Sir Daniel Day-Lewis is one of the finest actors the world has ever produced. Having initially retired from acting in 1997 to take up a new profession as an apprentice shoemaker in Italy for three years, the Englishman did so for good in 2017.
He left behind a filmography that any star would envy. He picked his projects carefully, and Day-Lewis' résumé is consequently an embarrassment of riches.
He appeared in 21 movies, and his range of chameleon-esque performances are legendary. They resulted in six Academy Award nominations and three wins, each of which he thoroughly deserved.
In this piece, we'll rank Day-Lewis' 21 films, starting with the best and working down.
1 – There Will Be Blood (2007, directed by Paul Thomas Anderson)
There Will Be Blood is an epic period drama movie loosely based on Upton Sinclair's 1927 novel Oil! It chronicles the ruthless quest for wealth of a silver miner turned oilman during Southern California's late 19th and early 20th-century oil boom.
Daniel Plainview is the oil man at the center of it all, played by Day-Lewis so brilliantly that he won his second Academy Award for Best Actor. The outstanding supporting cast includes Paul Dano, Kevin J. O'Connor, Ciarán Hinds, Russell Harvard, and Dillon Freasier. There Will Be Blood is a masterpiece of cinema that lives up to its genre's “epic” billing. It's a confident, sprawling, aesthetically stunning film buoyed by exceptional performances. It received eight Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture and Best Director. The two it won were Day-Lewis' Best Actor gong and Best Cinematography.
2 – My Left Foot (1989, directed by Jim Sheridan)
My Left Foot is a biographical comedy-drama movie adapted from Christy Brown's 1954 autobiography. It tells the story of Brown, an Irish man born with cerebral palsy into a poor working-class family who could control only his left foot but still succeeded in becoming a successful writer and artist.
Day-Lewis plays Brown, and his phenomenal performance earned him his first Academy Award nomination and his first win for Best Actor. This film cemented Day-Lewis as a tour de force of cinema. The talented supporting cast includes Brenda Fricker, Ray McAnally, Cyril Cusack, Fiona Shaw, Hugh O'Conor, and Adrian Dunbar. My Left Foot is an outstanding, terrifically performed, upbeat, inspirational film that paints a highly detailed picture of Brown's life. It received five Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture and Best Director. Its two wins came for Day-Lewis and Fricker, who won Best Supporting Actress.
3 – The Last of the Mohicans (1992, directed by Michael Mann)
The Last of the Mohicans is an epic historical drama movie based on James Fenimore Cooper's 1826 novel and its 1936 film adaptation. Set in 1757 amid the French and Indian War, the film follows three trappers protecting the daughters of a British Colonel.
It stars Day-Lewis as Nathaniel “Hawkeye” Poe, the white adopted son of Mohican chief Chingachgook. He's fantastic and ably supported by an incredible cast that includes Madeleine Stowe, Jodhi May, Russell Means, Wes Studi, and Pete Postlethwaite. The Last of the Mohicans is a fast-paced, action-packed, romantic film that takes some artistic liberties regarding its historical accuracy but comes out better and more entertaining for it. It received one Academy Award nomination for Best Sound and emerged victorious.
4 – In the Name of the Father (1993, directed by Jim Sheridan)
In the Name of the Father is a biographical crime drama movie based on the real-life story of the Guildford Four, a quartet of people incorrectly convicted of the Guildford pub bombings that saw four off-duty British soldiers and a civilian killed in 1974.
Day-Lewis plays Gerard Patrick “Gerry” Conlon, one of the Guildford Four, and he carries the film with a wholehearted performance. Pete Postlethwaite and Emma Thompson are also fantastic in supporting roles. In the Name of the Father is a meticulous, gritty, rousing, gripping, and emotional film aided by its exceptional core cast. It received seven Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor for Day-Lewis, Best Supporting Actor for Postlethwaite, and Best Actress for Thompson. It's a tragedy that it failed to win in any category.
5 – Phantom Thread (2017, directed by Paul Thomas Anderson)
Phantom Thread is a historical drama movie about an haute couture dressmaker in 1950s London, England, for whom a young foreign restaurant worker becomes his model, muse, and lover.
It stars Day-Lewis as Reynolds Woodcock, the dressmaker, and Vicky Krieps as Alma Elson, Reynolds' muse and lover. Lesley Manville plays Reynolds' sister Cyril Woodcock. All three performances are excellent and brilliantly committed. Phantom Thread is a poignant and beautiful film teeming with humor and gripping romantic tension. It received six Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor for Day-Lewis, and Best Supporting Actress for Manville. Still, its only win came for Best Costume Design. It was Day-Lewis' final movie, and he went out with a bang, but it's a shame he failed to win the Best Actor gong.
