The Best Tilda Swinton Movies to Make Fans Swoon

Ewen Bremner, Chris Evans, Song Kang-ho, Octavia Spencer, Tilda Swinton, Ko Asung, and Luke Pasqualino in Snowpiercer (2013) tilda swinton movies

Although she’s been working in movies since the mid-80s, Tilda Swinton has spent the past two decades establishing her reputation as one of the greatest actors of her generation.

Few actors can match Swinton for pure fearlessness, and not just because she makes herself unrecognizable from movie to movie. Swinton also chooses complicated and unlikable characters, using her gifts of observation and expression to make viewers empathize with people they would otherwise hate. For proof, look no further than these Tilda Swinton movies.

1. Michael Clayton (2007)

TILDA SWINTON as Karen Crowder in Warner Bros. Pictures, Samuels Media and Castle Rock EntertainmentÕs drama ÒMichael Clayton,Ó distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures. The film stars George Clooney.
Image Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures.

With her wide eyes and slight frame, Swinton brings a degree of fragility and vulnerability to every part she plays. That includes Karen Crowder, the chief legal officer of a powerful agricultural conglomerate in Michael Clayton, written and directed by Tony Gilroy.

As George Clooney’s titular fixer learns more about Crowder’s actions and as her secrets make their way toward the light, Swinton lets that vulnerability seep to the core, revealing a real human behind the character’s cold exterior. 

2. Suspiria (2018)

Tilda Swinton in Suspiria (2018)
Image Credit: Amazon Studios.

Italian director Luca Guadagnino has given Swinton many fantastic parts across his career (and made some of the best Tilda Swinton movies), but he outdoes himself in his remake of the Dario Argento horror classic Suspiria. For his update of the story about witches in a Berlin dance company, Guadagnino gives Swinton three parts, including lead choreographer Madame Blanc, the guilt-riddled psychiatrist Dr. Josef Klemperer (credited to Lutz Ebersdorf), and the grotesque witch Mother Helena Markos.

While this description might suggest an Eddie Murphy-style broad comedy, Swinton plays the reality of all three characters. The repetition between her characters underscores the movie’s themes of doubles and deception, further complicating the dense screenplay from writer David Kajganich.

3. The Eternal Daughter (2022)

the Eternal Daughter Tilda Swinton
Image Credit: A24.

Like Swinton, director Joanna Hogg got her start with Derrick Jarman, as she began making movies after borrowing a camera from the influential British moviemaker. That connection may explain the collaborations between the two, most pronounced in the gothic mystery The Eternal Daughter.

A sequel to Hogg’s The Souvenir and The Souvenir Part II, in which Swinton’s daughter Honor Swinton Byrne plays filmmaker Julie, The Eternal Daughter stars Swinton as both the middle-aged Julie and her mother Rosalind. Set in a hotel where Julie has taken Rosalind in hopes of making a film, the movie plays with memory, regret, and connection, proving once again Swinton’s ability to perform dual roles without a hint of gimmickry. 

4. Orlando (1992)

Tilda Swinton and Billy Zane in Orlando (1992)
Image Credit: Sony Pictures Classics.

It doesn’t make sense in terms of chronology, but it’s hard to believe that Virginia Woolf didn’t have Swinton in mind when she published Orlando in 1928. To the good fortune of writer and director Sally Potter, Swinton was available to play the androgynous character in her adaptation Orlando, who lives two existences after transforming into a woman midway through life.

Potter matches this perfect pick with some unconventional casting, including the soapy dreamboat Billy Zane as love interest Marmaduke Bonthrop Shelmerdine and Quentin Crisp as Queen Elizabeth II. Where Potter’s other actors sometimes play their parts with a wink, Swinton never gives into the joke, letting the emotion in Woolf’s character come to the fore. Decades into her career, it remains one of the defining Tilda Swinton movies.

5. Only Lovers Left Alive (2013)

Tilda Swinton in Only Lovers Left Alive (2013)
Image Credit: Sony Pictures Classics.

By 2013, Jim Jarmusch made his name with character-driven stories that resist traditional plotting, even when working within traditional genres. So no one expected the usual horror story for Only Lovers Left Alive, the story of immortal vampires Eve (Swinton) and Adam (Tom Hiddleston), who reflect on their long life together.

Swinton and Hiddleston fill the space left by the absence of the usual plot beats to explore the ennui and loneliness. The longing looks they give each other and the people they encounter, played by character actors such as Jeffery Wright and Anton Yelchin, emphasize the difficulty and beauty of an unending existence. 

