Meryl Streep in "Sophie's Choice"

Best Meryl Streep movies

Written by:
September 1, 2020

Best Meryl Streep movies

Actress Meryl Streep exists in a class all her own. After all, not many people have their own Wikipedia page just for all the awards they've won. Of course, Streep is much more than an industry darling in that she brings depth to each role she tackles. Even in her most forgettable films, she usually renders a powerful impression among critics and audiences alike. It's no wonder Streep is frequently touted as the world's greatest living actress, with the chops and professionalism to back up the accolade.

"I was an ugly little kid with a big mouth, an obnoxious show-off," Streep has said of her younger self. That tendency to seek attention would pay off in a big way. Singing before rapturous audiences as early as age 12, she soon took to the stage for various high school plays. After graduating from Vassar College, Streep enrolled in the Yale School of Drama and continued to pursue her passion for stage acting. From there it was off to New York's theater scene, where she quickly established herself as a formidable talent.

In 1977, Streep made her major motion picture debut in the World War II drama "Julia." Just two years later, she earned her first Academy Award nomination for her performance in "The Deer Hunter." To date, she has a record-smashing 21 Academy Award nominations; she's won three. That's joined by eight Golden Globes, two British Academy Film Awards, two primetime Emmy Awards, a slew of other awards, and an even greater number of nominations. Streep has run the full gamut in terms of genres and styles, starring in musicals and tragedies and everything in between. That includes frequent collaborations with notable talents like Mike Nichols, Rob Marshall, Emily Blunt, and Robert De Niro.

Meanwhile, Streep's personal life is no less extraordinary, albeit not in ways one might expect. In 1976, she began a relationship with actor John Cazale, only to watch him die from terminal lung cancer. She married sculptor Don Gummer soon after, and they have been together ever since. They have four children, including actresses Grace and Mamie Gummer. Streep is also an outspoken "humanist" and liberal, who's publicly advocated for women's equal rights, along with various other causes.

It all has made for a life of considerable accomplishment, both on-screen and off. But which of Streep's films are the best? Check out the following list, which ranks the best Streep movies as of 2019 according to IMDb user ratings. Only feature films and TV movies with more than 1,000 votes were considered; any ties were broken by the number of overall votes.

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#25. ...First Do No Harm (1997)

Directed by Jim Abrahams

- IMDb user rating: 6.9
- Votes: 1,546
- Metascore: data not available
- Runtime: 94 min

Even Meryl Streep's most ardent fans might have overlooked this 1997 TV movie about a mother's struggle to get proper medical treatment for her epileptic son. When she puts her son on a ketogenic diet—which seems to do the trick—it kicks off a dispute with the boy's doctor. The story of "...First Do No Harm" was inspired by the personal experiences of director Jim Abrahams, whose own son suffered from epilepsy.

#24. A Cry in the Dark (1988)

Directed by Fred Schepisi

- IMDb user rating: 6.9
- Votes: 8,412
- Metascore: data not available
- Runtime: 120 min

Voicing her best Australian accent, Meryl Streep plays real-life murder suspect Lindy Chamberlain in this harrowing drama. When their baby is killed by a dingo, Chamberlain and her husband must prove in court that they're not guilty of filicide. The oft misattributed line from, "The dingo ate my baby," has been the stuff of parody ever since the release of "A Cry in the Dark."

#23. The House of the Spirits (1993)

Directed by Bille August

- IMDb user rating: 6.9
- Votes: 19,538
- Metascore: data not available
- Runtime: 140 min

This romantic drama follows the life of a young woman named Blanca (Winona Ryder), as she comes of age in Chile under a brutal military regime. Meryl Streep stars as Blanca's mother, Clara, who claims to possess psychic abilities. While "The House of the Spirits" was a relative flop domestically, it performed far better in Europe.

#22. Suffragette (2015)

Directed by Sarah Gavron

- IMDb user rating: 6.9
- Votes: 34,449
- Metascore: 67
- Runtime: 106 min

Meryl Streep appears briefly as activist Emmeline Pankhurst in this period film, which tells the true story of women's suffrage in early 20th-century Britain. When peaceful protests fail to yield results, a group of suffragettes resort to violence in their pursuit of equality. 

#21. Mary Poppins Returns (2018)

Directed by Rob Marshall

- IMDb user rating: 6.9
- Votes: 53,868
- Metascore: 66
- Runtime: 130 min

Working alongside a number of former collaborators, Streep plays Cousin Topsy in this musical sequel. It sees beloved nanny Mary Poppins (Emily Blunt) descending from the skies and dropping in on the Banks family once again. When asked to star in "Mary Poppins Returns," Meryl Streep's email reply opened with the emphatic line: "Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes."

#20. The Devil Wears Prada (2006)

Directed by David Frankel

- IMDb user rating: 6.9
- Votes: 341,049
- Metascore: 62
- Runtime: 109 min

Representing one of her most iconic roles, Meryl Streep plays icy editor-in-chief Miranda Priestly in this wildly successful comedy. Taking direct inspiration from real-life Vogue magazine editor Anna Wintour, Streep delivers a famously savage performance in "The Devil Wears Prada." When the two later met on camera in 2017, Wintour refused to discuss the film and its brutal portrayal.

