Charlize Theron has played all kinds of characters. She’s played a real-life serial killer, a post-apocalyptic warrior, a Presidential hopeful, a double agent in the Cold War, an evil queen – clearly, she has some kind of range.
She’s starred in a couple of movies that the critics weren’t so kind to, like Seth MacFarlane’s Western parody A Million Ways to Die in the West, which is quite unjust. The movie may not be amazing, but is arguably much funnier than some critics make out. More importantly, though, she’s been in plenty more that the critics really adored. So, here are Charlize Theron’s greatest movies ever, as ranked by Rotten Tomatoes.
10 Prometheus (73%)
This prequel to the Alien franchise was met with complaints by some for asking more questions than it answered (undoubtedly thanks to Lost’s Damon Lindelof co-writing the script), but in retrospect, it was just the first chapter of a planned prequel trilogy.
We’ve since had more questions answered by Alien: Covenant and it’s all leading up to a concluding installment that will bring it all full circle with the original Alien movies. As a jumping-off point, Prometheus is an appropriately mysterious sci-fi thriller. It opens with the Engineers sacrificing one of their guys to create new life and only gets trippier from there.
9 In the Valley of Elah (73%)
Charlize Theron joined Tommy Lee Jones and Susan Sarandon in this dramatic thriller. The titular valley is where the clash between David and Goliath takes place in the Bible. Thematically, that kind of struggle is at the center of this movie.
In it, a soldier’s father searches for the people responsible for his son’s death. He goes up against military forces trying to cover up a murder, so he’s hopelessly outmatched and outgunned – just like David taking on Goliath. The movie also touches on very poignant issues.
8 Atomic Blonde (78%)
Charlize Theron had to star in Mad Max: Fury Road before she could secure the funding for Atomic Blonde, a big-screen adaptation of the graphic novel The Coldest City. She had to prove that today’s audiences would be willing to accept a female action hero. They were, of course.
So, this movie was finally able to go into production. John Wick co-director David Leitch was behind the camera on Atomic Blonde, so it has some of the most raw, visceral, spectacularly choreographed action scenes in recent memory. The plot is often too convoluted to follow, but the movie has slick 80s style to make up for it.
7 Young Adult (80%)
After director Jason Reitman and screenwriter Diablo Cody struck gold with the teen pregnancy tale Juno, it wasn’t too long before they teamed up for another delightful blend of comedy and drama. Young Adult stars Charlize Theron as Mavis Gary, a thirtysomething who just can't let go of her younger years.
Theron herself has stated that Mavis was a super difficult character to get a handle on, but but she applied herself and certainly knocked it out of the park in the end.
6 Long Shot (81%)
It was a shame when Long Shot was buried by the unbelievable success of Avengers: Endgame earlier this year, because it was a really funny, but also a very sweet movie. Charlize Theron stars as Charlotte Field, the Secretary of State who is tipped to be the next President.
Seth Rogen co-stars as Fred Flarsky, an out-of-work journalist she used to babysit for (and now hires as her speechwriter). Naturally, sparks fly and there’s a far-fetched, yet ultimately convincing, romantic element. Hopefully, in a couple of years when Long Shot hits Netflix, it’ll find the audience it deserves and it won’t be forgotten forever.
5 Monster (81%)
Patty Jenkins wasn’t a widely known director until she helmed Wonder Woman in 2017 and made Time magazine’s shortlist for the Person of the Year. However, she proved as far back as 2003 that she was a sharp film-maker with a voice that needed to be heard.
Monster is the true-to-life tale of serial killer Aileen Wuornos, who murdered seven men and was executed in Florida after being tried for six of them. Charlize Theron stars as Wuornos, and after completely changing her appearance and giving a compelling performance to back it up, she won the Academy Award for Best Actress.
4 Tully (86%)
Postpartum depression is a very real problem that many people deal with, and it’s often ignored in the media. However, Tully tackles it head-on, and Charlize Theron plays it both beautifully and tragically. She pulls her character, Marlo, deeper and deeper into her depression as the movie goes on, and by the end, she triumphantly overcomes it.
From director Jason Reitman and screenwriter Diablo Cody (who also collaborated with Theron on Young Adult), Tully is a fable of modern motherhood that walks the bittersweet line between comedy and tragedy and explores its lofty emotions in a raw and honest way.
3 That Thing You Do! (93%)
This little-known mid-90s comedy was the directorial debut of Tom Hanks, who also wrote the script. It charts the rise and fall of a fictional one-hit wonder band in the 1960s (funnily enough, the “one hit” that the movie is named after went on to be a hit record when the movie was released).
Charlize Theron has a small role as the lead character’s shallow girlfriend who had no interest in the band and then left him, so she doesn’t come off well. Still, you have to take unlikeable roles when you’re still on the rise. Theron has the clout to produce her own stuff now.
2 Kubo and the Two Strings (97%)
Over the past few years, Laika has been positioning itself as the next big Hollywood animation studio. The Boxtrolls, ParaNorman, the Neil Gaiman adaptation Coraline – they’ve been making some delightfully quirky animated gems. Kubo and the Two Strings saw them step out of the kids’ horror genre and into the realm of fantasy samurai epic.
This was the directorial debut of Travis Knight, who would go on to helm Bumblebee. The voice cast is filled with A-listers like Ralph Fiennes, Rooney Mara, and Matthew McConaughey. Still, it’s arguably Charlize Theron who steals the show here, in dual roles as Kubo’s ailing mother Sariatu and his aptly named snow monkey Monkey.
1 Mad Max: Fury Road (97%)
Mad Max: Fury Road showed Hollywood how to turn a reboot of a forgotten sci-fi action franchise into a sure-fire hit – by making it one of the greatest action movies of all time.
Fury Road is basically all-action, with a giant car-based set piece carrying the movie from beginning to end (with mostly practical effects to ensure a gritty, gnarly, visceral moviegoing experience), but it also has a deeply engaging plot. By following a tight three-act structure and the principle of “plant and payoff,” director George Miller made a pedal-to-the-metal feature-length car chase that is also a remarkable work of cinema.