Meryl Streep Movies list Pictures

All 42 Meryl Streep Movie Performances, Ranked From Worst to Best

Photo: Illustration: Maya Robinson and Photos by Paramount Pictures, Columbia Pictures, Universal Pictures, Twentieth Century Fox, Warner Bros and Miramax

Want a convincing case for the value of a postgraduate education? Meryl Streep finished her MFA from Yale in 1975 at the age of 26 (she paid her way through school by waitressing and typing) and then hit the New York City stage. Within a year she had won a Tony. Within two she had her first feature-film role. Within three she had won an Oscar. Looks like she got her money’s worth at Yale.

With the release of Ricki and the Flash this weekend, Streep has appeared in a total of 51 movies, in just about every genre, with some of the biggest movie stars on the planet, with some of the greatest directors of all time. And we can say — and we’ve watched them all — she’s incapable of a bad performance. Even sleepwalking Streep is riveting to watch: She always finds something in even the most thankless roles. And she’s so good that she even makes her risks look like the easiest parts: You know it’s not effortless, but it can feel that way.

So, time for us to start ranking! We had to limit the films to 42, excluding minor roles (with a few notable exceptions), voice acting (sorry, Fantastic Mr. Fox), and TV movies (though she is great in Angels in America). This isn’t a ranking of the best Streep films: It’s a ranking of Streep’s performances in them. We watched all 42 and can say that every performance is a little bit different. They’re all great. But below, we count down to the best.

42. The House of the Spirits (1993)
This movie gets pretty much everything wrong about Streep, Latin American culture (which will happen when your Chileans are played by Streep, Jeremy Irons, Glenn Close, and Winona Ryder), literary adaptations, and the way human beings interact with each other on this planet. Acclaimed filmmaker Bille August’s first English-language film feels like it was produced in an antiseptic lab that attempts to create Important Oscar Contenders in a petri dish. Streep’s character makes no sense whatsoever, and she, like the rest of the cast, looks adrift and lost. By the end she looks ready to fall asleep. You’ll have beaten her to the punch.

41. Before and After (1996)A bewildered, strangely tone-deaf studio drama that features Streep and Liam Neeson — back when he was a sensitive ponytailed man in a tweedy jacket, before he punched wolves in the face — as suburban parents of a son (Edward Furlong, back when Edward Furlong was everywhere) who accidentally kills his girlfriend. There’s an interesting story somewhere in here about how parents rationalize the sins of their children, but that movie isn’t this one. This is a jumbled, confused mess that has so little focus that it ends with a courtroom scene for no apparent reason. And if you were wondering what Streep would bring to clichéd role of the Mom Who Loves Too Much, stop: She mostly looks bored.

40. Dark Matter (2007)
Streep’s is actually a supporting role in the film debut of Chinese opera director Shi-Zheng Chen, but it’s a substantial enough part that we included it. She plays a professor obsessed with Chinese culture who helps a brilliant Chinese math student work with the mathematics department at her university. The student turns out to be unbalanced as well as brilliant, and the movie ends in tragedy. Loosely inspired by a 1991 shooting at the University of Iowa, the movie is amateurishly shot and even poorly lit; it looks like it was shot with a camcorder. It’s particularly strange that Streep is in it because her part has little connection to the plot and, you know, the movie looks like it was shot with a camcorder. Dark Matter was barely released in the States, partly because the Virginia Tech shooting happened right before it was scheduled to come out.

39. Dancing at Lughnasa (1998)
Based on a famous Irish play, Lughnasa gives Streep one of our least favorite roles for her: prim, proper, joyless and rigid matriarch. Later she would bring a little flash of humor to a role like this — Doubt being the best example — but she’s so deadly serious here that it brings the whole film to a stop. She plays Kate Mundy, the eldest of the Mundy sisters living in abject poverty in 1930’s Ireland, caring for their dementia-riddled older brother (Michael Gambon). Streep is so wrapped up here that at several points she resembles one of the townspeople in Footloose. She spends most of the running time acting as if dancing is in the same moral neighborhood as a murderous orgy. By the end of the film, when (obviously) she learns the Value of Dance, she finally comes to life. As you’ll continue to see in these rankings, we greatly prefer, with a few exceptions, Fun Streep to Dour Streep, and this is as dour as Dour Streep gets.

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