#19. One True Thing (1998)

Directed by Carl Franklin

- IMDb user rating: 7.0
- Votes: 10,669
- Metascore: 63
- Runtime: 127 min

Adapted from a novel by Anna Quindlen, this understated drama follows an ambitious woman (Renée Zellweger) as she quits her job to care for her cancer-stricken mother (Meryl Streep). Responding to criticisms that Streep's acting could be overly technical at times, one reviewer noted that she infused her character with natural warmth and comic presence. The performance in "One True Thing" earned her one of her many Academy Award nominations for Best Actress, though she lost to Gwyneth Paltrow from "Shakespeare in Love."

#18. The French Lieutenant's Woman (1981)

Directed by Karel Reisz

- IMDb user rating: 7.0
- Votes: 10,968
- Metascore: 64
- Runtime: 124 min

Meryl Streep spent months learning a British accent for her role in this historical drama. Depicting parallel storylines, "The French Lieutenant's Woman" centers on the affair between two Victorian-era lovers and also the two actors portraying them modern times. This was the first movie to earn Streep an Academy Award nomination in the category of Best Actress in a Leading Role.

#17. Julie & Julia (2009)

Directed by Nora Ephron

- IMDb user rating: 7.0
- Votes: 96,866
- Metascore: 66
- Runtime: 118 min

Nora Ephron turned her love of food into a respectable box office hit, with Streep tackling the role of famous chef Julia Child in "Julie & Julia." It was after Meryl Streep delivered a spontaneous Julia Child impression that she landed the part, and honed her cooking skills in the studio's working kitchen. The performance earned Streep her record-breaking 13th Oscar nomination.

#16. A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001)

Directed by Steven Spielberg

- IMDb user rating: 7.1
- Votes: 275,303
- Metascore: 65
- Runtime: 146 min

Meryl Streep lent her processed voice to this sci-fi adventure, which incorporates a blend of live-action and CGI animation. Hoping to be turned into a real boy, an advanced robot (Haley Joel Osment) tracks down the Blue Fairy (voiced by Streep). Robin Williams, Chris Rock, and Ben Kingsley also brought animated characters to life with their respective voices in "A.I. Artificial Intelligence."

#15. Silkwood (1983)

Directed by Mike Nichols

- IMDb user rating: 7.2
- Votes: 16,782
- Metascore: 64
- Runtime: 131 min

Nora Ephron co-wrote the script for this poignant drama, which stars Meryl Streep as real-life whistleblower Karen Silkwood. While trying to expose a nuclear plant's hazardous practices, Silkwood undergoes various forms of psychological and physical torture. The actress transformed herself for the role, delivering one of her best and most enduring performances in "Silkwood."

#14. Out of Africa (1985)

Directed by Sydney Pollack

- IMDb user rating: 7.2
- Votes: 64,798
- Metascore: 69
- Runtime: 161 min

Set in 20th-century colonial Kenya, this languid drama centers on the love affair between a coffee plantation owner (Meryl Streep) and big-game hunter (Robert Redford). Streep developed her accent and mannerisms by studying video and audio recordings of her character's real-life counterpart, Karen Blixen. Shot on location in East Africa, "Out of Africa" movie features local Kikuyu and Maasai tribe members as extras.

#13. August: Osage County (2013)

Directed by John Wells

- IMDb user rating: 7.2
- Votes: 79,599
- Metascore: 58
- Runtime: 121 min

Playing a pill-popping and cancer-stricken matriarch named Violet Weston, Meryl Streep stars alongside a talented ensemble cast in the comedy-drama "August: Osage County. It welcomes viewers to Osage County, Okla., home to the dysfunctional Weston family. Critic Roger Ebert dubbed the actress' unhinged turn as "her Streep-iest performance ever."

#12. The Post (2017)

Directed by Steven Spielberg

- IMDb user rating: 7.2
- Votes: 109,132
- Metascore: 83
- Runtime: 116 min

One of Spielberg's most mature latter-day efforts, "The Post" chronicles the true story of the Pentagon Papers. Meryl Streep stars as Washington Post publisher Katharine "Kay" Graham, whose crucial decisions helped expose government corruption, and she was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress her performance.

#11. Julia (1977)

Directed by Fred Zinnemann

- IMDb user rating: 7.3
- Votes: 8,123
- Metascore: 58
- Runtime: 117 min

Discounting voice work and a made-for-TV movie, Meryl Streep made her film debut in this award-winning drama. Set during World War II, "Julia" sends a playwright (Jane Fonda) and her close friend (Vanessa Redgrave) into Nazi Germany on a dangerous mission. Most of Streep's scenes landed on the cutting-room floor, resulting in just over a minute of total screen time.

#10. Defending Your Life (1991)

Directed by Albert Brooks

- IMDb user rating: 7.3
- Votes: 15,556
- Metascore: data not available
- Runtime: 112 min

Filmmaker Albert Brooks offers his own clever take on the afterlife in this comedy classic starring Meryl Streep as a recently deceased woman named Julia. "Defending Your Life" takes place in a surprisingly bureaucratic realm called Judgment City, where people plead their case in hopes of getting into heaven. Originally intimidated by Streep's legacy, Brooks invited her to star after discovering she was the "most natural, hanging-out person" he'd ever met.

