From The Fabelmans (2022) to Blue Valentine (2010), here are the best Michelle Williams movies ranked.
Born September 9, 1980, in a quaint Montana town, Michelle Ingrid Williams showed a keen interest in acting from a very young age. Her father is a commodities trader and author and mother, a homemaker. Williams made her first guest appearance on the popular TV show Baywatch at only 13. Her professional big-screen debut came with Lassie in 1994. Over the next four years, she featured in several films, including Species and Halloween H20, but her first big breakthrough came with the teen drama series Dawson Creek (1998-2003).
Michelle was lauded for her performance in the British film Me Without You (2001) and American indie film The Station Agent (2003). Her role in the latter particularly caught the attention of casting director Avy Kaufman, who recommended her for the part of Alma in Ang Lee’s Brokeback Mountain (2005). The film was a commercial and critical hit, earning Michelle Williams a Supporting Actress Oscar nomination. During the filming of Brokeback Mountain, she started dating co-actor Heath Ledger. They had a daughter together but separated three years later, shortly before Ledger’s untimely death in 2008.
Despite the relentless paparazzi attention following Ledger’s death, Williams persevered. In 2008, she began what could be considered the most fruitful phase of her acting career, starring in the minimalist social drama Wendy and Lucy. In 2010, she delivered two of her career’s most remarkable performances in Blue Valentine and Meek’s Cutoff. Throughout the 2010s, she juggled blockbuster films like Venom, The Greatest Showman, with offbeat gems like Take This Waltz and Manchester by the Sea. Despite receiving five Oscar nominations so far, the latest for The Fabelmans by Steven Spielberg, an Oscar win still eludes her.
Michelle Williams dominates the screen with her innate acting prowess and her versatile selection of roles. Quickly then, here are, what we think, the best Michelle William movies:
Best Michelle Williams Movies, Ranked
16. Dick (1999)
Michelle Williams plays an airheaded teenager in Andrew Fleming’s underrated satirical comedy. This is one of the actor’s earlier lead roles. Dick offers a farcical take on the infamous Watergate Scandal. Arlene (Michelle Williams) and her bestie Betsy’s (Kirsten Dunst) visit to the Watergate Motel one day takes an unexpected turn when the two inadvertently find themselves in the midst of the notorious Watergate robbery. To ensure their silence, the paranoid Nixon (Dan Hedaya) designates them as official dog walkers.
The scatterbrained girls are suddenly embroiled in a political conspiracy that’s too complex than their high school life. Despite the uneven writing, the film primarily works due to the funny and irreverent performance of Williams and Dunst. Williams’ comedic timing is particularly entertaining. The film also has a great supporting cast, including Will Ferrell, David Foley, Devon Gummersall, and Saul Rubinek.
15. The Station Agent (2003)
Tom McCarthy, the Oscar-winning writer/director of Spotlight, made his directorial debut with an indie drama that introduced Peter Dinklage of Game of Thrones fame to his first significant role. Dinklage portrays Fin, a misanthropic loner and train enthusiast, whose dwarfism often subjects him to public ridicule, confining him to a limited life. Following the death of his only friend, Fin decides to escape human interaction by moving to an abandoned train depot in rural New Jersey.
Michelle Williams plays Emily, a shy local librarian who harbors feelings for Fin. Though her role is small, Williams delivers a heartfelt scene alongside Dinklage. Prior to The Station Agent, Williams worked on six seasons of the prime-time teen soap opera Dawson’s Creek. Alongside, she consciously chose to pursue independent projects to showcase her talent with subtle performances. The cast also features Patricia Clarkson and Bobby Cannavale, both highly skilled actors.
14. All the Money in the World (2017)
Ridley Scott’s crime drama stirred controversy following Kevin Spacey’s sexual misconduct allegations. The prolific Scott replaced Spacey with Christopher Plummer in a last-minute reshoot. The film, featuring Plummer as the gruff oil tycoon J. Paul Getty, recounts the true story of Getty‘s grandson’s kidnapping and the ensuing protracted negotiations. Despite the reshoot challenges, Scott delivered a compelling thriller.
