Meryl Streep is considered by many to be the greatest actress of her generation. Known for her extensive range of characters and accents, Meryl's natural chameleon ability dates all the way back to her acting days at Vasser College and Yale School of Drama. Over a 45 year career, she's received 407 award nominations, winning 177 of them. Here are 30 movies featuring Meryl Streep in a variety of roles listed from good to bad, as rated by Rotten Tomatoes.
1. Little Women (2019 Movie Adaptation)
Meryl Streep was the perfect Great Aunt March, an elderly relative who always seemed to find something disagreeable with the March sisters.
There were barely any encouraging words coming out of her mouth, and it would have been so easy for the audience to perceive the old widow was just unreasonably mean. Instead, Meryl Streep showed the true softness of the character, the love she had for her nieces, and the favor she has for Jo by taking advantage of opportunities that would allow her to spoil her nieces. Upon her death, she left her home to Jo to do with it as she pleased. Overall, it is an excellent piece of acting in a supportive role that's still a cult classic with women.
Manhattan was a top-grossing romance comedy movie in 1979, directed and also starred by Woody Allen. The whole movie was filmed in black and white. It was considered one of his best films and was listed in 46th place on the top 100 Funniest Movies in America.
Meryl Streep effortlessly played the role of Jil, the beautiful ex-wife who left Allen for a woman and was determined to publish a tell-all memoir. Her portrayal of Jill was a big part of the movie’s success; she had an extraordinary knack for comedy delivered in such a relaxed and graceful manner. She was the refreshing element that balanced out the rather stressed sense of humor that outlined the film.
Her presence may have been short but left lasting impressions; Meryl Streep’s performance in the movie earned her a BAFTA nomination and three other awards for Best Supporting Actress.
3. A Cry in the Dark
This 1988 movie was based on a tragic true story that involved a child’s death. The parents were suspected of foul play because of their overly accepting attitude towards their loss and lack of distress over their lost child. The movie shows the years of toll from fighting off rumors and accusations that the couple used the baby’s life to perform a religious rite.
Meryl Streep and Sam Neill played their roles as the parents perfectly. Streep received nominations for an Academy Award and Golden Globe for Best Actress and won the same category from Cannes Film Festival and New York Film Critics Circle.
4. The Deer Hunter
The Deer Hunter, shot in 1978, was the first of Meryl Streep’s award nominations, cementing her place in Hollywood. Acting in the same film with the likes of Robert De Niro and Christopher Walken put her on the map.
Many critics called the movie flawed, but in summary, the film achieved its goal of reminding the world of the lasting repercussions of war on people.
The road to creating the movie had several setbacks. The first hitch was writing the movie’s screenplay. It all starts with Kaufman suffering writer’s block. However, he eventually solves it by using his struggles to write the adaptation of Susan Orlean’s book as material.
The next problem came from the book’s author, Orlean, who refused to let them use her real name in the movie – as there were scenes in Kaufman’s screenplay she disagreed with.
But the impasse ended when Orlean found out that Meryl Streep was playing her persona in the movie. She felt at ease knowing that an actress of Streep’s caliber would only do what’s best for the role.
6. The Bridges of Madison County
So how did this movie turn out to be one of the best romantic movies ever made? At 65, Clint Eastwood, aka Dirty Harry, was cast for the lead role of the wandering photographer who charms his way into the heart of a married woman. Critics called it a well-made movie that turned out far better than the novel it was based upon.
Many of the movie ideas were pretty much thrown out and left to improvisation. The producers had a list of elite actresses to play the female lead. But Eastwood made his call and rang up Meryl Streep.
Perhaps it was the director in him that knew she would be right for the role. There were no rom-com cliches or cheesy dramatic scenes, just beautiful simple scenes.
7. One True Thing
There was nothing left for Meryl Streep to prove; she was a world-renowned actress with ten Oscar nominations to her name. But she immediately chased after a movie role the moment she heard that Anna Quindlen’s novel, “One True Thing,” was being made into a film. The book was derived from the author’s personal accounts; her career, family relations, and her dying mother.
Meryl landed the role of Kate, a mother who was diagnosed with cancer. The part required her to project the slow, heart-wrenching deterioration of her character from the bright, loving mother shown in the movie’s early scenes. In addition, it gave Meryl the chance to showcase her wide acting skills, snagging her eleventh Oscar nomination before 2000.
8. Kramer vs. Kramer
Kramer vs. Kramer gave Meryl Streep a double win, bagging the Best Supporting Actress category from the Academy Awards and Golden Globe. The movie was one of Meryl Streep’s first films, and she immediately caught the attention of producers and directors wanting to cast her for high-paying roles. All that recognition for more or less ten minutes’ worth of screentime, making a clear statement that her talent was real.