#9. Doubt (2008)

Directed by John Patrick Shanley

- IMDb user rating: 7.5
- Votes: 114,029
- Metascore: 68
- Runtime: 104 min

Adapting his own Tony Award-winning play, John Patrick Shanley wrote and directed this acclaimed drama. Meryl Streep stars as Sister Aloysius Beauvier, a Catholic school principal who sparks a crusade against a suspected predatory priest (Philip Seymour Hoffman). During an interview, Streep attested that the humane themes in "Doubt" go "above and beyond the church."

#8. Sophie's Choice (1982)

Directed by Alan J. Pakula

- IMDb user rating: 7.6
- Votes: 37,280
- Metascore: 68
- Runtime: 150 min

Meryl Streep won her second Academy Award for the role of Sophie in this gripping drama, which alternates between the Holocaust and 1947. As Sophie recounts her experiences in a German work camp, the story in "Sophie's Choice" builds up to its tragic reveal. Though the movie was released decades ago, its impact is essentially timeless.

#7. The Bridges of Madison County (1995)

Directed by Clint Eastwood

- IMDb user rating: 7.6
- Votes: 65,888
- Metascore: 66
- Runtime: 135 min

Based on the best-selling novel, this romantic drama depicts the four-day love affair between a photographer (Clint Eastwood) and housewife (Meryl Streep). "The Bridges of Madison County" caught director and star Clint Eastwood in the midst of a veritable hot streak, earning over $182 million at the worldwide box office. Streep was nominated for yet another Academy Award, losing out to Susan Sarandon for her performance in "Dead Man Walking."

#6. The Hours (2002)

Directed by Stephen Daldry

- IMDb user rating: 7.6
- Votes: 116,983
- Metascore: 80
- Runtime: 110 min

Virginia Woolf's iconic novel "Mrs. Dalloway" has a direct effect on the lives of three women in this critically acclaimed drama. Meryl Streep stars as Clarissa Vaughn, a modern-day New Yorker who's throwing a party for her terminally ill friend (Ed Harris). Had Streep received one of the film's many Oscar nominations for "The Hours," it would have been her second of the year.

#5. Adaptation (2002)

Directed by Spike Jonze

- IMDb user rating: 7.7
- Votes: 165,544
- Metascore: 83
- Runtime: 115 min

When tasked with turning a nonfiction book into a screenplay, writer Charlie Kaufman (portrayed by Nicolas Cage) explores adaptation in every conceivable form. So goes this inventive dramedy from Kaufman and director Spike Jonze, starring Streep as real-life author Susan Orleans. While Meryl Streep's acting is top-notch—hence the Oscar nomination—it's the quirky narrative of "Adaptation" and Cage's unexpected performance that draw the most attention.

#4. Kramer vs. Kramer (1979)

Directed by Robert Benton

- IMDb user rating: 7.8
- Votes: 118,860
- Metascore: 77
- Runtime: 105 min

Robert Benton's enduring drama centers on the bitter custody dispute between Ted Kramer (Dustin Hoffman) and his ex-wife Joanna (Meryl Streep). Tensions were just as hostile behind the scenes of "Kramer vs. Kramer," with Hoffman resorting to crude gestures and a famously improvised slap. Streep earned her first of three Academy Awards for her performance (Best Supporting Actress).

#3. Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009)

Directed by Wes Anderson

- IMDb user rating: 7.9
- Votes: 177,627
- Metascore: 83
- Runtime: 87 min

Meryl Streep provided the voice of Mrs. Fox in this stop-motion animation comedy from Wes Anderson. Ripped straight from the pages of author Roald Dahl, the story of "Fantastic Mr. Fox" pits Mr. Fox (George Clooney) and his friends against a vengeful farmer. Bill Murray, Owen Wilson, Jason Schwartzman, Willem Dafoe, and numerous others also lent their voices.

#2. Manhattan (1979)

Directed by Woody Allen

- IMDb user rating: 8.0
- Votes: 122,035
- Metascore: 83
- Runtime: 96 min

Like a number of Woody Allen comedies, "Manhattan" centers on the romantic exploits of a writer (Allen) living in New York. Meryl Streep plays the writer's intelligent ex-wife, who left him for another woman. The recurring theme of love between a middle-aged man and teenage girl has not aged well, though it does make Streep's character look that much better in retrospect.

#1. The Deer Hunter (1978)

Directed by Michael Cimino

- IMDb user rating: 8.1
- Votes: 285,395
- Metascore: 86
- Runtime: 183 min

Starring alongside a legendary cast—which included here then-partner John Cazale—Meryl Streep delivers her breakthrough performance as Linda in this epic war saga. Divided into three parts, "The Deer Hunter" depicts the effects of the Vietnam war on a group of small-town friends. What could have been a largely insignificant role is given immense depth by Streep, who earned her first Oscar nomination for her work. 

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