Christopher Plummer delivers a stellar performance, but it’s Michelle Williams’ portrayal of Gail Harris that truly anchors the film. Her struggle to rescue her son and clashes with her megalomaniac ex-father-in-law form the crux of the narrative. Williams’ firm resolve and maternal sensitivity elevates the film, earning her a fifth Golden Globe nomination. The film also sparked a pay disparity debate, as Mark Wahlberg, in a supporting role, received $1.5 million for the reshoots, compared to Williams’ $1,000.
13. Synecdoche, New York (2008)
Charlie Kaufman, renowned for writing Being John Malkovich & Adaptation, made his directorial debut with the mind-bending dramedy, Synecdoche, New York. The film follows Caden Cotard (Phillip Seymour Hoffman), a playwright and theater director whose life begins to unravel after separating from his wife Adele (Catherine Keener) and daughter Olive. Caden’s fortunes change when he receives a MacArthur Genius grant to create a realistic play based on his own life, a monumental undertaking involving countless actors and decades of effort.
The play’s leading lady, Claire, portrayed by Michelle Williams, enters into a relationship with Caden and they have a daughter together. Caden sees their relationship as the remedy for his existential crises and traumas. Despite her minor role, Michelle Williams delivers a restrained performance as a frustrated artist. The film boasts an exceptional ensemble cast, including Samantha Morton, Tom Noonan, Hope Davis, and Jennifer Jason Leigh.
12. Me Without You (2001)
Michelle Williams delivers a raw, committed performance in this British film directed by Sandra Goldbacher. The film explores a two-decade friendship between two suburban English girls, Marina (Anna Friel) and Holly (Williams), from adolescence to motherhood. Marina, an attention-seeker living with her unstable mother, contrasts with Holly, a bookish girl living with her reserved Jewish parents. Holly’s early infatuation with Marina‘s older brother, Nat, adds another layer to their friendship.
As the years pass, the girls’ friendship evolves into a destructive dynamic, affecting their peace of mind and relationship choices. Friel’s portrayal of a manipulative woman from a dysfunctional family is powerful, but it’s Williams’ nuanced performance as the introverted Holly that truly resonates. The narrative gets increasingly bleak, yet Michelle’s Holly eventually recognizes her inner strength. Williams’ performance is further enhanced by her convincing British accent, adding authenticity to her character.
11. Suite Francaise (2014)
Saul Dibb’s Suite Francaise is based on the unfinished novel of acclaimed French author of Jewish origin, Irene Nemirovsky (1903-1942). Irene, who passed away in the Auschwitz Concentration Camp, sets her tale in a rural French town during the early years of the German Occupation of France. The story follows Lucille Angellier (Michelle Williams), living with her oppressive mother-in-law, who forms an unexpected bond with German Lieutenant Bruno von Falk (Matthias Schoenaerts).
Despite adhering to familiar romantic tropes, the film shines through the performances of Williams and Schoenaerts, who infuse depth and emotion into their characters. Williams, in particular, subtly expresses Lucille’s longing and desire, making the film a compelling war and romantic drama, despite its predictable narrative.
10. Certain Women (2016)
Kelly Reichardt, the indie filmmaker, is renowned for her quietly observant studies of human flaws and relationships. Certain Women is another one of her subtle works, exploring the overlapping lives of four women in a male-dominated setting. Michelle Williams portrays Gina, a businesswoman, alienated wife, and mother, striving to construct a home for her family despite resistance from her feckless husband and sullen daughter.
The film, like Williams’ previous collaborations with Reichardt, communicates much through unspoken moments. Cue, scenes when Williams’ Gina has her last cigarette or when she steals a glance at her elderly neighbor for sandstone. Lily Gladstone delivers an outstanding performance as an unnamed and solitary ranch hand, alongside the introspective Kristen Stewart. Nonetheless, Williams excels in conveying pent-up frustrations, leaving a profound sense of melancholy in her presence.
9. Showing Up (2022)
Kelly Reichardt’s films, including Showing Up, prioritize character study over plot progression. The film explores Portland’s art community through Lizzy Carr (Michelle Williams), an introverted, stressed sculptor. This marks the fourth Reichardt-Williams collaboration, with Williams delivering a restrained, melancholic performance.
The film highlights the daily anxieties of a creative individual, with art as Lizzy’s primary focus. But between shows and working at sculptures in her garage studio, Michelle Williams’ Lizzy grapples with minor conflicts with her landlord, parents, and colleagues, contributing to a subtle comedic undertone.
