The 15 Best Natalie Portman Movies, Ranked

From 'Thor' to 'Black Swan,' the Oscar-winning actress has shined in blockbusters and art-house favorites alike.

natalie portman movies
Design by Mallory Rosten for Thrillist

Famous since she was 13, Natalie Portman has weathered her very public stardom with unflinching grace. Despite striking breakthrough performances in Léon: The Professional, Heat, and Mars Attacks!, she remains something of a lightning rod. Cinephiles tend to disagree on whether Portman is enchanting or distancing, effortless or strained. Offscreen, she has cultivated an unknowability that contributes to the disparate reactions her work produces. But for those who appreciate Portman—and we at Thrillist certainly do—that only enhances her enthralling mystique. The widespread snickering about the Star Wars prequels, which arrived right as she was entering adulthood, seems to have emboldened Portman, prompting the increasingly daring choices that continue to this day. Thor: Love and Thunder may not be the boldest of Portmanian efforts, but it is reason enough to rank her 15 must-see performances.

natalie portman in star wars
20th Century Fox

15. The Star Wars prequels (1999-2005)

Natalie Portman was one of the few constants running through the three films that make up the Star Wars prequel trilogy, playing the now iconic queen-turned-senator Padmé Amidala and providing the catalyst for one of cinema's most famous heel turns. Padmé is mainly remembered for her outfits, outrageous and enviable and downright weird, her hair always in some kind of gravity-defying updo. But don't underestimate her strength of character or her brilliant negotiating skills. As Padmé, Portman exercised her uncanny ability to dominate a room, facing down the scariest aliens and stopping even Jedi knights in their tracks. Her acting, like everyone else's, was roundly criticized at the time of the movies' release for being too wooden for the flowery dialogue, but it's not hard to see Portman's earnestness and sharp convictions straining through the cracks. —Emma Stefansky

natalie portman in no strings attached
Paramount Pictures

14. No Strings Attached (2011)

Shortly after Black Swan came this somewhat misbegotten rom-com from Ghostbusters director Ivan Reitman and New Girl creator Elizabeth Merriweather starring Ashton Kutcher as a hopelessly romantic nepo baby and Portman as an aloof doctor with a relationship allergy. The leads' chemistry as a not-couple who met as teens at summer camp and pop up in each other's adult lives, leading to an eventual friends-with-benefits situation, is not exactly magical, but credit goes to both of them for putting in the effort. And though Portman got shafted with a thinly drawn character, she manages to wiggle out some very funny lines ("She has a boyfriend… named Bones?"). No Strings Attached no doubt feels its age, but largely thanks to its ensemble—including Lake Bell, Mindy Kaling, Greta Gerwig, Jake Johnson, and Kevin Kline—it holds up well enough as a breezy watch. —Leanne Butkovic

natalie portman in knight of cups
Broad Green Pictures

13. Knight of Cups (2015)

Like many a Terrence Malick film, Knight of Cups only kind of has a plot. Based on seven different tarot cards, it follows Hollywood screenwriter Rick (Christian Bale) as meanders his way through the Los Angeles sunshine in a haze of executives, back lots, celeb-filled parties, and, of course, many women. Portman plays one of the ones caught in Rick's crossfire; her character, Elizabeth, is a married woman having an affair with him. It's mostly a lot of breathy voice-over, but as always, Portman brings gravitas to even the smallest role (see also: Malick's Song to Song). —Kerensa Cadenas

natalie portman in thor love and thunder
Marvel Studios/Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

12. The Thor movies (2011-2022)

Playing "the girlfriend" in a superhero movie is the genre's most thankless role: all of the maudlin breakup scenes and none of the fun action, unless you're the damsel in distress. Hoping to break that pattern, Marvel hired Natalie Portman to play brilliant physicist Jane Foster opposite Chris Hemsworth's godly Thor in Kenneth Branagh's 2011 origin movie—but it wasn't until the unfairly maligned sequel, Thor: The Dark World, that Jane became an integral part of Thor's mythos. Sidelined in Thor: Ragnarok but brought back for an electric return in Thor: Love and Thunder, Portman is the unlikely and often funny foil for Hemsworth's Shakespearean theatrics, marrying science and magic in a dance of opposites. —ES

