For over 25 years, Charlize Theron has proven herself to be one of the best and brightest performers working in Hollywood today. A versatile talent who has established herself in various genres, including drama, action, comedy and more, Theron is the real deal, and moviegoers have only grown more impressed with her skills as an actress — especially in recent years. Charlize Theron graced the screen in more-than-a-few exceptional movies in her varied career. It’s clear that, as Theron continues proving herself as top-grade talent, she will only continue to grow and shine with her talents.
For instance, the acclaimed actress was recently nominated for a Golden Globe for her work in this past December’s Bombshell, and the Oscar-winning performer might very well receive another Oscar nomination for her lead performance as former Fox news anchor Megyn Kelly. Charlize Theron will also soon be returning to the Fast & Furious franchise with this year’s upcoming Fast & Furious 9. Whether it’s awards-friendly dramas, popcorn-munching blockbusters, or winning comedies, Theron knows how to diverse herself with many great titles in her filmography. Therefore, we will take this opportunity to celebrate 10 of her best movies, of which there are quite a few exceptional and noteworthy titles we could choose from.
10. In The Valley Of Elah (2007)
Paul Haggis’ directorial follow-up to his Best Picture-winning 2005 film Crash, 2007’s In The Valley Of Elah didn’t nearly get the same notoriety or attention as the writer/director’s previous film, even though it’s quite arguably the better, more nuanced film of the two. Centered on a retired military investigator who works with a police investigator to discover the truth about his son’s disappearance following his tour in Iraq, In the Valley of Elah is certainly a somber, heartbreaking movie, if one filled with emotionally resonant scenes. While not without its heavy-handed moments, In the Valley of Elah is benefitted enormously by its wonderful stand-out performances, notably from both Tommy Lee Jones and Charlize Theron in their lead roles.
While Tommy Lee Jones’ gets the bigger showcase in In The Valley Of Elah, one shouldn’t dismiss Charlize Theron’s fellow lead performance. The downbeat but nevertheless powerful antiwar tale is quite a fine acting showcase for these two Oscar winners, and they’re aided nicely by their work alongside one another. It might not be the most memorable or lasting movie on Theron’s resume, but it’s certainly another tremendous example of her dramatic talents, and how she can continue to prove herself as an talented actress through challenging-yet-impacting characters and heartfelt stories.
9. Atomic Blonde (2017)
After 2014’s outstanding John Wick opened the door for more action movies to feature fluid stunt work, rigorous action choreography, and intense dedication from both their crew and performers, 2017’s Atomic Blonde, helmed by John Wick co-director David Leitch, felt very much like the next extension, allowing Charlize Theron’s action talents to shine once more in a pulpy, moody, invigorating genre piece that kicked a whole bunch of ass.
Featuring some of the most memorable and astounding action sequences of the past few years, along with a strong central performance from a mesmerizing Charlize Theron. Atomic Blonde isn’t quite as narratively strong compared to its gorgeous visuals and exceptional action sequences, but when you have a movie that is as rough and tough and cinematically splendid as this film often is, it’s hard to complain. Atomic Blonde is the bomb.
8. The Road (2009)
An understated and appropriately dreary, atmospheric adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s extraordinary 2006 novel of the same name, The Road is certainly not the most uplifting movie out there, to say the least, but it’s a striking film all-the-same, particularly thanks to its pair of commanding lead performances from Viggo Mortensen and Kodi Smit-McPhee, as well as Robert DuVall and Charlize Theron in two small-yet-crucial supporting turns.
While Charlize Theron is only seen in brief flashbacks sprinkled throughout, The Road is given several impacting scenes of depth and character thanks to her tender and commendable supporting performance, in a character known simply as “Woman” as none of the characters have names. It is through these flashbacks that we get a sense of what life once was in this dystopian future and what was lost in the intervening years since then. It is a role that thankfully was expanded compared to the book, allowing audiences with more time to appreciate Theron’s gentle, gently moving work.
7. That Thing You Do! (1996)
Tom Hanks’ immensely charming directorial debut, 1996’s musical period piece That Thing You Do!, doesn’t feature the most Charlize Theron screen-time, but it’s apparent in here that, even in minor roles, the actress knows how to make an excellent impression. Indeed, for many folks, That Thing You Do! would serve as their proper introduction to the up-and-coming movie star, and it’s only fitting for this immensely appealing movie in particular that it helped pave the way for Theron to become both the major A-list celebrity and award-winning actress many moviegoers know her to be today.
While That Thing You Do! might not be remembered specifically for Charlize Theron’s performance, nor does it ever take the center stage, it’s always good to look back on the fine films that are only elevated by the stand-out performers who fill out their ensembles. Certainly, That Thing You Do! is an easy favorite for many movie lovers, and Theron’s presence in the movie gives us a great opportunity to look back on all the quality films she’s done.
6. Tully (2018)
Reuniting with both director Jason Reitman and screenwriter Diablo Cody after their previous 2011 collaboration, Young Adult, Charlize Theron is once again given another great showcase for both her dramatic and darkly comedic talents with 2018’s under-seen Tully. Playing Marlo, a deeply overburdened mother of three young children who forms an unlikely bond with her miraculous new night nanny, Tully (Mackenzie Davis), Theron gives one of her most emotionally open and honest performances. She is willing to show us, in unflinching regard, the struggles and burdens which come with motherhood and the elation that come from being reconnected with your own sense of youthful possibility from an unlikely source of joy and life.
In some respects, Tully might very well be Charlize Theron’s most fearless performance. Willing to show audiences the horrors that can come from parenthood, specifically motherhood, Theron is unguarded and unafraid to show the pain, hardships, difficulties, struggles, and small moments of dark comedy that come from being an overburdened mother, as well as the elation and renewal found from an unexpected source of revitalization. It is quite easily among the best performances we’ve seen from Charlize Theron’s already-stellar acting career, and one that shows her growing talents.