6 – Gandhi (1982, directed by Richard Attenborough)
Gandhi is an epic biographical movie chronicling the life of Mahatma Gandhi, the leader of an Indian independence movement against the British Empire during the 20th century, from 1893 until his assassination and funeral in 1948.
It stars Ben Kingsley as the eponymous character, and he's sublime in the role. The esteemed supporting cast includes Candice Bergen, Edward Fox, John Gielgud, Trevor Howard, John Mills, Martin Sheen, and Rohini Hattangadi. Day-Lewis has a small role in his second film appearance as Colin, a racist thug, and does fine. Gandhi is an intelligent, emotional, and highly impactful film, though it does play around with historical facts a little too much. It received 11 Academy Award nominations and won eight, including Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Actor for Kingsley.
7 – Lincoln (2012, directed by Steven Spielberg)
Lincoln is a biographical historical drama movie loosely based on Doris Kearns Goodwin's 2005 biography Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln. It chronicles the final four months of Lincoln's life in 1865, particularly his efforts to abolish slavery and involuntary servitude by pushing the idea of the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution.
Day-Lewis stars as the eponymous 16th president of the United States and gives a powerful performance. Tommy Lee Jones, Sally Field, David Strathairn, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, James Spader, Hal Holbrook, Adam Driver, Lee Pace, David Oyelowo, Michael Stuhlbarg, Jackie Earle Haley, Walton Goggins, and Tim Blake Nelson are among the phenomenal supporting cast. Lincoln is a profound, witty, sensitive, and insightful film, though it does exaggerate some facts. It received 12 Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Supporting Actor for Jones, and Best Supporting Actress for Field. It won two, for Best Actor for Day-Lewis – his third and final one – and Best Production Design.
8 – My Beautiful Laundrette (1985, directed by Stephen Frears)
My Beautiful Laundrette is a British romantic comedy-drama movie set during Margaret Thatcher's Premiership. It's about an ambitious Pakistani Briton's reunion and eventual romance with his white, old street punk friend as they open a glamorous laundromat and strive for success.
Gordon Warnecke plays Omar Ali, the Pakistani Briton, and Day-Lewis plays Johnny Burfoot, the street punk who becomes Omar's boyfriend and business partner. Saeed Jaffrey, Roshan Seth, and Shirley Anne Field provide capable support. My Beautiful Laundrette is an intelligent, funny, eye-opening story of race and prejudice in 1980s Great Britain. It's well-acted, and Day-Lewis, in particular, is excellent. This film informed the world that he was a big up-and-coming star. He deserved a Best Supporting Actor nomination at the Academy Awards, but the movie only received a nomination for Best Original Screenplay.
9 – A Room with a View (1985, directed by James Ivory)
A Room with a View is a British romance movie based on E. M. Forster's 1908 novel. It focuses on a young woman living in Edwardian England's restrictive and repressed culture and her developing love for a free-spirited young man. Some of the story also takes place in Italy.
Helena Bonham Carter leads the brilliant cast as Lucy Honeychurch, the young woman, alongside Julian Sands as George Emerson, the handsome young man she falls for. Denholm Elliott, Maggie Smith, Judi Dench, and Simon Callow also appear. Day-Lewis plays Cecil Vyse, the wealthy, socially prominent, and pretentious snob Lucy is due to marry, and he's suitably cold in the role. A Room with a View is an intelligent, emotional, romantic, and humorous film that's less hard-edged than the novel but still thoroughly satisfying. It received eight Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Supporting Actor for Elliott, and Best Supporting Actress for Smith. It won three for Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Art Direction, and Best Costume Design.
10 – Sunday Bloody Sunday (1971, directed by John Schlesinger)
Sunday Bloody Sunday is a British drama movie about a free-spirited young bisexual sculptor and his simultaneous relationships with a divorced female recruitment consultant in her mid-30s and a middle-aged gay Jewish doctor.
Murray Head plays sculptor Bob Elkin, Glenda Jackson plays recruitment consultant Alex Greville, and Peter Finch plays Dr. Daniel Hirsh, and they're all fantastic. Peggy Ashcroft, Tony Britton, Maurice Denham, and Bessie Love also appear. In his first screen role, Day-Lewis has an uncredited cameo as a child vandal. Sunday Bloody Sunday is a groundbreaking, sophisticated, and sensitive film that boldly tackles the complexities of love and relationships. It received four Academy Award nominations, including Best Director, Best Actor for Finch, and Best Actress for Jackson, but failed to win in any category.