6. Snowpiercer (2013)

Snowpiercer, Tilda Swinton
Image Credit: The Weinstein Company.

Anyone looking at a single frame of the post-apocalyptic thriller Snowpiercer might assume that Korean director Bong Joon-ho has crafted a dour, joyless tale. The story of all surviving humans living in an unstopping and stratified train, Snowpiercer tells an angry and bleak tale about class division and revolution.

Despite its staid qualities, Tilda Swinton turns in a big, outrageous performance as Minister Mason, the administrator for the train’s shadowy president Wilford (Ed Harris). Draped in a shaggy coat and wiggling the cord around her ostentatious glasses, Minister Mason represents the rotting upper classes, providing the fiery film a welcome humorous streak. Thanks to an irrepressible performance, it ranks among the best Tilda Swinton movies.

7.  Caravaggio (1986)

Tilda Swinton in Caravaggio (1986)
Image Credit: Cinevista.

The film career of Tilda Swinton begins with her walking up to a glistening, shirtless Sean Bean and planting a kiss on his lips, a reward for his victory in a bare-knuckled boxing match. Swinton’s Lena plays a supporting role in Caravaggio, the fictionalized biography of the Italian painter by director Derek Jarman, but the film feels now like a statement of purpose.

Jarman and cinematographer Gabriel Beristain mirror the painter’s dynamic use of shadows and light to retell Caravaggio’s beautiful and shocking work, a passion that Swinton herself will inherent — both in her many later collaborations with Jarman and beyond. 

8. Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio (2022)

Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio (2022)
Image Credit: Netflix.

One would assume that an actor with as much physical presence as Tilda Swinton would suffer in an animated role. After all, director Guillermo del Toro cannot rely on her expressive eyes or distinctive face to help bring to life the Wood Sprite and the Angel of Death in his take on Pinocchio.

And yet, even though del Toro’s fantastic designs do more than enough to make the characters distinctive, Swinton makes them rich and ethereal with just her voice. The level of control that she brings these two figures reminds us that an actor on Swinton’s level has many tools in her kit. 

9. Constantine (2005)

Tilda Swinton in Constantine (2005)
Image Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures.

For an actor with such an impressive independent movie track record, Tilda Swinton has several blockbusters on her resume, in which she turns in just as impressive work.

The DC Comics adaptation Constantine doesn’t seem like the type of movie to challenge Swinton, as director Francis Lawrence and screenwriters Kevin Brodbin and Frank Cappello often choose style over substance in their story of disaffected magician John Constantine (Keanu Reeves). However, Swinton finds notes of introspection in her character, the androgynous angel Gabriel. As opposed to Peter Stormare as a brutal Lucifer, Swinton’s graceful Gabriel builds the tension of the film with a subtlety otherwise absent from the movie.

10. Trainwreck (2015)

Tilda Swinton in Trainwreck (2015)
Image Credit: Universal Pictures.

Swinton has owned her powers as a chameleon, transforming herself through make-up and effects to portray characters nothing like herself. The most clever example of that tendency appears in the romantic comedy Trainwreck, directed by Judd Apatow and written by and starring Amy Schumer.

Observers may not even recognize Swinton as Dianna, the tanned and blond boss of Schumer’s self-destructive Amy Townsend. Playing a business mogul with conventional good looks does not prevent Swinton from leaning into the weirdness of her character, adding another dimension of humor to the over-the-top comedy. 

11. The Dead Don’t Die (2019)

The Dead Don't Die (2019) Tilda Swinton Jim Jarmusch Movie
Image Credit: Focus Features.

As with her previous collaboration with Jim Jarmusch, Swinton doesn’t let traditional genre boundaries limit her performances in The Dead Don’t Die. In the middle of this dry and self-aware zombie comedy, which co-stars Bill Murray and Adam Driver, Swinton arrives as the most outrageous character, an albino, Scottish, samurai/funeral director.

Where most of the other cast members remain straight-faced even when telling jokes, Swinton allows a chuckle and a wink in her character, offering a bit of sweetness, even if she’s lopping off the heads of the undead. 

12. The Killer (2023)

Tilda Swinton in The Killer (2023)
Image Credit: Netflix.

Toward the start of David Fincher’s The Killer, a disembodied voice warns Michael Fassbender’s self-diluted assassin about a hit person who “looks like a Q-tip.” From that description alone, viewers can guess that Swinton will arrive later in the movie, playing one of the two targets the titular killer stalks for revenge. Swinton luxuriates in her short but important appearance, engaging in philosophical games with her would-be murderer while enjoying ice cream and shots. With just over ten minutes of screen time, Swinton undoes the entire tone of The Killer, forcing viewers to reconsider their understanding of the protagonist. 

