Top 10 Best Actresses of All Time

by Nick Kush
best actresses of all-time

Recently, I went through the annals of cinema history and compiled a list of the greatest actors of all-time.  Of course, that list disregards the other half of our species that has also brought a ton of memorable moments to film over the years.  But which actresses can be considered the best actresses of all-time?

Below are some honorable mentions that unfortunately could not make the list of the top ten best actresses of all-time:

Marilyn Monroe

Diane Keaton

Sally Field

Greta Garbo

Julia Roberts

Barbara Stanwyck

Elizabeth Taylor

Judi Dench

Ingrid Bergman

Julie Andrews

Now let’s take a look at the top ten best actresses of all-time:

#10: Sigourney Weaver

Best known for her role as Ripley in the Alien franchise, Sigourney Weaver has always exuded a resonant amount of toughness and strength to each of her roles.  She came to prominence in a time when the strong, female heroine was practically nonexistent and has arguably become the best of the bunch.

However, Weaver has continued to show very prominent abilities in diversification.  Over the years, Sigourney Weaver has routinely displayed the ability to go outside of her comfort zone, even showing the ability to have serious comedic chops in films like Galaxy Quest.

Weaver’s defining trait, however, is her commanding presence onscreen.  Whatever “it” is, she certainly has it.  She has that “X-factor” where no matter what role she’s in, she commands your attention.

best actresses of all-time

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#9: Cate Blanchett

One of the more regal actresses on the list, Blanchett is certainly a true thespian.  Every well known director wants a piece of Cate Blanchett, whether it be Woody Allen, Wes Anderson, Peter Jackson, Martin Scorsese, Edgar Wright, Steven Spielberg, David Fincher, or even Hayao Miyazaki.  While there are actresses who are good at playing the same role over and over again, Cate is always switching it up.  She is never afraid to take on a new challenge and explore her range.

There’s a regal quality to Blanchett.  She always has a sense of aristocracy to her without seeming pretentious.  She remains likable in just about every single role thus far in her career.

Not to mention she’s pretty easy on the eyes.

best actresses of all-time

image via Mountain Xpress

#8: Helen Mirren

Quite possible the most classy actress to ever grace us with her presence on the big screen, Helen Mirren is incredibly likable as the intellectual character in most of her films.  She’s been in many great films over the years, including The Queen and The Madness of King George among many others.  However, her most impressive feat may be that she’s kept her influence on the medium while still being an actress for hire, meaning that she undergoes a ton of roles almost every year.

She’s chosen a ton of different projects (even the sequel to National Treasure) and is routinely the best part of the most of the films of which she’s associated.  More importantly, she’s not afraid to check her ego at the door to perform in a smaller role that won’t win her any awards.  Hell, she even had a cameo in The Fate of the Furious!

best actresses of all-time

image via Mirror

#7: Joan Crawford

Joan Crawford was easily one of the first movie stars in Hollywood.  From her looks to her over the top personality, Crawford was a person that was simply larger than life, and way ahead of her time.  Although stories have since been uncovered about her reputation as a prima donna, she still remains wholly entertaining in all of her films.

Crawford didn’t get the chance to shine all the time as a leading lady, but she took advantage of every opportunity that was given to her.  She eventually broke through with her Oscar-winning performance in Mildred Pierce.

Joan Crawford remains one of the most fascinating figures to ever be onscreen.  Her feud with another member of this list is still arguably the most enthralling rivalry in cinema, even fueling her to a standout performance in What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?

best actresses of all-time

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#6: Jodie Foster

If there’s one word to describe Jodie Foster it would most likely be “steady.”  Time and time again, Foster has consistently given one great performance after another.  From a young age, it was obvious she was going to be a force in Hollywood.

Although most people would point to her turn as Clarice Starling in The Silence of the Lambs as her defining role, she masterfully stood up to Robert De Niro in his prime in Taxi Driver when she was a mere teenager.  Foster has always had the ability to wrestle scenes away from another actor, stealing the show and claiming her rightful place as the dominant figure of a scene.

