Natalie Portman is one of the most famous – and most talented – actors working today. She got her start as a young child playing the orphaned protégé of a badass French hitman. She went on to play the mother of Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia and, despite her burgeoning career as a movie star, still found time to get a degree from Harvard. Portman has starred in both small indie darlings that have been showered with Oscars and big-budget blockbusters, and she’s about to take up the mantle of Thor.
Here are Natalie Portman’s 10 best movies, according to Rotten Tomatoes.
10 Léon: The Professional (72%)
This slick French action thriller was the big-screen debut of Natalie Portman. She played 12-year-old Mathilda, whose family is murdered by a crooked DEA agent named Norman Stansfield (easily one of the greatest villains in movie history, played by Gary Oldman). A hitman takes her on as a sort of mentor figure and trains her as an assassin.
Written and directed by Luc Besson, who would go on to give us the Transporter and Taken franchises, Léon: The Professional is a riveting, action-packed movie. It’s a great shame that the Mathilda-focused sequel was canned due to disagreements between Besson and the studio.
9 Thor (77%)
It’s weird to go back to the MCU’s Phase 1, before the franchise became a gargantuan, interconnected, space-faring universe. Although the God of Thunder’s origin story, directed with Shakespearean might by Kenneth Branagh, isn’t as entertaining as his zany Taika Waititi-helmed threequel would be in 2017, it’s still a lot of fun.
While the movies themselves weren’t terrible, and the first one was pretty good, the role that Natalie Portman was given in Thor and its sequel was pretty underwhelming. She didn’t have much to do beyond being the banal love interest. However, Waititi is set to fix that in the upcoming fourth movie, which will give her the mantle of Thor.
8 Everyone Says I Love You (79%)
Everyone Says I Love You is a star-studded musical written and directed by Woody Allen. The gimmick of the movie is that Allen cast actors who are not typically known for their vocal abilities – including such iconic names as Julia Roberts, Edward Norton, Alan Alda, and Drew Barrymore (as well as, obviously, Natalie Portman) – and made them sing in the musical numbers.
The movie doesn’t stack up next to Allen’s absolute finest work, like Annie Hall and Manhattan, but by his more recent standards (“recent” being a broad term referring to the last 25 years of Allen’s filmography), it’s pretty great.
7 Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith (80%)
Natalie Portman said recently that the negative reception to the Star Wars prequel trilogy was “a bummer” at the time. But the third one, Revenge of the Sith, is easily the best of the trilogy. In fact, if it weren’t for the masterpiece that is The Empire Strikes Back, it would have a strong claim for the title of best Star Wars movie ever made.
The tragic tale of Anakin Skywalker comes to a head as Darth Sidious finally manages to turn him to the Dark Side. This leads to an epic confrontation with Obi-Wan that leaves him in the Darth Vader suit, setting up the original trilogy nicely.
6 Black Swan (85%)
Darren Aronofsky made his critically acclaimed masterwork Black Swan right after making his critically acclaimed masterwork The Wrestler. The way he saw it, wrestling and ballet are the two complete opposite ends of the artistic world, with wrestling epitomizing low art and ballet epitomizing high art.
Black Swan was heavily inspired by the works of Dostoyevsky, particularly his novella The Double, as a ballerina is confronted with her doppelganger. It tackles the same primal fears as Jordan Peele’s Us, but instead of using it to make a masterful social horror movie, Aronofsky turns those themes into a riveting psychological thriller.
5 TIE: Heat (86%)
Natalie Portman’s role in Michael Mann’s breathtaking action thriller Heat, a study of crime in the American city in the mold of The Dark Knight (which it actually had a tremendous influence on), is only a small one, but she is instrumental in one of the film’s most emotional third-act moments.
She plays Lauren, the stepdaughter of Al Pacino’s cop character Vincent Hanna. In one of the movie’s final scenes, Hanna finds Lauren in a bathtub, having attempted suicide. He rushes her to hospital where, luckily, she pulls through. It’s a heavy scene, and Portman plays it with the weight it deserves.
4 TIE: Garden State (86%)
Garden State is really Zach Braff’s movie, since he wrote the script, directed it, and played the lead role, but Natalie Portman brings a lot to the film as the co-lead. Portman’s character Sam is a fascinating one. She’s a compulsive liar, which makes her the perfect unreliable narrator.
Just when we think we’re learning about her character, it’s all revealed to be a constructed personality. For a first-time director, Braff shows an impeccable grasp of tone and pacing in his work here. The soundtrack goes hand-in-hand with the events of the movie beautifully and the humor is delightfully quirky.
3 TIE: Paris Je T’aime (87%)
This anthology movie is made up of 18 short films helmed by a total of 22 directors, including such a wide range of artistic voices as Wes Craven, Alexander Payne, Gus Van Sant, and the Coen brothers, each set in a different district of Paris. Natalie Portman stars in the segment directed by Tom Tykwer, about a blind man who copes with a breakup that never happened.
The movie was an interesting experiment, and it’s obvious from the critical reception that the experiment paid off. Anthology movies rarely work, but this one is a touching love letter to one of the most beautiful cities on the planet.
2 TIE: Jackie (87%)
This movie is often described as a biopic, but it’s not really the story of Jackie Kennedy’s life; it’s about the aftermath of JFK’s assassination. Natalie Portman might not look an awful lot like Jackie Kennedy, but she more than makes up for it with a powerful performance that captures all of the harrowing emotions that she must have been going through in the days following her husband’s killing.
She also nails the voice, the mannerisms, and the attitude. Portman’s lead performance is the anchor keeping the whole movie afloat. The musical score is also tense and unnerving and, ultimately, astounding.
1 TIE: Annihilation (87%)
It was very disheartening when the studio canceled the wide theatrical release of this movie and sold the distribution rights in most countries to Netflix, because the story of “the Shimmer” was mysteriously cinematic. It was director Alex Garland’s follow-up to his debut work Ex Machina. Since that movie was a smart, engaging, brilliant work of science fiction cinema, with real character development and lofty philosophy to back up its spectacle, anticipation for Annihilation was high.
And while it’s certainly weirder, more puzzling, more disturbing, and more horror-tinged than Ex Machina, it’s just as intelligent and beautiful in equal measure.