13. The Last of England (1987)

The last of England
Image Credit: International Film Circuit.

By the time Swinton appears in the final fifteen minutes of Derek Jarman’s The Last of England, viewers may already feel overwhelmed. Jarman’s furious and humane portrait of Thatcher’s England comes via film collage, snippets of people dancing or kissing contrasted with scenes of desperation and violence, all shot on grainy film stock.

Swinton appears as a bride in a dilapidated church, who cannot contain her sorrow even during the ceremony. After the wedding, Jarman cuts to footage of Swinton’s bride cutting up and devouring her dress, shot in shakey close-ups and accompanied by a haunting libretto. Like the rest of The Last of England, Swinton’s performance resists easy explanation, making nothing but fury and pathos legible. 

14. The Souvenir (2019)

Tilda Swinton in The Souvenir (2019)
Image Credit: A24.

Among the many frustrations that aspiring filmmaker Julie (Honor Swinton Byrne) faces in Joanna Hogg’s The Souvenir, her mother Rosalind (Swinton) doesn’t seem like one of them. Even when taken aback by how much money Julie wishes to borrow for film equipment Rosalind remains supportive in her demure way, unlike her addict boyfriend and judgmental professors. However, Rosalind presents a warning to Julie, who fears that she will follow in her mother’s footsteps and allow controlling men to snuff out her brilliance. 

15. Okja (2017)

Tilda Swinton in Okja (2017)
Image Credit: Netflix.

In her second project with Bong Joon-ho, Swinton gets to create another absurd, loud character in Okja. Elements of Dianna from Trainwreck make their way into Lucy Mirando, CEO of the multinational Mirando Company, especially in the promotional commercials she films. But her plastered smile fades when she discovers that her prized super pig Okja has been freed by various forces, all of whom — except farm girl Mija (Ahn Seo-hyun) — have their own agenda. Swinton has fun with the comedy of Lucy, and her bitter twin sister Nancy, without losing the horror of the agricultural industry that Director Bong seeks to critique. 

16. We Need to Talk About Kevin (2011)

Tilda Swinton in We Need to Talk About Kevin (2011)
Image Credit: Oscilloscope Laboratories.

The Lionel Shriver novel We Need to Talk About Kevin doesn’t lend itself to film adaptation, and not just because it comes from the unfeeling mother of a boy who commits an atrocity.

Protagonist Eva Khatchadourian keeps her guilt and disdain to herself, something that can be expressed through prose but presents a challenge for visual artists. Director Lynne Ramsey, who co-wrote the adaptation with Rory Stewart Kinnear meets that challenge with Swinton in the lead. Swinton conveys reservoirs of discomfort and guilt with just a glance, just a crossing of her arms. Every time Eva glances at her sociopathic son (Ezra Miller) or frowns at her oblivious husband (John C. Reilly), Swinton relates pages’ worth of information. 

17. The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (2005)

Tilda Swinton The Chronicles of Narnia_ The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (2005)
Image Credit: Buena Vista Pic.

At first glance, a film version of author C.S. Lewis’s children’s fantasy novels, all rife with religious allegory, stands out in Swinton’s filmography. But anyone who sees her take on the White Witch, the central villain of The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, understands why she took the part.

More than her slim demeanor and pale features, Swinton embodies the White Witch by making her eyes widen with ravenous hunger or keeping the sides of her mouth downturned with eternal dissatisfaction. Even when using her charms on the young Edmund (Skandar Keynes), Swinton retains a distance that makes her villain as chilling as the snowy landscape. 

18. The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)

The Grand Budapest Hotel Tilda Swinton
Image Credit: Fox Searchlight Pictures.

In lesser hands, Swinton’s Madame D. would be a cruel joke. She appears at the start of director Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel as one of the rich and elderly women romanced by the debonaire concierge Gustave H. (Ralph Fiennes) caked under makeup to double her age.

Rather than invite viewers to snicker at the age difference, Anderson holds his camera on Swinton, allowing her to emphasize the dignity of Madame D. That attention to human feelings grounds the entire movie, allowing Anderson to have fun with the excessive absurdity of The Grand Budapest Hotel, long after Madame D. exits the film. 

19. I Am Love (2009)

Tilda Swinton in I Am Love (2009)
Image Credit: Mikado Film.

Italian director Luca Guadagnino loves to portray sensuality so much that he sometimes loses sight of his characters. Such is almost the case in I Am Love, which Guadagnino co-wrote with Barbara Alberti, Ivan Cotroneo, and Walter Fasano.