There’s always been an intelligence to her.  Although she certainly deviates from this template (as any true actress would do), there’s an ingrained bit of intellect that has always been fascinating.  When you compare that with serious vulnerability as she’s done in the past, there’s no doubt that she deserves a place among the best actresses of all-time.

best actresses of all-time

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#5: Judy Garland

Judy Garland captured our imagination (and hearts) in such a way that has never been recreated.  She always had a certain innocence about her that typifies classic Hollywood.  She’d prance around without a care in the world or sing with a ton hope and optimism for the future.  Garland is certainly an icon.  We’ll most likely never see another actress like her ever again considering how today’s style of acting and performing has drastically shifted to showcase other talents.

With classic films like The Wizard of Oz or Meet Me In St. Louis (among many more), Judy Garland has created an indelible mark on pop culture with her classic songs and overall talent, earning recognition as one of the best actresses of all-time.

If there’s one actress to represent old Hollywood, it’s most likely Judy Garland.

best actresses of all-time

image via Fanpop

#4: Jane Fonda

Considering that Jane Fonda is the daughter of the great Henry Fonda, it was only a matter of time before she became a talented actress in her own right.  She is widely known for her provocative, sexualized roles in films.  No matter her actions, Fonda has always seemed to be a polarizing figure for her acting as well as her personal life.

She always found ways to push the envelop, most notably with her turn as the title character in Barbarella.  However, Jane Fonda was also one of the best actresses of her time.  She won two Oscars for best actress for her performances in Klute and Coming Home and receive five other nominations from other films like On Golden Pond.

Many may know her for life outside of film, but she’s been a wonderful actress for many, many years.

best actresses of all-time

image via Why So Blu?

#3: Bette Davis

The other half of one of the most intriguing feuds in film history, Bette Davis was one of the major standouts from classic Hollywood.  Davis always enjoyed a challenge.  She routinely looked for roles that would stretch her talents as well as her fame.  She was even suspended without pay for turning down a role in a film that she declared unworthy of her talents.

Known to be somewhat of a diva that lived a colorful life offscreen (she was married on four separate occasions), she managed to stay on top of her game, receiving ten nominations over the course of her career on top of two wins for performances in Dangerous and Jezebel.

Until her end in 1989, Bette Davis remained one of the best working actresses in the industry, receiving a Lifetime Achievement Award from AFI which all but cemented her spot as one of the best actresses of all-time.

best actresses of all-time

image via Playbuzz

#2: Meryl Streep

The so-called “overrated” Meryl Streep is anything but that title.  The recipient of twenty nominations for Academy awards in an acting category, Streep is as prolific as she is talented.

Unlike most actresses (and actors for that matter), Meryl Streep gives every single one of her role her all.  Even films that probably don’t deserve her best work like Ricki and the Flash still receive A+ quality treatment from the actress.  Shockingly, she learned how to play the guitar just for a movie that many found very underwhelming.

No matter the role, Meryl Streep always commits 100%.  She’s never afraid of judgement or ridicule.  Streep goes out of her way to be different.  Unlike many actresses, Meryl Streep has never been one to pigeonhole herself into the same type of character.  Every time she’s onscreen, it feels wholly original.

There can’t be a list of the best actresses of all-time without Meryl Streep.

best actresses of all-time

image via Moviefone

#1: Katharine Hepburn

The queen of the Golden Age of Hollywood, Hepburn was elegant, powerful, and iconic.  She remains the only performer of either gender to win four Academy awards in acting categories.  However, many people of her time didn’t even appreciate her work.  In fact, they chastised her for refusing to abide by the system that was set in Hollywood in favor of her own methods.  She even refused to pose for pictures and give interviews.  With a retrospective eye for it all, it was clear that Katharine Hepburn was a trailblazer for decades of cinema that would follow her.

In a time where many actors and actresses felt like they were playing it safe, Katharine Hepburn never failed to wow with her unprecented vulerability and intelligence.  Unlike many of the actresses around her, Hepburn was able to continue acting with considerable skill, displaying a great performance in On Golden Pond in her later years.

best actresses of all-time

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Thanks for reading!  Who do you consider the best actresses of all-time?  Comment down below with your thoughts!

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What movie topic should I discuss next?  Whether it be old or new, the choice is up to you!