5. Monster (2003)
Undoubtedly, Monster is the movie that solidified Charlize Theron as one of our best working actresses. While many are quick to comment on how the beautiful actress changed her looks for the part, such shallow comments ultimately undermine how good this transformative turn is for the award-winning performer. In the role of Aileen Wuornos, a serial killer from Florida who murdered seven men between 1989 and 1990, Theron is absolutely a revelation, showcasing the depth of her talents and her commitment to her work. The film was also the launching pad through which director Patty Jenkins became a cinematic stand-out, eventually paving the way for the filmmaker to be at the helm of 2017’s Wonder Woman and its new sequel.
Joined by a similarly strong and ultimately under-appreciated supporting turn from Christina Ricci, Monster is not only a tremendous showcase for Charlize Theron’s acting prowess but also a gritty, impacting character piece exploring a deeply flawed-yet-intensely fascinating real-life figure, one who does no shortage of bad things and finds no redemption at the end of her road. Only through Theron’s performance would we be able to process the full depths of this tragic character and romance through Theron’s layered, impeccable character work. It’s no surprise it earned Theron her Oscar.
4. The Italian Job (2003)
It might be easy to dismiss this film as an inferior remake of a classic 1969 title, but make no mistake. 2003’s immensely entertaining The Italian Job is a giddy, good ole’ fashioned thrill ride from beginning-to-end, bolstered by pulsating car crashes, exhilarating action sequences, fun locales and a great ensemble, which includes Mark Wahlberg, Jason Statham, Edward Norton, Donald Sutherland, Yasiin Bey, and quite a few more, in addition to Charlize Theron herself. While moviegoers have come around to seeing daring stunts and car chases galore on their silver screen with the Fast & Furious movies, this one helped pave the way for that money-making franchise, which makes it understandable that both Theron and director F. Gary Gray later reunited to work on The Fate of the Furious. While that movie didn’t quite match this one standards, it’s easy to see why they joined.
While she is working in an ensemble, Charlize Theron is no less electrifying in the role of Stella Bridger, who is an ace when it comes to cracking open vaults and safes. That comes in handy when you’re trying to steal $35 million worth of gold. This movie is one of the most exciting, engaging remakes of the early ’00s, and Charlize Theron’s undeniable screen presence most certainly helped to make this one a winner. It’s unclear if we’ll ever get the long-proposed sequel, The Brazilian Job, from this would-be car heist film franchise, but there’s no denying that The Italian Job is a hell of a fun ride.
3. Young Adult (2011)
Similar to Tully, Theron’s follow-up collaboration with director Jason Reitman and screenwriter Diablo Cody, Young Adult didn’t quite get the respect that it deserves. In some respects, this is understandable. This dark comedy is admittedly a bitter pill to swallow with its unlikeable lead character, uncomfortable character dynamics, and mean-spirited tone. Nevertheless, if you like your comedy with a bit of a kick in it and don’t mind spending time with someone you would probably never want to meet in your real life, Young Adult is a sensational character study, one that is only elevated by Charlize Theron giving one of the best performances of her career to date in the role of Mavis Gary, a divorced, alcoholic author who goes back to her hometown in Minneapolis in order to reconnect with her old flame, Buddy Slade (Patrick Wilson), who is now currently married with a newborn child.
Along with her immense talents, it’s also Charlize Theron’s deep commitment to her roles that make her work so exceptional. Young Adult in particular is a hard-sell role that could’ve easily been played too loose or too crass without a speck of humanity. Yet, layered throughout this performance is a tragic humanity and bitter pathos that allows you to easily get invested in the plight of this uncomfortable and often unlikable lead character. This results in what is quite possibly her strongest and most fascinating character work to date, notably in a film that hasn’t gotten its due.
2. Kubo And The Two Strings (2016)
A gorgeously vivid stop-motion animated epic from the animation wizards over at the Portland-based Laika, Kubo and the Two Strings is a fantastical masterpiece with some of the most beautiful visuals and visual storytelling in recent years. A splendidly realized, completely spectacular achievement, filled with grand sweeping emotions and movingly sincere themes, Kubo and the Two Strings is also highlighted by its strong voiceover work, notably from Matthew McConaughey and Charlize Theron as two parental figures who follow our titular protagonist through his epic journey of self discovery.
As a motherly snow monkey who guides our title character through his expansive journey, Charlize Theron is only heard throughout Kubo and the Two Strings but she nevertheless provides an elegance, maturity, sensitivity and emotional gravitas that benefits the deep-seated emotions at play in this touching animated story. Once more, Charlize Theron greatly benefits what’s easily one of the most stunning films of this recently-concluded decade.
1. Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)
Quite possibly the finest and most exhilarating blockbuster of the recently-concluded decade, Mad Max: Fury Road is an absolute stunner. A vivid, intense, top-to-bottom thrill ride unlike any other in recent memory, this powerhouse of an action flick is fast-paced, full-throttle masterwork for the dystopian genre that serves as an excellent showcase for both the action and dramatic talents of Charlize Theron as the badass Imperator Furiosa.
As the hard-willed, yet emotionally layered, woman who is driving Immortan Joe’s five wives to safety, Charlize Theron’s performance only makes this impeccable movie better, allowing us to see one of our best, most dedicated actresses give a tour-de-force performance amid several glorious action spectacles and stunning displays of stunt work in recent blockbuster history. The result is a quite glorious work of art that Theron benefits immensely.
What are your favorite Charlize Theron movies?