The story of an illicit affair between chef Antonio (Edoardo Gabbriellini) and Emma Recchi, the wife of a wealthy industrialist, I Am Love features several scenes designed to titillate the senses. But in between eating the most luscious prawn dinner or frolicking in a field of grass, Swinton remembers the conflict inside of Emma, allowing what could be a minor story of bourgeois romance to build to a thrilling climax. 

20. Broken Flowers (2005)

Tilda Swinton in Broken Flowers (2005)
Image Credit: Focus Features.

Broken Flowers stars Bill Murray as Don, a middle-aged man reconciling with his past love affairs. That might sound like a tiresome premise, the type of thing any number of egoistic film executives would greenlight. But writer and director Jim Jarmusch knows how to keep the thin plot funny and moving.

Jarmusch gets help from an excellent cast, including Swinton as Penny,  the most aggressive of Don’s former lovers. Instead of leaning into stereotypes about jilted women, Swinton uses the space between her lines to suggest more than what Don considered an amicable breakup. More than any of the other women Don visits in Broken Flowers, Penny reminds viewers to check their sympathy for the self-indulgent protagonist. 

21. Burn After Reading (2008)

Tilda Swinton in Burn After Reading (2008)
Image Credit: Focus Features.

As this list has already demonstrated, Swinton knows how to play weirdos. As such, she fits right in the world of the nihilistic screwball comedy Burn After Reading, written and directed by Joel and Ethan Coen.

As with Broken Flowers, Swinton’s character seems like a standard shrew archetype with Katie Cox, the disinterested wife of CIA analyst Osbourne Cox (John Malkovich) and affair partner of bumbling U.S. Marshall Harry (George Clooney). But once again, Swinton uses the spaces in her interactions with both unimpressive men to suggest a deeper interior life for Katie, a rare bit of humanity that doesn’t weaken the film’s pitch-black humor. 

22. Moonrise Kingdom (2012)

Tilda Swinton in Moonrise Kingdom (2012)
Image Credit: Focus Features.

Perhaps the most romantic of Wes Anderson’s movies, Moonrise Kingdom follows the budding relationship between adolescent runaways Sam (Jared Gilman) and Suzy (Kara Haymward). The script by Anderson and Roman Coppola devotes a surprising amount of attention to the innocent adventure of the two young lovers, but that doesn’t mean it lacks the usual weirdos.

In particular, Swinton’s tight-lipped social services worker feels like something more at home in a Roald Dahl novel. With an imperious blue frock over her stiff shoulders, the Social Services worker feels like the movie’s true villain, despite the fact that she cares more than anyone else about the kids’ safety. 

23. Hail, Caesar! (2016)

Tilda Swinton in Hail, Caesar! (2016)
Image Credit: Universal Pictures.

After proving her screwball abilities with Burn After Reading, Swinton got a chance to work in a lighter Coen Brothers work, the old-time Hollywood pastiche Hail, Caesar!. Swinton plays a dual role as competing twin gossip columnists Thora Thacker and Thessaly Thacker, whose reporting on the foibles of Hollywood celebrities complicates the life of studio fixer Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin).

As with every other setpiece in the film, Brolin plays Mannix as a no-nonsense hardboiled figure surrounded by goofballs, a comic tension heightened whenever either of Swinton’s flighty sisters enters a scene. 

24. The Beach (2000)

Tilda Swinton in The Beach (2000)
Image Credit: 20th Century Fox.

Despite a creative team that includes director Danny Boyle, screenwriter Alex Garland, and star Leonardo DiCaprio, The Beach still has a reputation as a disappointment among Tilda Swinton movies. That perspective stems in part from unfavorable comparisons to the creatives’ previous works, including Trainspotting for Boyle and Titanic for DiCaprio.

However, out of the shadow of those seismic works, The Beach remains a satisfying thriller. In particular, Swinton stands out as Sal, the duplicitous leader of the island utopia that DiCaprio’s Richard joins. Sal doesn’t have a heel turn as much as Richard grows aware of her darker tendencies, an aspect present in Swinton’s performance from the beginning of the film. 

Author: Joe George

Title: Pop Culture Writer

Expertise: Film, Television, Comic Books, Marvel, Star Trek, DC

Bio:

Joe George is a pop culture writer whose work has appeared at Den of Geek, The Progressive Magazine, Think Christian, Sojourners, Men's Health, and elsewhere. His book The Superpowers and the Glory: A Viewer's Guide to the Theology of Superhero Movies was published by Cascade Books in 2023. He is a member of the North Carolina Film Critic's Association.