Love him or hate him (but let’s be honest, who could really hate him?), this iconic actor has graced our screens with some of the most unforgettable performances in film history. So, in honor of this cinematic titan, we’ve put together a list of his top 20 acts of brilliance. Now, sit back, relax, and join us as we revel in the sheer awesomeness of Jack Nicholson’s storied career. Let’s go!
20. Lighting up the screen in Reds (1981)
Jack Nicholson charmed us as the smitten Eugene O’Neill in Warren Beatty’s epic about John Reed and the October Revolution.
19. The bewitching Darryl Van Horne in The Witches of Eastwick (1987)
Based on John Updike’s novel, Nicholson exuded charisma as the devilishly charming bachelor who tempts three unsuspecting witches.
18. Cool as a cucumber in Prizzi’s Honor (1985)
In this mafia satire, Nicholson played a wiseguy who falls in love with a beautiful woman (Kathleen Turner), leading to some deadly complications.
17. Western double feature: The Shooting and Ride in the Whirlwind (1966)
Nicholson showcased his range as both a menacing gunslinger and an outlaw in these Monte Hellman cult classics.
16. Exploring heartache in Heartburn (1986)
15. A quest for justice in The Pledge (2001)
Nicholson captured our hearts as the aging detective Jerry Black, who becomes obsessed with solving a brutal child murder case.
14. Courtroom drama in A Few Good Men (1992)
Who could forget Nicholson’s ferocious Colonel Nathan Jessup shouting, “YOU CAN’T HANDLE THE TRUTH!” in this intense military courtroom drama?
13. Sizzling chemistry in The Postman Always Rings Twice (1981)
In this noir thriller, Nicholson played a drifter who falls for Jessica Lange, leading to a passionate and dangerous affair.
12. Unforgettable quirks in As Good as It Gets (1997)
Playing a cantankerous novelist with OCD, Nicholson’s performance is a standout in this bittersweet romantic comedy-drama.
11. Hitting the road in Easy Rider (1969)
Nicholson’s portrayal of George Hanson, an alcoholic lawyer who assists two counterculture bikers, helped define his early career.
10. Crime boss swagger in The Departed (2006)
In this Scorsese-directed thriller, Nicholson embodied the menacing mob boss Frank Costello with a jeering grin and snarl.
9. A devilish Joker in Batman (1989)
Nicholson set the bar high as the original Joker in this superhero classic, delivering a performance that would be remembered for years to come.
8. Rebel with a cause in The Last Detail (1973)
In one of his most iconic roles, Nicholson played a rebellious Navy Signalman determined to show a young recruit a good time before serving his sentence.
7. The existential journey in The Passenger (1975)
Nicholson’s collaboration with Michelangelo Antonioni resulted in this mesmerizing portrayal of a world-weary reporter who assumes a dead man’s identity.
6. Chilling us to the bone in The Shining (1980)
As the unhinged Jack Torrance, Nicholson’s unforgettable performance in this horror classic still sends shivers down our spines.
5. Iconic defiance in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975)
Nicholson brought to life the rebellious Randle McMurphy, whose battle against the oppressive Nurse Ratched remains an all-time classic.
4. A Tale of Brothers in The King of Marvin Gardens (1972)
In this underrated gem from the American New Wave, Nicholson delivers a subtle and introspective performance as David, a moody radio talk show host. His chemistry with Bruce Dern, who plays his troubled brother Jason, is pure magic.
3. Unraveling a Mystery in Chinatown (1974)
Channeling the spirit of Bogart, Nicholson’s portrayal of the tenacious private detective Jake Gittes in this neo-noir classic is both seedy and tragic as he uncovers a twisted web of secrets and corruption.
2. Reflecting on Life in About Schmidt (2002)
Nicholson’s performance as Warren Schmidt, a disillusioned widower on a quest to sabotage his daughter’s wedding, is an honest exploration of self-discovery and the search for meaning in life.
1. A Journey of Self-Reproach in Five Easy Pieces (1970)
Jack Nicholson shines as Bobby Dupea, a failed pianist turned oil-rigger, grappling with the bitterness and frustration of a life unfulfilled. This memorable performance captures the essence of Nicholson’s unparalleled on-screen presence.