8. My Week with Marilyn (2011)
In Simon Curtis’ biographical drama, Michelle Williams plays the sensual, damaged Hollywood celebrity, Marilyn Monroe. The narrative was loosely adapted from documentarian and writer Colin Clark’s memoir. The story follows a 23-year-old, feisty assistant director Clark (Eddie Redmayne). He falls for the iconic actress on the set of Laurence Olivier’s 1957 feature The Prince and the Showgirl. The script doesn’t offer many startling insights. However, Williams harnesses the essence of Marilyn, skillfully capturing both Marilyn’s sexuality and vulnerable insecurities.
Williams convincingly portrays Marilyn’s hidden sadness, adding a depth often missing in her glamorous image. Despite Curtis and Hodges’ attempts to add psychological layers, it’s Williams’ performance as the iconic Monroe that truly captivates. Numerous actresses, including Theresa Russell, Susan Griffiths, Mira Sorvino, and Ana de Armas, have portrayed Monroe, yet Williams’ interpretation stands out for its psychological complexity. Her portrayal earned her a Golden Globe win and her third Oscar nomination.
7. Brokeback Mountain (2005)
Ang Lee’s Brokeback Mountain, a poignant exploration of suppressed passion, stands as Hollywood’s most successful same-sex narrative, grossing over $178 million globally and winning three Oscars. The film, set in 1963, unfolds the clandestine romance between reticent cowboys Ennis Del Mar and Jack Twist. Michelle Williams portrays Alma Del Mar, the distressed wife of Ennis, played by her late ex-partner Heath Ledger. However, Alma never confronts her husband about it until after they’re divorced.
Conforming to the ‘good wife’ archetype, Alma, portrayed through Williams’ nuanced performance, sees her vivacity diminish in the face of her husband’s betrayal. Williams subtly expresses Alma‘s accumulating resentment, earning her an Oscar nomination for best supporting actress.”
6. The Fabelmans (2022)
Steven Spielberg spins a lightly fictionalized version of his childhood and adolescence in The Fabelmans. In this semi-autobiographical tale, Sam Fabelman is Spielberg’s alter ego. However, the narrative’s emotional center is Michelle Williams’ Mitzi Fabelman, Sam’s despairing mother and a gifted pianist. Set in post-World War II America, the film delves into Sammy’s profound fascination with cinema from an early age. Mitzi recognizes her son’s artistic inclinations and encourages him by gifting him a camera, with which Sam joyfully explores the world of image-making. His father, Burt, played by Paul Dano, is a computer engineer who dismisses filmmaking as merely ‘a hobby.’
However, the Fabelman family is shattered by the pain of divorce, and their struggles become evident. In a poignant moment, Sammy accidentally captures through his camera lens the affair between his mother Mitzi and his father’s best friend. Michelle Williams delivers a powerful performance as the despondent housewife, trapped in a marriage with a cold and distant husband. She tries her best to shield her children from the emotional turmoil, yet sadness seeps through her face. Williams received a best supporting actress Oscar nomination for the role.
5. Take this Waltz (2011)
In Sarah Polley’s romantic drama and intriguing portrait of marriage, Michelle Williams plays Margot, a freelance writer happily married to her cookbook author husband. Despite her seemingly blissful domestic life, Margot experiences a void, a lack of emotional connection with her spouse. This dynamic shifts when she encounters Daniel (Luke Kirby), an attractive neighbor. However, the narrative is not centered on infidelity.
The script that’s strongly rooted in reality allows Polley to smartly weave Margot’s personal struggle. Take this Waltz was worth seeing for Williams’ astoundingly nuanced performance. Williams is virtually incapable of a false note in her performance. She anchors every subtle expression in a naturalistic approach. Besides, she bravely embraces the role of a flawed character trapped in the ordinary. We see Margot at her most vulnerable and even unappealing at times. As the husband Lou, Seth Rogen delivers one of his strongest performances.