11 – The Age of Innocence (1993, directed by Martin Scorsese)
The Age of Innocence is a historical romantic drama movie based on Edith Wharton's 1920 novel. It chronicles the 19th-century courtship and marriage of a wealthy New York society attorney to a respectable young woman and the former's subsequent romantic entanglement with a woman he legally represents.
Day-Lewis stars as attorney Newland Archer, Winona Ryder plays his young wife May Welland, and Michelle Pfeiffer plays Ellen Olenska, the heiress he becomes romantically involved with. The trio performs superbly. The brilliant supporting cast includes Miriam Margolyes, Geraldine Chaplin, Michael Gough, Richard E. Grant, and Jonathan Pryce. The Age of Innocence is a stylish, sophisticated, elegant, poignant, and sometimes funny film. It received five Academy Award nominations, including Best Supporting Actress for Ryder, and won one for Best Costume Design.
12 – The Bounty (1984, directed by Roger Donaldson)
The Bounty is a British historical drama movie based on Richard Hough's 1972 book Captain Bligh and Mr. Christian and the fifth film incarnation of the story of the mutiny on the Bounty. It follows a sailing ship's crew as they take action against the harsh disciplinary measures carried out by their captain.
Anthony Hopkins plays Lieutenant William Bligh, the strict captain, and Mel Gibson plays Master's Mate Fletcher Christian, the mutiny leader, and they're both on form. The rest of the cast mainly comprises well-known British and Irish actors, such as Laurence Olivier, Edward Fox, Bernard Hill, Liam Neeson, John Sessions, Neil Morrissey, Dexter Fletcher, and Day-Lewis, who plays Sailing Master John Fryer and commands attention in his fire notable film role. The Bounty is an underrated, intelligent, and engaging movie, buoyed by a distinguished cast, that remains the most historically accurate telling of the eponymous ship's famous story.
13 – The Unbearable Lightness of Being (1988, directed by Philip Kaufman)
The Unbearable Lightness of Being is a romantic drama based on Milan Kundera's 1984 novel. It portrays artistic and intellectual life in communist Czechoslovakia during the period of political liberalization and mass protest known as the Prague Spring, as well as the effects of the communist repression caused by the Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968.
Day-Lewis plays the main character Tomas, a successful brain surgeon and womanizer, and his dedication level meant he learned Czech for the role, despite 90% of it being in English. The talented supporting cast includes Juliette Binoche, Lena Olin, Derek de Lint, Erland Josephson, Pavel Landovský, Donald Moffat, Daniel Olbrychski, and Stellan Skarsgård. The Unbearable Lightness of Being is an artful, intelligent, erotic film that nails the atmosphere of a beleaguered culture. It received two Academy Award nominations for Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Cinematography but won none.
14 – The Boxer (1997, directed by Jim Sheridan)
The Boxer is an Irish sports drama movie about a former Provisional IRA volunteer turned boxer trying to “go straight,” settle down and live in peace after his release from a 14-year stint in prison.
Day-Lewis plays Danny Flynn, the eponymous character, and the fact he trained as a boxer in Ireland for a year to prepare for the role is evident because he's fantastic in a contained performance. A cast of Emily Watson, Brian Cox, Ken Stott, Gerard McSorley, and Kenneth Cranham provides solid support. The Boxer is a powerful, intelligent, provocative, well-acted film with an emotional punch. However, it isn't quite a knockout movie, thanks to its unmemorable dialogue.
15 – Nanou (1986, directed by Conny Templeman)
Nanou is a Franco-British romantic drama about an English girl, a student, who meets the great love of her life in the French region of Lorraine, but his work in the militant extreme left-wing strains their relationship.
Imogen Stubbs plays the naive eponymous student, and Jean-Philippe Écoffey plays Luc, the militant. They're both excellent. The supporting cast includes Michel Robin, Roger Ibáñez, Lou Castel, and Day-Lewis, who plays Max, the lovely and brooding English guy Nanou left behind, and does a grand job. Nanou has been forgotten by many, and that's a shame, as it's a terrific film with a fabulous performance from Stubbs – arguably her best – and some lovely views courtesy of its evocative settings.
16 – Gangs of New York (2002, directed by Martin Scorsese)
Gangs of New York is an epic historical drama movie based on Herbert Asbury's 1927 non-fiction book The Gangs of New York. Set predominantly in the Five Points neighborhood of Lower Manhattan, New York City, in 1863, it chronicles a long-running Catholic-Protestant feud, focusing on a young man's quest for revenge against his father's killer.
