- Meryl Streep’s career consists of iconic films that have solidified her status as one of the most powerful forces in Hollywood.
- Streep’s performances in films like “Out of Africa” and “Silkwood” showcased her remarkable ability to convey internal struggles and anger.
- Streep’s supporting roles in films like “Little Women” and “Kramer vs. Kramer” added depth and balance to the complex themes of the movies.
From heartbreaking tragedies to iconic comedies, Meryl Streep‘s career has provided movie lovers with some of the most iconic films in history. Easily one of the most powerful forces in Hollywood, Streep has been working on her G.O.A.T. status since her breakout role in The Deer Hunter in the 1970s. With a record-setting 21 Academy Award nominations and three wins, Streep has solidified her place as a star capable of perfecting and enhancing many unique roles.
Throughout her career, Streep has taken roles in films ranging from dramatic to comedic. Sophie’s Choice, Kramer vs. Kramer, Manhattan, Out of Africa—all films that were given their iconic status thanks, in part, to Streep’s reliably impactful performances. Of course, like any actor, not every film she has taken part in has been a success. However, this isn’t to say that her performance has ever been anything but stellar. In all, Streep has taken part in close to 70 films, and as tricky as these are to narrow down, there are a select few that stand out as the very best.
10 Out Of Africa (1985)
Best Picture winner Out of Africa follows aristocrat Karen Mlizen (Streep), who moves to Africa with her husband but soon discovers that he has been unfaithful. So, she sets off and has an affair with a man very much outside her high-society life. Ultimately, Karen’s journey toward self-discovery is precisely what made this role so right for Streep. The actor has an unmatched ability to communicate internal struggles with nothing but body language. Despite Out of Africa‘s award win, it only has a 62% audience score on Rotten Tomatoes, which places it a little lower on Streep’s filmography. Still, it can’t be denied that her performance was remarkable.
9 Silkwood (1983)
Silkwood tells the true story of Karen Silkwood, an employee at a nuclear facility who discovered that the unsafe work environment has left her and countless others exposed to high levels of radiation. Along with her boyfriend (played by Kurt Russell) and their roommate (Cher), Silkwood fights to force the plant to acknowledge what they had done publicly. It’s an overtly angry role for Streep, and the actor pulls this off without alienating audiences from the character. Silkwood has a fair 76% score on Rotten Tomatoes, but the film’s cultural impact speaks far louder.
8 Manhattan (1979)
Streep only played a supporting role in Manhattan, but she managed to shine in her moments on screen. Directed by and starring Woody Allen, the film follows a New York City television writer as he flounders through his life following his wife’s decision to leave him for another woman. The wife, Jill, was played by Streep, and she portrayed the woman as haughty and above it all—she had clearly lost her love for her husband long ago, and the actor’s subtle refusal to look Allen’s character in the eye perfectly communicated this.
7 The Bridges Of Madison County (1995)
The Bridges of Madison County, a film directed by and starring Clint Eastwood and with a 90% score on Rotten Tomatoes, follows a photographer on assignment to capture images of the titular bridges. While there, he meets a tired housewife, and while her family is away on a trip, the pair begin a passionate love affair. The combined talents of Eastwood and Streep meant a romantic story made up almost entirely of subtle expressions of longing. Combined with Streep’s unique way of delivering lines as if she is slowly savoring each word over her tongue, The Bridges of Madison County felt like pure poetry from beginning to end.
6 Little Women (2019)
Greta Gerwig’s 2019 retelling of the classic story of Little Women was masterfully handled, with the direction and performances all contributing to a wonderfully updated film. Such remakes can often be subject to heavy criticism, which makes the film’s 95% score on Rotten Tomatoes all the more impressive. Streep played the notoriously judgemental Aunt March, and though this is a minor role, the iconic actor managed to make it something beautiful while also staying out of the younger characters’ way. Though this film is among Streep’s higher-rated, her more minor part keeps it from ranking higher in her filmography. Still, it should never be left out.
5 Adaptation (2002)
Adaptation‘s concept is outrageously complicated and meta, which makes its overall success that much more impressive. The comedy-drama stars Nicolas Cage as two characters, twin brothers Charlie and Donald Kaufman, both writers but with entirely different methods. Streep plays real-world author Susan Orlean, writer of The Orchid Thief, which Charlie must adapt into a film. Streep’s performance is both light and emotionally weighty, which coincides with the contradictory events of the film. Adaptatation‘s 90% score on Rotten Tomatoes wouldn’t have been possible without both Cage and Streep’s performances, which helped to keep the complicated plot grounded.
4 Kramer Vs. Kramer (1979)
Kramer vs. Kramer explores the painful difficulties of child custody battles, as well as the role of mothers and fathers in a child’s life. The film starts with big-time Manhattan advertising executive Ted Kramer (Dustin Hoffman), realizing on the same day he makes waves in his career that his wife Joanna (Streep) is leaving him. For a time, Ted struggles with the idea of being a single dad, but when Joanna returns and tries to claim full custody of their son, things get messy. Streep was only in a portion of the movie, but the impact of her performance balanced the film’s complex themes, earning her an Oscar and Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actress.
3 The Devil Wears Prada (2006)
The Devil Wears Prada is far from Streep’s highest-rated film, only earning a 75% on Rotten Tomatoes, but the societal impact of her role can’t be overstated. Following aspiring journalist Andy as she lands an assistant job for the most prominent fashion magazine in New York, Streep takes on the role of her diabolical boss and head editor, Miranda Priestly. The role was outrageously perfect for the actor since the entirety of Miranda’s staff is astutely aware of her needs based only on the subtlest glance or tilt of the head—Streep’s specialty. Not just anyone could have pulled it off, but the Golden Globe Streep earned for her performance proved she did.
2 The Deer Hunter (1978)
The Deer Hunter is another of Streep’s films in which she wasn’t at center stage, but as her first role in a major motion picture, it’s a piece of her filmography that can’t be ignored. The film is a haunting exploration of the effects of the Vietnam War on young soldiers, following three friends (played by Robert De Nero, John Savage, and Christopher Walken) through their journey before, during, and after their deployment. Streep played Linda, the love interest of one of the leads, but the part was originally supposed to be negligible. Ultimately, it was the actor herself that turned the role into something remarkable—earning her the first of many Oscar nominations.
1 Sophie’s Choice (1982)
Sophie’s Choice is a devastatingly tragic film, which has led it to remain largely controversial over the decades since its release. The emotional twists and turns are a lot for audiences to endure, resulting in its moderate 76% Rotten Tomatoes score. However, with Streep in the lead, the character of Sophie Zawistowski easily puts a spell on all who watch the film. Though Streep starts Sophie’s Choice with a light, airy, and somewhat chaotic performance, the mystery of the character ultimately takes hold. The film earned Meryl Streep another Oscar and Golden Globe for Best Actress and perfectly showcased the wordless way the actor can captivate an audience.