9. The Post
2017's The Post starring Tom Hanks was Meryl Streep’s way of dropping in and reminding the film world of her absolute caliber as an actress. She portrayed Katharine Graham, the first female publisher of an American newspaper. The Post gave Meryl her 21st Oscar nomination, but who’s counting.
10. Florence Foster Jenkins
Florence Foster Jenkins was a true crowd-pleaser. The chaotically amusing circumstances of an ambitious singer and the husband who goes above and beyond, so his wife never finds out that she’s tone-deaf. To be fair, everything Bayfield did was out of love for his wife. But he couldn’t help but panic a little when Florence booked Carnegie Hall to sing in front of thousands of people.
The movie, Florence Foster Jenkins, was all too funny and ridiculous but very endearing. It must have been quite an effort for Meryl Streep to play the role when she’s known for her lovely voice.
11. Marvin's Room
Many believed that Meryl deserved another Oscar nomination for her fantastic performance in the movie Marvin’s Room. One of her best during the ’90s, she starred opposite a young Leonardo DiCaprio who played her rebellious son.
12. Postcards From the Edge
Postcards From The Edge is a screenplay written by the late actress Carrie Fisher of Star Wars fame. The piece was partly based on her own wildlife with mother Debbie Reynolds with a few ridiculous plots and twists. Casting an actress like Meryl Streep to play a role that’s second nature to her, a movie star, gave Meryl so much room to be creative or improvise on her comedy.
Aside from Best Actress nominations, she also received and won the Funniest Actress in a Motion Picture category from the American Comedy Awards.
13. The French Lieutenant's Woman
Starring opposite Jermy Irons, The French Lieutenant’s Woman brought to life a book set in the 19th Century.
There was no doubt that she played the role wonderfully, but Meryl Streep felt like she could have done better. Even so, she received an Oscar nomination for her role in the movie and got Golden Globe, and BAFTA wins.
14. Mary Poppins Returns
Mary Poppins Returns, the Mary Poppins movie sequel, received mixed reviews. Mary Poppins was the last movie the great Walt Disney personally oversaw and handpicked Julie Andrews for the role. The 2018 sequel was a truly ambitious attempt, and the original set the bar extremely high. Meryl Streep played the role of a new character, Mary Poppins’ cousin.
15. The Manchurian Candidate
It’s been proven repeatedly that dabbling in remakes is tricky business, especially if the original is considered a classic. Modern elements and a few twists were added to the 2004 version of The Manchurian Candidate. It got high recognition and good reviews, but the original was still beyond its reach.
Meryl Streep held the same role Angela Lansbury played in the original, which she won a 1962 Golden Globe.
Her smile was so different when Streep played her character in Doubt. Compared to the light-hearted and dramatic movies she was in, Meryl Streep played Sister Loysius, who was vile. Her soft-spoken words felt somewhat toxic, and the usual tenderness expressed in her eyes was gone entirely.
Her jaw-dropping ability to completely transform into a character, her versatility, and her ability to take a role to a whole different level is why many think she is the best actress of our time. So even when we’re supposed to loathe her, you just want to toss her an award.
17. Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again
Meryl Streep never liked doing sequels. She had Mamma Mia fans protesting after discovering that Donna’s character wasn’t going to appear in the second movie. Many were in disbelief because the first movie was so invested in Meryl’s character.
As the movie progresses, everyone hopes for an explanation for Donna’s absence; that’s the Meryl Streep impact for you. But like they say, the reward goes to the faithful; all the anxiety disappears when she suddenly appears at the very end of the movie.
18. The Hours
The Hours is a story about the lives of three women from different eras, all touched by the same book. Many described the film as quite grim, depressing, too literal, and confusing to a certain degree. However, the movie did receive praise for remaining true to the book's grim and depression, especially for women during the 1920s.
One thing that is not up for debate was the superb acting of Streep, Moore, and Kidman. It was amongst the highest-grossing movies in 2002, making over $109M from international markets.
19. Sophie's Choice
It makes you wonder what sort of preparation Meryl Streep underwent to play out such a haunting role as Sophie. Her resourcefulness and adaptability kicked in once again to present the perfect breathing image of the protagonist in Styron’s book – a holocaust survivor who was dangled with a choice; to choose which one of her children will live.
Meryl’s grand performance in the movie bagged the Best Actress Award from the Academy Awards and Golden Globe.