4. Manchester by the Sea (2016)
In Kenneth Lonergan’s emotionally charged film, Manchester by the Sea, Michelle Williams may only have a minor role, but her performance is far from limited. She masterfully embodies a spectrum of emotions in her portrayal of Randi Chandler, a young mother of three. Following an unthinkable tragedy, Randi parts ways with her husband, Lee (played by Casey Affleck), who is the primary focus of the film. Both Williams and Affleck portray their characters’ troubled and tragic married life through subtle nuances. Their most impactful scene comes later in the film when a grief-stricken Randi and Lee unexpectedly cross paths on a city street, a moment that serves as the narrative’s pivot point. Williams chooses to display her character’s feelings of remorse and forgiveness, while Affleck’s character remains reticent and emotionally impaired.
Intriguingly, the scene lacks a dramatic verbal exchange. However, the film’s intricate themes of blame, guilt, and love are seamlessly woven into this unspoken, agonizing encounter. This nuanced performance earned Michelle Williams her fourth Oscar nomination for Manchester by the Sea.
3. Meek’s Cutoff (2010)
Kelly Reichardt’s frontier drama, Meek’s Cutoff is set in 1845 in the plains of the vast Oregon desert. It accounts for the frustrating journey of a wagon team of three families. Led by the brusque guide Stephen Meek, the settlers take a shortcut in the desert that nearly threatens their survival. Michelle Williams plays Emily Tetherow, a calm tough-minded individual in the group. Williams’ Emily brings interesting, subtle dynamics to the largely conservative, patriarchal culture. Her performance, marked by understated elegance and emotional depth, complements her choice of roles that emphasize her acting prowess over her beauty.
Meek’s Cutoff isn’t plot-driven, it’s rather a careful depiction of early settlers’ harrowing experiences. Reichardt’s captivating cinematography and Williams’ authentic presence synergize to create a profound sensory experience. The film was screened at Sundance Film Festival.
2. Wendy and Lucy (2008)
In Kelly Reichardt’s poetic, minimalist film, Michelle Williams delivers a compelling performance as Wendy, a woman living out of her car with her dog, Lucy. She’s en route to work in Alaska, when the car breaks down in a decaying Oregon mill town. The situation worsens when Wendy loses Lucy, and her financial troubles begin to mount. While the plot, which revolves around a lost dog, may seem disheartening to some viewers, Reichardt’s approach is far from melodramatic.
In her vulnerable state, Wendy experiences both the harsh realities and unexpected kindness of the local residents. Williams’ restrained and inward portrayal of Wendy is deeply moving. The exhaustion and desperation evident on her face effectively convey the struggles of a migrant. It’s a poignant, impactful film, further amplified by the unadorned landscape and naturalistic performances. Wendy and Lucy is a devastating portrait of a lonely individual and a community grappling with economic decline.
1. Blue Valentine (2010)
Derek Cianfrance’s Blue Valentine, a brilliant portrayal of a crumbling marriage, earned Michelle Williams her second Oscar nomination. The film gained attention for the central pair, Ryan Gosling and Michelle, who employed extreme method-acting techniques. It navigates between two phases of the couple’s relationship, from a tentative romance to a troubled marriage after six years of living together. The narrative highlights the gradual decay of their love due to the passage of time, without any external villains or affairs.
To delve into the characters’ struggles, Cianfrance had Gosling and Michelle live together with their onscreen daughter in a rural house, experiencing the daily routines and frustrations of domestic life.
Both actors deliver exceptional performances, with Gosling’s portrayal slightly edging out Williams’. While countless actresses have depicted the beauty of falling in love, Williams uniquely captures the devastating emotions of falling out of love, flawlessly portraying the hurt and disappointment that leads to the couple’s breakup.
There you go! These are some of the best Michelle Williams movies. She is currently collaborating with Todd Haynes (for the third time after I’m Not There and the fantasy film Wonderstruck) for the biopic of Peggy Lee (1920-2002), the popular American songwriter and singer whose career spanned over seven decades. The film is titled Fever. If you’d like to explore more from Michelle Williams’ filmography, check out Land of Plenty (2004), Imaginary Heroes (2004), Mammoth (2009), Shutter Island (2010), The Greatest Showman (2017), and After the Wedding (2019).
What is your favorite Michelle Williams performance? Tell us in the comments below.
An ardent cinephile, who truly believes in the transformative power and shared-dream experience of cinema. He blogs at ‘Passion for Movies.’