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10 Best Jack Nicholson Films

Updated on September 28, 2014
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Jack Nicholson is a Hollywood rarity: A living screen legend who remains culturally relevant after 50 years in the movie business. Jack Nicholson continues to appeal to both cinephiles and younger, mainstream moviegoers who may know him only as that "old, funny guy" in the Adam Sandler film, Anger Management.

Nicholson has been nominated for an Academy Award twelve times, and has won the Best Actor Oscar twice for One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest and for As Good as It Gets. He also won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for the 1983 film Terms of Endearment.

He is one of the most distinctive actors of our generation. Jack Nicholson has the ability to completely transform himself into a role as he did in The Shining, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest and of course as The Joker in Batman.

This list of the best Jack Nicholson movies is based on movie bloggers and other movie fans at Rankography best movies.

Guest Article by Brooklyn77

All rights reserved. Copyright 2011 Rankography

10. The Witches of Eastwick (1987)

A Wild and Crazy Sexual Comedy

The Witches of Eastwick is part comedy, part fantasy horror and a quintessential 80's movie. Staring Jack Nicholson, Cher, Susan Sarandon and Michelle Pfeiffer, The Witches of Eastwick was based on a John Updike novel and nominated for two Academy Awards.

This Jack Nicholson film tells the story of three emotionally and sexually repressed women who, unaware that they are witches, unwittingly form a coven to conjure up Daryl Van Horne (Jack Nicholson). Van Horne is an enigmatic, crude, brazen, millionaire stranger who seduces all three of the women and turns this enchanting New England town upside-down.

I find it so interesting that such well-regarded actors, Nicholson, Cher, Sarandon and Pfeiffer, would unite is such a screwball comedy that is laden with fairly crass and vulgar humor. However, it certainly seems as if the crew had a blast making this film. The Van Horne part was absolutely tailor-made for Nicholson and perhaps he channeled bit of himself (a reputed ladies man) into this womanizing "horny little devil".

It is a fun movie and one you should definitely check out.

If you liked The Witches of Eastwick...

Beetlejuice (20th Anniversary Deluxe Edition)
Beetlejuice (20th Anniversary Deluxe Edition)

Another hilarious fantasy comedy. This is perhaps Michael Keaton's greatest role as Beetlejuice.

 

9. Terms of Endearment (1983)

A Frank Look at the Volatile Mother-Daugher Relationship

Jack Nicholson picks another huge award winner with the classic drama-comedy, Terms of Endearment. This Jack Nicholson film managed to win five Academy Awards including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Supporting Actor for Jack Nicholson, and Best Actress for Shirley MacLaine.

Terms of Endearment centers most heavily around the unique love-hate relationship between a mother, Aurora Greenway (MacLaine) and her daughter, Emma Horton (Debra Winger). Garrett Breedlove (Jack Nicholson) is the playboy astronaut neighbor, who becomes a love interest for the Aurora. While the relationship between mother and daughter is the main theme, the film also explores the unusual relationship between Aurora and Garrett and their hilarious up and down affair. Aurora and Garret start out as fire and ice, but find a way to bridge the gap over time and ultimately find that both can learn a bit about life from the other.

Though I find this film to be overly dramatic at times, it's definitely a great "tug at your heartstrings" film - even after dozens of viewings.

If you liked Terms of Endearment... - You might also like Steel Magnolias

Steel Magnolias (Special Edition)
Steel Magnolias (Special Edition)

One of the original Chick Flicks, this is a poignant comedy about life and friendship.

 

8. Batman (1989)

Jack Nicholson was the Original Joker in this Classic

Before Heath Ledger's dark and manic take on Bruce Wayne's "why so serious" nemesis, we had Jack Nicholson's masterful performance of the 'evil clown', The Joker. Batman (1989) is Tim Burton's witty and comically surreal version of this classic Superhero tale with a distinctive 1980s feel.

At the time of its release, Nicholson's Joker was a mind-blowing performance which was later made a bit less epic when Ledger transformed the role in The Dark Knight. Jack Nicholson's portrayal was wholly unique and came with a sinister laugh that was unmistakably Jack. Michael Keaton provided a strong rendition of the Cape Crusader, but it was really Jack Nicholson that made this original Batman movie shine.

7. Easy Rider (1969)

A Historic Film about the 1960s Counter-Culture

Easy Rider is one of the legendary counter-culture films of the late 1960s. This movie paved the way for the 'Second Golden Age of American Cinema' that took place in the 1970s. As a teenager, I remember reading an article about 1970s cinema that discussed how Easy Rider and other 60s counter-culture films, influenced later movies of the 70s, such as as Two-Lane Blacktop, Don't Look Now, Badlands, The Godfather, Taxi Driver and The Deer Hunter. So for me, this Jack Nicholson film is most important for the influence it had on the auteur film-making of the 1970s.

Wyatt (Peter Fonda) and Billy (Dennis Hopper) are counter-culture bikers traveling from Los Angeles to New Orleans for Mardi Gras. In classic Jack Kerouac style, they end up with many misadventures along the way. One of the people they meet is George Hanson (Jack Nicholson), an ACLU lawyer and drunk, who bails them out of a small town Jail.

