Best Actresses: Top 100 Characters From 50 Years!

The Film Experience

Top 100 “Characters” From 50 Years of Best Actressing
by Nathaniel R. 

DateTuesday, September 13, 2011 at 10:00PM

This past summer we polled you once or twice a month about the Best Actress characters that you think of the most often from the past 50 years of the cinema taking us all the way from 1961 through to this past spring’s Oscars for the films of 2010! With the new fall season of The Film Experience kicking off and the Oscar films arriving, I thought we’d take one last look back at that polling.

It was quite fun for little OCD actressexual me to peruse and “sort” and all of that in excel. If you’re OCD like me and want to know how I compiled the chart, which is listed in alphabetical order below and pictured in slide show format in chronological order, there’s more information after the list. I’d love to say that we’d do 100 articles to celebrate (one for each of your fav’ fictionalized ladies) but that would be an insane thing to promise. But we’ll use the chart for inspirational somethings! Give these characters a big round of applause for all their years of entertaining service.

By all means if you haven’t seen any of the 98 films represented, make it a viewing priority.

Your 100 Most Memorable Best Actress “Characters”
50 Years | 100 Greats (1961-2010)

List presented visually (chronologically) and in text form (alphabetically) after the jump. Plus: Statistics!


Ada McGrath (Holly Hunter) The Piano 
Adele (Isabelle Adjani) The Story of Adele H.
Aileen Wuornos (Charlize Theron) Monster
Alex Forrest (Glenn Close) Fatal Attraction
Alice Hyatt (Ellen Burstyn) Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore
Alma Brown (Patricia Neal) Hud
Annie Hall (Diana Keaton) Annie Hall 
Annie Sullivan (Anne Bancroft) The Miracle Worker
Annie Wilkes (Kathy Bates) Misery
Aurora Greenaway (Shirley Maclaine) Terms of Endearment

Baby Jane Hudson (Bette Davis) Whatever Happened To Baby Jane?
Barbra Covett (Judi Dench) Notes on a Scandal
Becca (Nicole Kidman) Rabbit Hole
Bess McNeill (Emily Watson) Breaking the Waves
Beth Jarrett (Mary Tyler Moore) Ordinary People
Bonnie Parker (Faye Dunaway) Bonnie & Clyde
Brandon Teena (Hilary Swank) Boys Don’t Cry
Bree Daniels (Jane Fonda) Klute
Bridget Jones (Renée Zellweger) Bridget Jones’s Diary
Carolyn Burnham (Annette Bening) American Beauty


Carrie White (Sissy Spacek) Carrie
Cathy Whitaker (Julianne Moore) Far From Heaven
Celie (Whoopi Goldberg) The Color Purple 
Chris MacNeill (Ellen Burstyn) The Exorcist
Christina Drayton (Katharine Hepburn) Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner?
Cindy (Michelle Williams) Blue Valentine
Claireece Precious Jones (Gabourey Sidibe) Precious
Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster) Silence of the Lambs
Clementine (Kate Winslet) Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
Constance Miller (Julie Christie) McCabe and Mrs Miller

Cynthia Purley (Brenda Blethyn) Secrets and Lies
Daisy Wertham (Jessica Tandy) Driving Miss Daisy
Deanie Loomis (Natalie Wood) Splendor in the Grass
Diana Christensen (Faye Dunaway) Network
Diana Scott (Julie Christie) Darling
Edith Piaf (Marion Cotillard) La Vie En Rose 
Eleanor of Acquitaine (Katharine Hepburn) Lion in Winter
Elinor Dashwood (Emma Thompson) Sense & Sensibility
Elizabeth (Cate Blanchett) Elizabeth
Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) Aliens


Emma Greenaway (Debra Winger) Terms of Endearment
Erin Brockovich (Julia Roberts) Erin Brockovich
Ethel Thayer (Katharine Hepburn) On Golden Pond
Eve (Geraldine Page) Interiors
Evelyn Cross Mulwray (Faye Dunaway) Chinatown
Fanny Brice (Barbra Streisand) Funny Girl 
Frances Farmer (Jessica Lange) Frances
Francesca Johnson (Meryl Streep) Bridges of Madison County
Gloria Beatty (Jane Fonda) They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?
Helen Prejean (Susan Sarandon) Dead Man Walking

