Natalie Portman is one of the most talented and accomplished actresses of the 21st century. Born to Jewish parents in Jerusalem in 1981, Natalie Hershlag aka Natalie Portman started her film career at the age of 12. Prior to that, she was cast in an off-Broadway musical when she was only 10. She continued her exceptionally blooming acting career, while earning a psychology degree from Harvard University. Even while managing her acting career she published two papers in scientific journals.
Despite a nearly career-destroying role in Star Wars, Portman bounced back with Mike Nichols’ Closer. The role earned her an Oscar nomination and a Golden Globe. She also starred in Garden State that same year, which was followed by more challenging roles. Portman was, of course, involved in not-so-memorable Marvel movies and was part of a few awful comedies. However, she was also committed to stellar projects like Black Swan and Jackie.
In 2015, the actress wrote and directed A Tale of Love and Darkness, a passion project based on Israeli author Amos Oz’s memoir. Portman was also a committed environmental activist and a strong supporter of gender equality.
Quickly then, here’s a look at the 15 best performances of the versatile Oscar winning actress:
Natalie Portman Movies Ranked
15. Thor: Love and Thunder (2022)
Portman played renowned astrophysicist Doctor Jane Foster in the Thor movies belonging to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Jane was also the love interest of the super heroic god of Thunder, Thor. In the first two Thor movies, Jane was intelligent and competent enough as far as love interests in blockbuster Hollywood movies go. Still, Jane wasn’t a very well fleshed-out character. She either remained as a tool to offer expository information or to motivate our mopey Thunder God protagonist.
Besides, Jane didn’t appear in the third Thor movie, Thor: Ragnarok, leading to speculations that Natalie Portman won’t return to MCU. Nevertheless, Jane Foster returned in Thor: Love and Thunder, not simply as a love interest, but was transformed into a superhero. As a wielder of Mjolnir – the magical hammer of thunder god – Portman looks fabulous, and she’s also got her own heartbreaking narrative arc.
Where to watch: Disney+ Hotstar
14. Brothers (2009)
Jim Sheridan’s love triangle is a remake of Susanne Bier’s Danish film. Marine Sam Cahill is presumed dead after his helicopter goes down in Afghanistan. His brother Tommy tries to help Sam’s wife Grace and their two children. Gradually, Grace falls in love with the other brother, which causes domestic mayhem when Sam returns home. Grace is a difficult role to play as she remains the center around which the brothers revolve. However, Portman conveys her conflicted emotions with nuance and a sense of rootedness.
Grace’s despair for Sam, love for her two children, gratitude for Tommy subtly comes from deep within. In fact, Portman and Gyllenhaal’s presence makes the film’s problematic and over dramatic second-half bearable.
Where to watch: Apple TV+
13. Anywhere But Here (1999)
Wayne Wang’s coming-of-age drama released the same year as Natalie Portman’s Star Wars Prequels. While Portman was decried for her Princess Amidala, she quietly excelled in Wang’s movie, playing a sensitive teenager. The narrative, based on Mona Simpson’s novel, revolves around a flamboyant, restless woman named Adele August. She seeks a wide range of opportunities and a more zestful life.
Ann, Adele’s 14-year-old daughter, finds it difficult to leave home because she is so content with her best friend. But Adele’s cutesy, false optimism lands both mother and daughter in Beverly Hills. It’s not a great movie, but it’s a pleasure watching Portman negotiate a range of sharp emotional keys. She’s so good she steals the film from seasoned performer Susan Sarandon.
12. Annihilation (2018)
Alex Garland’s Annihilation is an adaptation of the first novel in Jeff VanderMeer’s Southern Reach Trilogy. The narrative is set in a zone called ‘The Shimmer’, a mysterious anomaly caused by an otherworldly object crashing into Earth. Every animal and plant within the zone seems to have been altered or mutated. Many military as well as research teams have entered into the electromagnetic fields of Shimmer, but no one has returned so far. Yet biologist and ex-soldier Lena (Natalie Portman) ventures into Shimmer with a strike team.
Natalie Portman’s Lena is a woman struggling to cope with loss. Her performance lends an emotional core around which the narrative’s weighty sci-fi themes are anchored. Portman followed up Annihilation with an astronaut role in oft-kilter sci-fi drama Lucy in the Sky. But it wasn’t as impressive as her screen presence in Annihilation.