natalie portman in where the heart is
20th Century Fox

11. Where the Heart Is (2000)

To be frank, Where the Heart Is might be a bad movie. Based on a novel by Billie Letts, it has an outlandish premise—a teenager gets abandoned by her bad musician boyfriend at a Walmart in Oklahoma and then gives birth in said Walmart—that's effectively anchored by Portman, who plays the ridiculously named Novalee Nation. It's corny and over-the-top, but there's something about its secret charms that makes the movie worth revisiting, largely due to Portman and scene partners Ashley Judd and Stockard Channing. Catch it on Lifetime at the right moment and it might just make you tear up a bit. —KC

natalie portman in garden state
Fox Searchlight Pictures

10. Garden State (2004)

Look. On the one hand, Natalie Portman's performance in Garden State might have set women back a couple of years and been a net negative for the world. On the other hand, Portman's Sam had an inexplicable hold on many who saw Zach Braff's debut feature at a tender age. Sam is a complete male fantasy: a bubbly epileptic who will save the damaged dude hero by teaching him to embrace weirdness and listen to The Shins' supposedly life-changing music. At the same time, Portman is incredibly effusive in the role, overcoming some of the inherent frustrations of the characterization. Sure, she erroneously taught us that boys would be interested if girls made weird noises all the time, but she also gave heart and depth to an archetype that would have otherwise been a complete disaster. —Esther Zuckerman

natalie portman in v for vendetta
Warner Bros. Pictures

9. V for Vendetta (2005)

In the ensuing years between this movie's release and our current moment, as we've watched political conspiracy theories go from a transgressive "us" thing to a dangerous "them" thing, embraced by redpilled Redditors and disenfranchised edgelords willing to overthrow the actual, real-life government, it's easy to forget how truly good this movie is, led almost entirely by Natalie Portman's electric performance. As Evey Hammond, a mousy employee of fascist dystopian Britain's state-run news broadcast network, Portman holds her own opposite Hugo Weaving's masked revolutionary, known only as V, dressed in a black cloak and face obscured by a cartoonish Guy Fawkes rictus grin. Though Portman is put through the ringer—famously having her head shaved, in one take, on camera—she is the perfect humanizing agent for the knife-sharp, take-no-prisoners ideology of V for Vendetta's vision of revolution: a fuse that can be lit by anyone, anywhere. —ES

natalie portman in cold mountain
Miramax Films

8. Cold Mountain (2003)

Cold Mountain arrived at a pivotal time in Portman's career. The Star Wars prequels had ended one year earlier, leaving skeptics wondering whether her wooden turn as an intergalactic queen signaled iffy things for her future. This Civil War melodrama proved them wrong. Portman's role is small, but she blazes through her segment with the anguish of a woman who has been bone-crushingly brutalized by men and the combat they’ve waged. The performance lights up an otherwise relatively staid period piece, providing an ideal bridge to the critical renaissance awaiting her on the other side. —Matthew Jacobs

natalie portman in leon the professional
Gaumont Buena Vista International

7. Léon: The Professional (1994)

Portman possesses a contradictory persona that fits in just right with the genre films of her early career. She's beautiful in a delicate sort of way, but there's a hard edge to it that she uses to her advantage. Her film debut was as Mathilda Lando, the young daughter of an abusive father who is murdered by a drug-addict DEA agent (Gary Oldman) after he discovers the man has been stealing from the cocaine stash he's being paid to keep safe. Mathilda seeks asylum in the apartment of her neighbor Léon (Jean Reno), a hitman who reluctantly takes the girl under his wing, teaching her the tricks of the trade. As Mathilda, Portman is skinny, small, and elfin, with a murderous rage boiling beneath the surface that will keep your eyes glued to her every move. —ES

natalie portman in anywhere but here
20th Century Fox

6. Anywhere but Here (1999)

In hindsight, it's easy to see that Natalie Portman was always going to be Natalie Portman. But when revisiting her younger work, it's remarkable just how good she's always been. That applies to Anywhere but Here, where she's paired with Susan Sarandon as her kooky mother who moves them to Los Angeles to have her daughter pursue an acting career she doesn't want to do. Portman is clearly the mature one of the two, behaving beyond her years as the child of someone she deeply loves but whose actions she can't quite justify. —KC