Holly Golightly (Audrey Hepburn) Breakfast at Tiffany’s
Jane Craig (Holly Hunter) Broadcast News
Jean Brodie (Maggie Smith) The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie
Jenny (Carey Mulligan) An Education
Judy Benjamin (Goldie Hawn) Private Benjamin
Juno (Ellen Page) Juno
Karen Blixen (Meryl Streep) Out of Africa
Karen Silkwood (Meryl Streep) Silkwood
Katie Morowsky (Barbra Streisand) The Way We Were
Kym (Anne Hathaway) Rachel Getting Married


Lilly (Anjelica Huston) The Grifters
Lizzie Bennett (Keira Knightley) Pride & Prejudice
Loretta Castorini (Cher) Moonstruck
Loretta Lynn (Sissy Spacek) Coal Miner’s Daughter
Louise (Susan Sarandon) Thelma & Louise
Louise Bryant (Diane Keaton) Reds
Mabel Longhetti (Gena Rowlands) A Woman Under the Influence
Maggie Fitzgerald (Hilary Swank) Million Dollar Baby
Margaret Schlegel (Emma Thompson) Howard’s End
Marge (Frances McDormand) Fargo

Maria Von Trapp (Julie Andrews) The Sound of Music 
Marquise de Merteuil (Glenn Close) Dangerous Liaisons
Martha (Elizabeth Taylor) Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
Mary Poppins (Julie Andrews) Mary Poppins
Mary Rose Foster (Bette Midler) The Rose
Mary Tyrone (Katharine Hepburn) Long Day’s Journey Into Night
Miranda Priestley (Meryl Streep) The Devil Wears Prada
Mrs Robinson (Anne Bancroft) The Graduate
Nina Sayers (Natalie Portman) Black Swan
Norma Rae (Sally Field) Norma Rae



Nurse Ratched (Louise Fletcher) One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
Raimunda (Penélope Cruz) Volver
Rose Dewitt Bukater (Kate Winslet) Titanic
Roxie Hart (Renée Zellweger) Chicago
Sally Bowles (Liza Minnelli) Cabaret
Sammy Prescott (Laura Linney) You Can Count on Me
Sara Goldfarb (Ellen Burstyn) Requiem for a Dream
Satine (Nicole Kidman) Moulin Rouge!
Sera (Elisabeth Shue) Leaving Las Vegas
Sophie Zawistowski (Meryl Streep) Sophie’s Choice

Susie Diamond (Michelle Pfeiffer) The Fabulous Baker Boys
Susie Hendrix (Audrey Hepburn) Wait Until Dark
Suzanne Vale (Meryl Streep) Postcards From the Edge
Thelma (Geena Davis) Thelma & Louise
Tina Turner (Angela Bassett) What’s Love Got To Do With It
Vera Drake (Imelda Staunton) Vera Drake
Victoria Grant (Julie Andrews) Victor/Victoria
Viola (Gwyneth Paltrow) Shakespeare in Love
Virginia Woolf (Nicole Kidman) The Hours
Vivian Ward (Julia Roberts) Pretty Woman

Some interesting statistical notes

  • The best represented actress Meryl Streep who turns up with an incredible six characters. Katharine Hepburn is in runner up position with four. Faye Dunaway, Nicole Kidman, Julie Andrews and Ellen Burstyn fight it out for bronze with three characters each.
  • The best represented Oscar years are 1967, 1990, 1995 each with 80% of the nominated lineup making your top 100. In the case of 1967, the one nominated performance that didn’t place is one you hear raves about all the time (in The Whisperers) but the film is hard to find.
  • 23% are title characters… if you want to include titles like “Funny Girl” which describe or reference the woman in an obvious way than 34% of the list is title characters.
  • Surprisingly 13% of the characters are either professional singers or actresses who dabble in singing.
  • 36% (out of a possible 51%) are Oscar winning roles.
  • “Annie” and “Mary” are the two most popular character names both showing up three times. ALL of the “Annies” won the Oscar: Hall, Sullivan, and Wilkes!


Let’s have a confession round in the comments: How many have you seen?

Disclaimer: Coming up with a top 100 was not quite as simple as using all 10 five year groups of top 10s. There were a few too many ties so to make the decision about which women to cut I looked at the percentage of ballots upon which they appeared in their time frame and eliminated the three tenth placers which the fewest amount of actual votes from you (i.e. some 11th and even 12th place finishers in other decades may have had more votes than these.) So the three women that just missed this list are Sophia Loren’s “Cesira” from Two Women (1961), Talia Shire’s “Adrian” from Rocky (1976) and Ali McGraw’s “Jennifer Cavalerri” from Love Story (1970).

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