Where to watch: Netflix
11. The Other Boleyn Girl (2008)
Based on Philipa Gregory’s 2001 novel of the same name, Justin Chadwick’s racy 16th century drama might have got a lot of historical details wrong, but it still entertains. Natalie Portman and Scarlett Johansson play Boleyn Sisters, Anne and Mary, who are encouraged to woo and bed Henry VIII to secure their family’s fortune. Consequently, the two sisters are thrust into a battle to win the King’s affection.
Portman’s Anne is a scheming, no-nonsense proto-feminist, while Johansson’s Mary is a sultry, doe-eyed girl. Anne Boleyn is one of the most polarizing historical figures. And Portman’s dynamic performance impeccably captures the vulnerability and determination of Anne. Her stellar performance helps overcome some of the narrative’s shortcomings.
Where to watch: Hulu
10. Jane Got a Gun (2016)
The performances are clearly the best thing about Gavin O’ Connor’s underwhelming Western action drama Jane Got a Gun. Natalie Portman plays the titular Jane, a strong frontierswoman with a checkered past. She subtly expresses the agony and resilience of a lonely individual. Set in 1871 New Mexico, Jane fights notorious outlaw John Bishop (Ewan McGregor) with her former lover Dan (Joel Edgerton).
Brian Duffield’s screenplay for Jane Got a Gun was featured in the 2011 Blacklist, an annual list of popular yet unfilmed scripts. Later, Lynne Ramsay of We Need to Talk about Kevin fame was attached to the project for a while as the director. Unfortunately, the final revised screenplay and Connor’s flat direction turned the film into a mediocre Western. Portman also served as one of the film’s producers.
9. V for Vendetta (2005)
In James McTeigue’s action/thriller Natalie Portman plays Evey Hammond, a passive girl who undergoes a dramatic change in the hands of V, the revolutionary hero. The masked protagonist V is described as an idea rather than a person. His quest for vengeance and political idealism pits him against the futuristic, totalitarian British regime. Portman’s Evey serves as an emotional anchor in the narrative.
It’s not Portman’s greatest role since the story doesn’t give her character much room to explore. However, the incredibly talented actress does well in the limited role of creating a gradually politicized heroine. On the whole, a truly great film with a not very dazzling Portman performance.
Where to watch: Netflix
8. Beautiful Girls (1996)
Ted Demme’s cool ensemble comedy-drama moves around a bunch of close childhood friends, preparing for their school reunion. The narrative follows them as they work their way through identity crises and other diverse problems. Timothy Hutton plays one of the central characters Willie, an unhappy and struggling 29-year-old pianist. Natalie Portman plays 13-year-old Marty, a precocious and charismatic girl who’s ‘in love’ with Willie. However, this Lolita-tinged plot-line doesn’t have a single discomfiting note.
Their friendship/relationship is more spiritual as Marty sees herself as an ‘old soul’. Portman’s scene-stealing performance, however, drew criticism for portraying young girls into “fancy things for grown males.” Yet this wise and funny turn from Portman in this purely fictional realm is sweet without being cringe-worthy.
Where to watch: Apple TV+
7. Garden State (2004)
Zach Braff’s indie romance has Natalie Portman playing her most funny, wacky character on-screen. Braff plays Largeman, a waiter and wanna-be actor who returns home to attend his mother’s funeral. He’s been on medication to numb the cacophonies of the real world and problems with his controlling father. At home, Largeman tries to reconcile with his dad and reunites with school buddy Mark, a gravedigger. He meets the crazily sweet Sam whose vivacity helps soothe his existential angst.
Garden State is not great American indie cinema. The narrative is mushy and underwritten at times. Nevertheless, it almost reached a legendary status as Portman’s performance led to coining the famous pop-culture term ‘Manic Pixie Dream Girl’. Sam‘s portrayal received criticism because the entire purpose of her energetic presence is to help the guy attain his arc. Even Natalie Portman, years later, accepted it as a ‘troubling trope’. Nevertheless, Portman’s enlivening presence is hard to resist.
Where to watch: Apple TV+
6. A Tale of Love and Darkness (2015)
A Tale of Love and Darkness is Natalie Portman’s first project as a writer and director. It’s based on the memoir of Israeli author Amos Oz’s memoir about his childhood. Natalie Portman waited almost a decade to make this film. She plays the leading role of Fania, Oz’s mother. Set in the war-torn Jerusalem of the 1940 and 1950s at a small crowded apartment, the narrative chronicles both personal as well as national struggles.
