Oscar-winner Natalie Portman has captivated movie-going audiences for a quarter of a century now, and she only appears to be getting started. In front of the camera, she’s built unique indie movie characters, stolen the show in blockbuster franchises, and brought enormous historical figures to life. Behind the camera, she’s built empowering roles for herself and others as a producer and director.
From the dusty plains of the Wild West to the alien worlds scattered throughout the expanses of the cosmos, Natalie Portman has been a badass throughout the biggest adventures and the smallest comedies. Here’s our ranking of her ten most badass characters so far.
10 Jack’s Ex-girlfriend
Though never named, and appearing only very briefly in Wes Anderson’s 2007 movie The Darjeeling Limited, the character simply known as Jack’s Ex-girlfriend is hugely important in the overall story and an integral presence in the movie’s attached short film, Hotel Chevalier.
The main character of Jack Whitman is established quite early on as an immature womaniser, but he’s putty in the hands of his mysterious ex-girlfriend who is apparently a long-time friend and lover. The mysterious figure later tracks Jack down to his hotel room in Paris despite his attempts to hide. With a toothpick often seen in one corner of her mouth, Jack’s Ex-girlfriend moves with an animalistic kind of confidence that proves mesmeric for both Jack and the audience.
9 Jackie Kennedy
Natalie Portman’s take on the former First Lady portrays her as an emotional but strong-willed fighter that’s beset on all sides by unsympathetic career politicians and journalists. Portman interprets Jackie Kennedy as a former queen that suddenly finds herself surrounded by backstabbers in a collapsing 20th-century court.
Her struggle to write a defining legacy for the brief Kennedy administration takes her up against powerful obstacles at all levels of the U.S. government during a moment of national crisis. But, despite immense grief and trauma, she’s determined and capable in the face of overwhelming public scrutiny. An iconic performance for an iconic figure.
8 Dr. Jane Foster
One of the most consistently overlooked aspects of Marvel Studios’ success with their movies has been the aspects of them that appeal as female wish-fulfillment. Dr. Jane Foster is a hugely brilliant, though hopelessly single, scientist who quickly becomes Thor’s main love interest throughout the Marvel Cinematic Universe movies, even when she doesn’t appear on-screen—which is a fairly enviable position, to say the least.
The character was originally a nurse in the comics, but she’s upgraded to a world-class astrophysicist in the first movie. Her intelligence becomes as useful as Thor’s god-like abilities in tough situations, and she’s even worthy enough to wield an infinity stone at one point, becoming joined with the fluid form of the reality stone.
7 Jane Hammond
After finding her husband shot in the back, Old West frontierswoman Jane Hammond knows that a band of vicious outlaws is heading for her doorstep. Fulfilling the promise of the movie’s title, Jane Got a Gun, Jane wastes no time in organizing a plan of action—and it does not involve negotiation.
Jane is forced to join forces with the only person who can help her in her situation: her ex-fiance and Civil War veteran Dan Frost. Together, the two of them are able to give a vastly outmatching force a run for its money while dealing with their unresolved history together. The Western was a passion project for Portman, who also served as producer, and, while it didn’t quite turn out as hoped, it provided a powerful screen badass for Portman’s legacy, which was a lot of the point.
Natalie Portman’s first-ever screen role is, to this day, considered by many to still be her best and most memorable. After narrowly missing the slaying of her entire family at the hands of Gary Oldman’s corrupt cop, she takes refuge with a neighboring shut-in who she quickly discovers to be a highly-skilled assassin. Without missing a beat, the young Mathilda convinces her newfound guardian, Leon, to teach her in the art of being a hitman.
The titular Leon is able to convince her that killing isn’t a path that one should choose if options are available, and, in return, she’s able to open up the timid man’s heart to the concept of love again after losing it for so many years of his life. That’s deserving of the title of badass in itself.
5 Evey Hammond
Caught up in the dystopian world of a fascist police-state Britain in the year 2032, Evey Hammond becomes involved with the mysterious terrorist/freedom fighter known only as V and his struggle against the ruling Norsefire political party.
Through her messed up journey with V’s cruel training and the government’s ruthless oppression, Evey comes to appreciate freedom and the necessity of violent rebellion in the face of tyranny. She’s able to do so, however, without losing her humanity in the way that her masked mentor does, and Portman’s emotional range allows the audience to make that complex journey with her.
Though both a critical and commercial failure, the stoner/fantasy comedy Your Highness has its odd moments, not least of which is Natalie Portman’s appearance as a dragon-slaying knight, made all the stranger by her recent Oscar win.
Isabel explodes into the story by chopping off several of the heads of a magical hydra to avenge her father. She then introduces herself as the last living member of Harshbarger Order of the Golden Knights. It’s never really explained what any of those things mean, but, in her own words, it is her mission “to stop anyone who wants to f*** to make dragons.” That's not exactly clear, but it is pretty badass.
3 The Swan Queen
Darren Aronofsky’s psychological horror movie Black Swan sees Natalie Portman in her Oscar-winning role playing a timid, inexperienced, ballet dancer named Nina Sayers. One of the most promising dancers in the New York City ballet company, Nina is chosen to play The Swan Queen in the company’s newest take on Swan Lake. She struggles, however, to fulfill the dual roles of both the pure and innocent White Swan and the passionate Black Swan.
As the movie progresses, Nina’s psyche begins to fracture, and she is inevitably taken over by the power of the Swan Queen. While distorting her view of reality, it gives Nina the ability to break free from the overbearing control of her mother and her own self-doubt to give an unforgettable, bloodsoaked final performance.
Lena is a cellular biology professor and a former U.S. Army soldier who is tasked with entering a mysterious alien zone in Alex Garland’s 2018 movie Annihilation. Though she takes the task on to discover what happened to her dying husband, the only person to ever return from this zone, she’s a stone-cold pragmatist and the only person able to keep her head in a situation that only gets stranger and stranger as the people around her keep dying in increasingly horrific ways.
Driven by curiosity and guilt over an extramarital affair, she bravely ventures into the unknown and is able to make it all the way to the center of the bizarre alien event going on at the heart of the zone.
1 Padmé Amidala
The mother of Luke Skywalker and Leia Organa, a queen, and a galactic senator, Padmé is one of the Star Wars franchise’s most badass characters ever, as well as one of its most frequently overlooked. Her ambitious sense of style would be daring enough, but her unyielding dedication to the concept of democracy is what makes her so important to the Star Wars universe. (In that bizarre universe, she’s actually elected to be queen rather than inheriting the position.)
Though ultimately left heartbroken by her love for the man who would become Darth Vader, Padmé’s ferocious tenacity saw her through assassination attempts and invasions. It made her a beloved figure within the galaxy and a badass warrior who could hold her own in the ring with the likes of Obi-Wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker.