There are lots of people in the film and television world that can be considered A-listers at this point, but clearly Jack Nicholson is one of the last of the true Hollywood superstars. Nicholson's superstardom has been well earned; his acting abilities are truly unparalleled and his body of work is the kind of resume that every actor and actress on earth could look at and be green with envy.
Nicholson's career is far from over (despite the fact that it has already spanned decades), but there is a reason why he's still one of the most lauded and beloved actors in the world. His film performances are unlike anyone else's and the variety and acting range that he has displayed is truly one of a kind. It's hard to narrow down which movies made Jack Nicholson into the icon that he is, but we've taken a shot at ranking his most memorable performances ever (so far).
10 President James Dale/Art Land - Mars Attacks!
Tim Burton's campy homage to classic alien invasion films is entertaining and memorable enough in its own right, but Jack Nicholson's dual presence throughout the film definitely takes it over the top. Nicholson's most prominent role in the film is as James Dale, the U.S. President who is unlucky enough to be presiding over the country during an alien invasion.
Nicholson's other role in the film is as Art Land, a sleazy Las Vegas resident who is planning on opening his own casino, which happens to have an alien theme. Unsurprisingly, Jack kills it in both roles.
9 Garrett Breedlove - Terms Of Endearment
Terms of Endearment is often unfairly regarded as a "chick flick," as the main plot line of the movie is the decades-long relationship between a woman named Aurora and her daughter Emma. These women certainly aren't the Gilmore Girls, however.
Jack Nicholson plays a retired astronaut named Garrett Breedlove in the film, and Breedlove's romance with Aurora is a significant factor throughout. Watching Nicholson go toe-to-toe with Shirley MacLaine (who plays Aurora) is an adventure in its own right. It would appear that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences agreed on that, since both scored acting Oscars for their parts in the film.
8 Jimmy Hoffa - Hoffa
Jack Nicholson is easily one of the most iconic and easily identifiable actors who ever lived, and he's a brilliant actor who brings his own personal touch to every role he plays. So, it's sometimes easy to forget that when Nicholson wants to transform himself to the point where he's nearly unrecognizable, he can do that too.
Jack played the titular role of Jimmy Hoffa in Hoffa, and in his quest to play the man, Nicholson was outfitted with some pretty conspicuous prosthetics. It's one thing to put in a good acting performance while essentially playing yourself, but killing it when your face is literally covered in rubber is a whole different animal.
7 The Joker - Batman
Heath Ledger's performance as the Joker in The Dark Knight basically redefined how the world saw the Joker as a character, but Jack Nicholson's performance as the Joker in Tim Burton's Batman is no joke either. Tim Burton's version of Batman was clearly inspired by more old school Batman comics, and Jack Nicholson's performance in the film certainly reflects that.
Nicholson's acting in Batman is extremely flamboyant while still being threatening, and much like with Hoffa, Nicholson deserves credit for serving up an award worthy performance in the film when his actual face is pretty much entirely obscured by cartoonish paint.
6 Colonel Nathan Jessup - A Few Good Men
Jack Nicholson's performance in A Few Good Men has earned its spot on this list all on it's own. The fact that it features not only one of Jack Nicholson's most iconic moments ever committed to film, but one of the most iconic film scenes in history, period, means that its presence on this list is an absolute necessity.
This Rob Reiner-directed film is a memorable and riveting movie, and Jack's role as Colonel Nathan R. Jessup, a morally questionable high-ranking officer in the United States Marine Corps, is undeniably one of his best. We can all handle that truth.
5 Melvin Udall - As Good As It Gets
All great actors have some particular skill or talent that sets them apart from the pack. When it comes to Jack Nicholson, it seems like his ability to make unappealing characters appealing is his acting superpower. Melvin Udall is one such character.
Udall is a best-selling romance novelist who is obsessive compulsive and ironically seems to loathe nearly every person that he comes into contact with. He begrudgingly comes out of his shell as he falls for a waitress, after he is unwillingly conscripted into caring for his injured neighbor's dog. Nicholson won an Academy Award for this performance, and it was well deserved.
4 Jake Gittes - Chinatown
If you're ever looking for a noir mystery film that definitely gives you some wild payoff to the intrigue it creates, then Chinatown might be just the ticket. In the movie, Jack Nicholson plays J.J. "Jake" Gittes, an investigator who is looking into the shenanigans going on at the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power.
It doesn't exactly sound like the material that your average crime thriller is made of, but this bizarre mystery unfolds into a crime thriller classic. In any typical noir film, Nicholson's character would be somewhat uninteresting, but, unsurprisingly, Jack brings some exceptional flavor to the role.
3 Frank Costello - The Departed
With most actors, it seems that they reach a certain peak and that's as good as they ever do, but with Jack Nicholson it seems like he just keeps hitting different peaks as his career develops further. One of his most iconic roles of all time is also one of his most recent, as Frank Costello in the Martin Scorsese thriller The Departed.
The Departed is one of the most exciting movies to come out in the last decade or so by itself, but Nicholson's performance as the head crime boss in Boston is one of his most memorable roles to date.
2 Randle McMurphy - One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest
Milos Forman's One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest is one of the most memorable and moving films in history, touching on issues we rarely seen faced head-on in theaters. Jack Nicholson's performance as the lead character, Randle McMurphy, brings the message of the film home with the weight it deserves.
McMurphy begins his journey as a man who thinks he's gamed the system by avoiding prison, but his relationships with those he meets in his new environment --particularly his antagonistic relationship with one of the greatest villains of all time, Nurse Ratched-- take his story further; to a darker place than anyone could have ever expected.
1 Jack Torrance - The Shining
Horror movies typically get a bad rap for being low quality and poorly produced, but no-one would ever level that criticism against The Shining. Stanley Kubrick's interpretation of the Stephen King novel is one of the greatest movies ever made, and Jack Nicholson's performance as Jack Torrance is one of the most iconic performances in horror, as well as in film in general.
Torrance's descent into madness is terrifying, and Nicholson brings that descent to life so believably that it's genuinely unsettling. Many of Nicholson's performance choices were so incredible that those who haven't even seen The Shining will still be familiar with those particular scenes.