This is an American classic with one of the most ground-breaking soundtracks of all time. Everyone should see this film if for no other reason that to understand this moment in US history.

If you liked Easy Rider... - You might also like Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas

Another in the bizarre wild ride with a potentially crazy guy, Dr. Hunter S Thompson. Johnny Depp is excellent in his portrayal of this wild card human.

 

6. The Bucket List

An Unlikely Pair of Terminally Ill Patients Become Deep Friends

This is not my favorite Jack Nicholson film and I was surprised to see it in the top ten for the composite ranking. I would not rank it above other great Jack Nicholson movies that did not make the list, such as Carnal Knowledge, The Last Detail, Reds and The Pledge. Yet, this is the beauty of the composite rankings at Rankography, they are a blended average of all members' rankings so everyone's vote counts.

Edward (Jack Nicholson) is a cynical billionaire who has chased money at the expense of all the relationships in his life. Carter (Morgan Freeman) is a mechanic who has always valued relationships over money. They both start out scared and lonely in their terminal diagnosis, but together they are able to grow as people and prepare themselves for the inevitable.

Because of Edward's wealth, they are able to escape the hospital, spare no expense and travel the world in pursuit of checking off their 'bucket lists' (things they want to do before they Kick the Bucket). Carter's simple, but astute, philosophy of life, helps Edward to repair some of the relationships in his life. This is a film about personal growth and bridging relationships that seem beyond repair. It is a message that we can all benefit from hearing.

Many people really enjoy this movie and its message, but for me it was not one of Jack's best works.

If you liked The Bucket List... - You might also like Cocoon

Cocoon
Cocoon

A great Ron Howard film about a group of elderly who find a "fountain of youth" from an alien starship. It is a charming film about hope.

 

5. A Few Good Men (1992)

A Gripping Courtroom with Nicholson and Cruise

Adapted for screen by Aaron Sorkin and directed by Rob Reiner, A Few Good Men is a compelling courtroom drama starring Jack Nicholson, Tom Cruise and Demi Moore. Nicholson delivers a stunning performance as a high-powered Col. Nathan Jessep who believes he is above the law because he is preparing men for war.

When a few of his Marines commit an accidental murder while hazing a young private, Jessep defends his men and his Marine methods. Jessep ends up on the stand with Lt. Daniel Kaffee (Cruise) performing the cross-examination. Ultimately, Kaffee is able to bait Jessep into losing his temper and blurting out a damning line that seals his conviction.

In one of cinema's most oft-quoted lines, under intense interrogation form Kaffee, Jessep screams "You can't handle the truth!" While build up and climax in this film are fantastically scripted by Sorkin, it is ultimately Nicholson and Cruise's deliver that sets this film apart. It is certainly one of the best courtroom dramas and an excellent Jack Nicholson film.

If you liked A Few Good Men... - You might also like the Courtroom Drama, Runaway Jury

Runaway Jury (Widescreen Edition)
Runaway Jury (Widescreen Edition)

One of my favorite courtroom dramas, A plot-twisting film featuring Dustin Hoffman, Gene Hackman and John Cusack.

 

4. The Departed (2006)

A Great Gangster Film Full of Intrigue and Plot Twists

In one of my favorite movies of all time, Frank Costello (Jack Nicholson) is a morally-corrupt Irish mobster operating in South Boston. Credit is due to Jack Nicholson for helping Scorsese land his first Oscar in this terrific crime thriller. Alongside Nicholson, The Departed features an all-star cast, including Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon, Mark Wahlberg, Alec Baldwin and Martin Sheen.

One of the more complex crime dramas, DiCaprio is a young police cadet who goes undercover to infiltrate Costello's mafia. At the same time, Colin Sullivan (Matt Damon) is a hardened criminal that Costello has infiltrated into the Special Investigations Unit of the Boston Police. These two parallel stories unwind in a strange parallel universe juxtaposition.

Throughout the film, Nicholson delivers one of his best performances as the flamboyant and ruthless gangleader. It's a role that is simultaneously funny and frightening. Most consider this one of the best gangster movies ever and definitely a crowning jewel for Nicholson.

If you liked The Departed... - You might also like The Usual Suspects

Usual Suspects, The
Usual Suspects, The

I highly unusual gangster film told through the interrogation of a crippled witness. A truly unique mystery film with a star-studded cast.

 

3. Chinatown (1974)

One of the Great Neo-Noir Nicholson Movies

Jack Nicholson masterfully handles the role of J.J. Gittes, a hardboiled private dick, in this classic neo-noir dramatic thriller. Chinatown comes to us from a 1970s cinematic dream team: produced by Robert Evans, directed by Roman Polanski, written by Robert Towne and starring Jack Nicholson, Faye Dunaway and John Huston.

Nicholson is at once gritty, gruff, and honorable...and his hardscrabble mug blends in perfectly with the impeccable art direction - as if he were just another part of the scenery. The genius of his performance is his ability to mirror the audience's surprise as the shocking plot unfolds in this environmental mystery about water rights in 1937 Los Angeles.