natalie portman in closer
Sony Pictures Releasing

5. Closer (2004)

Some of Portman’s best line readings are in Mike Nichols' Closer, specifically during a charged scene she shares with Clive Owen. Standing in a posh London art gallery, Owen’s dashing dermatologist asks whether the novel her character’s boyfriend (Jude Law) has written is based on her. "Some of me," she coos, cigarette perched between her fingers. What does the book leave out, he asks. Portman pauses, her mascara-heavy bedroom eyes unflinching. Out come two words—"the truth," spoken like a come-on—and a soft tilt of the head that's sassy and deliriously sensual. As Alice, a former stripper cycling in and out of personal loss, Portman masks vulnerability with a slick ease, resulting in a bewitching tour of her depth as a performer. She earned her first Oscar nomination for the role, and deservedly so. —MJ

natalie portman in annihilation
Paramount Pictures

4. Annihilation (2018)

It's tough to give a compelling performance in a setting that is quite literally indescribable, eldritch, alien. But that's exactly what Portman does in Annihilation, playing a stony yet curious biology professor and Army vet who agrees to an expedition into "the Shimmer," a tract of land that has been irrevocably changed following the crash of an artifact from outer space. Alex Garland's adaptation of Jeff VanderMeer's mysterious novel does little to explain anything that's going on, relying on ensemble performances from some of our most talented actresses to get across the bizarre beats of the movie's meandering plot. Portman grounds these elements in a determined sense of reality before she, too, succumbs to the strangeness in one of the best and most bone-chilling finales to come out of sci-fi cinema in the past decade. —ES

natalie portman in vox lux
Fox Searchlight Pictures

3. Vox Lux (2018)

Vox Lux didn't make big waves beyond indie-film diehards, but Brady Corbet's movie is arguably one of Portman's most controversial performances. Here at Thrillist, we're coming down firmly on the side of pro-Celeste. Corbet's bizarre and alienating take on the world of pop music—Vox Lux admittedly seems to hate pop music—is broken into two parts. In the first, Raffey Cassidy plays Celeste, a singer who rises to fame in the wake of a local tragedy. In the second, Portman assumes her place as the adult version of the character, now hardened by life and having somehow developed a thicker Staten Island accent. Portman bathes in this abrasiveness, bucking any desire for empathy with huge swings. Plus, she sings and dances. It's hard to say no to something as gonzo as this. —EZ

natalie portman in black swan
Fox Searchlight Pictures

2. Black Swan (2010)

She was perfect. Portman had been doing fantastic work for years before Darren Aronofsky's ballet thriller came along, but it was Black Swan that propelled her to a new echelon. As Nina Sayers, an ambitious New York City ballerina driven to madness, Portman combines the lithe physicality that she has always used to her advantage with an unsettled darkness brought out by Aronofsky's chaotic spin on Swan Lake. Portman throws her whole body into the role. You can feel her exhaustion watching it, but she also fundamentally understands the material—yes, this is serious while at the same time being campy fun. Hey, it won her an Oscar for a reason. —EZ

natalie portman in jackie
Fox Searchlight Pictures

1. Jackie (2016)

Some people criticize Portman's adult performances for seeming too mannered, but that exact quality is what makes Jackie so electric. Its subject, the inscrutable Jacqueline Kennedy, was the epitome of mannered, a guarded and apprehensive celebrity—like Portman herself—who played an outsized role in mythologizing her husband's legacy. The breathy, almost unplaceable mid-Atlantic accent and hardened gaze that Portman adopts to portray Kennedy in Pablo Larraín's refreshingly unconventional biopic are overwhelming in their enchantment. Larraín often shoots her in extreme close-up, demanding intimate examination of the character's contradictory emotions, and Portman rises to the challenge, filtering Kennedy's perspective on JFK's assassination through a well of resentments both spoken and not. There will be other great Portman performances, but there won't be another Camelot. —MJ

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