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Luis R. Casso May 20, 2020 - 5:14 pm

Here’s the correct order (top 12): Meryl Streep, Cate Blanchett, Glenda Jackson, Emma Thompson, Helena Bonham Carter, Bette Davis, Judi Dench, Maggie Smith, Geraldine Page, Kate Winslet, Katherine Hepburn, Jessica Lange.

Luis R. Casso May 20, 2020 - 5:17 pm

I forget Frances McDormand. Can’t leave her off list.

Angela October 5, 2019 - 7:15 am

Interesting list–“of all time” is tough. The key for me is always range, and comedy is often harder for an actor to pull off than drama. I loved Garbo in “Ninotchka” and Hepburn in her comedic roles, but I do think she played to type in much of her younger life. Then again, one hopefully grows in one’s craft. Myrna Loy remains among my favorites “of all time”–from “The Best Years of Our Lives,” which is monumental, to “Mr. Blandings…” and “The Thin Man.” Bette Davis did have range. One shouldn’t discount Greer Garson either. Meryl Streep has turned in some incredibly fine performances and certainly ranks among my own top ten. Beyond that, I would be hard-pressed to make a more contemporary list.I enjoy Helen Mirren immensely. Cate Blanchett is a fine actress though I can’t quite warm to her. Some of the lesser known British actresses just knock me out. Joanna Froggatt, for example.

G Smith September 13, 2017 - 10:36 pm

Katherine the Great.

Nick Kush September 13, 2017 - 10:53 pm

She’s a great one!

Ryan E. August 8, 2017 - 3:51 pm

Yes! Bette Davis!

Nick Kush August 8, 2017 - 3:55 pm

She’s pretty great!

The Arcane Nibbler July 10, 2017 - 11:07 pm

A solid list. I do feel Katherine Hepburn is a bit overrated, though. And I wouldn’t put Joan Crawford on the list at all. My personal top three: 1. Vanessa Redgrave 2.Geraldine Page 3. Meryl Streep. Great site btw.

Nick Kush July 10, 2017 - 11:12 pm

Thanks so much! I’ve been working really hard on it!

Great choices yourself! There’s so many great actresses that you can’t really go wrong.

millyer July 24, 2017 - 4:41 pm

I agree about Hepburn and Crawford. Fonda’s a bit of a surprise too.
Toni Collete is an excellent actor, and Naomi Watts.
Rachel McAdams may have made some poor film choices, but she’s a very impressive actor too I think (Red Eye).

millyer July 24, 2017 - 4:43 pm

A good list to do would be best supporting actors. Strong actors that rarely get leading roles. My examples: Emily Watson, Frances McDormand.

Nick Kush July 24, 2017 - 7:11 pm

I was debating doing such a list! Maybe the recommendation gives me some added motivation to do it!

Nick Kush July 24, 2017 - 7:10 pm

Nice picks there! I feel as if Rachel McAdams needs a little more time before she can be considered, although I wouldn’t put it past her to make it someday!

The Arcane Nibbler July 26, 2017 - 10:28 pm

I always liked Lee Remick. She should have had more great roles. Died way too young. Naomi is a good choice and is also underserved by her scripts. As for Fonda, I’ve always thought she was overly mannered, which is great when she portrays neurotic characters, which she almost always does, so there you go…2 Oscars and a film legend! Seriously, she can be very effective and has an impressive resume of good movies, but sometimes she comes off as stiff and mechanical.

Nick Kush July 26, 2017 - 10:30 pm

Very fair points! Those remarks are probably why she isn’t higher on the list!

EclecticMusicLover July 6, 2017 - 3:35 am

Have to say I basically agree with your list.

Nick Kush July 6, 2017 - 7:20 am

Great! It’s easier to discuss when people agree with you! lol

Aimer Boyz June 27, 2017 - 10:34 pm

Loved that Katherine Hepburn is #1! A personal favourite and icon to many.
Little sad about Diane Keaton not making the cut :(

Nick Kush June 27, 2017 - 10:35 pm

She was a tough one to keep out! I love her work dearly, but who knows, maybe I changed the list around as time goes by!

readinaflash June 27, 2017 - 11:56 am

Good list!

Nick Kush June 27, 2017 - 2:18 pm

Thanks so much!


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