Nominated for 10 Academy Awards, Chinatown only won one Oscar for Best Screenplay. Unfortunately, the film was released in the same year as The Godfather, Part II which of course took most of the Oscars that year. However, this Jack Nicholson film is often regarded as one of the best, most influential American films ever made.

2. One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975)

Winner of All Five Major Academy Awards in 1975

One year after releasing the legendary film, Chinatown, Jack Nicholson followed it up with another award winner, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, directed by Milos Foreman. Adapted from a Ken Kesey novel, this Nicholson movie was only the second film in history to win all five major Academy Awards; Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Director and Best Screenplay!

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest tells the story of Randle "RP" McMurphy (Nicholson), a criminal who chooses to be transferred to a mental institution for evaluation in an effort to avoid serving hard time in prison. Unfortunately for McMurphy, his mental ward is run by one of the most iconic villains of modern cinema - Nurse Ratched (Louise Fletcher). Fletcher's performance was outstanding and earned her a well-deserved Best Actress Oscar.

In addition to a superb cast, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest is an engaging story with some shocking plot twists. As all the Academy Awards portend, this Jack Nicholson movie is an American film classic.

1. The Shining (1980)

The Most Terrifying Jack Nicholson Film

Directed by the legendary Stanley Kubrick, this psychological horror film opened to harsh criticism but has since become regarded as one of the finest film adaptations of a literary work. The Shining was adapted from Stephen King's novel and is also considered one of the scariest films ever made with its quiet, ambient images of violence and Jack Nicholson's precise performance as a man losing his mind.

Jack Nicholson plays a young writer, Jack Torrance, who takes advantage of a seemingly once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to complete a novel while earning a solid income "house-sitting" an isolated empty mountain resort. It quickly becomes apparent that an unsettling and dangerous force is lurking in the hallways of the Overlook Hotel and we witness Jack's slow descent into madness.

Nicholson's performance could have been campy and disastrous in the hands of a less-skilled actor (has anyone seen the made-for-TV film version starring that guy from "Wings"??). Instead, Jack gifts us with one of his best performances and also provides many familiar movie catchphrases, such as "Here's JOHNNY!" through-the-splintered-bathroom-door scene and "Hair of the dog that bit me, Lloyd" when talking with his imaginary bartender.

While this Jack Nicholson movie only grossed $44 million at the box office, it has become a cult classic which is frequently replayed on cable channels. If you have never seen The Shining, you owe it to yourself to see this Jack Nicholson classic.

If you liked The Shining... - You might also like the chilling film, The Others

The Others (Two-Disc Collector's Edition)
The Others (Two-Disc Collector's Edition)

A chilling film about a Woman and her two children in a big lonely house. Twists and turns that will blow your mind.

 

Your turn to Vote for the best Jack Nicholson movies

Jack nicholson and matt damon in The Departed
Jack nicholson and matt damon in The Departed

Photo courtesy of Movieposter.com, buy it here. All rights reserved by Movieposter.com.

Which is your favorite Jack Nicholson movie?

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    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      Yup, just your top ten shows off his adaptability as an actor and whether a fan or not, he makes you believe the part he plays. Whether a fan or not, you have to admire how well he does what he does, especially when he freaks us out like in The Shining! :)

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      Jack really made some brilliant movies. You might include the King of Marvin Gardens in this list also. Very, very under-rated.

    • EEWorkouts profile image

      EEWorkouts 4 years ago

      Great lens! I was looking for The Last Detail, great Nicholson movie too

    • KimGiancaterino profile image

      KimGiancaterino 4 years ago

      Can you believe I saw "Cuckoo's Nest" for the first time last week? I'm still having nightmares!

    • TolovajWordsmith profile image

      Tolovaj Publishing House 5 years ago from Ljubljana

      Call me old fashioned, Jack and Marlon are still my favorites.

    • Gypzeerose profile image

      Rose Jones 5 years ago

      He really is a genius, I had forgotten how much. Blessed - google plus.

    • nickybutler profile image

      nickybutler 5 years ago

      Such a fantastic actor, great lens... such a difficult choice to make in the poll!

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      One of the best actors of all time...

    • profile image

      Oosquid 5 years ago

      Jack Nicholson, he 'is' the man. Magnificent lens, fantastic list.

    • MartieG profile image

      MartieG aka 'survivoryea' 5 years ago from Jersey Shore

      My absolute favorite actor! Enjoyed reading this and the memories it brings back!

    • sarahrk lm profile image

      sarahrk lm 5 years ago

      I love Jack Nicholson and watch all of his movies.

    • sousababy profile image

      sousababy 5 years ago

      Jack Nicholson is an extremely gifted actor and I understand he supports his cast members (mentoring them along) quite a bit too. Wonderful lineup here of some of his finest work. Thanks for sharing.

    • krakensquid profile image

      krakensquid 5 years ago

      Great lens! Jack Nicholson is a fantastic actor.

    • aesta1 profile image

      Mary Norton 5 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      I always love his movies.

    • profile image

      JoshK47 5 years ago

      Quite excellent picks - good work! :)

    • Mary Crowther profile image

      Mary Crowther 5 years ago from Havre de Grace

      Jack Nicholson is one of the great actors! Very nice tribute lens!