAFTA award, a Golden Globe and an Oscar nomination for Best Actress. She went on to play in the Lord of the Ring trilogy, Babel (2006), and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008). She first won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress for her astonishing portrayal of actress Katherine Hepburn in the Martin Scorsese film The Aviator (2004). She then wowed critics in the 2007 film I'm Not There as one of the several actors that portray music legend Bob Dylan, she's the only female to star as Dylan in the film. She recently won the Oscar for Best Actress for her role in the 2013 Woody Allen film Blue Jasmine where she plays a woman who is crumbling under the drastically changed circumstances of her life.

01. Meryl Streep

Meryl Steep has transcended beyond the definition of a good actress. With 18 Academy Award nominations she is simply one of Hollywood's most accomplished performers of all time. Although she made her mark in the industry while most of the women on this list were still in grade school (and before some of them were even born) in the last ten years she has still managed to wow critics with amazing, awe inspiring performances that will captivate audiences for decades to come.

She is obviously known for early work in films such as The Deer Hunter, Kramer Vs. Kramer, and Sophie's Choice which won her an Oscar for Best Actress but lets focus on the brilliance of what she's done in the last decade. There was her emotional role as Clarissa Vaughan in The Hours (2002), her sharp work as a powerful fashion magazine editor in The Devil Wears Prada (2006), her stark role as a Catholic nun in Doubt (2008), her portrayal of chef Julia Child in Julie and Julia (2009), and her work as British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in The Iron Lady (2011) which won her a third Oscar. Recently she won praise for her work in the dark comedy-family drama August: Osage County (2013). She has received more Oscar nominations than any other actor in history and shows no sign of slowing down anytime soon.

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    • Ralph Deeds profile image

      Ralph Deeds 3 years ago from Birmingham, Michigan

      Good list. Just saw Sandra Bullock in "Gravity." Tremendous acting job and incredible looking for a woman of 50. Meryl Streep is the greatest, of course.

    • janshares profile image

      Janis Leslie Evans 3 years ago from Washington, DC

      Decent list, CoryBradford91. Love your posts. This wasn't an easy one as there are so many excellent actresses of our recent times. Thanks for the informative info and entertainment.

    • fpherj48 profile image

      Paula 3 years ago from Beautiful Upstate New York

      Wonderful list. I would have to agree with each choice. These women are top actresses!

    • Ellie Shay profile image

      Ellie Shay 3 years ago

      Great list! Definitely agree that Meryl is number one. She is in a class all her own.

    • BernietheMovieGuy profile image

      Bernie Ment 3 years ago from Syracuse, NY

      Nice list, Cory. In today's Hollywood, fame and fortune are as fleeting as good looks. It will be interesting to see if the younger actresses you've listed manage to withstand the test of time and are as resilient in the unforgiving world of beauty that still makes successful stars of older actresses like Bullock and Streep. I'd love to see your list in ten years or so to see who's still on it and who has faded into the woodwork.

    • Ralph Deeds profile image

      Ralph Deeds 3 years ago from Birmingham, Michigan

      Saw "On My Way" last night with Catherine Deneuve, age 70. She looks good for her age except that she's put on quite a bit of weight. She's an excellent actress. The movie was a comedy.

    • bat115 profile image

      Tim 3 years ago from Los Angeles, CA

      Nice list, Mine is actually the same except, Anne Hathaway, Sandra, and Nicole would be higher up!

    • profile image

      xtianj11 3 years ago

      my top 10

      1.meryl streep

      2.anne hathaway

      3.julia roberts

      4.jessica chastain

      5.cate blanchett

      6.kate winslet

      7.jodie foster

      8.natalie portman

      9.nicole kodman

      10.viola davis

    • profile image

      ECAH 3 years ago

      GREAT LIST.

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