Daniel Day-Lewis: 12 Greatest Films Ranked Worst to Best

In the expansive career of Daniel Day-Lewis, one of the most acclaimed actors of his generation, his filmography is as diverse as it is powerful. Known for his intense method acting and the depth he brings to each role, Day-Lewis’s performances are a testament to his dedication to the craft. With three Academy Awards for Best Actor, he has etched his place in cinematic history. This list ranks twelve of his greatest films, highlighting the broad range of characters he has portrayed, from historical figures to passionate lovers.

The Age of Innocence (1993)

Martin Scorsese’s “The Age of Innocence” diverges from the typical thematic elements associated with the director, focusing instead on the constrained passion of New York society in the 1870s. Daniel Day-Lewis’s portrayal of Newland Archer, a man torn between his duty to his fiancée, May Welland (Winona Ryder), and his love for her cousin, the Countess Ellen Olenska (Michelle Pfeiffer), is a masterclass in suppressed emotion and societal conflict. His performance brings an intense subtlety to a role simmering with internalized passion and societal pressures.

The Boxer (1997)

In “The Boxer,” Daniel Day-Lewis plays Danny Flynn, a former boxer and IRA member trying to rebuild his life after prison. His performance captures a man grappling with his past and the pull of community ties in conflict-ridden Belfast. Day-Lewis’s portrayal showcases his ability to embody resilience and the struggle for redemption, earning him a Golden Globe nomination for his deeply human and conflicted character.

Gangs of New York (2002)

Set against the backdrop of 1860s New York, “Gangs of New York” features Day-Lewis as Bill “The Butcher” Cutting, a brutal gang leader and political manipulator in his second Scorsese movie. This role highlights Day-Lewis’s versatility and commanding presence, bringing to life a villain who is both charismatic and cruel. His third Best Actor Oscar nomination for this film is a testament to his compelling performance in a complex, layered role that stands out even in a sprawling epic.

The Unbearable Lightness of Being (1988)

In this adaptation of Milan Kundera’s novel, Day-Lewis plays Tomas, a promiscuous surgeon caught in the throes of both love and political upheaval during the Prague Spring. His character’s navigation of romantic entanglements and intellectual pursuits amidst the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia showcases Day-Lewis’s ability to portray deep emotional and political conflicts, making Tomas a captivating and multifaceted character.

A Room with a View (1985)

In the adaptation of E.M. Forster’s novel, “A Room with a View,” Daniel Day-Lewis takes on the role of Cecil Vyse, a pretentious and socially awkward suitor to the protagonist, Lucy Honeychurch. His performance adds a layer of humor and pathos to the film, highlighting his range in playing characters who are significantly out of step with those around them. Cecil’s inability to connect with Lucy on a deeper level provides a critical counterpoint to the film’s exploration of love and societal expectations.

The Last of the Mohicans (1992)

In the dramatic setting of the French and Indian War, “The Last of the Mohicans” showcases Daniel Day-Lewis as Hawkeye, a white man adopted by the Mohican chief. The film is noted for its intense physical demands, which Day-Lewis met with remarkable dedication, performing strenuous stunts under director Michael Mann’s guidance. His portrayal of Hawkeye combines a robust physical presence with a deeply sensitive depiction of the character, earning him critical acclaim for both his physical and emotional performance.

My Beautiful Laundrette (1985)

Stephen Frears’ “My Beautiful Laundrette” presents a young Daniel Day-Lewis in the role of Johnny, a former street punk who reconnects with his childhood friend Omar in a rundown London laundrette. This film explores themes of racism, sexuality, and socioeconomic tension, with Day-Lewis delivering a groundbreaking performance that deftly balances toughness with vulnerability. The role marked a significant point in his career, showcasing his ability to embody diverse characters and solidifying his reputation as a versatile actor.

In the Name of the Father (1993)

“In the Name of the Father” tells the harrowing true story of Gerry Conlon, a man wrongfully imprisoned for a terrorist bombing. Daniel Day-Lewis’s portrayal of Conlon earned him an Academy Award nomination, bringing to life the intense emotional and physical challenges faced by Gerry. The film, directed by Jim Sheridan, highlights Day-Lewis’s profound ability to convey despair, resilience, and injustice, making it one of his most powerful performances.

Phantom Thread (2017)

In “Phantom Thread,” Daniel Day-Lewis plays Reynolds Woodcock, a renowned fashion designer in 1950s London in his second collaboration with Paul Thomas Anderson. This role, which Day-Lewis has stated would be his final film performance, mirrors the precision and control of his character’s creations. His portrayal is filled with intensity and subtlety, drawing parallels with his role as Newland Archer in “The Age of Innocence.” Day-Lewis’s meticulous performance in this film is a testament to his profound ability to explore the depths of his characters’ emotional landscapes.

My Left Foot (1989)

Daniel Day-Lewis’s role in “My Left Foot” as Christy Brown, an Irishman born with cerebral palsy who could only control his left foot, won him his first Academy Award for Best Actor. The physicality of the role was immense, and Day-Lewis’s commitment to authentic portrayal—capturing both the physical constraints and the indomitable spirit of Brown—was universally acclaimed. This performance not only demonstrated his dedication but also his exceptional skill at bringing complex characters to life.

There Will Be Blood (2007)

“There Will Be Blood” features one of Day-Lewis’s most iconic roles as Daniel Plainview, a ruthless oilman driven by an insatiable thirst for wealth and power in Paul Thomas Anderson’s epic. This performance brought him his second Academy Award for Best Actor, showcasing his ability to fully embody a complex, driven character whose ambitions shape his destiny. Day-Lewis’s portrayal makes Plainview a multifaceted character, revealing layers of ambition, madness, and desperation.

Lincoln (2012)

In “Lincoln,” Daniel Day-Lewis’s portrayal of President Abraham Lincoln won him his third Oscar for Best Actor. Under the direction of Steven Spielberg, Day-Lewis brings a nuanced depiction of Lincoln as a leader devoted to ending slavery and preserving the Union. His performance is marked by a detailed, human portrayal of Lincoln, far from the often stereotypical representations of the historical figure, highlighting his political acumen and personal conflicts during a tumultuous period in American history.

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