Much of A Tale of Love and Darkness’ appeal lies in Natalie Portman’s sensitive and haunting performance as Fania. Her dreams of Israel are far different from the cold reality that foretold armed conflict and hopelessness. Portman does a fabulous job drawing out remarkable performances from her co-actors.
5. Vox Lux (2018)
Brady Corbet’s Vox Lux offers a psychological portrait of the fictional troubled pop star Celeste Montgomery. As a teenager, Celeste finds pop music uplifting. But it’s a violent, traumatic incident that pushed her to pursue a career in singing. She is the survivor of a school shooting. From singing at the memorial service to her transformation into a pop superstar, the narrative tracks her compelling as well as devastating journey.
Natalie Portman plays the 31-year old Celeste, a caustic, obnoxious star with a drug issue. Similar to her roles in Black Swan and Jackie, Portman’s Celeste is once again about a woman unsettled by fame or spotlight. The actress sang for the film and perfectly embodies a self-destructive, unhinged character.
Where to watch: Apple TV+
4. Closer (2004)
In Mike Nichols’ searing study of relationships, 23-year-old Natalie Portman played an emotionally needy girl named Alice. She is utterly self-conscious and wants to put a bad relationship behind her. She sometimes works as a stripper and dallies with the narrative’s two leading male characters, played by Jude Law and Cliver Owen. Portman commands this film with her absolutely fearless performance (Owen, Law and Julia Roberts also give career best performances). Her sparkling eyes and alluring smile take the story’s unpredictable turns to another level.
Natalie Portman had also later revealed that this role saved her career after the ‘Star Wars Prequel’ trilogy. She nabbed her first Oscar nomination that year for Best Supporting Actress.
Where to watch: Amazon Prime Video
3. Leon: The Professional (1994)
Natalie Portman kicked off her illustrious career with a film debut in Besson’s eccentric action-drama. The determined and serious 12-year-old Portman overshadowed more than 2,000 hopeful girls to get the part. Leon tells the story of 12-year-old Mathilda, whose entire family, including her little brother, gets murdered in a drug-related crime. And the preternaturally mature child seeks revenge, seeking the help of next-door man-child, an assassin with a ‘heart-of-gold’.
The undercurrent of sexuality thrown upon Mathilda naturally attracted great controversy. It evoked few unsettling interpretations. But Portman provides an amazingly deft performance, elegantly unfurling her characters’ deep-seated emotions. Her haunting yet grounded performance makes the unsavory interpretations too puritanical or plainly ignorant. A villainous and fascinatingly over-the-top performance by Gary Oldman turns this film into a brilliant entertainer.
2. Jackie (2016)
Jackie is set in the aftermath of President Kennedy’s assassination, chronicling the widowed First Lady’s intense grief. The movie also highlights how big a role Jackie played in shaping her husband’s legacy. To play the iconic Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy, Natalie Portman spent months researching Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis.
She even worked with a dialect coach to get the accent right. Portman, who was the same age as Jacqueline at the time of JFK’s assassination, deftly unearths the icon’s human side. Larrain offers a more piercing portrait than the usual polished biopics. And, Portman strives hard to make the titular character palpably human. She excels especially in the scenes where she assertively takes on the questions of the vigilant journalist (played by Billy Crudup).
1. Black Swan (2010)
Aronofsky’s psychological thriller/body-horror is centered on a shy, vulnerable prima ballerina Nina Sayers. She gets a chance to play the role of a lifetime. But to do so, the sexually and mentally naive Nina has to delve into her own dark side. This may not be the most realistic portrayal of challenges in a ballet company. However, Aronofsky’s treatment examines the relationship between passion, emotion and rigorously perfected technique. He fleshes it out with metaphors of female sexuality.
Portman’s Oscar-winning portrayal of Nina intimately recounts the character’s deep psychological dissolution. She not only easily passes off as a professional dancer, but is a convincing blend of innocence and malice. Before Black Swan, the actress wasn’t particularly known to immerse herself into the characters she played. Here, she zealously embraces the part, making Nina both the victim and predator in her obsessed pursuit.
Portman’s upcoming projects include Todd Haynes’ May December. This is her first collaboration with the acclaimed director of Safe and Carol. The actress is also playing a key role in a mini TV series, titled Lady in the Lake. The series is based on Laura Lippman’s mystery novel of the same name. And finally, Natalie Portman is producing and voicing a role in the wild and cheeky animated feature Foxy Trotter.
An ardent cinephile, who truly believes in the transformative power and shared-dream experience of cinema. He blogs at ‘Passion for Movies.’