20. Julie & Julia
Julie & Julia was a movie based on two notable memoirs, written by two extraordinary women. Meryl Streep kept her sync with co-star Amy Adams as they are two halves of a whole.
The pair did more than just bring Nora Ephron’s visions into life; it was remembered as one of the best movies she directed and the last film she worked on before her passing on June 26, 2012.
21. The Devil Wears Prada
While watching this movie, how many of you took a sudden pause in the middle at Hathaway’s misfortune of being in the same breathing space with Meryl Streep portraying the boss from hell. Anna Hathaway got carried away in the world of free perfume, clothes, and accessories and forgot her passion for journalism.
The movie has become widely famous and iconic a favorite to re-watch. Streep received a Best Actress Oscar nomination for her role.
Meryl Streep was a justified choice to play the part of Karen Silkwood, a real-life person who dove into a controversial rabbit hole to prove the intentional negligence that greatly endangered the lives of the powerplant workers handling highly radioactive materials. Karen’s obsession began after a plant accident contaminating workers, including herself.
Meryl Streep captured that mildly crazed demeanor of an activist while snooping for evidence.
23. Lemony Snicket's a Series of Unfortunate Events
She was on equal footing with Jim Carrey, perhaps even a few feet ahead when it comes to transformation. Even if you tilt your head and look from the corner of your eye, there is no hint of characters like Miranda Priestley or Donna on her face while playing this role.
24. Into the Woods
No one really explained how fairy tale villains came to be. Children, either enthralled or traumatized by these unsavory characters, simply shelved them off as bad. Then comes this movie that explains what makes a villain evil.
The film instills life lessons to children and parents, much like Mary Poppins, but catered towards older children.
25. August: Osage County
The story narrates the beautiful disarray that goes on in a family. Accomplished actors and actresses tossed into the movie, like Chris Cooper, Ewan McGregor, Julia Roberts, and Benedict Cumberbatch. They were amusingly kept on their toes by Meryl Streep’s version of a disgruntled mom.
26. Music of the Heart
When Meryl Streep was cast for Roberta Guaspari, she barely knew how to hold a violin. But after six weeks of daily practice, Meryl was able to play confidently on stage. Her great aptitude for music came in handy once again; this time, an ear for music was the bare minimum requirement to portray Guaspari in the movie successfully.
The inspiring woman sought out underprivileged children and offered them the gift of music through the violin. A foundation was built that enabled Guaspari to continue her mission in life.
27. Out of Africa
Out of Africa is based on another book, written from real-life accounts of the author, Karen Blixen. For Meryl Streep, her performance in the movie was dubbed as one of her best. She captured everything from the accent to the very essence that shaped Blixen into the strong individual she came to be.
Meryl received the David di Donatello for Best Foreign Actress, Italy’s equivalent of an Oscar.
28. The River Wild
The River Wild is not a cliche movie; it’s more of the film being predictable. But, even with that said, Meryl Streep’s part dished out the satisfying factor of single-handedly stopping the cunning and murderous bad guy.
From the moment Kevin Bacon entered the scene, his character was obviously up to no good. And with a pushover husband, it was up to the tough, adventurous mom played by Meryl Streep to save the day.
The audience review was 50/50; the thing that balanced the odds for the movie was the exchanges between Bacon and Streep’s character.
Meryl Streep said once in an interview that she preferred the gloomy weather of England. So that is why, for her, Mamma Mia! was the most challenging film she’s ever done because she disliked the heat.
But despite what the actress said, the movie was very close to her heart. She had a lot of fun doing it, along with an amazing cast of actors and actresses. She even came back for part two despite claiming she doesn’t do sequels.
No one else can portray the free spirit, Donna, like Meryl did. The part seemed like it was created for her. Meryl’s tenderness naturally seeps out when a scene calls for it, and it never fails to tug on heartstrings.
30. The Iron Lady
The movie was given a summarized rating of average by critics and audiences alike. But, here she is again, taking home wins from the Academy Awards, Golden Globe, and BAFTA for the Best Actress category.
Margaret Thatcher was the longest-serving British Prime Minister, rising through the ranks of a dominantly male environment; the title “The Iron Lady” is a fitting title for a woman of her caliber.
Most of the negative comments pointed towards the lacking parts of the screenplay, but it also sends a message that Meryl Streep can turn a film that’s off its mark into a success that will be remembered.
Marjolein is the founder of Radical FIRE. She has a finance and economics background with a master’s in Finance. Radical FIRE is a personal finance blog that helps you live your dream life through making more money and investing. We want you to reach your financial goals and have fun while doing it!