It stars Leonardo DiCaprio as Amsterdam Vallon and Day-Lewis as William “Bill the Butcher” Cutting, who killed Amsterdam's father. DiCaprio is good, but Day-Lewis is electrifying. The superb supporting cast includes Cameron Diaz, Jim Broadbent, John C. Reilly, Henry Thomas, Brendan Gleeson, Liam Neeson, Stephen Graham, and Eddie Marsan. Gangs of New York is messy and a long way short of Scorsese's finest work, and Diaz is woefully miscast, but the incredible production design, fantastic fight scenes, and Day-Lewis' performance make it well worth watching. It received ten Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Actor for Day-Lewis, but it won none.
17 – The Crucible (1996, directed by Nicholas Hytner)
The Crucible is a historical drama movie based on Arthur Miller's 1953 play. Set in the 17th century during the Salem witch trials, it focuses on a group of teenage girls who get forced to lie that the devil had “invaded” them and accuse several other innocent people of witchcraft after being caught casting love spells.
Day-Lewis plays John Proctor, a landowner embroiled in the witch trials who ends up hanged, and he gives a sturdy performance. The esteemed supporting cast includes Winona Ryder, Joan Allen, Paul Scofield, Bruce Davison, Rob Campbell, Jeffrey Jones, and Peter Vaughan. The Crucible maintains many of the play's documented historical inaccuracies and doesn't probe enough into the religion and politics involved, but it's well-acted, powerful, and boasts excellent production design. It received two Academy Award nominations for Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Supporting Actress for Allen, but it won neither.
18 – Eversmile, New Jersey (1989, directed by Carlos Sorin)
Eversmile, New Jersey is an Argentine-British comedy-drama about a roving Irish American dentist from New Jersey who travels on his motorcycle around the Argentinian countryside preaching the gospel of “dental hygiene consciousness” to the isolated rural population.
Day-Lewis plays Dr. Fergus O'Connell, the dentist, and gives an impressive and sincere deadpan performance that epitomizes the film. A diverse and multicultural supporting cast, including Serbian Mirjana Joković, Uruguayan Gabriela Acher, and Argentinian Ignacio Quirós, also do great work. Eversmile, New Jersey is a strange and surreal movie that might not appeal to everyone, but it's a highly original, charming, funny, and intriguing one that's well worth giving a chance to.
19 – The Ballad of Jack and Rose (2005, directed by Rebecca Miller)
The Ballad of Jack and Rose is an independent drama about a Scottish environmentalist farmer with a heart ailment and his beautiful but lonely teenage daughter living on a secluded island and former hippie commune in the United States.
It stars Day-Lewis as farmer Jack Slavin, Camilla Belle as his daughter Rose Slavin, and Catherine Keener as Kathleen, Jack's girlfriend from the mainland. They all give slick performances, and the likes of Ryan McDonald, Paul Dano, Jason Lee, Jena Malone, and Beau Bridges provide support. The Ballad of Jack and Rose is an intriguing film with good acting and lovely aesthetics. However, it's disjointed, dull in parts, has a limited script, and the characters you're supposed to sympathize with are thoroughly unlikeable. It's undoubtedly more suited to independent movie fans.
20 – Nine (2009, directed by Rob Marshall)
Nine is a romantic musical drama movie based on Maury Yeston's musical, itself based on the 1963 film 8½. It's about a famous filmmaker's struggles to harmonize his professional and personal lives, as turbulent relationships with the various women he has in his life complicate matters.
Day-Lewis stars as Guido Contini, based on Federico Fellini, and he's as game and extravagant as ever. Marion Cotillard plays Guido's wife, Luisa Acari Contin; Penélope Cruz plays his mistress, Carla Albanese; Sophia Loren plays his mother, Mamma Contini, and Nicole Kidman, Judi Dench, Fergie, and Kate Hudson play the other women in his life. Nine is visually stunning, with some great singing, dancing, and some top performances, but it's uneven and messy, bordering on chaos. It received four Academy Award nominations, including Best Supporting Actress for Cruz, but failed to win one.
21 – Stars and Bars (1988, directed by Pat O'Connor)
Stars and Bars is a comedy movie based on William Boyd's 1984 novel. It follows a British art expert across the Southern United States as he looks to purchase a rare painting by Pierre-Auguste Renoir and encounters some eccentric characters along the way.
Day-Lewis plays Henderson Dores, the art expert, and he conveys the man's quickly developing personality very well. The impressive supporting cast includes Harry Dean Stanton, Joan Cusack, Maury Chaykin, Keith David, Glenne Headly, Kent Broadhurst, Matthew Cowles, Will Patton, Laurie Metcalf, Martha Plimpton, Spaulding Gray, and David Strathairn. Stars and Bars is entertaining to a point, but it's overly strange, and some of its absurd screwball comedy falls flat. It's undoubtedly Day-Lewis' poorest film, but it led to him breaking out as a bona fide A-lister in My Left Foot less than a year later, so he should still look at it fondly.